Robert Coyle (Lost in Space Bi-monthly #13)
Q: What are your favorite episodes of Lost in Space, one from each season?
A: I would almost have to have a list in front of me to be accurate, but I would say, off the top of my head, "The Keeper" from the first season would be my favorite. You pick one from the second season. I can't think of any from the second season that are particularly inspiring to me. And the third season, right now, my favorite would maybe be "The Anti-Matter Man."
Q: What guest star did you enjoy working with the most?
A: Well, I liked working with Kurt Russell, because he and I worked together on Disney films when I was a kid. It was nice to work with him. I liked working with Michael Rennie because I thought he was a great actor, and he gave probably one of the best performances we had. I liked working with Albert Salmi a lot, and I liked working with Warren Oates a lot.
Q: What was the worst episode...
A: ... "The Great Vegetable Rebellion."
Q: From each season?
A: Well, "The Great Vegetable Rebellion" was just a horrible show.
Q: Why didn't you like it?
A: It was about a talking carrot holding us all captive. A talking carrot, now come on. "The Great Vegetable Rebellion" was my least favorite Lost in Space episode from the third season. From the second season, and I wish I had a list or something, I'm not that familiar with all the shows I must say, but I'll just pick one now, "The Promised Planet" since you just reminded me of it with your novelization of it. I would say that's my least favorite of the second season, just because it's fresh in my mind now and it's so silly. [laughter]
Q: Yes, but it was in the third season.
A: I can't think of any really too clearly. When I was shooting Lost in Space, I enjoyed working every day, and I never judged the show artistically at that point in time. As far as I was concerned, Will Robinson was always very sincere, whether he was talking to a carrot or whether he was talking to the Keeper. Reflecting on those shows when I watch them now, I like Will Robinson talking to the Keeper and I like the feeling of the Robinsons and that general attitude of those early Lost in Spaces, and a few of the later ones. The "camp" Lost in Spaces, the ones that are just really silly, when we're all in ridiculous hats, or with motorcycle gangs, or dragons or just things that I feel are a bit hard to accept in any type of science fiction reality. Those are shows that I look at and I'm smiling and I'm glad people laugh and I'm glad people like them, but personally they're not my favorite shows. I don't watch those anymore. If I get up on Saturday and I turn on the TV and I see a silly, camp Lost in Space, I'll just turn it off, and I won't bother to videotape it or something. But if I turn on Lost in Space and it's a black and white one, I'll watch it. Let me make it clear, I'm not saying they're bad. I'm just saying they don't do as much personally as the earlier ones do, the black and white ones, or "The Anti-Matter Man" type of later episodes. Those are the shows that I particularly like, when everyone has something to do. I like those shows much more, when the cast is involved en masse, when we all have something to do, more than the shows that just kind of focused on me, Smith, and the Robot (not necessarily in that order).
Q: What was the financial arrangement for you on the show?
A: Actors get paid on a television series, generally speaking, weekly. Per episode, you're paid, not withstanding overtime or whatever additions there might be, you get a weekly salary. If you're under eighteen, and you're under contract to a television studio, such as I was when you're doing a television series, there's a law that is affectionately called "The Jackie Coogan Law", where a certain percentage of a minor's salary is placed in trust. Jackie Coogan was a child star who did many films with Charlie Chaplin, most famous of which is a film called The Kid, and he was basically worth a million dollars or so by the time he was twelve and never saw a penny of it because his parents spent it all. So they enacted a law that was called "The Jackie Coogan Law," and a certain percentage of that money that a minor earns goes into a trust, a government trust, and the rest of the percentage that a minor earns goes to himself, or his family. Now my family, knock wood or whatever, were wealthy. They didn't need to take my money, so my father invested my money for me. So it was fine.
Q: How did you get along with the cast?
A: Fine. Guy Williams and I got along great. He taught me how to fence, you know he did Zorro and everything. I had a real good time with Guy. I used to tease him about combing his hair a lot all the time, we used to get along really well. June was a joy to be with, and is one of the most lovely ladies I've ever met. She used to play Scrabble with me all the time, Password, a very intellectualized mind. June and I got along just great. Mark and I had a very special relationship. I used to think of him as Batman and me as Robin, kind of like his little partner. And Mark used to do crazy things. We used to get in some pretty funny situations . . .
Q: Can you elaborate on some of the strange or funny events in detail?
A: Mark and I used to have fun a lot. We used to do things like take executive's golf carts. You know, those little electric carts that you drive around in. Well, the executives at the studio would have those all the time, and even the guys who would deliver the mail would do it in those, too. So if there was one of those lying around outside the set and we didn't have anything to do, we'd take it on a joy ride, you know, and leave it someplace ridiculous where they'd never find it or something. Just silly things like that. Mark used to...I remember once when he brought like a 25 pound bag of peanuts, and he climbed up to the top of the rafters on stage 11 (I think it was stage 11, it might have been stage 6)...I don't want to leave anyone out in this cast, though. Marta, I want to thank Marta because she turned me on to Bob Dylan and she turned me on to The Byrds, which are and were great influences in my musicianship. We used to sing a lot. I had a stereo in my dressing room, and I always had my guitar with me.
Q: ...And you played in the Pilot, I believe...
A: ...Greensleeves, and I played Sloop John B in another show as well, one of the Lost in Space's. But anyway, Marta turned me on to some folk-rock music that I really still like, and I thank her for that. Angela and I got along great. We were with each other all the time. And Jonathan and I, you know, worked together all of the time. We had a great time, and I respect him a lot. And Bob was a great guy, too. So now I've included everyone and I don't want to get letters about not including anyone.
Q: Now Mark, you had him climbing up to the rafter of stage...11? Or whatever.
A: He had this big bag, this huge bag of peanuts. He got up to the top of the rafters and he'd start throwing all of these peanuts down at everyone at the end of the day. Everyone thought he'd lost his mind, but I thought it was pretty funny myself. Some other antics that we got into: There are these great big tunnels that run throughout the underground of 20th Century-Fox, like a maze, a big labyrinth. It's really great, I mean, it's under Century City and everything . . ."
Q: Are they still there?
A: Oh, well they have to be there.
Q: What were they used for?
