Sunday, January 25, 2015

Remembering Bill Bixby, Born Jan. 22, 1934

He would have turned 81 last Thursday.

One of TV's most beloved and familiar faces was actor/director Bill Bixby whose long TV career as a personable star of several popular series made him an audience and industry favorite for decades.  Bill passed away from cancer on November 21, 1993 at the age of 59, and the loss of this talented TV veteran has been keenly felt ever since. (Interestingly, his death followed by two years that of equally beloved TV icon Michael Landon who also died of cancer well before his time at age 55.)

His was a career based primarily in television from beginning to end.  Blessed with All-American good looks and a likable demeanor, Bixby became a popular guest star on many early 1960s series including The Joey Bishop Show, Dr, Kildare, and this 1962 episode from The Andy Griffith Show:

Bill Bixby moved between drama and comedy with ease, a skill that eventually brought him one of the starring roles on the CBS sitcom My Favorite Martian which debuted in 1963.  Co-starring with veteran actor Ray Walston for the three year run of the show, Bixby played reporter Tim O'Hara whose close encounter with a Martian visitor he passed off as his "Uncle Martin" made for 107 episodes of well-regarded classic TV comedy.

After the end of My Favorite Martian Bill Bixby turned to the big screen to co-star in a pair of Elvis Presley movies and continued to make guest starring roles on series TV.  You'll enjoy this groovy 1968 clip from The Dating Game where Bill and Richard Dawson were contestants:

 In 1969 he landed the starring role of Tom Corbett in the ABC TV adaptation of the 1963 Glenn Ford movie comedy The Courtship of Eddie's Father; Ron Howard played his son Eddie in the film.  For the TV version seven year old child actor Brandon Cruz was tapped to play Bixby's son and Academy Award-winning Asian actress Miyoshi Umeki played their housekeeper Mrs. Livingston .  Their genuine onscreen chemistry between all three of them immediately captured the hearts of viewers and the show lasted three seasons for a total of 73 episodes.  Adding to the warm & fuzzies was the charming theme song by composer Harry Nilsson.

Each episode of The Courtship of Eddie's Father began with a heart-to-heart talk between Eddie and Tom which led into the opening credits.  Here are a few different versions:

You will also enjoy this clip from 1989 from The Arsenio Hall Show when guest Bill Bixby had a surprise visitor:

After the 1973 cancellation of The Courtship of Eddie's Father Bixby returned to more guest roles in popular series and along the way gave a much-lauded performance in the racy 1973 PBS adaptation of Bruce Jay Friedman's darkly absurd play Steambath. 

Bixby, as always constantly working in guest roles and TV Movies, again landed a series lead as he took the title role in NBC's The Magician which debuted in the fall of 1973.  He played a rich playboy whose hobbies were sleuthing and magic, both interests leading him into a season's worth of adventure and intrigue. Stylish and sophisticated, The Magician didn't have the staying power NBC was looking for but audiences responded warmly to Bixby's finesse with legerdemain -- a real interest of his -- and the series is far from forgotten.

After The Magician Bixby once again continued to be a sought-after TV face, including an Emmy-nominated supporting role in the groundbreaking miniseries Rich Man, Poor Man in 1976.

1977 brought him the title role of Dr. David Banner in the TV adaptation of comic book character The Incredible Hulk; actually he shared the role with bodybuilder actor Lou Ferrigno who played the post-transformation Hulk. The show lasted five seasons and a total of 83 episodes, ending its CBS run in 1982.  The continuing popularity of the show with fans and in syndication spurred rival network NBC to reunite Bixby and Ferrigno for three follow-up movies seven years after the series cancellation.  We highly recommend visiting the terrific website The Incredible Hulk TV Series Page created by Mark Rathwell for extensive information and valuable insight; click here.  Episodes are also available for viewing on NBC's website, click here.

Here's a trailer for one episode that clearly used footage from the TV Movie Duel:

And here is a documentary on the making of the still popular series:

In 1981 Bixby was nominated for a Daytime Emmy for his hosting duties on the PBS show Once Once a Time.

Post-The Incredible Hulk, in 1983 Bill Bixby starred opposite actress Mariette Hartley in the situation comedy Goodnight, Beantown where they played Boston TV news anchors. The series started as an April '83 five episode run, returned in the fall for an additional 13 episodes and left the air in January of 1984.  Bixby and Hartley and CBS had been banking on the actors' proven personal acting chemistry to propel Goodnight, Beantown to success; Hartley had won a Best Actress Emmy Award in 1979 for her work in the two-part The Incredible Hulk episode "Married" where she was an ailing research doctor who falls in love with and marries David Banner.  No such luck, alas, this time around.

