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Bixby as The Magician, 1973
|Born||Wilfred Bailey Everett Bixby III
January 22, 1934
San Francisco, California, U.S.
|Died||November 21, 1993
Century City, Los Angeles, California
Cause of death
|Alma mater||University of California, Berkeley|
|Television||My Favorite Martian,
The Courtship of Eddie's Father,
The Incredible Hulk
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 more than three decades, including appearances on stage, in films and on television 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, stage illusionist Anthony Blake in the NBC crime drama series The Magician, but is perhaps best known for his role as scientist Dr. David Banner on the CBS sci-fi drama series The Incredible Hulk.
An only child, Bixby was born a fourth-generation Californian of English descent, in San Francisco, California. His father, Wilfred Everett Bixby II, was a store clerk and his mother, Jane (née MacFarland) Bixby, was a senior manager at I. Magnin & Co. In 1942, When Bixby was eight years old, his father enlisted in the Navy during World War II and traveled to the South Pacific. While in the seventh grade, Bixby attended Grace Cathedral and sang in the church's choir. In one notable incident, he shot the bishop using a slingshot during one service and was kicked out of the choir. In 1946, his mother encouraged him to take ballroom dance lessons and from there he started dancing all around the city. While dancing, 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 to another future young actress and a winning Miss America contestant who was Miss California 1954, Lee Meriwether (who would later work together on an episode of Barnaby Jones), who's just 1 year Bixby's junior. Later, he attended the University of California, Berkeley, his parents' alma mater. Just four credits short of earning a degree, Bixby dropped out of college and was drafted into the Marines.
He then moved to Hollywood, California, 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.
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, Straightaway, and Hennesey. He also joined the cast of The Joey Bishop Show in 1962. In 1963 he played a sailor with a Napoleon tattoo in the movie Irma La Douce, a romantic comedy starring Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine, directed by Billy Wilder based on the 1956 French musical. 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 each of The Streets of San Francisco, and Rod Serling's Night Gallery.
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 (though he later guested on the show) 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 in the vein of other 1960s and 1970s sitcoms that dealt with widowerhood, such as The Andy Griffith Show and My Three Sons. Eddie was played by novice 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 actress Kristina Holland as Tom's secretary, Tina. One episode of the show co-starred Bixby's future wife, 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, directing eight episodes. ABC canceled the sitcom in 1972 at the end of season three.
After the show was canceled, Bixby and Cruz remained in contact. Cruz was even a guest on Bixby's hit series, 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.
Brandon Cruz said of the show which developed a professional 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."
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 Pamela Britton (in her final role), 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. In 1974-1975, he directed four episodes of the eighth season of Mannix, and he guest-starred as Mannix's friend-turned-villain in one of the episodes.
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, he co-starred in the pilot for the television series Fantasy Island, starred in "No Way Out," the final episode of the NBC anthology series Quinn Martin's Tales of the Unexpected (known in the United Kingdom as Twist in the Tale), and 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 's 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.
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 (and agreed to remain involved with the series for as long as Johnson was to be involved). Consequently, Bixby starred in the pilot movie called The Incredible Hulk, based loosely on the Stan Lee and Jack Kirby Marvel comic book characters. Its success (coupled with some theatrical releases of the film in Europe) 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. 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. In a retrospective on The Incredible Hulk, Glenn Greenberg declared Bixby's performance to be the series's "foremost" strength, elaborating that he "masterfully conveyed the profound loneliness and tragedy of Dr. Banner while also bringing to the role an abundance of warmth, intelligence, humor, nobility, likability, and above all else, humanity."
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. Hartley appears in the well-regarded 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 series, "Bring Me the Head of the Hulk" in 1980 (original airdate: January 9, 1981). The series was canceled after the following season, but leftover episodes aired as late as the next June. Bixby later reprised the role in three television movies – The Incredible Hulk Returns, The Trial of the Incredible Hulk, and The Death of the Incredible Hulk – the last two of which he also directed, and the first of which he has been said to have unofficially co-directed.
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. During the same time period, Bixby directed several episodes of another short-lived television series, Wizards and Warriors, which aired in 1983. From 1983 to 1984, Bixby hosted a documentary series for Nickelodeon entitled Against the Odds. The series, which was canceled after only two seasons, consists of short biographies of famous people throughout history. From 1986 to 1987, he hosted the syndicated weekday anthology series True Confessions. 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" (prisoner in cell No. 76).
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.
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Bixby's father died of a heart attack in 1971, a month before Bill's first wedding. His ashes were scattered in the Pacific off the coast of the island of Maui.
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 was a guest on 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 Maui, like his grandfather's. Benet committed suicide on April 7, 1982, following a break-up with her 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 and underwent treatment. 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 went 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 terminal. On November 21, 1993, six days after his final assignment on Blossom, he died of complications in Century City, California. He was 59 years old. His wife, Judith Kliban, and his longtime friend, Dick Martin, were by his side. His ashes are at Kliban's Maui estate.
In 2003, while promoting X2, Hugh Jackman mentioned in an interview on UK television morning talk show This Morning that he planned to make a biopic of Bill Bixby, that he had been drawn to the project by Bryan Singer and that it was a project he loved. A year later, while promoting Van Helsing, he mentioned on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno that he wanted to make the movie soon. Leno showed a picture of Jackman and Bixby and pointed out the similarities in looks. Jackman would later reveal on Parkinson in the UK that he was drawn to Bixby's story because it was one of tremendous courage and determination against the odds. Many magazines in the UK including Total Film, Empire and SFX ran the story that Jackman would be playing Bixby. Nothing more was heard until summer 2009 when it was rumoured that Jackman's Seed Productions would add this to their upcoming projects with the possibility of Richard Donner directing or Jackman himself making his directing debut.
- "Bill Bixby, TV Actor, Dies at 59; Starred in 3 Long-Running Series". The New York Times. November 23, 1993. Retrieved August 10, 2010.
- Oliver, Myrna (November 23, 1993). "Bill Bixby, Star of TV's 'Incredible Hulk,' Dies". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved October 6, 2010.
- "Bill Bixby biography". A+E Networks Digital. Retrieved January 27, 2013.
- Classic Television Archive: Quinn Martin's Tales of the Unexpected (1977)
- Glenn, Greenberg (February 2014). "The Televised Hulk". Back Issue! (TwoMorrows Publishing) (70): 19–26.
- "Full cast and crew for "Sledge Hammer!" Hammer Hits the Rock (1987)". The Internet Movie Database. Retrieved January 27, 2013.
- "Bill Bixby: Biography". Sitcoms Online. Retrieved January 27, 2013.
- "Bill Bixby: Credit Listings". Archived from the original on February 6, 2010. Retrieved March 10, 2010.
- Henkel, John (December 1994). "Prostate Cancer: New Tests Create Treatment Dilemmas". FDA Consumer (BNET). Retrieved June 16, 2009.
- Bill Bixby at the Internet Movie Database
- Bill Bixby at the Internet Broadway Database
- Bill Bixby at the Internet Off-Broadway Database
- Bill Bixby at AllMovie
- Bill Bixby at the TCM Movie Database