Robert Culp, best remembered for the 1960s television series I Spy and for the 1969 spouse-swapping comedy Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, died Wednesday morning after a fall at his Hollywood home, according to a Los Angeles Times report.
Culp was rushed to Queen of Angels hospital, but was pronounced dead a little later.
Robert Culp’s film career never quite took off despite the Paul Mazursky-directed hit Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, in which Culp, wife Natalie Wood, and a willing couple, Elliot Gould and Dyan Cannon, attempt to do a little swinging on the side to spice things up. Unfortunately, said attempt doesn’t go too far, but just the possibility left audiences titillated.
Here’s Roger Ebert’s take on the – in my view, disappointing – finale: “Some critics have called the ending (when the two couples do not trade partners after all) a cop-out. Not at all. It’s consistent with the situation and the development of the characters, and an orgy at the end would have buried the movie’s small, but poignant, message. It’s a message, incidentally, that I think was missed by the feminist who sent me a postcard saying: ‘Down with wife-swapping, up with husband-swapping.’ They’re two sides, wouldn’t you say, of the same coin?”
Orgy or no, some critics felt that supporting players Gould and Cannon – both Oscar nominated – stole the movie, while others felt that Wood and Cannon came out on top.
Thus, Culp’s lasting claim to fame is his role as Kelly Robinson in the 1965-68 espionage series I Spy, in which he was paired with Bill Cosby. According to the Times obituary, I Spy broke new US-TV ground by starring a black actor in a noncomedy series.
Off-screen, Culp was involved in civic causes. Not too long ago, he sued Los Angeles Zoo director John Lewis and the city to prevent the construction of a $42-million elephant exhibit. The actor accused zoo authorities of withholding medical care from the animals, which were also kept cramped in small parcels of land.
Unfortunately – but not unexpectedly, considering the money involved and the fact that elephants can’t vote – the Los Angeles city council chose to proceed with the much-lambasted project. [Check out Last Chance for Animals.]
Culp was born in Oakland, Calif., on Aug. 16, 1930. He began his television career in the early 1950s, and made his film debut supporting Cliff Robertson in the World War II drama-biopic PT-109 (1963).
Among Culp’s other movies are Sunday in New York (1963), again supporting Robertson, plus Jane Fonda and Rod Taylor; Rhino! (1964), opposite Shirley Eaton and Harry Guardino; and Hannie Caulder (1971) with Raquel Welch.
More recently, Culp could be seen in supporting roles in Farewell, My Love (2001) and Santa’s Slay (2005).