Akron Beacon Journal, July 11, 1965
By JACK MAJOR
You're likely to wonder before the end of this year ...
But Bill Bixby really isn't tired of playing mild-mannered, easy-going, girl-chasing, well-adjusted Tim O'Hara on TV's "My Favorite Martian." He isn't even tired of peddling jokes that are candy-coated (so they won't offend the kiddies, my dear).
So don't jump to conclusions later this year if you see (or hear about) his performance as a bad guy in the movie "Night of the Tiger." [NOTE: The title was changed to "Ride Beyond Vengeance."]
Bixby described his role in the Western as one of the heaviest he has ever seen in a movie.
"The only one that surpasses it for sheer meanness was the role Richard Widmark played in 'Kiss of Death,' " said Bixby. "He pushed an old lady down the stairs in that one."
Bixby jumped at the chance to make the switch from good guy to bad, but the only reason he got the chance was through the stubbornness of Chuck Connors.
"Chuck is the star of the movie," said Bixby, "and he was the one who insisted I get the part of the 'heavy.' Nobody else would have pictured me in the role."
The role gave Bixby a well-deserved chance to blow off steam after being chock-full-of-goodness for two years on his Sunday night television show. (His co-star, Ray Walston, apparently felt a similar need to do something wicked. He was one of the stars in the stupidly smutty film, "Kiss Me, Stupid.")
When Bixby resumes filming "My Favorite Martian" next week he will be raring to go. He isn't anywhere near being tired of his TV success. He says he could go on for several more years.
And it may be a good thing he feels that way. Some think "My Favorite Martian" will be more popular than ever in September. The reason is that the show will be done in color, which will help it against its appropriately titled NBC competition, "World of Color."
The color process is expected to open up new possibilities for Bixby's program which so far has been pretty much restricted to scenes inside the bachelor apartment where newspaper reporter Tim O'Hara lives with his Martian friend.
Scripts have been based on one of two things:
Either the Martian would show off one of his supernatural powers, or he'd get an unusual illness and have to devise a cure.
"We were on the illness kick this season," said Bixby during our phone interview. "Uncle Martin had 32 illnesses in 38 weeks. that would make him the sickest man in the universe."
Next season's episodes will involve a time machine that allows Martin and Tim to go backward and forward in time to get involved with all sorts of people, places and events. The gimmick was introduced in a recent episode that had Martin and Tim helping to get the Magna Carta signed by King John.
It would seem such ideas are food for children's appetites, but according to Bixby: "We took a survey of our audience last year and discovered 52 percent of our viewers are adults."
At the same time, the show's writers and actors keep children in mind while preparing each episode.
"One of our scripts had Martin sticking his finger into a lightbulb socket," said Bixby, "but Ray Walston killed that idea in a hurry. Some kid in the audience might have tried it."
The program occasionally contains a message, but Bixby said the message is aimed at adults. "If we tried to teach the lesson to children, the kids in the audience would resent it. If anything, they'd resist the lesson."
But lessons are kept to a minimum. "The purpose of our show is to entertain. The public gets tired of 'messages.' They turn on their television sets to be entertained. they don't want to think."
It's a fact of life these days. Situation comedy is king.
"Call it corny," Bixby said, "but I've discovered that when a person laughs – that is, at the moment he laughs – he cannot think about anything else. He forgets his troubles.
"That's why I enjoy doing comedy. Getting another person to laugh is the most rewarding feeling I've had."
Bixby was born in San Francisco about 27 years ago and became interested in acting while he was in high school. During his summer vacation from the University of California he worked at a resort near Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where he organized musical revues for the guests.
He moved to Hollywood after graduation, and while waiting for his Big Break he worked as a desk clerk and then as a lifeguard at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel.
There he was spotted by a visiting advertising agency executive who asked Bixby if he would pose for automobile ads. Bixby said yes and went to Detroit where the photos were taken. while in Detroit he auditioned for – and won – the lead role in a local production of "The Boy Friend." He starred in the show for four months.
Bixby then returned to Hollywood and began landing small parts in television shows. A year later, in 1962, he became a regular on "The Joey Bishop Show," which put him in line for "My Favorite Martian."
He is aware of the Jack Lemmon comparison, but laughed it off, saying he and Lemmon are worlds apart.
"He starred in 'Under the Yum Yum Tree.' I did one scene and got paid $300."
Bixby felt he might go on to a movie career that would find him playing in both comedies and dramas, citing Lemmon's work in "Days of Wine and Roses."
But Bixby was in no hurry.
"I've been in 76 episodes of 'My Favorite Martian' already, and that's approximately equivalent to doing 26 movies. That's great experience.
"Exposure? Our program is seen all around the world. Each week I'm seen by 200 million people. A movie would have to play every day for a year in cities throughout the world for me to reach all those people.
"I'd have to be nuts to knock television."