Shameless Plug for Robert Culp and #ColumboTV

Double Your Pleasure, Double Your Fun, Double Exposure

*Cue “Double Vision” by Foreigner*

Fill my eyes, with that double vision…of not one, but TWO #ColumboTV events on Twitter!

The first on Saturday, August 17th, 2013 at 7pm EDT, 12am BST and 9am AEST. The second on Sunday, August 18th, 2013 at 2pm EDT, 7pm BST and 4am AEST.

As Lord Dastardly Deano would say, “for those of you with an inferior education” BST is British Summer Time or simply UK time! AEST is Australian Eastern Standard Time (for our Aussie friends in places like Sydney and Melbourne.)

Why two events, you ask? Am I crazy, you wonder? Are you kidding, Robert Culp twice, in honor of his birthday, which would be August 16th? Absolutely!

Actually, I know a #ColumboTV event typically takes place around 5pm EDT, but I just can’t swing that hour. So, since I can do earlier, or later, and knowing Columbo fans span the globe my hope is the two slots will work well for turnout.

As an extra bonus, there will be a selection of Best Tweet from both events with a prize for each!

So mark your calendars August 17th and 18th and join me on Twitter (@ConsummateCulp) for #ColumboTV and Robert Culp! And for those of you not familiar with how #ColumboTV works, click here to get the scoop!

Columbo: Double Exposure

He Bears Witness to His Beliefs

From TV Guide, January 15, 1966

Robert Culp’s character is revealed by his behavior on ‘I Spy’ and off.

BY DICK HOBSON

“Some of these white cats they say, ‘Hey, man, dig this, dig that, dig the other thing.’ When they talk like that they think they’re saying: ‘See? I’m with you. I’m sympathetic to the Negro cause.’ But I just say, ‘Man, you talk that way at home?’ I’d rather have a cat that shuts up and does it than a cat with the words. That’s what I like about Bob Culp. He’s a cat that does it. I got confidence in the man.”

The speaker is Negro comedian Godfrey Cambridge, all got up in white flannels and navy-blue double –breasted yachting jacket, as he paces the deck of a luxurious yacht on Stage 6 at Desilu-Cahuenga Studio in Hollywood. He awaits the nod of Robert Culp, who is directing his first I Spy episode, “Court of the Lion.”

“A Negro’s always got to be the Good Guy on TV these times,” Cambridge says. “I am tired of being loved. Now this king of the Zulus is the first villain I’ve been allowed to play on TV. I’m doing a black Goldfinger. Bob Culp had the guts to put me in this part. So many other people in this town would say, ‘Let’s not have an argument, let’s make the Zulu an Indian.’ But Culp says, ‘Let’s do it right.’ That’s what I like about Culp.”

Sagebrush Victorian would describe the style of Robert Culp’s dressing room: leather upholstery, bar with a foot rail, roll-top desk—a hark back to his days as Texas Ranger Hoby Gilman on Trackdown. Prominently hung in an oval gilt frame is a photo of Sammy Davis Jr. gripping Culp in a vigorous bear hug. The door is flung open and the minor whirlwind that is Bob Culp whips across the room, deflating into a chair, sandals flying. “First question,” he says, in the manger of a director saying, “Action.” The man is lean, athletic, brown of hair, hazel of eye, and looks rather professorial behind his horn-rim glasses.

It’s true, he had to shell out $2000 to get into the Directors Guild in order to direct this episode, for which his director’s pay is $3500. He concedes he laid out $2500 for an artist to story-board the entire script. “Rarely can a man successfully act and direct at the same time. One has to suffer and it will always be the acting.” That conviction is what motivated Culp to hire acting coach Jeff Corey to stand by and observe his performance.

“At first I found only nitwits in this business,” Culp is saying. “I became childishly hostile. I got the image ‘troublesome.’ But I got wiser. I set about to rectify my ways.”

One of those to whom he was “childishly hostile” was Vincent Fennelly, producer of Trackdown, the series Culp starred in back in 1957. Fennelly claimed Culp walked more like a Method actor than a Texas Ranger, and for a year they didn’t speak to each other. “Yeah, he thought I walked funny,” Culp says, “I invented my own kind of slouch-stroll. Fennelly’s an accountant. He wanted the same old Western hero. But he was right; I was wrong. In Omaha they couldn’t care a rat’s nose.”

*****

A thick blue pall clouds the dressing of Bill Cosby, first Negro to co-star in a network dramatic series. Cosby is stretched over an easy chair, puffing on a 9-inch cigar, sprawled under a framed photo of the co-stars dressed in tennis garb.

