Bill Bixby

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Bill Bixby (born Wilfred Bailey Bixby on January 22, 1934 – November 21, 1993) was an American film and television actor, director and frequent game show panelist. His career spanned over three decades, appearing on stage, in motion pictures and starring in five TV series, such as My Favorite Martian and The Incredible Hulk.


Early life and career

Bixby, a fourth-generation Californian of English descent, was born in San Francisco, California. His father, Wilfred Everett Bixby, was a store clerk and his mother, Jane Bixby, was a senior manager at I. Magnin & Co. When Bixby was 8, his father enlisted in the U.S. Navy during World War II and traveled to the South Pacific. He attended Lowell High School where he perfected his oratory and dramatic skills as a member of the Lowell Forensic Society. Though he received average grades, he also competed in high school speech tournaments regionally. After graduation from high school in 1952, against his parents' wishes, he majored in drama at San Francisco City College, where he was a classmate of future actress Lee Meriwether. Later, he attended the University of California, Berkeley, his parents' alma mater, and joined the Phi Delta Theta fraternity there. Just four credits short of earning a degree, Bixby dropped out of college and joined the United States Marine Corps after being drafted into the United States Army during the Korean War. Bixby served stateside duty in the Marines and was honorably discharged.

He then moved to Hollywood, where he had a string of odd jobs that included bellhop and lifeguard. He organized shows at a resort in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. In 1959, he was hired to work as a model and to do commercial work for General Motors and Chrysler.

Character actor

In 1961, Bixby was in the musical The Boyfriend at the Detroit Civic Theater, returning to Hollywood to make his television debut on an episode of The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis. He became a highly regarded character actor and guest-starred in many 1960s TV series including Ben Casey, The Twilight Zone, The Andy Griffith Show, Dr. Kildare and Hennessey. He also joined the cast of The Joey Bishop Show in 1962. During the 1970s, he made guest-appearances on TV series such as Ironside, Insight, Barbary Coast, The Love Boat, Medical Center, four episodes of Love, American Style, Fantasy Island and two episodes of The Streets of San Francisco. In 1976 he received two Emmy Award nominations, one for Outstanding Lead Actor for a Single Appearance in Drama or Comedy for The Streets of San Francisco and the other for Outstanding Single Performance by a Supporting Actor in Comedy or Drama Series for Rich Man, Poor Man.

Television roles

Early roles

Bixby took the role of young reporter Tim O'Hara in the 1963 CBS sitcom, My Favorite Martian, in which he co-starred with Ray Walston. But by 1966, high production costs forced the series to come to an end after 107 episodes. After the cancellation of Martian, Bixby starred in four box-office movies: Ride Beyond Vengeance (1966), Doctor,You've Got to Be Kidding (1967), and two of Elvis Presley's movies, Clambake (1967), and Speedway (1968). He turned down the role as Marlo Thomas's boyfriend in That Girl and starred in two failed pilots.

The Courtship of Eddie's Father

In 1969, Bixby starred in his second high profile television role, as Tom Corbett in the successful dramedy show The Courtship of Eddie's Father on ABC. The series concerned a widowed father raising a young son, managing a major syndicated magazine while at the same time, trying to re-establish himself on the dating scene. Bixby's co-star on the show was unknown child actor Brandon Cruz; the pair developed a close chemistry that translated to an off-camera friendship as well. The cast was rounded out by Academy Award winning actress Miyoshi Umeki, who played the role of Tom's maid, Mrs. Livingston, James Komack (one of the series' producers) as Norman Tinker (Tom's pseudo-hippy, quirky photgrapher) and unfamiliar actress Kristina Holland as Tina (Tom's secretary). One episode of the show co-starred Bixby's future wife, Days of Our Lives actress Brenda Benet, as one of Tom's girlfriends.

Bixby was nominated for an Emmy Award for Lead Actor in a Comedy Series in 1971, but did not win. The following year, he won the Parents Without Partners Exemplary Service Award for 1972. He also made his directorial debut on the show in 1970. ABC pulled the plug on the sitcom in 1972 after 73 episodes.

Cruz said the show dealt with issues that were talked about, and also experienced by himself and Bixby, but were never brought up in a television series. Bixby was not the first actor to portray a single widowed father, but he became one of the more popular ones, thanks to his easygoing way with young Cruz. The show was cancelled at the end of the third season. The two stars remained in contact, and Cruz was even a guest on Bixby's next run-away hit, The Incredible Hulk. The death of Bixby's only child, Christopher, in 1981 drew Bixby and Cruz closer still. The two would remain in touch until Bixby's own death in 1993. In 1995, shortly after Bixby's death, Cruz named his own son Lincoln Bixby Cruz.

1973 to 1977

In 1973, Bixby starred in The Magician. The series was well liked, but it only lasted one season.Likely a victim of the Hollywood writer's strike of 1973, and high production costs. An accomplished amateur magician himself, he hosted several TV specials in the mid-1970s which featured other amateur magicians, and was a respected member of the Hollywood magic community, belonging to The Magic Castle, an exclusive club for magicians. During the show's popular, although short-lived production, Bixby as always, invited a few old friends along to co-star such as Kristina Holland and Ralph O'Hara.