We need to also bring remember Bill Bixby's extensive TV directing career, beginning when he directed several episodes of The Courtship of Eddie's Father.  He proved to be as talented in back of the camera as in front of it and continued to helm episodes in both comedy and drama including Mannix, Charlie's Angels, Mr. Merlin, Sledgehammer and many others.  At the end of his life he was busy directing episodes of the series Blossom.

Bixby made a commercial for Tandy computers back in 1986, too:

Though no more series leads were to come his way after Goodnight, Beantown, Bill Bixby continued making many guest acting appearances and as mentioned above was simultaneously involved in his successful TV directing career. His cancer diagnosis came in 1991 and ultimately led to his death on November 21, 1993.

We highly recommend taking a good look at his extensive IMDb credits, click here -- he was as prolific as he was versatile.  In terms of a great biography, you won't find a better one than this one from Mark Rathwell's above mentioned The Incredible Hulk TV Series Page -- click here to read it. The Find a Death website has an excellent page on Bill Bixby and also much info on Miyoshi Umeki -- click here to access.  You can click here to read The New York Times obituary on Bill Bixby.  The Los Angeles Times obituary is available by clicking here.  Great Britain's The Independent reported Bixby's death, click here to read.

Of course Wikipedia gives a nice overview of Bixby's life and career, click here.  For a nice article on the continuing influence on Bill Bixby on his many fans, you should read this article from The American Spectator website by Aaron Goldstein, click here.  Here's another tribute article, click here. Also highly recommended is the extensive Bill Bixby website created by JH Harison containing information on his life and career plus great quotes and other background material, access by clicking here. There is also an active The Incredible Hulk discussion board available by clicking here.

Bill Bixby, January 22, 1934 - November 21, 1993.  One of TV's greatest, always remembered.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

"Whitney" TV Movie Debuts Tonight on Lifetime

We're all for celebrity biopics; sometimes they're good, sometimes they're bad, sometimes they're actually insightful but usually they're at least interesting.  We're betting on Lifetime's Whitney to give us interesting and maybe more.  Premiering tonight Saturday at 8pm with an encore at midnight and also airing at 8pm and 11pm tomorrow, Sunday, Whitney tells the story of the immensely successful singer-actress Whitney Houston who unexpectedly passed away not quite three years ago.

Directed by actress Angela Bassett -- American Horror Story, What's Love Got to Do With It, ER, to name just a few of her memorable performances -- Whitney stars actress-model Yaya DaCosta in the title role, with Arlen Escarpeta as her controversial spouse Bobby Brown.  Notwithstanding all the carping that naturally goes on when a movie like this about a famous person hits the air, let's remember that this is the Lifetime network, not HBO, and we can't expect -- nor does the usual Lifetime audience even want -- a no-holds-barred expose full of drugs and the rest of the ugly stuff that evidently did go on in Houston's too-short life.  Let's go along with Bassett's declaration that this is a "tribute" -- click here to read more about it -- and take it on those terms.  You'll remember that Lifetime had a previous collaboration with the Houston family on the reality series The Houstons: On Our Own which focused on Whitney's daughter and her mother in the aftermath of Whitney's untimely death.  Houston's family has not been enthusiastic about this new TV movie, however; click here to read more about that situation.

You might like to read a few early reviews of Whitney -- click on the links -- such as this one from Variety, The New York Times' review is here, the Fast Company website has a review and an interview with Angela Basset available here, and here's a long and interesting article from, click here to read it.

This also might be a time to check out some of the real thing, namely Whitney Houston in a few of her TV appearances.  In 2009 she sat down for a long interview with Oprah Winfrey:

Earlier in her career, in 2002, Whitney did a one-on-one with Diane Sawyer;

Even earlier, the pop star answered questions from Barbara Walters, in this interview from 1993:

The Official Whitney Houston website is here, click to access.

Her fans' devotion has never wavered.  As an example, take a look at this long and loving fan-produced tribute video to her:

You'll also want to remember Whitney in her role as the Fairy Godmother opposite Brandy as Cinderella in the 1997 TV production of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella, as she sings the inspirational ditty "Impossible" -- it's pretty sweet, and so is the little featurette:

The TV movie Whitney premieres on Lifetime tonight at 8pm.  Click here for the movie's official website.

