May I state for the record that I don’t think I’ve ever used that many ampersands in anything. Ever.
Robert Culp was no stranger to the antics of Mad Magazine, having been spoofed at least four times (that I’m aware of), for I Spy, Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, Columbo and The Greatest American Hero. Previously I featured the 1973 Mad satire on the popular detective series Columbo (called “Clodumbo“) which included Dr. Robert Culpable as the poor unfortunate sap that gets pestered by the lieutenant to the point he confesses to a crime he didn’t commit just to make the lieutenant go away. Now, we go back three years prior, to 1970, and the spoof of the 1969 film Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice.
May I add that Culp looks cute here as a caricature? All shy and innocent lookin’, holding the blanket up, just like he is in the movie…
Ah, well…ok, maybe not quite!
The same art is not used for the storyboard. Instead the storyboard is drawn by the legendary Mort Drucker (who also did the I Spy spoof for Mad in 1967). Drucker’s drawing of Culp this time around although recognizable, is at times more outrageous than anything.
Square jaw? Check. Big teeth? Got it. Hippie hair? Plenty. In the first panel though, where “Boob” and “Carnal” are being introduced to the institute, “Boob” looks suspiciously more like Alan Alda.
This is indeed a satire of the movie. Sometimes searing, other times goofy but a complete and total farce. Take a look for yourself! Keep your eye out for Bill Cosby to appear in a couple of the panels just for the heck of it. Also note the additional names added to the title that run around the whole storyboard.
Why yes! More! Another set of negatives from the SFX Archive and this time we had some international drama!
Well, maybe not exactly drama but I did suffer a bit of an upset when I was outbid on this set of negatives of Culp with Natalie Wood.
Oh yeah, I was bummed to miss on those, definitely. At the time I didn’t know who outbid me but in doing some detective work later, near as I can tell, the winner is a Natalie Wood fan in France (based on their other auction wins), to which I extend my heartfelt congratulations and hope the negatives are well cared for. (But winning bidder, if you ever decide you want to sell them just give me a shout!)
I did win this lot of negatives, however…
When I logged into eBay to check on the outcome of the auctions, I noticed there were more negatives available - but these didn’t come up when I did a search for “robert culp” in the SFX Archive’s eBay store. I then searched “bob carol ted alice” and got a boatload of results. Among them, were these…
I didn’t have to bid. I love the “Buy it Now” option!
This makes the third batch of negatives I’ve acquired (check out the ones that got away, the first set and the second set that I purchased.) There are additional negatives still available but I have to concede that the prices each time have gone up significantly. Those Holy Grail 33 negatives I blew off? They went for less than $20 if I recall right. This latest set I obtained, the auction win was around $29. The buy it now set I paid over $50 for.
And here they are as developed into photographs. And I got the photos on CD again too (told you, I got this down to a science now!)
I have added all the photos (so far) in the BCTA Photo Negatives Collection to the Photo Gallery and Culp Clips page.
It’s one thing when Mad Magazine spoofs the movie or TV show you’re a star of. Obviously, you’re going to be spoofed too. But it’s a whole other honor to be included in the spoof of a show that you were a guest star on!
In its 60 year history, Mad Magazine has spared no television series, movie or pop culture du jour from its lampooning antics (not to mention politicians and any other public figures). Back in 1973, the popular series Columbo wasn’t spared either, getting the royal Mad treatment in “Clodumbo.”
The story line ran similar to an episode of the show, with a Mad Magazine twist of course. The story opens with Clodumbo annoying the hell out of the Police Commissioner and the rest of the department wishing for a homicide so Clodumbo can go and annoy somebody else. Lo and behold, they get a report of a homicide, which has taken place at the house of Dr. Robert Culpable.
If the name wasn’t blatantly obvious, the excellent art work by Angelo Torres is. Robert Culp, who had appeared on two Columbo episodes by the time this issue of Mad hit newsstands in January of 1973, was given the dubious honor of being portrayed as Clodumbo’s prime suspect. (And honestly, who could’ve resisted using the name “Culpable” anyway?). Dr. Culpable is drawn much like how Culp appeared as Detective Brimmer in 1971’s “Death Lends a Hand” with the striped shirt and square glasses. As another nod to that episode, Clodumbo goes to leave and walks into a closet by mistake, just as Columbo did.
