Reflecting on Bill Bixby’s Early Days and How His Dream of Being an Actor Led to ‘My Favorite Martian’

The legacy of the late Bill Bixby continues to live on nearly 27 years after his passing. And it’s not because he was a superstar that that brought the masses to movie theaters around the world, but because he came across as so genuine in everything he played on TV. That allowed him to connect with the television audience on a visceral level whether he was playing comedy or drama. Go from series to series — My Favorite Martian (currently airing on the Cozi TV network) to The Courtship of Eddie’s Father, The Magician, The Incredible Hulk and Goodnight, Beantown — and it’s Bill that grounds them for everyone.

His philosophy when he started out was simple, as he related to the Valley Times of North Hollywood in 1964: “I decided I would rather try to be an actor and fail than have to apologize to myself the rest of my life for not trying.”

Born Wilfred Everett “Bill” Bixby III on January 22, 1934 in San Francisco, California, he knew that he wanted to be an actor from a very young age. “When I was about eight,” he related, “I said, ‘Mommy, I want to be an actor.’ And she said, ‘Of course, dear.’ So I put on shows in the garage with my cousin. He was smaller, so he pulled the curtain. My parents were very indulgent and they came to the performances. To a child, this was a great accolade.”

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Courtesy David Grove and John Schubert

It was around the same time that he announced to his mother what he wanted to be that his father enlisted in the Navy and traveled to the South Pacific during World War II. In 1946, Bill was encouraged by his mother to take ballroom dance lessons and it wasn’t long before he was performing all around the city. After graduating from high school in 1952, he enrolled at the City College of San Francisco, where he majored in drama. Shortly after his 18th birthday, Bill was drafted into the Korean War and he joined the United States Marine Corps Reserve.

Discharged in 1956, he enrolled at the University of California, Berkeley, but didn’t graduate. From there he made the move to Hollywood to pursue the idea of being an actor. He worked a number of odd jobs — including as a hotel bellhop and lifeguard — and, in 1959, was hired to work as a model and to do commercial work for both General Motors and Chrysler.

“I was actually a pool manager,” Bill explained to the media, “and it gave me a chance to study and go on job interviews. A lot of Detroit advertising agencies men stayed at the hotel. One day one of them asked me if I ever modeled. I told him to forget it, but he said it wasn’t really modeling, but sort of ‘posing.’ I said, ‘You really do mean model, don’t you?’ He said, ‘Yes, but it pays $100 for three hours’ work. So for the next two years I modeled.”

Please scroll down for more on Bill’s early days.