“I could be just a nothing. I could be crumpled and crushed if Bobby had turned out to be the kind of guy who wants everything for himself,” Cosby says. “But we made contact. We tuned each other in. Now Bobby knows me better than anybody. We’re closer than brothers.” Godfrey Cambridge sidles into the room and pours himself some coffee, picking up the drift of the conversation. Cosby continues: “We don’t have any race jokes in the scripts. Even in real life, race jokes would be embarrassing to Bobby and embarrassing to me.”

But what about Sammy Davis Jr. and the Clan? They’re integrated and they make ethnic-type jokes. “The old-timers like Sinatra do it. But the Clan has guilts and complexes. They’ve always got to talk about race. It’s very corny, unhip. We’re beyond that.

“You know how the Clan has to have a Leader and all that? No King of the Road with us. Bobby and I are equal. Another thing, we’re closer to the people. The Clan could play golf on Forest Lawn, they’ve got so much money.”

*****

Out in Woodland Hills in San Fernando Valley waits Culp’s wife, the former Nancy Wilner (or former Nancy Asch, actress-theatrically speaking), described by a close friend as “nutty, droll, and bright.” “I hate being called a ‘former’ somebody. Just say I’m the current Mrs. Culp. There was a previous Mrs. Culp, you know—Bob’s college drama coach. She was 24; he was 19. I think she was another mother to him. Shall we tour the homestead?” It’s a big, old frame house with an oversize cupola, a decidedly eccentric house among all those new-moderns in suburbia.

“This is the playroom. This is Jason’s room. This is Joshua’s room. This is Joseph’s room. This is Rachel’s room.” All but one of the offspring are pre-schoolers. One room has a jungle tree-house in one corner and bunks suspended from the ceiling on chains. “Bob did it.” Another is fitted like a ship’s cabin with bunks, ladder, and real portholes. “Bob built it. This is our kitchen. Bob laid the floor.

“We first met at an off-Broadway theater. Off-stage he was very shy, insecure, ill-at-ease. But on-stage he could do the most fantastic things. We did the Greenwhich Village scene together, the Brando thing, the motorcycles, the whole bit.”

On a peg hangs a black cowboy hat. “Gary Cooper’s. Bob wore it in a Gunsmoke.” The oversize cupola on the third floor turns out to be Culp’s study. “We call it the Lion’s Den.” Up here Culp has a 360-degree view of his two-acre wooded domain. Here is his typewriter.

“Bob’s first script was a Trackdown. He thought all the stories were adolescent drivel. So he just wanted to do one that would be his own way. But Trackdown was an unhappy period for us. It was agony for Bob to go to the studio each day. He was hanging on for dear life. I didn’t know from one day to the next whether he would come home or not. Sometimes he didn’t.”

*****

After Trackdown, Culp loudly let it be known he wanted no more of series. “Bob had a reputation as being quite tumultuous,” agent Jimmy McHugh says of him. “He’s one of those actors who has a deeply rooted desire to say something in his work. But Hollywood is not that kind of town.” Culp says: “Jimmy helped me change. He set out to make a comedy image for me and he did a beautiful job.” In two years Culp made four feature pictures, including “Sunday in New York.”

Any discussion of I Spy invariably returns to the Culp-Cosby relationship. Mark Rydell, who has directed three I Spy episodes this season, says: “Bob could easily overpower Cos simply by exercising his talent. But Bob is always helping Cos and guiding him in a way that I find quite moving.”

“Half of my energy is spent trying to translate their private communications,” says Paul Wendkos, director of eight of this year’s I Spys. “Culp and Cosby have put-ons on top of put-ons. They’re ‘hippies,’ to use one of Bob’s favorite words. They always take the off-beat way. But underneath their hip, existentialist veneer is the sense of irony just this side of bitterness- the irony of the artist in show business, the irony of racial inequality.”

“Bob is incensed by prejudice,” says Culp’s friend, director Sam Peckinpah. “He doesn’t recognize it; he doesn’t understand it. Yet he’s not trying to carry any particular banner.” Wendkos adds: “Bob’s attitude is, ‘I don’t have to crusade. I’m it.’”

According to I Spy co-producer Mort Fine: “There is a wide audience acceptance of the camaraderie between Culp and Cosby, the white man and the Negro. People want to do the right thing, white to Negro. I think it’s vicarious. They want to watch it in action.”

“Yeah,” says Godfrey Cambridge sardonically, “watching I Spy on the tube provides a relationship with a Negro with no risk.”

As for Bob Culp, he says only, “If Cos and I have any kind of mission on this show, it’s something we’ve never had to discuss.”

