Athletic, nimble and blessed with California good looks, Robert Culp -- who died today at the age of 79 -- was the poster boy of 1960s anti-authority. (Interestingly, Culp was born in Oakland the same year as Clint Eastwood and died the same week as his more earnest peer Peter Graves.)
Culp's defining moments came in two defining '60s classics: I Spy ,(1965--1968), the hipster TV show about secret agents posing as tennis pros, opposite Bill Cosby; and Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1969), the moralistic comedy about the new morality, alongside Natalie Wood, Elliott Gould and Dyan Cannon. As Kelly Robinson in I Spy, he and Cosby effortlessly volleyed wisecracks like tennis balls. And as Bob in B & C etc., he swung between the poles of conventionality and counterculturalism like the peace sign hung around his neck. Culp was always in motion, it seemed, vibrating vitality and virility.
My favorite Culp movie is the criminally underknown Hickey & Boggs (1972). Culp both starred and directed this downbeat study of LA private eyes (Cosby played his partner) from a script by Walter Hill, and it's a seedy, unromantic look at a city and profession typically glamorized.
For the past 30 years he worked steadily in film (for instance, as the President in The Pelican Brief) and TV (in a recurring role on Everybody Loves Raymond). Everyone loved Culp, who possessed a joie de vivre that communicated both on small screen and large.