Saturday, June 17, 2017

Bill Bixby and Fatherhood

"Reach out for your child. Reach out and touch him, because I didn't and my father didn't. I couldn't even talk to my parents. Maybe that's why this show ( The Courtship of Eddie's Father ) is so important to me. It probably represents a lot of things I didn't have." 

Actor Bill Bixby spoke these words in a 1971 magazine interview shortly after the death of his father to coronary thrombosis. Bill, who was born Wilfred Everett Bixby III in 1934, was an only child. His father had left him during his formative years to join the Army and serve overseas, and upon his return Bill resented him greatly. A growing distance spread between them. 

During the 1960s, while he was busy starring in the popular sitcom My Favorite Martian, Bill was known throughout Hollywood as being a playboy. He was a real life bachelor who dated every gorgeous girl he met and professed that he did not care for children. So he was an odd choice to be cast as widower Tom Corbett in the 1969 series The Courtship of Eddie's Father.....and yet, the part was a blessing to him because it made him change his outlook towards marriage and children. 
"The reason this show is so important to me is because it represents a lot of things I didn't have"

Bill Bixby recognized that the series had the potential to share with television viewers what a meaningful relationship between a father and son could be like. Bill did not have that kind of relationship growing up and playing the part of Tom Corbett allowed him to be the father that he did not have. It gave him the opportunity to show what fatherhood really is all about, and for so many youngsters who tuned in to watch the series, Tom Corbett became their surrogate father.

Indeed, he was such a good dad on screen that it is amazing that he was still single while the show was being filmed. It was Brandon Cruz ( "Eddie" on the show ) who had a lot to do with this change of heart. "Make no mistake, this little boy changed my life!" The comradery he had with little buddy onscreen and off made him yearn for a son of his own. He knew that having a child would not be an answer to his own problems, but he liked the thought of focusing his constant stream of energy into the loving and caring for another human being.

In July 1971, just a month after his father passed on, he married his long-time friend Brenda Benet and, in 1974, she bore him a son, Christopher. Their marriage lasted until 1979 and, after their divorce, Benet had custody of the boy. Bill remained close to him and was adamant that his son not be allowed to watch any episodes of The Incredible Hulk, worrying that his transformation from the mild-mannered doctor into the giant green monster would give the boy nightmares. 

Both Bill and Brenda doted on Christopher, but he was a sickly child and had respiratory problems. During a camping trip to Mammoth Lakes with his mother, the six-year old came down with epiglottis and suffered cardiac arrest during an emergency tracheotomy at the hospital.

"Christopher's death was the greatest shock in my life," said Bixby years later. He rented a house on the beach after his son's death and "I never left the second floor of that house. I didn't go out onto the sand for four months." It was a shock he never fully recovered from, nor did his wife Brenda Benet, who committed suicide just one year later. 

Brandon Cruz, who named his own son Lincoln Bixby in honor of his best friend and on-screen dad, once said "Bill was such a professional, such a giving actor, and caring person that it didn't even seem like work. It seemed like I was hanging out with my best friend. It was corny, but he was so wonderful to work with, you could not pay anybody to say a bad word about Bill. He was giving to a fault, basically."

Warner Archive Instant has just released the complete series of "The Courtship of Eddie's Father". A great series to enjoy! 

4 comments:

  1. I adored Bill Bixby, and still enjoy watching him on screen. I recall when these tragedies occurred, and Bill's battle with cancer. Sometimes we remember these dreadful times in life, but no life is entirely gloomy. There is love and there are happy times, and Christopher's life, however brief, was a happy time, and The Courtship of Eddie's Father was a happy time that continues.

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    1. Yes, any mention of Bill or Brenda's life is often termed "tragic" but they both seemed to have had a great life in the 1960s and throughout most of the 1970s. They both loved Christopher and I can imagine them being really good parents to the boy. Bill simply died too soon. If you have a subscription to Warner Archive be sure to watch some of the episodes, it was such a wonderful series.

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  2. I also am a Bill Bixby fan (though I never cared for COURTSHIP OF EDDIE'S FATHER). He took every role seriously and his presence in a movie or TV series always made it better.

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    1. How true, he was a consummate actor. I especially loved him in "Murder is Easy" ( 1981 ) as Luke Williams. Courtship is now available on Warner Archive Instant and the show is worth revisiting, Rick. Sometimes it takes several tries to warm up to a series but this one is a gem..especially the first season.

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