The Blue Lightning

The Blue Lightning

The Blue Lightning

CBS Movie of the Week

Originally broadcast May 7, 1986

**Contains spoilers**

Prior to watching the dreadful National Lampoon’s Movie Madness I had discovered that the TV movie The Blue Lightning from 1986 was given a proper DVD release earlier this year (2013). I had seen a few clips of Culp from this one on YouTube and, of course, loved the aviators, the Irish accent and the riding boots. I hoped to find the movie to see the whole thing some day.

I was very glad to find it on DVD and had watched it just before seeing the National Lampoon movie. To set things right in my world I figured to go back and wipe the memory of National Lampoon from my mind and take a look at The Blue Lightning again.

Besides, I needed to do some screen caps y’know…

The movie opens in Opal Ridge, Australia where Quinton McQueen is tied to a tree and is about to be left for dead by Lester McInally (Culp). (Lester’s last name, to note, is pronounced two different ways in this movie; the Australian pronunciation sounds like “McKinley” while the American way is like it’s spelled, Mac-In-Ally.)  Quinton pleads to not be left tied to the tree where the wild dogs would get to him and eat him alive. One of McInally’s thugs, Mr. Words, asks for McInally to show some mercy. After some thought, McInally agrees and as Mr. Words starts for the tree to untie McQueen, McInally pulls his gun and shoots McQueen, killing him. “There,” he says to Words, “we’ve saved him from the dingos…”

(Clip courtesy of FedKidCounselor)

Hell of an intro for Culp’s character! And he’s just as merciless through the rest of the movie.

Back in San Francisco, Harry Wingate (Sam Elliot), an adventurer, sailboat enthusaist umm…private investigator? I’m not sure exactly what Wingate’s profession is but he’s hired by Brutus Cathcart (Max Phipps) to do one of two things; retrieve a priceless opal or get back the $400,000 Brutus paid in attempt to buy the opal from McInally. McInally, a former IRA bomber who has been hiding from the British in Australia, runs a town called Opal Ridge and discovered the Blue Lightning opal himself. He initially put a price tag on it of $250,000 but kept upping the price on Cathcart, who, one might consider foolishly, kept paying.

Harry initially refuses the job unless he gets $100,000 plus expenses or 25% of the true value of the opal, whichever is greater but Cathcart only offers $80,000. Harry leaves Cathcart’s office but they must have worked something out because Wingate heads off to Australia, where he purchases a black market  .44 magnum upon arrival and then finds a rattlesnake in his hotel room.

Good thing he got the gun first because he uses it to cut the snake in half. He then dumps it outside his hotel room, just as a bride and groom are going by. (Hopefully that didn’t bode badly for their future together.)

Harry then meets with Kate McQueen (Rebecca Gilling), whose husband Quinton works for Brutus Cathcart and also had McInally as a client (tho’ I’m not sure at this point in the movie what exactly it is that Quinton did). Anyway, Harry talks Kate into going with him to Opal Ridge, more or less as insurance since he doesn’t know her or Quinton and thinks it’s possible she and her husband have the opal for themselves.

On the drive to Kate’s house, they pick up a tail. A couple of McInally’s boys try to run Harry off the road. Harry ends up running them off the road, but later at Kate’s house his car is rigged with a bomb. He discovers it in time before it blows up and he and Kate take off into the brush as the two hired guns come swooping in. Harry and Kate make their escape in a sky tram, exchanging gunfire with the baddies along the way.

On the other side of the valley they make their way to an airport to get a plane. The hired guns catch up and get themselves a plane too – and leave no witnesses.

The guns catch up in the air and manage to shoot a hole in Harry’s plane. Harry manages to get the plane down into some clouds to lose the guns and then down to the ground for a tough landing that busts the landing gear.

The hired guns keep looking to see where the plane went down. Harry and Kate catch their breath near a tree not far from the road they landed on. Unfortunately, a huge truck comes along and smashes their plane to pieces. The driver is horrified thinking he had killed someone. He finds Harry and Kate are fine just as the hired guns show up in their plane. Everybody jumps into the cab of the truck and they take off, with the plane chasing after them and shooting.

The movie is only about 30 minutes old at this point and it’s been all action. There’s little character development or even much background. We still know little to nothing about Harry Wingate and Kate McQueen apparently spent some time with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, but in what capacity we do not know. This is one of the things about the movie that irritates me.

Also, one can only guess how McInally knew that Wingate was coming and sent his two “best men” after him. Not that it did any good. Harry manages to nail not only the pilot of the plane but the fuselage with his .44 from the speeding truck. Pretty good marksman. The plane goes down in a fireball.