And like Columbo on the series, Clodumbo aggravates Dr. Culpable to the Nth degree. Only unlike Robert Culp, who played the guilty party with aplomb, Dr. Culpable was innocent and ended up confessing to a crime he didn’t commit, just to get the pestering Lieutenant to leave him alone!
Take a look for yourself! You can click the thumbnails to view larger images.
On September 7, 2008, Stephen J. Cannell, the writer-creator of The Greatest American Hero, openly announced that a movie based on the hit TV series was “in the works.” The announcement came at the Screen Actor’s Guild 25th Anniversary Reunion in Hollywood, CA.
If Cannell had any doubts about the movie project going through, it wasn’t evident at this time. He went so far as to promise “acting jobs, not just cameos” for original TGAH cast members Connie Sellecca, William Katt and Robert Culp. Sellecca and Katt were both in attendance at the time of Cannell’s announcement.
Cannell was not one to make empty promises. According to Cannell’s comments, which were reported by SciFiWire on Sept 9, 2008 and re-published by ComicBookMovie.com, the movie roles for the Sellecca, Katt and Culp were “absolutely guaranteed.” You can read the whole thing here.
What Caused the Greatest American Hero Movie Project to Stall?
Fast-forward to April 16, 2009. Despite having a completed script, a director, and a lead actor cast for the role of Ralph Hinkely, the big-screen version of The Greatest American Hero was over before it began. The reason? A lack of financial backing. Reportedly, Cannell’s vision of the movie was high-tech, with special effects and stunts that were a far cry from the cheesy, low-budget sequences in the TV series.
Eric Christian Olsen, who had a contract in hand for the red-suited role of Ralph Hinkley, reportedly explained, “They didn’t have financing in place. But yeah, I booked it – but because the budget was so huge they couldn’t get the money.” Olsen’s disappointment was shared by longtime Greatest American Hero fans who found him to be a good choice for the role.
Director Stephen Herek was already on deck for the project, bringing his action-adventure direction experience from “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure” and “The Mighty Ducks.” But in Hollywood, projects come and go in the blink of an eye.
What the Greatest American Hero Movie Could Have Been
According to Eric Christian Olsen, the script was “really funny” and contained “a lot of cool stunts.” He told MovieHole that the script was built around an ordinary guy who got in over his head; a premise that is true to the original TV program.
According to a fan who claims to have seen parts of the script, the movie’s ending had a heartwarming, optimistic note. At the climax of the story, Ralph Hinkley is outmatched by a powerful enemy, facing certain doom. Suddenly he’s rescued by the combined forces of the Greatest Russian Hero, the Greatest Chinese Hero and a few other nations with their own red-suited champions. Apparently, the alien “green guys” empowered a human in each nation with a super-powered suit in an effort to preserve the Earth.
If only the movie project itself had such a happy ending.
The Greatest American Hero Movie Facts According to William Katt
During a podcast interview on March 21, 2011, Katt explained that some ten years ago, he and original series co-stars Robert Culp and Connie Sellecca, were interested in a TV reunion and reboot of the show. Together they created a pilot for the concept. When bouncing the idea off of Stephen Cannell, Katt learned of Cannell’s big-screen movie project.
According to Katt, Cannell pitched the idea to Sony, and then later to Disney. Despite an “excellent” script by Paul Hernandez, an agreement couldn’t be reached for the project. Cannell took ownership of the project back, and reportedly it was last in the hands of 20th-Century Fox, where it has apparently stalled.
Did The Greatest American Hero Movie Die with Robert Culp and Stephen Cannell?
Actor Robert Culp, who played the role Federal Agent Bill Maxwell, passed away on March 24, 2010 at the age of 79.
Culp’s brilliant interpretation of Agent Maxwell added to both the action and comedic elements of the show. In The Greatest American Hero, Maxwell was an unusual superhero’s sidekick – a hard-bitten, old-school Fed who saw himself as the brains of the outfit. Ralph may have had the power suit, but the scenarios were usually Maxwell’s. He collected the credit – and sometimes the blame – for the exploits accomplished with Ralph and the red super-suit.
