Obituary: Bill Bixby

Anthony Hayward
Wednesday 24 November 1993 01:02

William Bixby, actor: born San Francisco 22 January 1934; married Brenda Benet (died 1982; one son deceased), 1993 Judith Klivan; died Los Angeles 21 November 1993.

OVER three decades, the American actor Bill Bixby starred in a string of successful television series, and was best known as the calmer half of the Jekyll and Hyde character featured in The Incredible Hulk.

Born in San Francisco in 1934, Bixby studied theatre at school, acted in student productions at the University of California, at Berkeley, and during summer holidays organised shows for a resort in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Bixby gave up his law degree to join the army, before moving to Hollywood in search of an acting career, vowing that he would give himself five years to make it or return to his law studies. At first he worked as a clerk, then lifeguard and pool manager at a hotel, where a Detroit advertising executive spotted the eager young talent and offered him the chance to appear in industrial films for companies such as the car giants General Motors and Chrysler.

Bixby then appeared on stage in a Detroit Civic Theater production of The Boy Friend, which led to his television debut in an episode of The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis. He came to prominence as a semi-regular in The Joey Bishop Show before landing the leading role as the straight-man reporter Tim O'Mara in the hit series My Favourite Martian (1963-66), opposite Ray Walston's wacky alien.

In 1969 came Bixby's part as Tom Corbett in The Courtship of Eddie's Father, which ran for three years and won him an Emmy Award nomination. He followed this by playing Tony Blake in The Magician (1973-74): his character has been imprisoned for a crime he did not commit and comes out of jail with a pledge to use his talents as an illusionist and escapologist to help people and prevent crime. Many leading magicians appeared in the programme and Bixby, a keen amateur, performed his own tricks, although the programme was axed after just one series.

He achieved a greater following in The Incredible Hulk as David Banner, the more genteel side of the character featured in Marvel Comics adventures, with Lou Ferrigno playing the seven-foot green monster. The programme, based around the radiation scientist Banner - who, as the result of an accident, turned into the Hulk whenever anyone made him angry - was screened worldwide, beginning with a 1977 television film and followed a year later by a successful series which ran until 1982. Bixby and Ferrigno brought the character back to the screen in the television films The Incredibe Hulk Returns (1988), The Trial of the Incredible Hulk (1989) and The Death of The Incredible Hulk, with Bixby also in the role of executive producer.

Bixby continued his run of success on television by starring as Matt Cassidy, alongside Mariette Hartley, in the 1983-84 American sitcom Goodnight, Beamtown. His other small-screen appearances included roles in the television movies Congratulations, It's a Boy] (1972), The Great Houdini (1976, playing the Rev Arthur Ford) and Agatha Christie's Murder is Easy (1982).

He was also a prolific director, making several episodes of the Seventies drama Rich Man, Poor Man - Book II and the television films The Barbary Coast (1975, in which he also appeared), Three On a Date (1978) and I Had Three Wives (1985). At the time of his death, he was working on the popular American comedy series Blossom.

Although most of his career was spent in television, Bixby appeared in a handful of films, making his debut in Lonely are the Brave, a 1962 Western staring Kirk Douglas as a cowboy trying to come to terms with the modern world. Bixby followed it with roles in pictures such as Irma La Douce - the director Billy Wilder's 1963 screen version of the Broadway musical - the Jack Lemmon sex comedy Under the Yum Yum Tree (1963) and the Chuck Connors western Ride Beyond Vengeance (1968), as well as playing himself in Kentucky Fried Movie (1977). He made his Broadway debut as Charlie Rodgers in The Paisley Convertible (1967) - and later starred in tours of The Fantasticks and Come Blow Your Horn.

His first wife, the actress Brenda Benet, committed suicide in 1982, less than a year after the death of their six-year-old son Christopher from a rare respiratory complaint. Bixby married his second wife, Judith, just six weeks before his death from cancer.

(Photograph omitted)

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