DaCosta & Escarpeta as Whitney & Bobby

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Remembering Dr. Martin Luther King, the Man who Kept Nichelle Nichols on "Star Trek"!

Though the national Martin Luther King, Jr. Day isn't until this coming Monday, today is the celebrated civil rights crusader's actual birthday.  The Nobel Peace Prize winner was born on January 15, 1929, and today would have been his 86th birthday.  One of our favorite stories about this important leader is the one that has entered into TV legend, namely how he persuaded actress Nichelle Nichols to stay in her role of Lt. Uhura on the original Star Trek.

Nichelle was and is a broadly talented actress-singer-dancer who had been considering accepting an offer to return to Broadway.  Star Trek had just completed its first season on-air and though Nichols loved playing Lt. Uhura she was also tempted by the opportunity to do NYC theater again.  She was close to announcing her decision to leave the series to Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry when she attended an NAACP fundraiser.  (I haven't read any specific date for the event, though the first season of Star Trek was over -- whether that means TV season airing-wise or filming-wise I am not sure.  Once source says it was in Fall of 1967.)

What happened at that fundraiser and most importantly who Nichelle Nichols met at that event changed Star Trek history.  There are numerous accounts of the momentous occasion around, all telling of the time that a devoted Star Trek fan who also just happened to be the most important human rights campaigner in the U.S. was able to persuade an ambitious actress that she was already in the most perfect place imaginable.  Here is one version with footage of Gene Roddenberry and Nichelle:

Here's Nichelle telling it again at the Pioneer Women of Television in 2011:

Rather than paraphrase the story, we're going to link to several of the wonderful stories about the Martin Luther King, Jr. meets Nichelle Nichols moment in time.  Here is a short version on the PBS Pioneers of Television website, click here; The Wall Street Journal did a story, click here; NPR did a segment on their Tell Me More show, click here: Nichelle did an interview with awesome astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson on Dr. King's influence on her, click here:  SpinOff Online did a great article, click here; and here's Forbes' version of the story, click here:

Each time one hears the story it's an inspiration and affirmation that Star Trek is truly one of the most important television series ever, for a plethora of reasons that continue to be revealed as the years go by.  The lasting impact of especially those original 79 episodes will continue forever.

We celebrate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the time he helped Nichelle Nichols understand her place in history.  May the spirit of Star Trek live on!

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Happy Birthday to All-Around Funnyman Larry Storch!

We'd like to wish a very Happy 92nd to veteran funnyman Larry Storch, probably best remembered for his hilarious co-starring role as Corporal Agarn on the classic western-set sitcom (a pretty rare genre!) F Troop which ran for two years beginning in 1965.  His stint on the show is just a small example of the versatile and still actively performing Storch's repertoire.  His childhood in NYC started the ball rolling as the natural-born mimic began effortlessly imitating the various accents he heard in his polyglot neighborhood.  This uncanny ability plus his undeniable comic flair set him firmly on the road to becoming a stand-up comic during the late years of the Depression.

After a stint in the Navy during WWII, Storch established himself as a versatile comedic performer on stage, in radio, on recordingsin movies and especially on TV in a plethora of appearances including a huge body of work doing animation voices.  Even a quick glance at his credits on IMDb reveals Storch's contributions to be vast and impressive -- click here to take a look!

We'll celebrate with some highlights from his TV work.  Enjoy! First up, how about Larry in an early 1960s appearance on Car 54, Where Are You? with Fred Gwynne and Joe E. Ross:

Here is the first season black and white F Troop theme; the 2nd season color version sans lyrics can be watched by clicking here.

Here he is in a 1965 segment of the variety show Hollywood Palace; he's introduced here by Janet Leigh:

And here's a wonderful hour-long interview with Larry Storch by comedian Gilbert Gottfried onhis The Amazing Colossal Podcast from just a couple of months ago:

Click here for a terrific post on the Tralfaz: Cartoons & Tralfazian Stuff blog all about Larry Storch's enduring friendship with actor Tony Curtis which began when they served on the same submarine during WWII.  Also terrific is this account (click here) of Storch's stint as Mayor for a Day of Fort Lee, New Jersey, last June. and this one of his appearance at L.A.'s The Comedy Store in September.  Be sure to become friends with him on Facebook, too -- click here.  You will also enjoy this interview with him on the Classic Television Showbiz blog, click here to access.

What a trouper!  He's a hard-working and incredibly talented show business veteran with the kind of energy we all dream of having.  What an inspiration!

Happy Birthday, Larry Storch, and many more!