His funeral was held at the Westwood Memorial cemetery on November 4th. I delivered the following eulogy there.
I was 11 years old when I first met Jonathan on July 19th, 1965. And for three years he and I worked almost everyday together on Lost in Space. Alongside Bob May in the Robot suit we quickly developed into a successful TV team. And 37 years later, for better or worse, both Jonathan and I are best remembered for the work we did during those 3 years. I'm here today to tell you without any doubt that he absolutely loved that experience. And so did I. Every minute of it. Jonathan loved creating the character of Dr. Smith, and make no mistake about it… HE created that character. It was Jonathan who turned the black and white one-dimensional villain of Dr. Smith that was on the page into the wonderful, humorous, cowardly, selfish, dangerous, yet also lovable character we all remember. It was Jonathan who created the wonderful alliterative insults that Smith spat at the Robot week after week.
I would memorize my lines and then prepare to rehearse with Jonathan, but he'd call me into his dressing room and tell me that he'd re-written all of the scenes we were scheduled to shoot that day. He'd boldly X'd out his dialogue as written by Peter Packer or Barney Slater or whoever had penned that week's episode, and reworked it. And most importantly, he improved it. Jonathan loved to hold court on the Lost in Space sets at 20th. Everyday that we filmed Lost in Space was a day that Jonathan brought a treat for the entire cast and crew. Bubble gum…tootsie roll pops… just a little sweet treat for after lunch… but it was a consistent ritual. Not a day passed without it.
Thirty years later, we had the wonderful experience of returning to those roles in a television special that I was fortunate enough to co-produce and co-write with Kevin Burns, who of course directed it. I really wanted to please Jonathan, and I had worked very hard writing the scene where Dr. Smith, the Robot and Will Robinson are reunited on the Jupiter 2. And, just like in the old days, when we showed up to film it, Jonathan had X'd out his lines and re-structured and re-written them. And, also just like in the old days… he improved them. No one knew the character of Dr. Smith better than Jonathan. And no one loved that character better than Jonathan.
I learned a lot about the business from him. I remember wanting to do the "Will" stunts for myself on the show… they weren't serious stunts, I was maybe 13 and totally into it… but he took me aside and said, " Billy Person," (he always called me that) And I said "Yes, Himself?" (I always called him that)… "Never deny a stuntman a paycheck." And he was right. Years later I heard his wise words echo in my head several times when I was asked to do some stunts that were a little risky, and I always deferred to the stuntmen. He used to tell me, "Don't GIVE it away, Billy Person…" Referring to requests for interview shows and testimonials for companies that had deep pockets but didn't want to spend any of it on talent. But you know, when it came to friends… Jonathan didn't heed his own advice. He DID give it away.
I was producing a direct to video project in the late 1980's, and even though Jonathan and I didn't socialize much in those days, I called and asked him to do an on camera scene for it… He showed up… He was wonderful, of course, and… he wouldn't take a penny. He did the same thing for Kevin Burns when we were filming "The Fantasy Worlds of Irwin Allen". I had suggested Jonathan show up and do a cameo in character at the very end to "button" the show. He agreed to do it… for nothing. As a favor to Kevin. He did indeed give it away. When it was for his friends.
When it came to friends… Jonathan not only talked the talk, he walked the walk. When my father passed away 7 years ago, Jonathan was there on a hot August day to attend his funeral… When my mother was in the hospital he called me several times a week to check on her, "She's a tough cookie, that old broad. She'll be fine, Billy Person, you'll see." Always offering positive words. He loved my children, Seth and Liliana, and he doted on them whenever he saw them. I'm so grateful that my wife Eileen and I got to spend several evenings in recent years enjoying wonderful meals in classy restaurants with Jonathan and his beautiful wife of 64 years, Gertrude. (Although he indeed usually found some fault with something on the menu or the service and made no bones about letting it be known!)
No matter how many times I would hear his stories they always were told with such gusto that I was freshly entertained each time. Jonathan's "Dr. Zachary Smith" will certainly live on forever in syndication, on video tapes, on DVD discs and in other yet to be invented technical formats… but the memory of Jonathan Harris, my friend, my teacher, will definitely live on forever even stronger in my heart. Bill