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.  Check out the wonderful Goodnight, Beantown analysis on the Friday@8 Central website written by Tim Rose; click here to read it.

We need to also 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.


Jeri said...

Nice article on Bill Bixby. I liked him a lot, gone way too early just like Michael Landon

Lisa said...

Both he and Landon were such important figures in TV and both so well-liked. Sad losses!

Anonymous said...

Seems a lot of Hollywood actors and actresses died from cancer. I believe pancreatic cancer and some in a movie with John.Wayne, Agnes Moorehead and others in an Area where radiation was prevalent. Kind of makes you wonder what they were exposed to. Lee Remick.died right around the time of Mike Landon.