They continue on to Opal Ridge without incident and the truck driver drops them off. He wishes them luck in their going up against McInally, who is hated with a passion apparently all over Australia (and the British government couldn’t find him?). Opal Ridge, one should note, is a town out in the middle of nowhere in the Australian Outback. Think of the old west towns, add a little more color, some cars along with horses and a video arcade. Yer there.

In town, Harry’s plan is simple. He’s just gonna walk right into McInally’s home base of operations and say howdy. (I like how the roof of McInally’s Casino – and that’s exactly what it’s called McInally’s Casino, very original  – has a huge FOSTER’S LAGER written across it. Don’t tell me I’m the only one who remembers the Foster’s tv ads back in the 80s… “Fawstahs, Awwstraylian for Beeah!”)

Inside the casino/bar, the bartender, Mr. Words, is throwing somebody out (a fellow hood perhaps? He apparently brought the wrong supplies to the bar. Idiot.). Harry goes up to the bar and orders a beer. Whatever’s on tap. (Ya reckon it’s Fosters? Can’t miss the Fosters signs on the wall. Oh, and CASH ONLY – no credit. You stiffs.)

Mr. Words draws up the beer and then slops it on the bar at Harry. There’s a brief exchange over the price of the beer considering most of it ends up on the bar which leads to a fisticuff.

Down in his underground lair, McInally is watching everything on his close circuit TVs. He applauds as Harry gets the upper hand.

Harry grabs Mr. Words and uses him to go down in the hole. McInally, knowing he has a visitor coming, prepares with a push of a button to summon his boys and have a gun at the ready.

Down in the lair, there’s the exchange of words between Harry and McInally. Listening to Culp do the Irish accent is worth the price of admission here. And it’s not so much the accent. It’s that he’s so damn deadly sounding with it. (“If you’re going to go on, with your rudeness, then I guess I’m going to have to do something about you…”)

Eventually McInally tries to take an upper hand and kill Harry but doesn’t quite succeed (but does plant a bullet in Harry’s lung). Chaos erupts outside the casino where McInally’s boys are waiting as Kate takes their Chevy El Camino-like car and runs them all over. Harry escapes the casino, jumps in the car and they take off. McInally comes out as they disappear in a cloud of dust, giving them a few parting shots as they go. He vows another day and then turns around to his trashed town and starts laughing like a maniac.

(Clip courtesy of FedKidCounselor)

McInally is very disappointed in his boys for letting Wingate get away. One poor sap gets his hand/fingers twisted behind his back. This same sap says something about Mrs. McQueen that gets cut off by McInally and suggests something about the kind of relationship they may have had. I’m not sure. Another piece of the puzzle that’s missing in this thing.

A hundred miles away, Kate drives Harry to a ranch, a mission, that was started by her husband when he was a priest (we find out around this time that he left the priesthood and became a private detective. That’s quite a career change!) At the ranch, Harry is treated by a doctor and spends some time re-cooperating. At the mission he comes to know some of the aboriginal people. Quinton McQueen is revered by the aborigines and Harry asks their help in going after McInally. At this point nobody knows if Quinton is dead or alive and initially, Harry is told no…until the aborigines find Quinton’s body still tied to the tree where McInally left him.

As they prepare for their raid, two of McInally’s men are watching. But they never get to report back to McInally because they end up caught – and killed by Harry and some of the aborigines.

A couple of days later, they launch their attack at dawn. Kate drives the truck she and Harry are in straight through the front window of McInally’s casino. Harry jumps out, Kate backs the truck out and Harry shoots the hell out of the bar. Seriously. The jukebox, the slot machines, the liquor, the pool table, the piano… and a couple of McInally’s men along the way.

The aborigines, meanwhile, smoke out the rest of McInally’s men, who are in various areas of the underground hideout (which is an old mine). Harry starts to make his way to McInally’s “main office.”

Down below, McInally gives an order to a few of his men that they’re going to go out via the back shaft. One man decides he’s just getting the hell out. McInally does not tolerate disobedience or disloyalty and promptly shoots the man in the back as he flees.

McInally grabs his gun, his aviators and his opal and makes his exit.

The climatic cat and mouse shootout between Wingate and McInally is pretty good. The use of the old abandoned mine platform is great, although I hope everyone got their tetanus shots updated considering all the rust they were around. My only disappointment was in McInally’s end. Seriously, for being so merciless and conniving and cold and what not, Culp’s McInally deserved a blaze of glory finish. His dangling of the opal over the catwalk as he died (and grabbed by Wingate) I think could have been better sequenced.

