Posts Tagged ‘Harlan Ellison’

Kelly Robinson is no more: Robert Culp, who played said agent opposite Bill Cosby’s Alexander Scott in the groundbreaking interracial series I Spy (1965-68), has died at 79; weirdly, he was born just forty-three days after my mother. I was a little young for that show, and I must confess that I’m unfamiliar with the bulk of his work, so I don’t have the ability to do Culp justice with a full-fledged obit. But I will touch on such points of interest as his multiple mentions in Richard Matheson on Screen, e.g., the fact that Steve McQueen’s star-making Wanted: Dead or Alive, for which Matheson and Charles Beaumont wrote “The Healing Woman,” was actually a spin-off from Culp’s earlier series Trackdown.

More important, Culp had the lead role in one of the least-known pieces of Mathesoniana, “Thy Will Be Done,” the unaired pilot for a proposed series entitled Now Is Tomorrow. Directed by Irvin Kershner of The Empire Strikes Back (1980) fame, it features Culp as one of several futuristic military officers who must bear up under the strain of having their finger on the button (actually a key, but you get the idea) that will trigger a nuclear war. Although he was a little disappointed when I sent him a copy and he saw it for the first time in forty years, Matheson had cited it as one of the very few cases in which what was filmed matched his vision exactly.

Culp also appeared in “The Long Years,” an episode of The Ray Bradbury Theater adapted from the eponymous story in The Martian Chronicles. His role of John Hathaway, kept company by robot simulacra of his family during a long exile on Mars, had been played by Barry Morse (of The Fugitive and Space: 1999 fame) in the ill-fated 1980 miniseries based on Bradbury’s book. Interestingly, however, Matheson told me that unnamed parties actually scripted that segment to replace his own unused version of “Usher II,” which was eventually adapted on Bradbury’s series with Patrick Macnee.

In addition to having his own series, Culp guest-starred on a bewildering variety of other shows, and is best remembered by genre fans for his three episodes of The Outer Limits: “Corpus Earthling,” “The Architects of Fear,” and “Demon with a Glass Hand.” Written by Harlan Ellison (reportedly with Culp in mind), the latter cast him as Trent, who is sent back in time to avert a catastrophe that threatens the human race, and—like Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982)—made good use of the Bradbury Building in Los Angeles as a shooting location. Legal action by Ellison resulted in an acknowledgment to his work in the credits of James Cameron’s The Terminator (1984), because of its similarity to “Demon” and Ellison’s earlier episode, “Soldier.”

Speaking of genre entries, Culp and Eli Wallach starred in one of the few that really got under my skin, the TV-movie A Cold Night’s Death (aka The Chill Factor, 1973), a virtual two-character story about scientists researching primates at an Arctic station. Watching this now-rare gem late at night, I got the heebie-jeebies as Culp and Wallach tried to figure out what happened to their predecessor—found dead under mysterious circumstances—while coping with the cold, isolation, and increasing paranoia. In another of the curious coincidences that characterize my so-called career, its director, Jerrold Freedman, later became one of my authors at Viking when I publicized his novels (written as J.F. Freedman) Against the Wind, The Obstacle Course, and House of Smoke.

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