Culp would have welcomed the opportunity to reprise his role as Agent Maxell, even in a passing-of-the-torch role in the big-screen movie. Had the film project proceeded as scheduled, he could have had the chance.
As a highly-acclaimed writer and producer, it’s likely that Stephen J. Cannell would have eventually found the support he wanted for the movie. His website speaks of the movie project in present tense, describing it as “in development.” The date of this comment, while unspecific, appears to have been posted between 2009 and 2010.
Whether the “in development” status was posted before, or after, the project halt in April 2009 is unknown. There have been no further updates to the site.
Meanwhile, the distribution rights to The Greatest American Hero, along with several other Cannell productions, were sold to Mill Creek Entertainment in 2009. The announcement was made by Mill Creek Entertainment on October 14, 2009, several months after the reported stall of The Greatest American Hero movie.
Stephen J. Cannell died on September 30, 2010, at the age of 69, of complications from melanoma. His death came just a few months after the passing of Robert Culp.
Other works of Cannell did see big-screen adaptations; the A-Team in June of 2010, and 21 Jump Street in March of 2012.
The Greatest American Hero: the Fans and the Future
Despite the discouragement, fans of The Greatest American Hero have not given up hope that the big-screen movie will someday see theaters. Superheroes are an American cinema staple, and The Greatest American Hero is a unique concept that could be highly marketable for the movies. The idea of an everyday person who becomes endowed with tremendous power and responsibility – and bungles his way through it all – remains a fresh take on the genre.
William Katt remains popular with fans today and enjoys a strong Facebook following. He briefly worked on a comic book version of The Greatest American Hero, but lost the licensing to a business partner. Rather than pursue the exhaustive comic book project with little hope of return, with no business control to speak of, Katt let the comic book go and turned his focus elsewhere. Copies of the brief comic book series are sometimes found on ebay.
Katt still makes appearances at fan conventions and Comic-con. He also remains active in film, and played the villain in the recently-released thriller Sparks.
Will The Greatest American Hero movie ever fly? It could, but it will require a leap of faith by 20th-Century Fox.
Copyright 2013, TheConsummateCulp.com
Back a couple of months ago I found this great blog post by Justine who, as an 11-year-old child, wrote a fan letter to Robert Culp back in 1958 during the time of Trackdown. The letter is a wonderful example of a young girl’s first celebrity crush and the seriousness (at age eleven) at which she approached it.
She certainly had more chutzpah than me at age eleven. Not only in writing a letter to a fave celeb with intent to have it sent but for using the word “yearn” in it. Sure, I’ve yearned for Robert Culp, but I dunno I would have had the guts to tell him that. Ever. (Mr. Culp, unfortunately, never saw the letter as it was intercepted by Justine’s mother. But in doing so the letter ended up being preserved to be shared all these years later.)
Alas, however, Justine’s yearn for Mr. Culp was short lived despite saying in her letter, “I have seen many a western, (such as Maverick) and liked the stars, but never have I liked anyone as much as I like you. Please don’t forget this letter and that I will always like you more than you think.”
…at least, until she discovered Ricky Nelson.
In Yearn for Mr. Culp (or May I Call You Robert?)
Geez, there it is again! Monday! Sneakin’ up on me!
What? You’re here too?
No safety on the television either. Monday’s there too!
Good thing I’ve got the best thing to get me through a Monday…
Yeah, you Bill.
The Greatest American Hero episode “Hog Wild” originally aired November 25, 1981 (which would’ve been yesterday) but I reserved some caps for today’s Maxwell Monday. Look out Monday, here comes Trouble on Wheels… (Go git ‘em, Bill!)
Got my hand on the throttle and my eyes on the thin white line
Gonna burn a little rubber wanna listen to the engine whine
I gotta dirty job to do
ain’t gonna quit until I’m through
cuz I’m a mean motor scooter and I’m feelin’ meaner all the time
Here comes trouble
I ain’t makin’ no deals
I’m danger in motion
Trouble on Wheels
–”Trouble on Wheels” written by Stephen Geyser, sung by Joey Scarbury