Bill Bixby (pictured far left) was one of those actors who seemed to be everywhere on TV when I was a kid: "Courtship of Eddie's Father" reruns, "Love, American Style" reruns, "My Favorite Martian" reruns, countless TV movies and series guest shots, and, of course, "The Incredible Hulk," a show that was well-placed on CBS' Friday night sked so that pre-teens could stay up for it. (I'm not too proud to admit that it scared me when I was about 8.)
Bixby died young, at age 59 in November 1993, the victim of a late diagnosis of prostate cancer. He was nominated three times for Emmy glory during his 30 years in television -- once for "Courtship" and twice in 1976, for a guest shot on "The Streets of San Francisco," and for his role in the mammoth hit mini "Rich Man, Poor Man." But for all of his work as an actor and director (his interest in helming began during his "Martian" chronicles), Bixby never took home the gold. Renee Tufo thinks this is just plain wrong.
Tufo was spurred to launch her campaign to get Bixby inducted into the TV Academy's Hall of Fame about 18 months ago after taking in a TV airing of the 1975 pic "The Apple Dumpling Gang" with her son. Seeing Bixby in that G-rated Disney feature opposite Tim Conway and Don Knotts reminded her of how much she loved him in "Martian" (CBS, 1963-66) and "Courtship" (ABC, 1969-72) and the little-remembered 1973-74 NBC drama "The Magician," among many other film and TV projects over the years. (Who would've ever predicted back in the day that Bixby's "Martian" costar Ray Walston would outlive him by more than six years.)
Tufo's not a rabid-fan type by nature. She's a dental hygienist in upstate New York who also helps run a restaurant that her family owns, Bernardo's Pizzeria (delivery service to Watertown, Dexter, Brownville, Glen Park and surrounding areas).Tufo never met Bixby, but she had a soft spot for him that she never fully appreciated until she Googled him, post-"Apple Dumpling" viewing. She was reminded of his untimely passing, and the tragic death in 1981of his 7-year-old son with his first wife, actress Brenda Benet, who committed suicide the following year.
"I just started looking up things about (Bixby) and his career, and all I could think of was 'What a loss,'" Tufo says. "I'd forgotten how good all those old shows were. And I thought he should at least have a lifetime achievement award or something."
A little more research led Tufo to the TV Academy's Hall of Fame. She became even more determined in her effort to secure him a spot after contacting the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences and learning that individuals, even non-pros, are welcome to submit suggestions for inductees. Per ATAS, the induction process is not necessarily an annual event, and it's likely that no new members will be admitted this year, in part because of recent turnover on the selection committee. But when they do get down to selecting the next batch, Tufo will be ready. She's got nearly 400 signatures already from an online petition posted for the past year on her Bill Bixby tribute Web page (where you can hear Harry Nilsson's catchy "People let me tell ya 'bout my best friend" theme song for "Courtship"). She's also enlisted the help of Bixby compatriots, including Brandon Cruz, who played Bixby's son on "Courtship" and remained a close friend of his; and "Hulk" exec producer Kenneth Johnson.
"The more I got into this, the more it seemed like it wasn't impossible to do this," Tufo says. "Everybody that knew him that I've reached has wanted to help."
In his final months, Bixby worked as the house director on the NBC sitcom "Blossom." Some of those who worked with him during that period remember him as a gentle soul -- the kind of guy who extended the same respect to lower-level staffers as he did to exec producers -- with fantastic TV instincts honed over a long and varied career.
Sure sounds like Hall of Fame material to me.