He had his biggest success on television with Bill Cosby on “I Spy,” historic in its way as the first inter-racial buddy adventure program on TV or, for that matter, in any medium and the tongue-in-cheek superhero comedy, “The Greatest American Hero.” Nevertheless, Mr. Culp, who died unexpectedly today from a fall at age 79, also made a notable mark on films.
Costarring with his colleague and friend Cosby, he directed an attempt to translate their TV fame into movies with 1972’s “Hickey and Boggs.” The film, which was written by a young Walter Hill, tried to go in vastly different, far grittier and grimmer direction than the TV show and failed at the box office. Recently, however, it’s been rediscovered by some cinephiles and crime film fans.
Still, a few year before that Culp appeared in one of the real cultural break-out movies of the 1960s, “Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice.” For better or worse, it helped popularized, or perhaps merely capitalized, on the idea of “swinging” and “free love” among the older, married set. I haven’t seen this one either and I have no excuse other than somewhat mixed-feelings about most of writer-director Paul Mazursky’s other movies. However, in her heartfelt farewell to Culp, Cinematical’s Monika Bartyzel was kind enough to provide the lengthy, terrific clip below. This scene with Natalie Wood really shows Culp’s way with both serious and light material as he experiences a pretty broad swath of emotions in a scene that starts out as something close to straight drama and gradually eases into some pretty delightful comedy. Now, I want to see this.