Sharing the wonderfulness of Robert Culp

Why Did They Have to Split Us Up?

From Motion Picture Magazine, January 1967

Why Did They Have to Split Us Up? - Motion Picture Magazine, January 1967

By: Bill Cosby (as told to James Gregory)

On I Spy Bob Culp and I are a team. And that’s why I don’t feel anyone should split us up and give an award to just one guy – the way they gave an Emmy just to me a while back. With other comedy teams there is always only one guy who is funny – Jerry Lewis, Lou Costello – but Bob can be as funny as he wants. The two of us make it together. One plays off the other. We do comedy, but there’s no straight man.

On the Emmy Awards show I thanked Bob for helping me learn to act – thereby losing his own chance to win an Emmy for best actor in a dramatic series, for which we had both been nominated. What he had done for me was the finest thing one friend could do for another. He had taken a comedian who knew nothing about acting, and without being selfish he helped me along – eased my tension, gave me pointers, made sure certain things were right. He told me what acting really meant – “This all has to do with what’s inside of you. If you believe what you’re saying your face will show it.”

He taught me about lighting, where to stand, how to move, how to speak up. He wouldn’t let a director make me do something I couldn’t handle yet. He protected me that first year. And he still does at times, if I don’t know what’s going on. I think that’s why he lost the Emmy. He always helped me, and he might just not have had enough time to do certain things for himself.

Of course, he did it to help the whole show too – because Bob knows as well as I do that the strength of the series happens to be the relationship between the two men. If one man goes bad, it all starts to fail. As Bob said a few months ago in an article in MOTION PICTURE,” “The gold in the show is the relationship between Bill and me; and that’s what makes the show.”

Our relationship is important in our personal lives, too. We are very, very close.

Bob came up to me on the set of I Spy and gave me some old Captain Marvel comic books, which he knows I dig, and old Captain America second issue and a Captain Marvel poster. And he wrote me a little note that said, “Thanks a lot for everything.” He thanked me. We sat down and we kind of discussed the awards. And that’s when I told me him that they shouldn’t try to split up a team like us. He saw what I meant, and agreed with me, I told him it really got to me that there was a trophy for only one guy, when that’s not really the way it is – at least not with us.

We're so close that we instinctively understand each other.But I really didn’t have to explain to Bob how I felt. We’re so close that we instinctively understand each other. We even have a certain way that we speak to each other. I don’t know if you’ve ever had a friend who was so close to you that maybe just one word could key you off into – not necessarily fits of laughter, but enjoyable moments, when you’ve both been depressed or tired. For me that particular pick-me-up happens to be Bob Culp.

I don’t think we like the same things as much as we can sit down and really communicate with each other. I can talk with him for a long time and never get bored. We’ve discussed many things, from acting to pro football to lizards – to the beauty of putting an A-bomb together for fun. Or we may talk about some choice, beautiful thing we saw on TV: good acting, good actors, good actresses, good movies. Nothing really deep. We talk occasionally about politics, but neither of us is very active in that field. I wouldn’t back any politician, because I don’t believe in them. I have very little faith in politicians. They will make noises at election time, putting down their opponents, saying, “Hey, you stink … you’re bad!” So forth and so on. Then you put the guy in office, and soon the other guy says, “Look at him! He’s messing up, too.”

I don’t think it’s surprising that Bob and I can discuss so many things so easily, or that we’ve developed our own way of communicating. When you live with somebody 12 hours a day for 5 days out of the week, you get to know him awfully well. And then, in our case, we also go to places around the world together for our show … Hong Kong, Mexico, Japan, Italy. You pick up on the lingo and start to have your own little dialogue. And pretty soon you can revert back to something that you said maybe a month ago, just by using a punch line or a little joke that you’ve got going. And believe me, we’ve shared some good jokes on trips to other countries. To an outsider, a key word or line might mean little or nothing. But to us they contain a whole adventure.

For instance, I could say El burro es grande and Bob might double up laughing. Why? Well, it dates back to our trip to Mexico. I enjoyed the Mexican people very much – beautiful, beautiful people. And they have a great sense of humor, which of course is terribly important to me. And that’s where El burro es grande comes in.