A: There's generators under there, for power, and fuses and all sorts of things like that. I think also, during World War II, you see the studios were 'bombing targets', in case of an enemy attack on this coast. The studios weren't allowed to camouflage their sound stages because they were decoys for real airports, because they looked like hangers, they were so huge. At least this is what my mother told me, and she was a secretary at 20th during the war. So it's possible that part of this was like an underground shelter. I mean, I don't know that's how it was designed, but it's possible that it did serve that purpose. But anyway, me and Marta and Mark and Angela, we used to just go underground, you know, and get flashlights and stuff, and just go down through these tunnels when we'd have a few hours off, for hours. And I mean it was really spooky, we weren't allowed to be there, but it was fun."
Q: And the famous "water fight". Could you explain that in detail. When I read that originally, you said, "Then the classic water fight between me and Angela." But you...
A: You had to be there. I mean, it loses everything in its translation. If you said, "A couple of kids had a water fight", right? It's, well...but if you were there, and you saw cups of water being hurled back and forth from one bathroom to another. Between the sound stages, and this was on stage 5, I believe. Before you get in the sound stages, a corridor with like a cigarette machine and a candy bar machine and a drinking fountain. Just a little hallway corridor, and on one end of it is the Men's Room, and on another end of it is the Women's Room, and then here's the door to the stages, okay. So, Angela was in the Women's Room. And somehow or another, I guess it was me who started it, you know, I probably just tossed a cup of water through the open window above the door. She started tossing it back, and before you knew it, you know, we were just throwing buckets of water around at each other, and the whole corridor was sopping wet, and we had our costumes all ruined. It was just fun. Then everybody went crazy, you know, the teachers went crazy, and the mothers went crazy, and the assistant directors went crazy, but that's their job. You had to be there.
Q: When did all this happen?
Q: What was on stage 11 and stage 6?
A: Well, by the end of our show or the middle of our show, we had three permanent stages, and I think they were stage 11 and stage 6 and stage 22 or something (22 was one of the newer stages). One stage was the interior of part of the Jupiter 2, on another stage was the campsite, you know, with just the front of the Jupiter 2 and then the immediate surroundings around there, and then on another stage we would have other things.
Q: Did you or anyone else become injured on the set at any time?
A: Well, during the course of all those special effects and stunts that we had, everyone got banged around a bit. No one was ever really hurt too seriously. Mark had a motorcycle accident coming to the studio one day, that was kind of frightening. Right at the beginning of the show, as a matter of fact, when we first started. Nothing too serious ever happened, just lumps and bangs and scratches and cuts. Nobody like, ever had to go to the hospital, at least that I can remember right now. I think the monkey, the Bloop bit Angela's brother Christopher when he was a baby, I remember that. He just got bit by a chimpanzee, got a tetanus shot, I guess. Didn't lose a finger or anything. Oh, I'll tell you something: the ostriches were awful. They had ostriches in the pilot, and they were just kicking and spitting at everybody. I hated them! I didn't like the ostriches at all. Don't ever work with ostriches.
Q: How did you and Angela like working with the Bloop?
A: [It was] a cute, nice chimpanzee named Debbie. Lou Shoemaker was its trainer, and Angela really liked working with it, a little more than I did. Well, it was more her thing. Penny was supposed to be more of a zoologist type of a character, and Will was more of a engineer, electronics type. Originally we all had these clear-cut characters, you know. Maureen was Dr. Maureen Robinson, and she was biophysics, or whatever. Professor Robinson was, you know. And Don was the military pilot Major, and his job was really just to know how the Jupiter 2 worked, and I think Judy was into the plants, and getting all of that stuff together. At least that's how I remember it, but things change.
Q: You said that you designed some costumes.
A: Oh yeah, I used to design costumes. I was a big comic book fan, I still am a big comic book fan, and I wanted to look like one of the Legion of Super Heroes or something. So I would draw little costumes for Will, you know, and I knew at the beginning of every season we were going to get a new look, we'd get a new costume, and I never liked the ones I got after the first season at all. I hated the second season costume and I hated the third season costume, and I really wanted a different one. So I was constantly sending in these sketches of the kind of costume I wanted.
Q: What did the other cast members think about their costumes?
A: No, everyone liked them, I'm sure. We really didn't talk about it too much, but I'm sure everyone liked them. I remember Jonathan . . . . when we first got the second batch of costumes, which was somewhere mid through the first season, Jonathan's tunic or top was yellow, and he didn't like that and he got brown. He didn't like being in yellow, so he changed that.
Q: What happened to the costumes after each shooting day?
A: They got cleaned. [laughter]
Q: I mean, did you wear them home or what?
A: No, no. You'd go to work in the morning, right, and you'd go to your dressing room. And you'd get out of your clothes, and you'd get into your costume, and then you'd go to makeup. Or you'd go to makeup first, depending on the schedule of the day.
Q: Did you eat lunch at the studio?
A: Well, we had a lunch time, and lots of times we'd eat at the studio, and lots of times we'd just go out. Angela and I used to go to the restaurants at, like, the May Company or the Broadway or somewhere, and we'd only have an hour, so we'd jump in our cars with our moms, or whatever, and we'd go to May Company or Broadway, and we'd eat. And we'd be in our costumes, and we'd kind of look ridiculous. [laughter] And we'd always do the same things: I'd buy a Kingston Trio record, and she'd buy a Beatle record or something, and I'd buy a Hardy Boy book, and she'd buy a Nancy Drew book. And then we'd go back.
Q: What was the food like at the studios, though. I frequently hear all these rumors that it's really terrible.
A: Oh, not at all. It depends on the studio...I haven't eaten at any of the studios in the last five years, so I can't really be a judge of that, but the food at 20th Century-Fox was great. There was a little truck that came by, like you see at a football game or something, a caterer's truck. You'd get little honey cakes or lemonade or coffee or sweet rolls.
Q: Did you have to pay for any of this, out of your own pocket?
A: Sure. They figure they're paying you a lot of money, right, every week to make this television series, you can buy your own lunch. They give you a lunch hour.
Q: One full hour?
