Bill Bixby (January 22, 1934 – November 21, 1993), was an American actor, director and frequent game show panelist who starred in three popular American television series, as Tim O'Hara in My Favorite Martian (1963–1966), as Tom Corbett, the title role in The Courtship of Eddie's Father (1969–1972); as Dr. David Banner in The Incredible Hulk (1978–1982) with Lou Ferrigno. He also starred in The Magician (1973) and in a short-lived comedy, Goodnight Beantown with Mariette Hartley in 1984.
He was born Wilfred Bailey Bixby III in San Francisco, California where Bixby's father, Wilfred Everett Bixby II, was a store clerk and his mother Jane was a department store owner. In 1952, as he was graduating from high school, his parents insisted that he take classes that would prepare him for a professional career, like that of a lawyer, doctor or a dentist (they heard that he had been taking acting classes throughout high school). He went against his parents' advice and attended San Francisco City College where he mostly majored in drama, and graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, the same university his parents went to.
In 1957, after he graduated from college, he moved to Hollywood, that he had a string of odd jobs which included that of a bellhop, to a lifeguard, and organizing shows at a resort. But, despite of his unhappy nature with his salary, he really wanted to go into acting, and he was hired when in 1959, that at age 25, 2 ad executives noticed him over the phone and was hired immediately to work as a model and do commercial work.
In 1961, Bixby went to Detroit, Michigan, where he would do a stage play in the musical, “The Boyfriend,” at the Detroit Civic Theater. He then returned to Hollywood where he made his acting debut on an episode of The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, and as a character actor, as his name became popular, he guest-starred in many other sitcoms and TV series such as Ben Casey, The Twilight Zone, The Andy Griffith Show, Dr. Kildare, Hennessey, among many others. He also joined the cast of The Joey Bishop Show in 1962.
Bixby then auditioned in 1963 for a new sitcom, My Favorite Martian, on CBS, where he received a co-starring role as young news reporter, Tim O’Hara, who befriended an alien from another planet played by Ray Walston. The show was a ratings winner in its first year, and it was the #1 comedy that was ever to be seen on a Sunday night. As he became even more popular with viewers, Bixby demostrated comedic timing and serious movement on and off the set. The last year of My Favorite Martian had taken a turn for the worst. Though the show still had high ratings in 1966, bad scripts and high production costs forced the series to come to an end after 3 seasons and 107 episodes.
After the cancellation of Martian, he would then star in four box-office movies: Ride Beyond Vengeance (1966), on which he played the evil, Johnsy Boy Hood, You’ve Got to Be Kidding (1967), and two of Elvis Presley’s movies, Clambake (1967), and Speedway (1968). Bixby turned down the role as Marlo Thomas’s boyfriend in That Girl and starred in two other failed pilots.
In 1969, Bixby starred as Tom Corbett in yet another successful sitcom, this one called, The Courtship of Eddie’s Father for ABC. It was based on the popular 1963 movie, starring Glenn Ford and Ron Howard. His co-star on the show was Brandon Cruz. It was a much bigger hit than Martian, and Bixby and Cruz spent time together both on and off the set. Bixby directed some of the episodes. He was Nominated for a Emmy Award for Lead Actor in a Comedy Series, but didn’t win, and the following year, he won the Parents Without Partners: Exemplary Service Award for 1972. By its final season, Courtship started to take a nose dive in the ratings. At the same time, both Bixby & costar James Komack had a lot of issues on the set followed by scripts that didn't serve the audiences too well, which led to the cancellation in 1972 after three seasons & 78 episodes. Bixby wasn't pleased with that show's cancellation.
In 1973, Bixby starred in The Magician, playing Anthony Dorian, which lasted one season. As a game show panelist, he appeared mostly on Password and The Hollywood Squares. An accomplished amateur magician, Bixby also hosted several specials in the mid-1970s that featured other amateur magicians.
In late 1977, Bixby starred in a two-hour pilot movie called The Incredible Hulk. The producers convinced CBS to turn it into a weekly science-fiction series beginning in early 1978. His character, Dr. David Banner, was a scientist/physician turned into a green monster (played by Lou Ferrigno) when he became angry. And like the many comedy series he did, this adventurous series was also a hit. It was seen in over 70 countries as Bixby's character rips his shirts apart before becoming the Hulk. While working on the set on Hulk, his real-life marriage to Brenda Benet declined. He invited his former co-stars to appear on The Incredible Hulk, including Brandon Cruz from The Courtship of Eddie's Father and Ray Walston from My Favorite Martian. Almost cancelled in 1981, the series was cancelled the following year due to high rising costs, and Bixby was disappointed that that his character was not cured of his condition in the final episode.
Bixby directed many television episodes and motion pictures, including one episode of Hulk and two of the three TV movie revivals that which he produced. Prior to his death he was the lead director of the TV sitcom Blossom.
Private and later life
Bixby had been married 3 times, he married actress and the former MISS USA Pageant Brenda Benet in 1971, and the couple gave birth to Christopher, a few years later. The couple were divorced in 1980. In 1981, Bixby's six year old son Christopher died suddenly after an accident at the actor's Brentwood, Los Angeles, CA home. Shortly afterwards, Benet committed suicide.
Nine years later in 1989, he met and fell in love with Laura Michaels, who used to work behind-the-scenes on the set of one of his Hulk movies. The couple married a year later in 1990, in Hawaii. Unlike the marriage he had with Brenda, this was a short-lived marriage. In early 1991, Bixby was diagnosed with prostate cancer and underwent treatment for the disease; his serious battle against the cancer led to divorce in the same year. In late 1992, friends introduced him to a free-spirited artist named Judith Kliban, the widow of B. "Hap" Kliban, who was also a cartoon artist prior to his fight against cancer. He married Judith in late 1993, just 6 weeks before he collapsed on the set of Blossom.
Eventually, Bixby's cancer recurred and was diagnosed as inoperable. Six days after his final assignment, directing an episode of Blossom, Bill Bixby passed away from complications arising from prostate cancer in Century City, California on November 21, 1993.