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Bill Bixby (1934)

Wilfred Bailey Bixby

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Wilfred Bailey Everett “Bill” Bixby III (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; he appeared on stage, in motion pictures and TV series. He is known for his roles as Tim O'Hara on the CBS sitcom My Favorite Martian, Tom Corbett on the ABC comedy-drama series The Courtship of Eddie's Father, and Dr. David Banner on the CBS drama series The Incredible Hulk.


 Early years
Bixby, a fourth-generation Californian of English descent, was born in San Francisco, California. His father, Wilfred Bailey Everett Bixby Jr., was a store clerk and his mother, Jane (née McFarland) Bixby, was a senior manager at I. Magnin & Company. When Bixby was eight, 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 developed his oratory and dramatic skills as a member of the Lowell Forensic Society. Though he received only 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.

 Beginning acting
In 1961, Bixby was in the musical The Boy Friend 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 Hennesey. 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.

 My Favorite Martian and other 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 movies: Ride Beyond Vengeance, Doctor, You've Got to Be Kidding, and two of Elvis Presley's movies, Clambake, and Speedway. He turned down the role as Marlo Thomas's boyfriend in the successful 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 Courtship of Eddie's Father a comedy-drama 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. This series was also the answer to other 1960s and 1970s sitcoms that dealt with widowhood, such as, The Andy Griffith Show, My Three Sons, The Eleventh Hour, The Beverly Hillbillies, Petticoat Junction, The Lucy Show, Family Affair, Julia, The Doris Day Show, The Partridge Family and Sanford And Son. On Courtship, Bixby's co-star on the show was unknown child actor Brandon Cruz; the pair developed a close rapport 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 housekeeper, Mrs. Livingston, James Komack (one of the series' producers) as Norman Tinker (Tom's pseudo-hippie, quirky photographer) 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 the Emmy Award for Lead Actor in a Comedy Series in 1971. The following year, he won the Parents Without Partners Exemplary Service Award for 1972.

Bixby made his directorial debut on the show in 1970, and directed eight episodes. ABC pulled the plug on the sitcom in 1972 at the end of season three.

Brandon Cruz said of the show, which developed a father-son relationship compared to that of The Andy Griffith Show, "We dealt with issues that were talked about but were never brought up on television. Bill wasn't the first actor to portray a single widowed father, but he became one of the popular ones, because of his easy-going way of this crazy little kid." Prior to Bixby's promotion as the director, Brandon said, "He was looking for the best dolly grip, along with the boom operator that if something was called specifically and failed, Bill could be easily angry." On the kind of relationship Bill had wanted with his co-star, Brandon also said, "Bill would never speak down to me. Bill treated me as an equal. He made sure that we had a lot of time together, just so he could kinda crawl inside my head and see what actually made a kid tick." The final thing he realized of Bill's real-life father's death in 1971, and when asked about his mentor’s father’s loss, he stated: "He had that type of mentality that the show must go on, thinking it was just a great T.V. show, after he broke down weeping."

After the show was canceled, 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, in 1981, drew Bixby and Cruz closer still. The two would remain in touch until Bixby's death in 1993. In 1995, Cruz would name 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. 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.

Also in 1973, he starred in Steambath, a play by author Bruce Jay Friedman, on PBS with Valerie Perrine and Jose Perez.

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.

In 1975, he co-starred with Tim Conway and Don Knotts in the Disney movie The Apple Dumpling Gang, which was well received by the public.

Returning to television, he worked with Susan Blakely on Rich Man, Poor Man, a highly successful television miniseries in 1976. He played a daredevil stunt pilot in an episode of the short-lived 1976 CBS adventure series Spencer's Pilots, starring Gene Evans. In 1977, Bixby appeared with Donna Mills, Richard Jaeckel, and William Shatner in the last episode, entitled "The Scarlet Ribbon", of NBC's western series The Oregon Trail, starring Rod Taylor and Andrew Stevens. Bixby directed two of The Oregon Trail episodes.

In 1976, he was honored with 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.

Bixby also hosted Once Upon A Classic on PBS from 1976 to 1980.

 The Incredible Hulk
Although he initially declined the part of Dr. David Banner in The Incredible Hulk because of its comic book origins, on reading Kenneth Johnson's script for the pilot episode he was persuaded to change his mind . Consequently, 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 book of the same name. Its success convinced CBS to turn it into a weekly series, which began airing in the Spring of 1978. It became an international hit, seen in over 70 countries. The show made Bixby a pop icon of the late 1970s and 1980s. One line of dialogue spoken by Bixby in the pilot: "Don't make me angry. You wouldn't like me when I'm angry", became a catchphrase the world over (the phrase was used again, first in Ang Lee's Hulk , although in Spanish, and again in the 2008 movie The Incredible Hulk, with an altered version in Portuguese). 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.

While it was never a major problem, one aspect of the series irritated Bixby. His character was occasionally shown as transforming into the Hulk due to being attacked and unable to defend himself against stronger or multiple opponents. In reality, as a former Marine, Bixby was fairly adept at unarmed combat, but understood that this aspect was simply not consistent with the character of Dr. Banner.

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 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 . The series was canceled 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. However, this lack of closure left the door open for future projects. Thus, Bixby was later able to reprise the role in three television movies: The Incredible Hulk Returns, The Trial of the Incredible Hulk, and The Death of the Incredible Hulk. Two other television movies were to be planned. However, due to Bixby's declining health, all such projects were canceled.

Bixby's performance as David Banner was roundly praised by critics and fans alike.

 Later work
Bixby was executive producer and co-star of the short-lived sit-com Goodnight, Beantown (1983–84). He also directed three episodes of the series. In 1987, he directed eight episodes of the satirical police sitcom Sledge Hammer!, including the episode, "Hammer Hits the Rock" in season two, where he made an uncredited appearance as "Zeke" .

Bixby was executive producer of the three Hulk made-for-television sequel movies in the late 1980s and in 1990. He also directed the latter two.

Bixby hosted two Is Elvis Alive? specials in August 1991 and January 1992, both from Las Vegas.

Bixby made his last acting appearance in 1992, guest starring on an episode of Diagnosis: Murder.

He finished his career by directing 30 episodes of the NBC sitcom Blossom.

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