Bill Bixby

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Bill Bixby
Bill Bixby The Magician 1973.JPG
Bixby as The Magician, 1973
Born Wilfred Bailey Everett Bixby III
(1934-01-22)January 22, 1934
San Francisco, California, United States
Died November 21, 1993(1993-11-21) (aged 59)
Century City, Los Angeles, California, United States
Cause of death Prostate cancer
Alma mater University of California, Berkeley
Occupation Actor, director
Years active 1961–1993 (his death)
Television My Favorite Martian, The Courtship of Eddie's Father, The Incredible Hulk and The Magician
  • Brenda Benet (m. 1971–80)
  • Laura Michaels (m. 1990–91)
  • Judith Kliban (m. 1993–93)

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, and 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 science-fiction drama series The Incredible Hulk.[1][2]


Early life[edit]

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 City College of San Francisco,[3] where he was a classmate of Lee Meriwether, another young actress who later won the title of Miss America as Miss California 1954. Bixby and Meriwether later worked together on an episode of Barnaby Jones. 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.

Beginning acting[edit]

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[edit]

Bixby as Tim O'Hara in My Favorite Martian, when an accident turns Uncle Martin back into a baby (season two, episode six)

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. By 1966, though, high production costs forced the series to come to an end after 107 episodes. After the cancellation of Martian, Bixby starred in five 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 guest-starred on the show, and starred in two failed pilots.

The Courtship of Eddie's Father[edit]

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, and 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.

With The Courtship of Eddie's Father co-stars, Brandon Cruz and Miyoshi Umeki

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 cancelled the sitcom in 1972 at the end of season three.

After the show was cancelled, Bixby and Cruz remained in contact, with Cruz making a guest appearance on Bixby's later series The Incredible Hulk. The death of Bixby's only child, in 1981, drew Bixby and Cruz closer still. The two remained in touch until Bixby's death in 1993. In 1995, Cruz named 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."[4]

1973 to 1977[edit]

In 1973, Bixby starred in The Magician. The series was well liked, but it lasted only 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.

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 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.

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, 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);[5] and appeared with Donna Mills, Richard Jaeckel, and William Shatner in the last episode, "The Scarlet Ribbon", of NBC's Western series The Oregon Trail, starring Rod Taylor and Andrew Stevens. Bixby directed two episodes of The Oregon Trail.

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

The Incredible Hulk[edit]

Although he initially declined the role 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).[citation needed] Consequently, Bixby starred in the pilot movie called The Incredible Hulk, based loosely on the Stan Lee and Jack Kirby Marvel 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.[citation needed] 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."[6]

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 later starred with Bixby in his final series, Goodnight, Beantown in 1983. Hartley appears in the well-regarded double-length episode "Married",[6] and subsequently won an Emmy Award for her guest appearance. Future star Loni Anderson also guest starred 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 cancelled after the following season, but leftover episodes aired as late as the next June. Bixby later executive-produced and 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.[6]

Later work[edit]

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, Bixby directed several episodes of another short-lived television series, Wizards and Warriors, which aired in 1983. From 1983 to 1984, he hosted a documentary series for Nickelodeon entitled Against the Odds. The series, which was cancelled 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 number 76).[7]

Bixby hosted two Elvis specials, both from Las Vegas: The Elvis Files (August 1991)[8] and The Elvis Conspiracy (January 1992).[9]

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

He finished his career by directing 30 episodes (in seasons two and three) of the NBC sitcom Blossom.[10]

Personal life[edit]

Bixby's father died of a heart attack in 1971, a month before Bill's first wedding. 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.[11] 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, Los Angeles. 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.[citation needed]


Television roles[edit]

Film acting[edit]



  • 1984: Dreams; 12 episodes
  • 1988: The Incredible Hulk Returns (executive producer)
  • 1989: The Trial of the Incredible Hulk (executive producer)
  • 1990: The Death of the Incredible Hulk (executive producer)


  1. ^ "Bill Bixby, TV Actor, Dies at 59; Starred in 3 Long-Running Series". The New York Times. November 23, 1993. Retrieved August 10, 2010. 
  2. ^ Oliver, Myrna (November 23, 1993). "Bill Bixby, Star of TV's 'Incredible Hulk,' Dies". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved October 6, 2010. 
  3. ^ "Bill Bixby, TV Actor, Dies at 59; Starred in 3 Long-Running Series". The New York Times. 1993-11-23. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2016-04-19. 
  4. ^ "Bill Bixby biography". A+E Networks Digital. Retrieved January 27, 2013. 
  5. ^ Classic Television Archive: Quinn Martin's Tales of the Unexpected (1977)
  6. ^ a b c Glenn, Greenberg (February 2014). "The Televised Hulk". Back Issue!. TwoMorrows Publishing (70): 19–26. 
  7. ^ "Full cast and crew for "Sledge Hammer!" Hammer Hits the Rock (1987)". The Internet Movie Database. Retrieved January 27, 2013. 
  8. ^ Rick Kogan. "The once and future King; 'The Elvis Files' brings all those old tabloid rumors back to life". Chicago Tribune. August 13, 1991. Tempo, 1.
  9. ^ "Evening: Best on TV". Chicago Tribune. January 22, 1992. 8.
  10. ^ "Bill Bixby: Credit Listings". Archived from the original on February 6, 2010. Retrieved March 10, 2010. 
  11. ^ Henkel, John (December 1994). "Prostate Cancer: New Tests Create Treatment Dilemmas". FDA Consumer. BNET. Retrieved June 16, 2009. 

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