A: One hour, or sometimes in the case of me and Angela, because of the labor laws, we could only work a certain amount of hours a day. If they gave us an hour and a half lunch, they could work us a half hour later, you see. So sometimes they'd give us an hour and a half or a two hour lunch even, rarely, but they'd give us a two hour lunch. That way they'd be able to keep us later, and they'd save some of our shots till the end of the day for whatever reasons that need be. It all has to do with union things over time and stuff. If June, for instance, had a 6:30 in the morning call, well she'd go on overtime at maybe 5:30. If I came in at 9:00, then I could only work till six. I couldn't work any later than that. It's all these little things that you didn't ...it's hard to explain. I didn't have any say in it, no one has any say in it. That's what the assistant directors and the producers and everybody worry about, little union laws that have to be followed perfectly. If you're a minute overtime, you know, it starts to become hundreds and hundreds of dollars, per person, for everyone in the cast and the crew. As far as being under 18, you couldn't work a minute after the given allotted amount of time. They'd just pull the plug out and say, 'Kids got to go, that's it.'
Q: I guess that they had a trailer outside for you and Angela to do your studies in.
A: Oh yeah, a trailer. It was just a trailer, and that was like a dressing room.
Q: Did you do well in your schooling at the studio?
A: Yeah, I did okay. I did okay in the subjects I liked, and I got by in the subjects I didn't like. I found it very difficult to carry the amount of workload as an actor, and then have to carry the amount of scholastic work as well. I didn't enjoy working on the set and having a great time, and saving the universe and really doing an exciting bit on the show, and then have to run right back out to this trailer and take tests in geography or something. No kid likes to go to school, I don't think, and any kid would have liked to have been doing what I was doing. So, I mean, I didn't enjoy going to school. I gave the teachers a bit of a hard time. I was a brat in school. I was very professional on the set with the directors and everyone, but I was a bit of a brat to the teachers, I think. I had to let that out somewhere.
Q: Did you ever complain to anyone or refuse to put up with all that?
A: Well, there was no one to complain to. I mean, the rules are the rules, and if I were going to work I had to go to school, and if I didn't work, I'd be in school anyway. I did fine in school, you know. I graduated, then I went to college for a while, and I was always a 'B student'.
Q: Were you and Angela in the same trailer?
A: We were in the same trailer, yeah. She was in a different grade than I was. The welfare workers there have to be able to teach you anything from the first grade through high school. They have to be able to teach a whole bunch of different subjects: French, Spanish, Arithmetic, History, English...everything.
Q: Have you met any of the cast or guest stars following the cancellation of the series?
A: Well, Angela and I continued on going to school together after the show ended. Then we dated each other and stuff, and hung out for several years, and I saw Angela a lot. I used to see Mark at some political rallies, and then I saw Mark a few years ago. We got together here. He originally was going to work on the new script, The Epilogue with me. It didn't turn out that way, but we got together for a nice, positive meeting there. I had lunch with Jonathan, Marta, and Bob May recently. I communicate with June through Christmas cards and phone calls, twice a year maybe. Nothing too regular, but I've always kept in touch with June. I went to see her play, in fact, with Angela. She was doing a play here last year, and we went to see that together. Angela does sing. I don't think she's ever pursued a career as a singer, although she did make a record when she was about seven called "Angela Cartwright Sings" or "America's Little Darling Sings", or something. An album. I think she also made a single of "Rain" by The Beatles, you know, in 1967. I think she might have done that, in fact I know she did it. I don't know if it was released, but I know she did it. Yeah, Angela sings, she sings fine. We used to do personal appearances together, and she would sing at those and so would I. I would bring my guitar, and we would sing Simon and Garfunkel songs. We did them off and on from when the show was on the air through 1970. Not very often, but we'd go out to a Navy base or something and we'd sign autographs and sing a few songs and stuff. I haven't seen Guy since the show ended at all, and I guess that's about it.
Q: What was your very first project?
A: Well, the very, very, very first show I ever did was an episode of a television series called Riverboat, and that was in 1959. I was five. Although I had done a Romper Room, which was just kind of a kid's TV show, anyone could do Romper Room, and I was four and a half or four. But Riverboat was the first thing I ever did, and then the next year, 1960, I started doing a bunch of the featured roles, starring roles, things like Loretta Young and the Twilight Zones and Alfred Hitchcocks.
Q: How did you like the Twilight Zones?
A: I loved the Twilight Zones. This sounds a little silly, but I think they're my favorite pieces of child acting that I did in a sense. I mean, I can't compare what I was doing at six to what I would do at twenty-five, it's just a different catalog, but I really liked the Twilight Zones, and I feel proud of those shows.
Q: How many did you do? Were you in any of the hour-long episodes?
A: No, I did three Twilight Zones and I did three Hitchcocks. I did about a hundred different guest shots on TV, outside of the 83 Lost in Space.
Q: And then after Lost in Space ended?
A: Right after Lost in Space ended, I starred in a Disney film called Rascal. That was a pretty good film, I liked that film. It was the story of a boy growing up in the turn of the century, and the summer he spends with a pet raccoon that he takes in. A typical Disney film, but it was really nice, well done. Steve Forrest played my father. It was also about the relationship between a boy and the father. When the father is out on the road a lot trying to sell things, and the boy doesn't have a mother, and the closeness and the distance between them.
Q: And then after that?
A: Well, I did a lot of different little TV guest shots, and then I did Bless the Beasts and the Children. Bless the Beasts and the Children was about misfits and their place in society, and it was kind of a blunt social statement on some of the social...it's a very dated film when I watch it now, but check it out if it comes out on TV, you know.
Q: Then after Bless the Beasts, you did a series, Sunshine. How'd you like that?
A: I loved that. We did three movies-of-the-week, and after each one we thought that would be the end of the project, and then we did one season as a series. And we released one album that went Gold in Australia, and we released one single that made the Top-Thirty charts here (I don't know if it was the Top-Thirty, Top-Forty anyway, on the easy listening charts here). And I felt real good about it, I enjoyed it a lot. That was the last thing I've done.
Q: What was Sunshine about?
A: It was about a band, which I was a part of, raising a little girl in Canada, basically. There was a featured guy, Cliff DeYoung, who played the father of the girl [Jill] but not by blood, by marriage, and then his wife had died, and it's a long story. I mean, it really is a long story, I can't summarize it. But the series was basically about the adventures of a trio of musicians in Canada, getting by with an alternative lifestyle and raising this little girl as straight ahead as possible. A cross between The Courtship of Eddie's Father and The Monkees.