He became a popular game show panelist, appearing mostly on Password and The Hollywood Squares. He was also a panelist on the 1974 revival of Masquerade Party hosted by Richard Dawson. He had also appeared with Dawson on Cop-Out.

He co-starred with Tim Conway and Don Knotts in the Disney movie The Apple Dumpling Gang 1975. Unlike the previous movies that Bixby starred in, this one received mediocre reviews, but was well received by the public and is generally considered a good family film.

Returning to television, he worked with Susan Blakely on Rich Man, Poor Man, a highly successful television miniseries in 1976.

He also hosted Once Upon A Classic for PBS from 1976 to 1980.

The Incredible Hulk

In 1977, after Larry Hagman quickly turned down the part, Bixby starred as Dr. David Bruce Banner in a two-hour pilot movie called The Incredible Hulk, based loosely on the Stan Lee and Jack Kirby Marvel comic of the same name. Its success (coupled with some theatrical releases of the film in Europe) convinced CBS to turn it into a weekly science-fiction series which began airing in early 1978. It was a massive international hit, seen in over seventy countries. The show made Bixby into a pop icon of the late '70s and early '80s. Lou Ferrigno, a bodybuilder and a lesser known star at the time, starred as the Hulk. The show also featured veteran actor Jack Colvin as investigative reporter Jack McGee, who pursues the Hulk throughout the series' run. One line of dialogue from the pilot - Dr. Banner: "Mr McGee, don't make me angry. You wouldn't like me when I'm angry!" quickly became a catchphrase the world over. The pilot also starred Susan Sullivan as Dr. Elaina Marks who tries to help the conflicted and widowed Dr. Banner overcome his "problem" and falls in love with him in the process.

During the show's run, Bixby invited two of his long-time friends, Ray Walston and Brandon Cruz, to guest star with him in different episodes of the series. He also worked on the show with his friend, movie actress Mariette Hartley, who would later star with Bixby in his final series, Goodnight, Beantown in 1983. In the Hulk, Ms. Hartley appeared in the memorable double-length episode Married (in which David finds another source of help with whom he falls in love and marries) and subsequently won an Emmy Award for her guest appearance. Future star Loni Anderson would also guest star with Bixby during the first season. Bixby directed one episode of the Hulk, "Bring Me the Head of the Hulk" in 1980 (original airdate: January 9, 1981). The series was cancelled after the following season, but leftover episodes aired as late as the next June. Bixby was disappointed that his character was not cured of his condition in the final episode.[citation needed]

Later work

After finishing The Incredible Hulk, Bixby decided to focus on directing as well as acting. He directed and starred in his own short-lived comedy, Goodnight, Beantown, co-starring Mariette Hartley. The show only lasted one season. He also directed the successful satirical police sitcom Sledge Hammer!.

In addition, Bixby directed two of three Hulk made-for-television movies in the late 1980s and early 1990s. He was also lead director on the NBC sitcom Blossom. He hosted two Is Elvis Alive? specials in August 1991 and January 1992[1]; both from Las Vegas. On his short-lived series, The Magician, Bixby was credited as performing his magic tricks himself (except for the TV-movie/pilot). Additionally, in 1992, Bixby became an outspoken advocate for research into prostate cancer,[citation needed] the disease which would ultimately take his life in 1993.

Personal life

Bixby lost his father to a heart attack in 1971, a month before his first wedding. Bixby scattered his ashes in the Pacific off the coast of Malibu.

Bixby was married three times. His first marriage was to actress Brenda Benet. They were married on July 4, 1971. She gave birth to their son Christopher on September 25, 1974. In addition to their earlier appearance together on Courtship, Benet guest-starred with him on his The Magician series in 1973, did an episode of The Love Boat with him in 1977, and guested on his The Incredible Hulk program in 1980 just before they divorced. On March 1, 1981, Bixby's six-year-old son Christopher died suddenly of a rare throat infection. His ashes were scattered in the Pacific Ocean, near Malibu, like his grandfather's. Benet committed suicide in April 1982 following a break-off with her then assistant, Tammy Bruce.

In 1989, he met Laura Michaels, who had worked on the set of one of his Hulk movies. The couple married a year later in Hawaii. In early 1991, Bixby was diagnosed with prostate cancer[citation needed] and underwent treatment for the disease. He was divorced in the same year. In late 1992, friends introduced him to the artist Judith Kliban, widow of B. Kliban, a cartoonist who had died of a pulmonary embolism. Bixby married Judith in late 1993, just six weeks before he collapsed on the set of Blossom.

In early 1993, after rumors began circulating about his health, Bixby decided to go public with his illness, discussing his disease and the energy needed to keep him alive. As a result, he made several guest appearances on shows such as Entertainment Tonight, The Today Show, and Good Morning America, among many others.

Bixby's cancer recurred and was diagnosed as inoperable. On November 21, 1993, six days after his final assignment on Blossom, Bixby died of complications from cancer in Century City, California. His wife and another longtime friend of Bixby's, Dick Martin, were by his side. Bixby's ashes are currently at Kliban's Maui estate. A week after Bixby's death, Judith and Bill's family were joined by many mourners at a private memorial.

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