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The Stars (2)
Robert Culp
Bob Culp's name has a warm spot reserved for it in the hearts of Trivia fans. As star of the CBS series "Trackdown," the young actor portrayed the thinking man's Texas Ranger, Hoby (nee Hobias) Gilman. If you think you're good at Trivia, perhaps you'd like to take a crack at answering the question: What attributes did Gilman claim each and every ranger possessed? *
However, Bob Culp's career is more than another weapon in a Trivia addict's arsenal. He happens to be quite a versatile fellow. Besides being an actor, he is also a director, a writer, and a one-time California pole-vault prodigy.
Despite these many talents, what has made Bob run throughout his life has been his desire to perform. His interest in dramatics first manifested itself when he was fourteen. He and a friend came into possession of a movie camera, saved up enough money to buy footage for one reel, and shot an epic that smacked of post-Elmo Lincoln Tarzan.
A native of Berkeley, California, Bob's formative years were shaped mostly by his grandfather. "He was always there and whatever I know of any value I learned from him. He was a prospector, though he never made much money at it. He taught me how to pan for gold, shoot a gun, and be a carpenter." To this day, Bob likes to putter around building things.
During his teens, he proudly admits, his own personal sense of right and wrong kept him off the streets. "I always looked older than I was. No one has asked me for indentification at a bar since I was fifteen years old. In this manner I kept off the streets and became just about the youngest barfly on the West Coast."
As a student at Berkeley High School, and later at Stockton (California) Junior College, Bobs' great interest was track in general and pole vaulting in particular. At seventeen, he was using the old-style bamboo pole to soar up and over the thirteen-foot mark, topping the prep-school records in the state. He was aspiring to a berth on a U.S. Olympic team when his interest in dramatics deepened and finally propelled him to the University of Washington.
Majoring in drama there, Bob auditioned on a broadcast tape for a national contest aimed at unearthing promising collegiate actors. His efforts won him $2,000 and a trip to New York, where he appeared on some radio programs. While studying at the University, he also met his first wife, a twenty-four-year-old drama instructor whom he married when he was only nineteen.
Coming to New York, he brought with him a letter of introduction to Howard Lindsay, the famed Broadway writer-producer. Lindsay received him, but told him that he had no part for him at that particular moment. He did, however, ask Bob to keep in touch.
After his meeting with Lindsay, the young actor enrolled in the Herbert Berghof Acting Studio where he learned "the method." While he was learning, he had to eat. He worked nights in a Chase Manhattan Bank punching an IBM machine, and when he wasn't working, he made his rounds.
He was wearying of the grind when he heard that Howard Lindsay was preparing a production with Katharine Cornell -- "The Prescott Proposals."
Bob journeyed to the producer's home where he found Lindsay in bed with a bronchial infection. Said Lindsay: "Sorry, my boy, but there's really nothing for you in this play, I'm afraid.
"By the way," he added, "what have you been doing?'
"Working on the eleventh floor of the Chase Manhattan Bank -- at night," said Bob.
"Working in a bank? An actor?" said Lindsay. "At night?"
"Yes," said Bob.
"What do you do during the day?" Lindsay asked.
"Make the rounds."
"When do you sleep?'
"When I can," said Bob.
"Hmm," mused Lindsay, eyeing Bob with what seemed concern.
A week later Bob received a call from the play's production office to report for an audition. He got the part, but only after Lindsay, who auditioned him, made sure that he was healthy enough to play the small role he had tabbed for him.
"That was my big break," says Bob. "It got me started in New York."
After appearing in Lindsay's production, Bob got a starring role in an off-Broadway production of "He Who Gets Slapped." For his portrayal of "He," the young actor won the Obie Award, acclaiming him the Best Actor of the Year in An Off-Broadway Play.
Soon thereafter he accepted the starring role in "Badge of Honor" which turned out to be the pilot for his popular Western series "Trackdown."
Bob's fondest memory of that series is of his horse, Mexico. "Mexico was a spirited critter," Culp admits, "and he was a little harder to handle than most horses. But I liked him for it. He was always the fastest horse on the show."
After "Trackdown" got the axe, Bob appeared as a guest star on a great many television shows, including "Bonanza," "Rawhide," "Wagon Train," and "The Rifleman." He also made his first feature film, "PT-109,"which told the story of President John F. Kennedy's exploits when he was a Navy lieutenant in World War II. Bob portrayed Ensign George "Barney" Ross who was on PT-109 the night it was sunk.
Having been chosen to play the tennis-bum spy, Kelly Robinson, Culp received a great boost. The show has not only expanded his scope as an actor, enabling him to play light comedy as well as the role of a romantic hero, but also as a writer and as a director. He has written several "I Spy" episodes and has directed several more.
In fact, Bob is beginning to take his career as a writer more and more seriously. The only major stumbling block he's encountered is his slowness. "I take twelve hours to write something that should take only six," he reveals. "I have to be able to hear the words. I'm a stickler for words and I have a good ear for dialogue. And I refuse to let any cats change my dialogue."
More than acclaim and personal gratification, Bob's role in "I Spy" has also brought him his third wife, France Nuyen, who was a guest star on one of the show's episodes.
-- Ed Goodgold (1967)