Q: What led to its demise?
A: Bad ratings. Nobody watched it. I liked it, and it got good reviews. It had a cult following.
Q: And that was your last regular TV series?
A: Well, that's my last television deal. I've done some theatre work and some play reading here. In fact, I was reading a play a couple of months ago with Shirley Jones and Shaun Cassady, and some friends of mine. So I mean I am still exercising my ability a bit, but I haven't been working. The things I've been offered I haven't wanted to do, and the things I've wanted to do I haven't been able to get. Show biz.
Q: What are your favorite television series, from the past, syndicated, and from the present?
A: Twilight Zone, Saturday Night Live, Mission Impossible. You just said what were some of my favorite television shows, those are my favorite television shows.
Q: And you've written a Lost in Space script with your partners Paul Gordon and Brian Greer.
A: Yeah, Lost in Space: The Epilogue. I think it's real good. I like it a lot. I'd love to see it done, and the only way it's going to get done is if Irwin Allen believes it's a commercial product and a commercial idea. And I believe the best way for any producer to believe that it is commercial idea is hear from the people who would like to see it, so if there is anybody out there who would like to see Lost in Space done again as a theatrical film or as a movie-for-television, then I would highly recommend that you write a letter to Irwin Allen, care of the Burbank Studios, and let him know. I would highly suggest that they do that.
Q: Okay, I wanted to ask you - every so often we keep hearing rumors about the idea of you reviving Lost in Space.
A: It's been a project that's been going on for about three years now. I tried to get The Epilogue idea resolving Lost in Space done on film. I originally just wrote a treatment, that became a script, that became another script, and I finally got a couple of good versions that I felt really comfortable with, and I took them to CBS (who has a piece of the old television show) and they thought it was a great idea at the time. I took them to 20th Century-Fox, and then I gave copies to each of the cast members, and got their feedback on it and made changes according to their specifications, and then I went to Irwin Allen (who is the controlling factor here because he owns the majority of the rights to the show, and he created the characters and everything), and his attitude at the time (which at last time I spoke with him was about four or five months ago) - he was a little paranoid that if he did a film and a television feature, or a television thing that it would hurt his syndication royalty money with the reruns of Lost in Space. And he also thought that it might be past its prime and he didn't really think it was that great of an idea, so I started going around doing all these science-fiction conventions trying to get people's support for the idea and they were writing to Irwin, and supposedly that's still going on. The last time I spoke to Irwin, he had told me that if he does do a Lost in Space project, that it will more than likely be his script, his storyline, and he'll call me to tell me what time to show up. [much laughter] I wanted him to at least...I just said, "Well, you know, you want to see the story. So if you're going to do it, I've got a good written one here." And he said, "No, no. I can't hear your story, and if you send it in the mail, I can't read it because of legal problems..." And it was all kind of...you know, sounded a little phony to me, and I said, "Hey, you know, I'm not interested in infringing on your copyright, or suing you, or participating in royalties that I would be welcome to, and I just wanted to volunteer a storyline. That's all." And he was very definite, so I've just let it set on my back burner..."
Q: Would you be willing to share with us a storyline?
A: Storyline... well... roughly it would just kind of be based around: you take that group of people, stranded on a very small, uninhabited (at this point in time) asteroid in space where they've been stuck for maybe a dozen years or so, fifteen years or so, with a simple problem with that there's just no more fuel. So, it's a realistic fate that they're dealt - there's no deutronium on the planet they're on, which was our source of fuel, deutronium. There's no deutronium on the place that they've been staying, so their fate is sealed, so they've accepted it to a degree, and they've kind of gutted the Jupiter 2 and turned it into separate dwellings. I have my character of Will, I had my character of Will having removed himself and living off in a distant 'iron mountain' someplace on the asteroid trying to come up with an alternative fuel process, and then having very little luck at that. And I had Don and Judy together...and they have a little 'new Will Robinson' child who's precocious, and is hanging out with Dr. Smith, as usual. The Robot is still the Robot, although over the years certain systems have been breaking down with great regularity, so he's more or less a kind of shadow of his former self. So what happened was - there's an alien spaceship up in space, a small spaceship like a dinghy from a larger craft. It gets hit by an asteroid and crashes on this planet where the Robinsons are, immediately killing all of its crew. Well, Dr. Smith, the Robot, and this new little child happen upon this crashed vehicle, and so they freak out and they tell all the other Robinsons what they've found. And that reunites the family, which we've established by now has been a lot of friction there. The family gets reunited with a common goal of trying to salvage pieces from this alien technological stuff and putting it into the Jupiter 2, making it flyable again. So the next quarter or half of the script was kind of showing that the Robinsons are made of the stuff that when put to the challenge, they can rise to it and get the vehicle happening again. So they got the Jupiter 2 to a state where they can basically fly. Then the mother ship of the alien ship picks up the signal of their little dinghy that has crashed on this asteroid, comes in and sees that its life forms are dead, and on its monitor sees the Robot transferring equipment from it to the Jupiter 2. Well, they automatically assume that the Robinsons are pirates, so to speak, pirating their ship and they killed their crew. So the first thing they do is blow the Robot to smithereens. The second thing they do is to open fire on the Robinsons, who are at this point just about ready to leave, everything was going good for them. Well, the Robinsons get out of the Jupiter 2 just in time to see it disintegrated - blown to pieces, so they surrender to these aliens and they are taken prisoner on this alien ship. That's a bit of a conflict, and then what we had going was that they were taken to a space station - this is really hard...I haven't really thought this out too clearly in a while, but they're taken up to this space station where each race from each planet has its own representative of justice and they realize that it's the Robinson party, and everything's been straightened out that they weren't responsible for the deaths of the alien crew. La-de-da - everybody's happy, we go back to Earth, the Robot's reassembled, and everyone's happy, and we put it to death. That was basically the plan for my show...of course Irwin Allen doesn't know that, but you guys do, so that's all right now. I wrote it with a couple a friends of mine - Paul Gordon and Brian Greer, but...it looks like if there will be a Lost in Space project in the future, that this will not be the synopsis of the plot, unfortunately. And I've been very tight-lipped about it for a couple of years, you know, I wouldn't want anyone to rip off my storyline, or this or that, and nowadays it's like: Hey, anybody who's interested in Lost in Space, if they want to know about it - fine. [laughter] Lately, I just finished a feature with Rick Springfield that's coming out in January  , I think, called Hard to Hold, kind of a rock-and-roll love story. I play this character that was similar to a character I played in a short-lived television series called Sunshine in the seventies, kind of a wise-cracking musician-type of guy. I had a lot of fun doing that, and I've been writing songs for the group "America". I've written five songs on their last two records, and I play with them. I have my own project I'm connected with called "Barnes and Barnes", which has an album called Soak It Up, and a video called Soak It Up, coming out on CBS records in September. So I've been real busy lately and I've lost some Lost in Space energy. Because of Irwin Allen's forcefulness in refusing to hear my ideas, it's kind of taken a back seat. And that's what I've been up to.