I studied Spanish in high school and came out of the class with just one sentence – the one quoted above which means, “The burro is big.”

So while we were on location in Mexico, I would sit down on the grass with the Mexican crew – about 20 guys who took care of the lights and stuff – and I’d say, El burro es grande. And they would give me other lines: El burro es muy (very) grande. Si! (Yes!) And so on.

Well, finally it was time for Bob and me to return to California, and the majority of the crew came to see us off at the airport. And most of the son-of-the-guns had tears in their eyes. Then suddenly one of them says: “One, two, three …” and they all chimed out in unison: “El burro es good-bye!” So neither Bob nor I will ever forget that sentence. It turned out you could say quite a lot with it after all.

Let us venture forth and get some of these wonderful things that they have on the menu here. Then there was something that happened to Bob and me in Hong Kong while we were filming the 1st show in the series. Now, when I get to a foreign land I like to eat the food of the country. I don’t care how sick it makes me feel. Well, we were sitting in this restaurant. (A Chinese restaurant, of course!) Both of us had just learned how to work out with chopsticks, and were starting to learn a little about Chinese food, I mean real Chinese food. So we sat down and looked at the menu and said, “What is this?” and so forth and so on, and “Let’s have some of this. Have you ever tried this? No, man, let’s try some. Let us venture forth and get some of these wonderful things that they have on the menu here. We don’t care what it is. Give us some of this and some of that, with flangs and floosh and zoobie … and oh, yes, we must have some duck. Give us some duck. This barbecued duck here.”

“It’s $36,” the waiter said, (That was Hong Kong dollars, but it still added up to $9 in American money.)

“Oh, so what!” we said, “We don’t care – $36 – man, give us the duck.”

So the guy’s bringing the food to us, and it’s all great – just great. Even the bean curds, which I’d never had before. Pretty soon we’re acting like high school kids – you know like fooling around with a chocolate sundae or something like that. And every time we’d taste something new, if it’s kind of weird, you look at your partner and your partner looks at you, and you break up laughing.

So we’re munching and crunching, till we’d finished a good part of the meal. (As a matter of fact all of it.) And I said to Bob, “Did we get everything – except the duck?” Bob said, “Yeah – we forgot the duck.” But we were both so full we couldn’t have cared less.

Then suddenly this guy comes up the stairs and over to our table – and he’s got a whole duck. What Bob had ordered was a whole barbecued duck! I was so startled I thought it was a joke, but it wasn’t. Now, we’re full of food – it’s up to the Adam’s apple, man. Well, we don’t want to make the guy feel bad, so we said, “Oh, this is wonderful …” Here are two guys so full of food, and now we’ve got to eat a whole duck. We’ve got to force it down.

The guy brought out the plum dressing and everything for it, and it was really delicious. I ate about two slices and Bob ate about two slices, and then I told the waiter, “Okay – put it in a bowser bag and we’ll take it home!”

And that’s what we did. We took it back to the hotel and gave it to one of the kids who worked in the lobby – they make like a penny a day. I’m sure that when he went home with a whole 36-Hong-Kong-dollars barbecued duck they all flipped.

Memories like that tie Bob and me together in a genuine friendship. It’s as genuine a friendship as any can be. There’s no pretending about anything. Although we have different tastes, we always respect that. He never demands anything of me – if I don’t want to do it, I don’t have to do it. There’s no argument, no walking off or anything like that. We don’t even have to pressure each other into saying, “Now, listen, man, if you don’t want to do it, you don’t have to do it.” That’s simply understood.

And if I ever take Bob some place that I think is special, and it fails, we both laugh – and vice versa. I went to the ballet with him one night. Went right to sleep. And we laughed and I thanked him. I said, “Listen, I probably would have stayed up til 12:30 – if I hadn’t gone to the ballet!”

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NBC are you there? It’s me, Lisa…

Dear NBC,

Hi. It’s me again. I wrote to you previously about two years ago when I had been teased and deceived about a couple of clips of Robert Culp on Saturday Night Live from 1982, when he hosted. You had his opening monologue posted to your website but for some technical reason at the time the clip wouldn’t play and I cried. Then I wrote you an open letter.

