DONs Interview 2 - Part 1
ROBERT CULP - Building A Career in The Hollywood Jungle by Don McGregor (StarLog No. 55, February 1982)
OK, heres the second interview ...
We just finished an episode of Greatest American Hero where I play my grandfather. - Robert Culp
Robert Culp was born in August, 1930, in Berkeley, California. His grandfather, Joe Collins, influenced his life profoundly during the years of the second world war; Collins was teacher, friend, the man who first opened up the world for Culp. Collins was sixty years old when his grandson was born, and during his life he had many adventurous professions that read almost like a run-down of American folklore. the kinds of jobs that people make movies about: a professional hunter, trapper, gold-miner, carpenter and cowpuncher, among others.In one of the scripts Culp wrote of I SPY, the part of his uncle was based upon his grandfather. Kelly Robinson and Alexander Scott, the two hip secret agents, have returned to the summer home of Kellys youth, hunted and trapped, and with little time to be hip.
(From Robert Culps I SPY telescript, Home to Judgment - 1967)
You know, Ive hidden and dodged and scratched to stay alive in a lot of places and never gave it a thought. Here I feel like a criminal.
Hang in. Were in good shape.
My uncle taught me to shoot a gun and handle a saw and a hammer. And I cant even remember his voice. What do they talk about? How do they sound?
They dont talk much. Certainly not to me. Im just a stranger.
Yeah. Me too.
Culps Kelly Robinson mourns for innocent, sunlit pleasures of the past, and now Culp himself has the chance to portray Joe Collins, to pay his tribute to the man he has loved all his life.
My favorite movie in the whole world is Treasure of Sierra Madre. It has some of the greatest images, truth ... everything. Anyhow, what Walter Huston was doing, that was my grandfather, Culp says with great pleasure. It was him right down to the last notch. He was a prospector all his life, never struck it, always right out there, ready to go again. Get a stake and Go! At the last of his life, he struck it real heavy, but he was too old to work it and he had to sell it out to two partners he hated.
PORTRAYING HIS GRANDFATHER
The story is simple: Im talking the kids, Ralph and Pam, into going on a field trip, and we get up there and discover that Maxwell has a secret map given to him by his mentor in the department, this geezer, who is now many years retired, and supposed to be dead. If Ralph can take ahold of the map he can holograph in on the mine ... its the Lost Diablo mine! The richest strike in the history of California! Lost a hundred years! Culp says, in his miners voice; quick, excited, with the passion of a man lured by gold. By God, Ralph, I know we can find it! Just hold onto the sonofabitch and go on out there and get it! There is a hint of his Bill Maxwell voice mixed in with the impression of a miner. And he does, and we do, we find it. Some bad guys, weirdos, try to stop us. Some of the rest of it is kindve shitty, with earthquakes and crap like that, which is very unfortunate because its just fortuitous, it has nothing to do with what the characters are really about. Bill and Ralph get out of the mine, and the bad guys get buried in the mine. But, because its an eight oclock show, we cant have Maxwell bury them in the mine. It has to be (an act of) God, in terms of an earthquake, and Im really sick of that shit, but thats what were stuck with right now.
Joe Collins hasnt seen the homages Culp has paid him, but he did see some of Culps first efforts on television, during the fifties. most notably Trackdown, where Culp played Texas Ranger Hoby Gilman.
By the time I was 26, he was 86. When Trackdown came on the air, he could still see. My grandmother could still see, sort of. They would huddle around the TV which was over in my Moms side of the duplex, and when I would go back to Berkeley, as often as I could, I would sit and talk to my grandad and he would say a thing that really knocked me out that I still remember so much. He says, and Culps voice changes again, older, very assertive, a man with definite opinions, Well, I was never one for watching movies, But, you got a good horse there. What? I said. He said, No, the most important thing that you got there is the horse. That horse is a good horse. And if you go back tomorrow, an open his mouth and look on the roof of his mouth, youll find its black, Ill betcha, just as Im sittin here! I went back, opened the horses mouth, whose name was Mexico, who tried to throw me every morning of his life, throw me and stomp me and kill me, and I loved him dearly, and the roof of his mouth was black. That makes a good horse. Never doubt it. A horse or a dog, if the roof of his mouth is black, thats a good horse or a dog!