Q: I don't know how true this is, but I heard down the grapevine that Irwin Allen has his own script, 20th Century-Fox has given the go-ahead, CBS has given the go-ahead for it, and everyone had been signed up except you. [laughter]
A: Well, nobody's been signed up for it. I mean, I'm sure of that.
Q: In other words, it's just a rumor?
A: Well, I can tell you that that's just...well, I don't know if Irwin Allen has a script, and I don't know if he's taken it to 20th, or anyone else. That part I don't know. But I do know that the other actors certainly haven't been signed to do anything. That much I guarantee, because I'm in touch with them all the time. And they did that Family Feud...did anyone see that Lost in Space Feud? I couldn't make that show...darn! I couldn't make that, but I thought it was kind of strange.
Q: But did you see it?
A: Yes, I saw it.
Q: Did you like it?
A: I don't like the Family Feud. It was great to see Guy Williams in there. I haven't physically even seen him in a long time.
Q: Do you know where he is now?
A: I have no idea. He looked terrific, and I know that he had a stroke last year and I was really kind of worried about him, you know, with his face being paralyzed (that's what June had told me - he was partially paralyzed), but he's fine now. At least he was during then...in the Family Feud. And I thought the show was ridiculous...you know, the questions: Name something blue...my mind is blank! [much laughter] It was ridiculous...but, it was good to see everybody. They looked great, I thought. I think we could be all back united on a set anytime anybody said to be there...if Guy Williams is going to be willing to do the Family Feud, I'd think he'd be more than willing to do a dramatic movie or a "Movie of the Week."
Q: But they're all positive about your idea of the script, right?
A: Well, they were when I spoke to them about it. But I'm sure they'd do anything if they said, "Here's your salary, and show up on the set and do it," as long as it wasn't, you know, along the "camp" lines of some of the episodes towards the end of the run, which I don't think it would be. I think the reason we got into those "talking carrot" vegetable shows and, you know, dragons wearing skirts, and all sorts of ridiculous stuff, was because of that pop-art, camp, sixties period, with the Batman series being on the air opposite us. But I think that was a, you know, that whole camp thing was a temporary thing. I doubt if that would be the direction anyone would want to see the show take again. I'm sure that Irwin would send it pretty much back to the basic characters he created in the beginning. Which I thought the first season of the series, the black-and-white stuff, was the best stuff...where everyone really had a defined character, and everyone on the family had a role in each of the shows. Then it kind of got into that "Smith-Will-Robot" syndrome every week which, I mean, for me was a lot of work and it was fun, but I much preferred it when everyone else was involved more...more interplay off the other characters.
Q: Whatever happened to "Bill Mumy and the Igloos"?
A: Oh my, "The Igloos" was a band of mine, a rock-and-roll band, that lasted for about a year and a half that played all the club scenes in California and did some demo recordings, you know, and didn't get a record deal. And what happened was - my drummer, the drummer at the time, got a gig with Mac Davis. And there was a saxophone player - Cloris Leachman's son, George. He was just a fantastic musician, and his father asked him if he'd be an associate producer on a film, so he went off to Iceland for like four months. So I lost my drummer and I lost my sax player, and I replaced the drummer. It wasn't quite the same, and without the sax player my energies started to dwindle a bit. It wasn't really a group effort, like a team, like you're in a band with everybody else and everyone holds their own weight and is responsible, and shares in the pleasures and in the sorrows of the work. It was more or less they were working for me, and I didn't really like that. So the Igloos kind of...melted, and I've been working with "America" mostly since that time, and "Barnes and Barnes".
Q: Did you enjoy the opportunity of being able to both play and sing during the run of Lost in Space?
A: Yeah, there was a couple of times. I played an old Beach Boys song in Lost in Space. Up there in 1998 singing "Sloop John B", which I thought was pretty funny, and there's another..."Greensleeves". I think we did it in the pilot, when I was ten years old. [singing] "Greensleeves". I cringe whenever I hear that. I just learned to play the guitar about three months before we did that. "Well, we need something in this kind of picnic scene. Billy, why don't you play your guitar?" "Uh, okay." [laughter] But yeah, I started playing when I was ten, and I started writing songs when I was about ten or eleven, and it's just been a natural progression. Acting, luckily, gave me the opportunity to explore other areas without having to tie myself down to another kind of job. If I wasn't working as an actor, I would just kind of skate for a while, skate through on the money I'd made and I could trust my instincts towards music, and it's paying off really well right now. I spent a year with Shaun Cassady at the height of his teen idolism, touring around the country, singing "Do Run Run" and "That's Rock and Roll" with him, which was a lot of fun. These were like super, big-time shows and stuff, we were playing in front of fifteen or twenty thousand people, and it was a good band, the musicians were all fine. A lot of old, good rock-and-roll songs, "Twist and Shout" and stuff like that, it was fun. So yes, I've enjoyed both without having to sacrifice one or the other. As far as the acting career goes, it just got to a point where the projects I wanted and the projects I were offered just weren't really matching up, and I felt like I had worked with such good people in the past, people who have quality shows like the Twilight Zones, or worked with Alfred Hitchcock, Walt Disney, just really fine, talented people, and at the end after Sunshine went off the air in '75, I was doing these three-camera videotape shows and stuff. I found myself not wanting to call my friends and say I had done a show, to check it out. I didn't like that feeling, so I figured I'd just sit back and I'll wait until there's something I feel good about, and that's what I've been doing. There's been a lot of stuff in that interim, I've done some theatre work with Shirley Jones and David Cassady in L.A., and some other theatre projects which I'd never had an opportunity to do when I was young. I did a play called Back Street for a while, which was a musical. So I've had a pretty diverse career for the last ten years. I mean, up until '74 or '75, outside of a few musical things like you mentioned, I really did nothing but act and that was just it. but since then it's been split pretty well: music and acting, and it's worked out good. I got to write an episode of Sunshine, as a writer, which I thought was a nice basis to start a writing career. The first thing I wrote got produced on TV. So I told Irwin Allen, "Hey, it's not like I'm twelve years old, and I've never written anything. I've written shows for TV that have been produced. I think it's a good idea." But...he didn't want to hear it. He was afraid that because it's a castaway story and there's only so many basic ideas you can do in the first place, that my storyline might be similar to something he had written, and I'd take him to court and sue him. I said, "Hey, I'm not trying to infringe upon your copyrights here." But, you can't escape your destiny, and my destiny is not to write the Lost in Space movie I suppose, or to write one that no one ever sees on film, but...it's a good life.
