Marc Cushman •
On September 15, 1965, something unprecedented appeared on American TV screens: a black man and a white man cast as best friends, partners, and equals in a weekly series. The show was I Spy, and it launched the acting career of a little-known comedian named Bill Cosby.
Forty years later, screenwriter Marc Cushman and novelist Linda J. LaRosa teamed up to tell the story in I Spy: A History and Episode Guide to the Groundbreaking Television Series.
Unofficial Book Reviewer: Why are people still interested in I Spy?
Marc Cushman: Because it’s good. The banter between Robert Culp and Bill Cosby, that relationship, that brand of humor, is unique to this day. Like Star Trek or the Beatles, I Spy has a magical ingredient, something fresh and daring and exciting.
UBR: And the historical context?
MC: At that time, there were no other shows on TV where a white actor and a black actor had equal status and equal screen time. There were no other black actors winning Emmys. There were no other series filming around the world, or mixing comedy and drama so seamlessly. I Spy changed TV. And when you change TV, you change the world.
UBR: Tell us about interviewing Robert Culp.
MC: He was remarkably supportive—hospitable, forthcoming, even fatherly—and he had remarkable ethics. Bob contributed dozens of rare pictures from his personal collection as well as scripts and anything else we needed. He wrote the book’s foreword. He said, “One day Bill and I won’t be here, and they’ll have to come to you and Linda to get the story of what we went through, what it took to make I Spy.”
There were two Robert Culps. “Robert” was a brooding method actor who thought about everything deeply and struggled with decisions and memories. But whenever the conversation shifted to Bill Cosby, “Bob” would surface. We’d see that big toothy Kelly Robinson grin, his eyes would sparkle, and years would disappear from his face. He truly loved Bill as his brother.
UBR: Your current project?
MC: These Are the Voyages, a three-book biography of the original Star Trek series, will be out soon. My intention was to put readers into a time machine and land them in the producers’ office and the writers’ room, on the soundstage, and in front of TV sets for the premier broadcast of every episode. For fans of the series, it should be quite a treat . . . and quite a trek. You can reserve a copy at Jacobs/Brown.
Live long and preposterous.
Click here to view an ongoing discussion of all things I Spy.
This interview was pure “wonderfulness.” So enjoyed all the questions and answers!
This is amazing in how you not only caught the spirit of the book, but the spirit of a friendship that lasted forty years.
Great interview, and the description of the “two Robert Culps” really gives a sense of him.