Childhood & Early Life
Wilfred Bailey Everett Bixby III was born on January 22, 1934, in San Francisco, California, US. He was the only child of Wilfred Everett Bixby II and Jane (née McFarland) Bixby. His father was a store clerk, and his mother served ‘I. Magnin & Co’ as a senior manager.
He was inspired by his mother to take up ballroom dance lessons in 1946, following which he began dancing across the city. He honed his oratory and drama skills while attending ‘Lowell High School’ in San Francisco, California, where he became a member of the ‘Lowell Forensic Society.’ He also participated in regional-level high-school speech tournaments.
Following his high-school graduation in 1952, he attended the ‘City College of San Francisco,’ where he majored in drama.
He joined the ‘United States Marine Corps Reserve’ in 1952, after being drafted during the Korean War. He was released in 1956. By then, he had attained the rank of private first class.
Although he enrolled at the ‘University of California, Berkeley’ and studied their pre-law program, he left the university before obtaining his degree. Thereafter, he relocated to Hollywood, California, and did several odd jobs. He worked as a bellhop and a lifeguard. He also started organizing shows at a resort in the valley of Jackson Hole in Wyoming.
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Bixby launched his career in show business as a model, after being hired for modeling and commercial work for ‘General Motors’ and ‘Chrysler.’ He was part of the musical ‘The Boy Friend,’ staged at the ‘Detroit Civic Theater’ in 1961. Thereafter, he made his official TV debut with an an episode of the ‘CBS’ sitcom ‘The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis,’ named ‘The Gigolo.’ He then guest-starred in single-episode features of several TV series, such as ‘The Andy Griffith Show’ and ‘The Twilight Zone.’
He played the recurring role of ‘Charles Raymond’ in the sitcom ‘The Joey Bishop Show’ (1962) and featured as a tattooed French sailor in the ‘Academy Award’-winning blockbuster hit romantic comedy ‘Irma La Douce’ (1963). He tasted his first big success with the starring role of a young reporter named ‘Tim O'Hara’ in the ‘CBS’ sitcom ‘My Favorite Martian’ (1963–1966). The popular series gave Bixby early recognition and success.
Following his stint with ‘My Favorite Martian,’ Bixby starred in films such as the Elvis Presley movies ‘Clambake’ (1967) and ‘Speedway’ (1968).
Meanwhile, he remained a series regular on the American panel game show ‘The Hollywood Squares,’ from 1966 to 1974. Bixby gained further popularity as a panelist on the game show ‘Password.’ He was also part of the 1974 revival of ‘Masquerade Party.’
His next notable TV series was the ‘ABC’ sitcom ‘The Courtship of Eddie's Father’ (1969–1972), based on the 1963 movie of the same title. Bixby starred as a widowed magazine editor named ‘Tom Corbett’ in the sitcom, while Brandon Cruz played his on-screen son, ‘Eddie.’ The series also had ‘Academy Award’-winning actor Miyoshi Umeki playing ‘Mrs. Livingston,’ ‘Tom's housekeeper. The series marked the directorial debut of Bixby in 1970. Bixby directed eight of its episodes.
Bixby earned a ‘Primetime Emmy Award’ nomination for ‘Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series’ in 1971, for his performance in ‘The Courtship of Eddie's Father.’ He won the ‘Parents Without Partners Exemplary Service Award’ in 1972. He not only had a successful on-screen chemistry with Cruz but also developed a close off-screen rapport with him, which eventually evolved into a strong bond, especially after Bixby lost his only child in 1981. They kept in touch till Bixby died in 1993. Later, Cruz’s son was named “Lincoln Bixby Cruz.”
Bixby starred as stage illusionist ‘Anthony "Tony" Blake’ in the ‘NBC’ series ‘The Magician’ during 1973–1974.
He earned a ‘Primetime Emmy Award’ nomination for ‘Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series’ for his role of ‘Jerry Schilling’ in a single episode of the crime-drama series ‘The Streets of San Francisco’ (1974). He also earned a ‘Primetime Emmy Award’ nomination for ‘Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or Movie’ for his portrayal of ‘Willie Abbott’ in four episodes of the TV miniseries ‘Rich Man, Poor Man’ (1976).
The 1975 blockbuster comedy-western film ‘The Apple Dumpling Gang,’ produced by ‘Walt Disney Productions,’ featured Bixby as a gambler named ‘Russell Donovan.’ It became the most successful ‘Disney’ film of the 1970s.
The most remarkable role of Bixby was that of ‘Dr. David Bruce Banner’ in the American TV series ‘The Incredible Hulk’ (1977–1982), based on the ‘Marvel Comics’ character ‘The Hulk.’ The popular ‘CBS’ series earned both critical acclaim and fame for Bixby, who then reprised the role of ‘Dr. Banner’ in three TV movies, namely, ‘The Incredible Hulk Returns’ (1988), ‘The Trial of the Incredible Hulk’ (1989), and ‘The Death of the Incredible Hulk’ (1990). He also directed the last two movies.
He earned a ‘Daytime Emmy Award’ nomination for ‘Outstanding Individual Achievement in a Children's Program’ in 1981 for the American TV program ‘Once Upon a Classic,’ which he hosted on ‘PBS’ from 1976 to 1980.
Over the years, Bixby directed episodes of several TV series, such as ‘Room 222’ (1972–1973), ‘Mannix’ (1975), ‘Rick Man, Poor Man — Book II’ (1976–1977), and ‘Mr. Merlin’ (1981–1982). ‘Rick Man, Poor Man — Book II’ earned him a ‘Directors Guild Award’ nomination for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Dramatic Series’ in 1977.
Bixby also worked as a director/executive producer for the series ‘Goodnight, Beantown’ (1983–1984) and as a director/producer for the series ‘Dreams’ (1984).
His guest role in the TV series ‘Diagnosis: Murder’ in 1992 marked his last appearance as an actor. He concluded his career by directing 30 episodes of the ‘NBC’ sitcom ‘Blossom.’ He also appeared in an episode of the series.
Family & Personal Life
He was married to actor Brenda Benet from July 4, 1971, to 1979. Their only child, Christopher, was born in September 1974. Christopher died during a skiing vacation with Benet in Mammoth Lakes in March 1981.
Bixby met Laura Jane Michael in 1989. They married on December 18, 1991. The marriage, however, ended on June 25, 1992. Meanwhile, Bixby was diagnosed with prostate cancer in early 1991. He underwent treatment for the same.
On October 3, 1993, he married artist Judith Kliban, widow of American cartoonist B Kliban. Bixby succumbed to prostate cancer on November 21, 1993, in Century City, Los Angeles, US.