Q: You appeared in a couple of episodes of I Dream of Jeannie, where you portrayed Dr. Bellows' precocious nephew. Do you remember that?
A: Sure. I was there. [laughter]
Q: Did you enjoy that?
A: Oh yeah. If you add it all up, including the eighty-some episodes of Lost in Space, I've done about 175 shows, right around there, give or take ten or so. Out of all of them, maybe two or three shows I didn't have a good time on, and that was generally because of friction with somebody in the cast or bad locations...I did a film called Papillion where I worked with Dustin Hoffman and Steve McQueen for three months, and I had quite a bit to do. Dulton Trumbo wrote the screenplay and he was dying of cancer at the time he was writing, so every day he was just turning out pages. Whatever he turned out we would shoot, and by the time we were done shooting they had shot 300 or 400 pages of stuff and they had 4 1/2 or 5 hours of film, I guess. They looked up and they said, "Okay, well we have to get rid of this, so what are we going to trim here. Mumy Goes!" [laughter] So basically if you ever see Papillion, I know it's been running on cable recently, watch for me on the boat scenes at the beginning. As soon as they get to Devil's Island, I kind of walk off into the water in this delirious state and get my head blown off...quite rapidly, which was a lot of fun, it was a good death scene actually. They put this mousetrap-type device on my forehead, with a phony piece of hair on top of it (basically, they shaved my head anyway, so there wasn't much hair). They put this little metal plate with a charge on it, and the mousetrap situation with some phony hair on top, then a small invisible tube that ran down my shirt to a little pumpertype unit in my hand. So I was supposed to walk out into the water, and this guard kind of blows my head off. So what they did is they'd set the charge off, the spring on the mousetrap unit would spring open releasing that piece of hair, and then I'd pump this blood-like stuff out of my head. All fine and well. Well, I had been scuba diving a lot, which is something I really haven't done in a quite a while, but at that point in time I was in really good, aquatic shape. You can't hear anything when your ears are underwater, so I was simply told to walk out there, you know, and when the thing went off, float down there like I was dead and pump the blood out of my head. I had Ann Hoffman, Dustin Hoffman's wife at the time, she was taking home movies of it for me on my little Kodak, and Dustin was sitting there watching it. I held my breath for...I suppose it was about two minutes or so, and I couldn't hear them yell, "Cut! Cut! Okay!" And I'm sitting there floating on top of the water, and Dustin jumped in the water and started swimming out there. They thought some maniac Jamaican had blown my brains out. So, if you ever see Papillion, see me floating there in the water and this traumatic experience for the Hoffmans. But anyway, that was kind of a disappointment, because I really wanted to do well in that film, and I ended up almost being embarrassed about it because it was a very, very small part by the time they were done with it. But...that's show biz again. You can't predict what an editor or a director will do with your work, which is another reason why I feel more comfortable really in the record business these days, because it's a situation where at least in the stuff I'm involved with, most of it, I'm writing it and I'm helping, or co-arranging or coproducing it. So pretty much by the time it comes out, I have the control over what it's going to be like, whereas in television or in films, you're completely at the mercy of other people, as it should be. It's just that sometimes those other people don't quite see things the way you see things, so somebody's disappointed...such as in Papillion. [laughter]
Unknown Interviewer (STSC #3)Edit
Q: How were you selected for the part of Will Robinson?
A: My agent at the time, Howard Rubin, called and asked me if I would like to do a series. Up until then, we'd been so busy and versatile in the shows that I was doing, we'd always felt that locking me into a series would be a mistake. However, when I heard it was a science fiction show, I really got excited. (I've been an avid comic book collector and reader since 1960). Anyway, I met with Irwin Allen and that was that.
Q: Did you like working for Irwin Allen?
Q: What Lost in Space episode do you think was the worst?
A: I think many of the last season shows were awful. They got so damn silly and redundant. I liked the series as a science fiction show, not as a comedy. "The Great Vegetable Rebellion" makes me sick. And I'm a vegetarian.
Q: Who was you most favorite cast member? Why?
A: Angela was my favorite because we were peers, and constantly in each others company, school and hanging out in general. Mark was my favorite because he was like a big brother to me and we were always causing some crazy scenes and getting into trouble together. Marta was my favorite because she's one of the persons that turned me on to Bob Dylan, and she and I would sing in harmony all the time. June was my favorite because she is one of the most wonderful human beings alive. Guy was my favorite because I had alway wanted to be Zorro when I was little. He taught me how to fence, and he always has a joke to tell. Jonathan was my favorite because we had so much fun working together, and trying new bits. Bob May was my favorite because of Will's relationship with the Robot, and Bob was a great sport. Now how's that for diplomacy?
Q: What was your most favorite episode?
A: I don't have any favorite episode. I like almost all the first season (I haven't seen many of them in five or six years at least). I like "The Reluctant Stowaway", "There were Giants in the Earth", "My Friend, Mr. Nobody", "Return From Outer Space", and both episodes of "The Keeper". That's about as close as I can cut it.
Q: What did you think of the Robot when you first seen it?
A: I thought it looked great. Kinda scared me a bit. I remember thinking how huge it was.