Overall, not a bad film but as I noted earlier it was fairly heavy on action and had little on character background or development. Actually, this could have made an interesting pilot for a series, which would have allowed for more character development but Culp’s McInally would have had to stick around to be the “Wofat” to Sam Elliot’s “Steve McGarrett.” Very good use of locations, of course, Australia is a beautiful place on Earth.

Reviews at the time were about the same, though one reviewer made it clear that they could not stand Sam Elliott. I’ll admit he did little for me in this film but Newsday felt Elliott was “the most boring, unappealing actor since the days of Mr. Ed, the talking horse. He speaks in a low, monotonous growl, always looking immensely pleased with himself. His mustache is thick and scruffy, his manners atrocious. In the final shootout, you may prefer to root for Robert Culp.”

The Chicago-Sun Times couldn’t get enough of poking fun at the fact that Wingate carries this big-ass gun and can’t hit much with it. “…poor Elliott’s aim with a gun is almost comical. No, it is comical. Time after time, he fires countless rounds of bullets from “the most powerful handgun blah, blah, blah . . .” and rarely manages to inflict much damage beyond building up a callus on his trigger finger.” (I think I hear Frank Bogg’s in the background…  “What’s the matter, Harry? Need a bigger gun? Can’t hit nothin’?“)

As for Culp, the Sun-Times described his role as “played to the hilt” and that “in a relatively modest role, Culp seems to have the time of his life playing the thug McInally.”

The New York Times also noted Culp’s performance: “…although he appears in only a few scenes, Robert Culp is positively menacing as the clearly psychotic McInally.”

I don’t know if he had “the time of his life” playing the part, but I think he certainly had some fun with it.

One user submitted review on IMDB notes: “Sadly, despite all the heat and dust, Sam Elliott doesn’t get to do a shower scene even though, at about age 42, he’d still look good walking around with just a towel knotted around his waist.”

Big deal. Robert Culp, meanwhile, at about age 55 sports the well-fitted khaki’s very nicely, thank you…

 

Cast highlights…

Despite being called “the most boring, unappealing actor since the days of Mr. Ed, the talking horse” Sam Elliott has had a long and varied career and has appeared in such films as Road HouseGettysburgTombstone and The Big Lebowski. His beefcake status was achieved with the 1976 film Lifeguard.

 

Jack Davis, the only other American cast member, plays the leader of the aborigines (Jahrgadu) and forges a bond with Wingate. Jack began his acting career as a child, appearing in several of the Our Gang short films in the early 1920s before being sent off to military school by his brother-in-law, Harold Loyd. He would eventually become a well respected physician in the Los Angeles area but still continued to appear in various films and tv shows from the 1940s until his death in 1990.

The cast featured several well known and recognized Australian actors, including…

Rebecca Gilling. In an interview with “TV EYE” from February of 1995 she was asked about the film and although she said she had fun doing it she didn’t consider it a critical highlight of her career. She went on to say, “It was the first time I had been offered a role sight unseen or without interview. Lee Philips, the director, had been an actor in Hollywood in the fifties and sixties, and knew exactly how to communicate with the cast. The conditions were challenging as we were mostly in Broken Hill in the middle of summer. Sam Elliot was a very nice man but very serious as an actor. Robert Culp seemed to be extremely bland and disconnected from everything. He could never remember my name and I became ‘the girl’. I think he thought he was only doing this movie as a diversion, a visit to the antipodes. The only unusual episode during filming was a dispute between Sam and Robert over whose character should have the biggest gun in the shoot-out!”

John Meilon is the doctor that patches up Harry at the ranch. The same year as this movie, Meilon would be seen as Crocodile Dundee’s friend and mentor in the original Crocodile Dundee.

 

 

 

McInally’s “best men” were played by Michael Carmen (blonde) and Ray Meagher. Both Carmen and Meagher are veteran Australian actors who have appeared in many films and tv shows in Australia.

 

 

 

Although he only had one scene, Max Phipps’s Brutus Cathcart was memorable enough. Phipps career spanned theatre, film and television in Australia. He played Dr. Frank-n-Furter in the Australian production of The Rocky Horror Picture Show and played “The Toadie” in the second Mad Max film (The Road Warrior) where he loses a few digits trying to catch a particularly sharp boomerang.

 

The abandoned mine where the final shootout takes place is known as “Browne’s Shaft,” part of Junction Mine, located just outside of the city of Broken Hill in Australia. The buildings still stand today, including the shaft building and storage tanks that are seen in the film. The area is now a historic site and is open to visitors, however, I suspect one can not go into the mine shaft building anymore.  The mine did not produce opals, however, but instead produced silver and other such metals.


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The Blue Lightning is available on DVD through Amazon.com.