With Robert Culp passing this week at the age of 79 I thought it would be a fitting tribute to post an email that my brother Eric sent to Mr. Culp a few months back. Eric is convinced that Culp’s character on The Greatest American Hero is the great in television history. Okay, I know what you’re thinking but hear the man out. He’s got some valid points and has clearly done his homework.
Dear Mr. Culp,
Hello! My name is Eric Delgado, and I hope this letter finds you in good health and spirits. The reason I write to you is to thank you for making an impact on my life as well as millions of others through your characterizations in television and film. I could go into great detail about many of them, but what I really want to do is make my case for the man that I feel is the greatest character in television history, Bill Maxwell. I do not say this lightly, in fact it is after much thought on the subject that I make this claim and have been for about 4 years now, after careful examination. I thought you just might be interested in knowing why.
Bill Maxwell is incredibly unique. He is a man who has seen and lived a very difficult life, one filled with violence, pain, suffering, and death from a very young age. This has toughened him beyond belief, as he proves time and again, yet anyone who knows the man also sees how truly sensitive he is, how alone he is.
He went to a little known school called KOREA, 72nd armored division, where he played the accordion, and learned to kill. He constantly refers to this time in his life, and it is seen represented in the oddest of places, for example in patches on an old football jacket which amuses us, and saddens us as well. Bill cannot let go of this period, because he WANTS it to validate him to the world around him. It does not, as he is surrounded by those who do not seem to care, or wish to remember.
Bill went on to join the FBI as a young man, and relentlessly pursued the bad guys for the rest of his life. He did this it seems as if it were simply the thing to do, not so much as a calling, but just because it needed doing, and he was as good as anyone for the job. He gained a reputation for steadfastness and overall consistency, if not leadership and success.
The little green guys could have chosen anyone, from millions of potential candidates. They chose Bill Maxwell, a 50-ish year old mid-level field agent of the FBI. Outwardly there is no particularly good reason to charge him with being the man who will guide Ralph Hinckley in a mission to safeguard humanity. But they choose him anyway, and its all about what’s on the inside.
Bill has a heart as strong as an ox and it beats solely for baggin’ the bad guys, big and small. If a pill or drug existed to allow him to chase them 24 hours a day he would take it, forsaking everything else that life is granted for.
And he’d love it.
Bill knows fear as well as anyone, and its evident to those who are looking. But he shows none of it, snarling and wise-cracking his way through every obstacle that comes his way. As he teams up with Ralph, he finds himself outmanned and outgunned on a daily basis. Ralph is protected by the suit, the baddies have the numbers, but Bill is a mere mortal, on the wrong side of 50, often on his own as Ralph approaches from the sky. He knows that in order to keep Ralph’s secret he must go it alone, and face death squarely.
And he never complains.
Happiness is a warm pistol, his favorite t-shirt proclaims. They forget the “A”, he reminds us, which would have made it “pistola”. It’s what he wants to believe, wants US to believe. But when the day is done, Ralph goes home to the counselor, and Bill goes home alone. He’ll wait there for the next chance to chase again. He lives in utter squalor, and it appears as though his money is never spent. Perhaps he’s saving it to one day will to Ralph, as he has no children or family that we know of.
Occasionally he considers dating, but nixes it as he remembers who Bill Maxwell is. A bad guy gettin’ machine.
Through Ralph Bill thrives like never before, as Ralph gives him camaraderie, someone to mentor. Bill relishes every minute of every scenario.
And he never seeks the credit. Yes he talks a great game, but inside he knows it means nothing, his true reward is being in on the next bust.
The good Lord blessed him with an amazing wit, a way of seeing and putting things so unique its possibly unheard of. “We’re gonna put a hole in this guy’s bucket and drain all his worms out.”, and “if you’re lookin for trouble pal, you’ve just reached the west coast distributor.”
“Yamma yamma, scoobidy-doo, and gobbledy GOOK!”
Bill couldn’t be more grateful to the green guys for what they’ve given him, which is a chance to hunt, forever. But what they’ve also given him is a family, and Bill couldn’t be more confused as to what to do with that.
Because he never had one, certainly not one of his own, one to take care of.
Worst of all, one that he could lose.
He constantly shows us how fearful he is in this regard, how fragile it all is, shielding all of this with humor and grit.
But he’ll never give up on them.
And he’ll never fly.
He’ll never deflect bullets.
He’ll never turn invisible.
He’ll never possess super human strength.
He’ll always be one mistake away.
And he’ll never trade any of it, ever.
Thank you Mr. Culp, for giving that to us. I can’t do it justice.
But thank you.