Q: Your part in the show was a very intelligent person. Do you think that part was a bit abnormal for a kid at that age?
A: Of course. All the Robinson's were a bit abnormal. That's why they were selected for the mission.
Q: Between Michael Rennie and Vincent Beck, which one did you like working with the most?
A: Silly question. I don't really know what to say. Michael Rennie was a great actor, and I think "The Keeper" episode was a better script. But, mostly everyone we worked with was cool.
Q: Did you think Lost in Space was going to last for three seasons?
A: We had all been informed that were indeed picked up. What actually happened was we were renewed but CBS wanted to cut our budget. Irwin refused, and that was that. At least that's the way I understood it.
Q: After finishing Lost in Space for three seasons were you glad it was over? Why or why not?
A: I was shattered when I heard the show wasn't returning for another season. Anyway, it was real sad. I cried.
Q: "Return From Outer Space" and "Invaders from the Fifth Dimension" are the two best episodes that featured more of you. Of the two, which one did you like the best?
A: "Return From Outer Space". I like it better because it was a concept that was only done by us once. Other things were repeated a lot.
Q: I'm sure you had a lot of funny moments while filming, would you let the club in on a couple of them?
A: Hmmm, well, this may be one of those 'you have to be there' stories, but one day Mark and I locked Bob inside the Robot over lunch hour. Everyone left the set, and he couldn't get out. It was pretty funny in a sick kind of way. Then there was a great water fight on stage five that I started. Angela got into trouble, Mark and I had a lot of fun then too, we really made a mess, and no one seemed to like it at all. Another time, Mark climbed the rafters to the very top of the stage and threw peanuts at everyone. Jonathan used to give everyone a Tootsie Roll Pop at 4:00 every day.
Q: Have you worked with any cast members since the show ended twelve years ago?
Q: While off set on Lost in Space, did you entertain the cast with your guitar?
A: Yes, I was always playing the guitar. Me and Marta used to sing quite a lot together, and so did Angela and I. I had a stereo in my dressing room and we used to slip off and listen to the Beatles, Donovan, Dylan, the Kingston Trio and I remember Mark liked Richie Havens a lot.
Q: Do you like to watch yourself on TV?
A: I like to watch myself when it's an interesting show or a good character role. I enjoy the three old Twilight Zones I did quite a lot still.
Q: Did you have a lot of free time while you were doing Lost in Space?
A: No. But I had enough to be reasonably normal and hang out on weekends with my friends. I worked from 9 until 6, Monday through Friday usually.
Q: How were you selected to play the part of Sterling North in Rascal?
A: Norman Toker, a fine director and close friend of mine who passed away not long ago, had directed me in a Disney film in '63 called Sammy the Way Out Seal. He wanted me to do it. I think it's a nice little film actually. It made quite a lot of money.
Q: How did you like working for Walt Disney Studios?
A: Working for the Disney studio was always a pleasure. I'd love to do it again someday. When Walt was alive and I was working out the theater, he called me into his office a couple of times just to see if I was having fun, and to tell me the stuff we were doing was going well. He told me to call him "Uncle Walt".
Q: How was it working with a raccoon?
A: Working with raccoons was really great. We had some funny and some frustrating experiences. To name a few, we were shooting a scene at the very beginning of the film with a baby raccoon, I held it up to my face for a close up, and it shit all over my face; and, toward the end, there's a scene where "Rascal" is trying to get out of the house and I grab him, and he's supposed to bite me... well, he did. We kept it and that's certainly one way to get a good take. I've worked with seals, bears, lions, monkeys, camels, dogs, cats, horses, ostriches, raccoons, buffalo, all sorts of animals.
Q: Have you ever seen or worked with any of the Rascal cast?
Q: The last show as far as I know that you have done, was Papillon, have there been any more recent shows?
A: After Papillon, I did Sunshine, which I loved doing. Then we did one season as a series, I co-wrote one of those episodes with Corey Fischer, and we did two movies for RV. The last being Sunshine Christmas. I also did a couple of Rockford Files, both with Lindsay Wagner, one of them was directed by Jackie Cooper. And a few other shows better off forgotten.
Q: What show or movie would you like to be remembered for best of all?
A: Oh, I don't know. I thought Bless the Beasts and the Children was an important film, but when I saw it recently, it looked dated to me, we did that in 1971. I do like the old Twilight Zones, but I suppose that Will Robinson will always be my favorite in a way. Everyone remembers Lost in Space the most anyway. Don't be surprised if you hear about a reunion film being planned. But I can't really talk about that now...
Q: What are you doing now or in the near future that we might see you in?
A: I haven't worked as an actor in over two years now; I would love to do a good film, but I refuse to do anything that I think is stupid, or will embarrass me in the long run. I turn down dumb stuff once in a while, and I don't seem to be getting the parts I would really like to do, so basically I'm just not acting. But I'm very busy with music now. I've got a new band called Bill Mumy and the Igloos, and we're playing all the rock clubs in Southern California now. I've also got an album that I recently finished recording, and I'm trying to get a distribution deal with that. And, along with my writing partners Paul Goddon and Brian Greer, we're working very hard on screenplay for a reunion show for Lost In Space. I've met Mark Goddard, and he's in the process of talking to Irwin now, Marta, Jonathan, and Angela I'm sure want to do it, but it's really too early to talk much about it, it may not happen.
Q: Do you and the Lost In Space cast get together much for a reunion?
A: Never. Good idea though. You organize it, and I'll show up.
Q: How did you get interested in art and drawing?
A: When I was younger I used to draw and write my own comic books, and then for a while I pet pretty serious about art in school, but I decided to keep my energy committed to writing, acting, and performing music, which is more than enough to handle, don't you think? Anyway, I stopped drawing in 1971.
Q: Is it true you worked for Shaun Cassidy as a musician?
A: Shaun and I are long time good friends. He and I have written some songs together. One of them, "It's Up to You" is on his Born Late album. In 1978, I was between bands, and Shaun called me and asked me if I'd go on tour and play guitar with him. I said yes, and I had one of the best times of my life! But after the 1978 tour, we stopped working together. I've got my band, and Shaun basically quit touring. We still write together occasionally. I think his new record that Todd Rundgren produced is really good.
