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The BEST Culp INTERVIEW Ever ... Part 1

June 23 2003 at 3:09 AM
Tatia Loring  (Login TatiaLoring)
from IP address


While we are waiting .... here are the re-posts of Don McGregor’s interviews that I promised to post - these are absolutely the BEST Culp Interviews of them all - ever!

These interviews were originally printed in 2 parts in 2 issues of “STARLOG” Magazine (Nos. 54 and 55) in January and February of 1982. (Tatia has included some additional photos. )

Just a small comment here before we begin. Don refers to Bob’s consummate storytelling abilities. Well, Don is himself a wonderful, wonderful storyteller, after all it is his craft. So the results - to our great benefit - is one superb storyteller regaling us with the tales of another marvelous storyteller. The end result is sheer enjoyment - not only is there fascinating information covered in the interviews, but the way they are presented is warm and witty, and capture the feeling of being right there in the middle of their conversation ....

HERE IT IS! - DON’s Interview 1 - Part 1


The Greatest American Hero’s ROBERT CULP - A Volatile Talent in the Electronic Wasteland by Don McGregor (StarLog No. 54, January 1982)

“In 1965 Robert Culp and Bill Cosby broke the racial barrier on network television in a series called “I SPY” - they were one of the great screen-teams of all time. They had a special rapport, a give and take, a beautiful camaraderie that is too seldom seen in real life, as Kelly Robinson and Alexander Scott. Besides being one of the two stars of “I SPY”, Culp authored seven of its most memorable scripts - stories with evocative scenes and brooding dialogue, as with the Warlord Chuang remembering a game of musical chairs in the 1967 episode called, “The Warlord”:


“There is a game I remember seeing in England. A game of child’s play. To you perhaps, quite common. But to me strange, fascinating. The children dance around the chairs. One by one the chairs are removed and the children who have lost a place in the game drop out ... one by one. A whole history of activity, laughter, and shouting, about the chairs. Finally at the end, all the children have been forced out of the game ... and only one child remains ... the act of winning, to win ... (cold, quiet, distant) ... the child must finish ... alone. One child and one chair. And at last the game is over.”

“Robert Culp isn’t Kelly Robinson anymore. These days, he plays the frenetic, dogmatic FBI agent, Bill Maxwell, on ABC’s “The Greatest American Hero.” Culp invests Maxwell with a manic energy and patriotic fervor that makes Efrem Zimbalist, Jr.’s Lew Erskine (on TV’s FBI) look like a dope-dealing anarchist.

“As with many creative projects there was a circuitous route that linked “The Greatest American Hero” creator, Stephen J. Cannell, with Culp. Culp discusses those beginnings with the natural rhythm of an innate storyteller, with the pauses and intonations that let you know that telling stories is an exquisite, honorable tradition.

“Stephen Cannell doesn’t kid around. He’s a real straight-shooter,” states Culp. “Let me get that in there right now. I have never had a professional association with anybody - ever! - on the level of producer or executive producer that I have enjoyed so much. The guy just wins all the laurels going that way hands down. How he does what he does, having to juggle volatile talents like Bill Katt and myself, against his own, which are equally volatile, and the network, which is more volatile than anybody ... all of us put together ... when I say volatile I mean it could be a liquid and within an hour it can turn into a gas, and you’ve lost it!” He chuckles at the image. “A bad gas. Passing gas.”

“Culp continues speaking about Cannell, with obvious pleasure. “How he does all this, I’ll never now. He still keeps his sanity. In fact his wife is in the process of having a baby, too. They’re starting a second family. But he is a guy with enormous integrity and sense of humor. He’s a Renaissance dude. Nobody has the kind of instant affinity and skill that he has. He writes from the hip, like somebody pulling a shotgun.”

“Culp hasn’t always spoken so highly of people in control of series he has worked in. His relationship with producer Vincent Fennelly of “Trackdown,” his first series in 1957, was turbulent.

“Culp began writing scripts during “Trackdown,” and when he undertook his second series, “I SPY,” he wrote seven of the scripts, one of which received an Emmy nomination. His episodes, “The Loser,’ “The WarLord,” “The Enchanted Cottage,”{this became "Magic Mirror"} and “Home to Judgement,” are some of the most powerful television dramas since Sterling Silliphant’s “Route 66” and “Naked City” days and Rod Serling’s “Twilight Zone.”


“I’d had the word out for a long, long time, since “I SPY” folded, which was January 1968, that I would never consider doing another television series. I don’t want to hear about it. I don’t want to read any pilots. If you’ve got a pilot, that’s fine, give it to somebody else,” he says easily, perhaps remembering the few days of vacation he had during the three years of making “I SPY.” “A friend of mine said, ‘I know how you feel, but if you don’t read this, “just read it,” you’re making a big mistake.’ Well, if someone whose opinion I respect says a thing like that to me, I’m going to sit down and read it.”

Well, I got about 30 pages into the pilot for “The Greatest American Hero,” and I got on the phone. First of all, I’ve got to meet this guy, “ he says, referring to Cannell, “because I don’t know him at all. But Bobby Blake, who’s been a dear friend of mine for 25 years, spoke to me about Steve at the beginning of his association with Universal. I happened to be on the Universal lot one day. I was looping (re-recording a soundtrack) I think, and when I started for the commissary, Bobby came out of the crowd. He runs up, throws his arms around me, and says, ‘Listen, I’m in a terrible jam, you’ve gotta help me!’ I said, ‘What is it?’ ‘Well, I just signed with these ... um ... “expletive deleted,” and I don’t know what I’m doing, and you’ve gotta help me, because somebody’s gotta write the stuff. And come over and direct it too.’”Blake was speaking about his new show, “Baretta,” which Stephen J. Cannell was connected with.

“Culp continues: “I said, ‘Jesus, man! I can’t! I’m swamped!’ But a little while later I was talking to Bobby about a feature I wanted him to do, and we went round and round on that, and then we started talking about Cannell, and he said, ‘If you ever get a chance to work with this guy, don’t miss it!’” Now, Robert Blake gives rare praise, and he has certainly not championed television scripters. “That stuck in my head, so after I read the rest of “The Greatest American Hero” script, I sat down with Cannell at the house of my personal manager, whom I’ve known longer than anybody in the whole world except my mother.”

“Cannell had called Culp about playing the role of Bill Maxwell, but though they parted amicably, they had not resolved the negotiations. Culp had previously played a “Columbo” villain in a script that Cannell had written with Culp in mind.Odd are the ways of fate - the studio hired Culp to play the role, unaware he had been Cannell’s choice. Still, it seemed that Culp might not play Ralph Hanley’s modern-day wizard/mentor. “It was a very cordial meeting, but no sale. My personal manager followed Steve out to the car and they talked for a little while, and when he came back in, he said, ‘I don’t know, he’s going to think about it.’ Well, he did think about it, and he came back and said, ‘Okay, let’s go.’ Four days later we were shooting.”

continued in Part 2 ...

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