Ok, maybe I didn’t exactly cry, but I did write you an open letter. As Culpkarma would have it, after posting said letter I was alerted to another Culp clip from the same SNL episode, this time of him and Eddie Murphy with the “cold opening” sketch that spoofed a little I Spy and a little on Bill Cosby and his many product endorsements. I was so happy to see this clip, and that it played, I wrote you another lovely note.

Still, the monologue wasn’t working. However, not long after these two gracious letters appeared on this blog the monologue clip was restored and viewable. Not only could the clips be viewed at your own site, NBC, but also on Ok, probably nobody at NBC ever saw my lamenting pleas, but I liked the idea of thinking it had some kind of effect.

Which is why I’m writing again. I was very sad this past weekend (on Saturday, no less) to take a look at the “cold opening” sketch again only to find that the clip on both your site and at Hulu have been removed. The monologue is gone as well.

This makes me very unhappy, NBC. I know, life’s full of disappointments, but it is not full of multiple hosting gigs by Robert Culp of Saturday Night Live. He only did the show once and although it could be argued that the episode is not one of SNLs more stellar offerings, it is nonetheless, ROBERT CULP.  Both the “cold opening” sketch and the opening monologue, for what it’s worth, are entertaining and, well, I would love it if they could be restored so that others can view them. Culp’s “Kelly Robinson” open warm-up jacket look is worth the price of admission for Culp fans!

Robert Culp on Saturday Night Live

Heck, Joe Piscopo wrecking a tennis racket in front of Culp in the opening sketch is worth the price of admission too. And the opening monologue? Culp worked with a guy who’s a comedian, you think he didn’t pick up something from Cosby over the years?!

Anyway, I sincerely hope you can find it within your heart to bring these clips back either on your site or via Hulu (no, not HuluPlus) or wherever so they can be viewed again and enjoyed by all. That is the only motive for my note this time. Well, ok I do have a somewhat selfish motive with this too. I now have postings in this blog that reference video clips that are no longer there.

Really, NBC, help me out!



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He Bears Witness to His Beliefs

From TV Guide, January 15, 1966



More Familiar Fashion with Robert Culp

Previously I posted about an ad for Ralph Lauren Purple Label suits reminding me of Culp’s pinstripe suit in the 1973 Columbo episode “Double Exposure.” (Have I mentioned I looooove a man in a three piece suit?)

Well, I found some more Culp-esque fashion.  Sasha Charnin Morrison, Fashion Director for Us Weekly, tweeted several photos of Natalie Wood last week and, in relation to that, also tweeted that “the Gucci Spring 2013 collection looks a lot like Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice.” I admit it does remind me of B&C&T&A with a lot of the bright colors and all (the women’s Gucci fashions more so), but I wasn’t expecting this:

Okay, the leather one is a stretch, since the Gucci model isn’t wearing matching leather pants (and why not?) and the color is different, yes. BUT! The Gucci color reminds me of this Culp suit! (Again from a Columbo episode, “The Most Crucial Game” 1972….)

And upon further investigating in the Gucci Spring 2013 collection we have this red hued suit and…well now lookit that, a polka dotted tie…

This light blue suit (middle) harkened back to I Spy (left) and even the beige/off white tie reminded me of Frank Bogg’s similar look in Hickey & Boggs (right). Apologies to Gucci though, yes, I know Boggs’ suit looks like it was run over by a car – with him in it.

The best though? This yellow jacket and white pants combination!

So what does all this Culp inspired fashion mean? Two things. One, Robert Culp was simply fashionable and two…I pay way too much attention to his clothes apparently…

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It’s All Fine, Just Fine…

The final first season episode of I Spy, “One Thousand Fine” aired this date (April 27) in 1966. Still in Acapulco, Kelly and Scotty are given an assignment to locate a missing US Air force plane that was carrying nearly $6 million in gold when it crashed 8 years earlier. The only surviving crew member, Jack Gannon, is an old acquaintance of Kelly’s and together the men, along with Jack’s fiancé go looking for the plane. To complicate things a bit Jack’s fiancé is someone from Kelly’s past…


The past between Kelly and Jean (Jack’s finance) creates some tension in this episode. This first clip shows the tension with Jack and the brewing jealously. The second half of the clip has a great bit of comic relief from Scotty.


