Classic Television Memories: African-Americans in 1960's Television: Bill Cosby

Bill Cosby as Alexander Scott
Bill Cosby as Alexander Scott

Welcome to this installment of my hub series. For this outing, I've chosen to feature the African-American's contribution to classic 1960's television.

Some of the actors and actresses in this series include Ivan Dixon (Hogan's Heroes), Hari Rhodes (Daktari), Don Marshall (Ironside, Land Of The Giants), Greg Morris (Mission: Impossible), Gail Fisher (Mannix), Nichelle Nichols (Star Trek), Diahann Caroll in the groundbreaking "Julia", to name a few. These have broken the stereotypes imposed by Hollywood on the African-American acting community since the silent era of films, thus paving the way for those who would follow in their footsteps.

I have chosen to start this series off with Bill Cosby, but first, enjoy this musical offering from 1965.

Bill Cosby on I Spy

Before he was known to television audiences as gym teacher Chet Kincaid on The Bill Cosby Show (1970), lending his voice talents in Fat Albert and The Cosby Kids (1972), and later as Dr. Cliff Huxtable in the highly sucessful Cosby Show (1984), Mr. Cosby first rode the crest of the wave of the espionage, action-adventure spy thriller genre, set by the James Bond films in a series named I Spy which premiered on NBC in 1965.

In the series, Mr. Cosby played Alexander scott, who along with his partner Kelly Robinson, (Robert Culp), jetted around the world taking on those that would threaten democracy, and the free world.

As secret agents for the U.S. Government, they concealed their true identities and agendas by posing as a tennis pro (Culp), and his trainer (Cosby). They played the wealthy circuit in various exotic locales.

The role of Alexander (Scotty) Scott was awarded Cosby after Executive Producer Sheldon Leonard saw him in a stand-up comedy act. Needless to say the TV executives weren't too keen on the idea, but reluctantly gave in. The part was originally wriiten for an older person, in a mentor-student relationship, but, as they say, the rest is history.

Race was never a factor on the show, and Scotty was treated as an equal, in fact, Mr. Cosby and Mr. Culp were best of friends on and off camera in a relationship that spanned decades, until Mr. Culp's death in 2003.

Mr. Culp was one of the chief writers for the series, and had no qualms over Cosby injecting his own brand of humor. The highlight of the series is the witty, comical banter between the two. Cosby also brought in bits from his personal life such as references to his Alma Mater, Temple University, his hometown of Philadelphia, and in one episode, captured, and in a drug-induced state, he refers to himself as Fat Albert.

Mr. Cosby remained on the series since its premier on September 15, 1965, until its end on April 15, 1968.

As they say, the rest is history.


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