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Robert Culp Interview (1982)
by Don McGregor
STARLOG (Jan. 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....
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.”....
Culp's grandfather, Joe Collins, was not only the inspirational source for Bill Maxwell, but also for Kelly Robinson's Uncle Harry in “Home to Judgement.” Will Geer portrayed the farmer with the keen eye, the firm hand, and the reassuring wisdom. Una Merkle played his grandmother/aunt. It is quite possible that someone saw Will Geer as Uncle Harry and decided he was perfect for the role of the grandfather on “The Waltons.”

Mr. Collins was 60 years old when Culp was born, but he was Culp's most affecting teacher. His love and respect for his grandfather is still evident, though he died many years ago.
In “Home to Judgement,” Kelly has returned to the home of his youth, with golden afternoons and comic strips in his memory, but he has returned with killers on his trail, and equates himself to sticks of dynamite, a far different kind of agent than Bill Maxwell. Maxwell seldom questions the means and ethics of his profession. Culp did not find any difficulty in playing a character so far removed from the other he is most famous for.
“I'm older by 15 years than when I did “I SPY,” Culp says carefully, considering the differences of time and character. “I lived through the thick and thin of the `60s, and the movement. Out on the other side, I am not the same guy that I was then. I'm just not the same human being. My thinking processes are not the same, either. But above and beyond everything else, when I'm acting, as opposed, to let's say writing, or directing, or producing, when I'm acting it is the joy and delight of my life to find characters who are absolutely idiosyncratic ... that are living, walking contradictions to themselves.”

During his days doing “I SPY,” Culp not only wrote, directed, and acted in episodes, he also choreographed his own stunts. In one episode he fenced with samurai swords, in another he used Martial Arts techniques to take out guest villain Jack Cassidy. All of this was before Bruce Lee brought the martial arts to American consciousness. Culp does not pursue these elaborate stunts as fervently these days....