Another great scene with some more tension between the three characters. Jean figures out what Kelly’s secret was that he couldn’t tell her years before and Jack’s jealously is still brewing. It’s also becoming apparent that relationship between Jean and Jack is changing as Jack knows they’re getting closer to finding the gold.


And finally a clip from the beginning of the episode (it wasn’t all tense!) with some great back n’ forth between Kelly and Scotty about, what else, a girl. “All other bikinis would be stuffed with plaster of paris” next to Kelly’s latest find.





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The Light in Your Eyes…

…is to make you bow to someone else’s command. The I Spy episode “It’s All Done With Mirrors” originally aired this date, April 13, 1966. While on a break in Acapulco, Kelly is abducted and brainwashed into believing that Scotty must be killed because he has turned traitor. But does Kelly believe it enough?

Carroll O’Connor plays the enemy scientist, Dr. Karolyi, who conditions Kelly and is very far removed from Archie Bunker here.

In the clip below, “Miss Pemberly” reminds Kelly of why Scotty must be killed. Although Kelly thinks she’s a government agent like himself, she is actually part of the team that brainwashed him.

There are many great scenes in this episode (the entire episode is superb) but this one below is fantastic for the tension that builds with Kelly’s erratic behavior and treatment of Scotty.

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But When She was Bad…

…she was a pain in the butt for Kelly and Scotty! The I Spy episode “There Was a Little Girl” aired this date, April 6, 1966. Kelly and Scotty are assigned to “babysit” the teenage daughter of a US cabinet member on her vacation to Mexico. Buying a souvenir at a shop gets her and the boys mixed up with drug smugglers.

In the clip below, the young Kathy Sherman is easily dazzled, but not dazzled enough with Kelly’s history lesson on the Church of San Sebastian and Santa Prisca in Taxco, Mexico.

Kathy’s mask was originally sold to her in error and the shop owner tries everything to get it back. In the clip below, another attempt is made…

Lastly, this clip is for no other reason than Culp wearing cowboy boots and Cosby’s line of “You’re the one that wanted to look like a cowboy.” He shoulda called him Hoby!

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The Best Contribution They Could Make

Perhaps the most touching incident of this sort was the arrival of Bill Cosby and Robert Culp, the television stars. They did not even ask to see me, but spent most of the afternoon at the house playing with my boys, because they felt that this was the best contribution they could make.” – Coretta Scott King, talking about the many visitors she had in Atlanta in the days following the death of her husband, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. King was assassinated in Memphis, TN on April 4, 1968. (From LIFE magazine, September 19, 1969)

Robert Culp and Bill Cosby stayed around Atlanta and even helped to serve up eggs and grits for the many who visited Mrs. King and paid their respects. The two actors then went along to Memphis on the 8th of April, to take part in the striking sanitation workers march that MLK was originally in Memphis for at the time he was killed. Many other celebrities and actors also joined the march, including Harry Belafonte and Ossie Davis (indeed, they marched at the front with Mrs. King, her children, Andrew Young and others). Culp and Cosby purposely maintained a low profile, making no big deal about themselves as celebrities or tv stars and marched toward the back simply showing their solidarity for the workers who were striking.


Mother, Spies and Beer

…make up the jist of the I Spy episode “My Mother, the Spy” which aired March 30, 1966. Kelly and Scotty must convince a female spy who’s been betrayed and is targeted by the enemy to return to the United States. The fact that she is with child complicates things.

Kelly and Scotty spend a good portion of the episode in fisticuffs with mysterious thugs. At one point they’re escorted from the hospital grounds to a bar and questioned, more or less, under the encouragement of a sawed off shotgun.

After getting out of that scrap, they go back to the bar later to try to find out who wanted them roughed up. Some more beer gets thrown around…

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