Jeff Blair (Galaxy Gift #5)Edit
Q: How did you get the part of Will Robinson?
A: My agent at that time, Howard Rubin, had asked me if I wanted to do a series. In the past we'd always said no because the acting roles I was getting were so diverse, but as soon as he told me what the concept of the show was, I was into it, being a devoted comic book collector and sci-fi guy since I was six. Anyway, I took a meeting with Irwin Allen, and that was that.
Q: Did you enjoy doing Lost in Space?
A: Yes, totally. Who wouldn't?
Q: How did you like working with Guy Williams. Jonathan Harris, and the other cast members?
A: I got along great with everyone; I really did. Except for one director who I suppose should remain nameless; let's just say one director and I did not like each other at all. Who cares: It was Don Richardson.
Q: What did you think of the Robot?
A: What did I think of the Robot or Bob May? I liked them both, I guess; it's hard to separate the two. The Robot was taller than Bob.
Q: Is there an episode of Lost in Space that is a favorite of yours?
A: Several. Here's a list of a few: the first seven, plus "Return From Outer Space", "The Keeper", "The Thief From Outer Space", "Visit to a Hostile Planet", and "Space Creature". I liked almost every episode from the first season. I don't like most of the second season and I think that we were getting good again in the third.
Q: Do you remember any strange or funny incidents that happened on or off camera?
A: You have to remember that my memories are that of a young guy, so they may not be that funny. Mark Goddard and I were always playing tricks on somebody. Once we locked Bob May in the Robot for lunch and left him alone in the middle of the set for about two hours. We also painted his dressing room and everything in it silver. Then there was the classic water fight between Angela and me that ruined half of stage five (you had to be there!).
Q: Have you met or seen any of the cast members from Lost in Space since its cancellation?
A: Not much. I see Angela occasionally. I've bumped into Mark Goddard over the years once in a while. June and me exchange letters annually, and that's about it; kind of depressing, actually. I love all these people, but no one makes the effort. Weird.
Q: Is there anything on Lost in Space you wanted to change?
A: Yes! Everyone but Jonathan disliked what he did to his character. Let me clarify: Jonathan Harris is a wonderful man and a fine actor, but he came into the series as a wicked, shrewd enemy to the Robinsons; within one year he became a redundant, babbling joke. Personally, I thought it got real boring every week. I wanted the show to be more sci-fi like the first season. No one was mad at Jonathan, but there was a feeling of 'what happened to the Robinsons?' Me, I can't complain because I always had a big part, but I'd rather have seen more of everyone else.
Q: How did the cast get along?
A: Fine. Any cast is like a family after a while. Sometimes you don't agree with each other, but you're still a family so it's cool. I think we all loved each other.
Q: Do you have any souvenirs from Lost in Space?
A: Not many. I have my uniform from the last season. All the scripts, not many photos, but twenty or thirty, and somewhere I have a few buttons, I think. I wish I'd kept all the junk I had. Remember the show with all the little robots ("The Mechanical Men")? I had two of them. I would have kept or taken a lot of the stuff, but when the show ended, everyone thought we were coming back so no one took any memorabilia.
Q: Did you think that Lost in Space was going to have a fourth season?
A: Like I just said, we all thought that we were picked up. In fact, we were picked up! What happened was this (at least what I was told): CBS picked it up, but wanted to cut our budget. I'm sure you know how expensive special effects can be. Anyway, Irwin refused to cut the budget, CBS refused to pick us up at our budget, so that was that. I cried my ass off the day we got cancelled; it devastated me completely. 'No more Will?' I couldn't relate.
Q: Did you like your Lost in Space costumes?
A: I loved the first costume. It was blue (my favorite color), and it was nice and simple. I hated the second season red one and the purple one was all right. I had designed some that I wanted (as I said, I'm a comic book nut, so costumes and I get along fine) but nothing ever came of them. The silver flight suits looked great, but everyone hated wearing them. They were so stiff that none of us could sit down; we had big boards with arm rests we'd just lean back on. It was pretty funny.
Q: Did you like the Lost in Space sets?
A: The sets were okay, I guess; I wish we were outside more often.
Q: What were the ratings of Lost in Space like throughout its run?
A: I'm not sure if I remember the ratings that clearly. Let's see: the first season was good: I think that was our highest rating. The second and third seasons were usually around 20 or 30; not great, but sturdy enough to keep us going.
Q: Did you watch Lost in Space when it was on CBS? Do you watch it now?
A: When the show was first running, I never missed it. After we were cancelled I watched it at first, then it just drifted on and off the air for years. It hasn't been on in Los Angeles in years now. Usually, when it is on somewhere, they only run the color shows, which I don't like half as much as the first season. But I guess if it came on I'd watch.
Q: Whatever happened to the Bloop? It seemed to disappear during the third year.
A: Debby the Bloop ended up on some other show at the same time as ours; maybe Daktari. I can't remember. Angela and I enjoyed working with Debby, but nobody else really cared much (I'm speaking of production now, not the cast). We all kind of wondered what happened to the Bloop.
Q: If Lost in Space were ever remade, would you come back as Will Robinson?
Q: Of all the parts you played in the movies and TV, which is your favorite?
A: I like Bless the Beasts and the Children a lot. I like a film I made with Jimmy Stewart called Dear Brigitte. I did three old Twilight Zones that have really aged well. Weaver, the character I've played on and off for a few years now on all the Sunshine projects is a fun character to do. But I suppose that Will is my favorite. Will is like a real person inside me. I like him best because he's full of truth and courage; oh well.
Q: What TV show or movie will you be in next?
A: I don't know; mainly my work is music now. Writing songs for myself and others, playing guitar on studio sessions and tours (I recently did Shaun Cassidy's national tour last year, boy that was some crazy fun!), and now I'm trying to get a record contract of my own. So, who knows what film or TV show I'll do next. Not me.
David Krinsky (Lost in Space Forever #27)Edit
Q: Tell us about your Lost in Space reunion script.
A: It is written by myself and my partners Paul Gordon and Brian Greer. It is a two hour script. It is a psychological drama in a science fiction setting. As far as I'm concerned at this point in time there is no 'camp' in it at all. I don't want to get into any details about whether the Robinson finally reach Alpha Centauri or Earth. I don't want to give away the punchline, so you'll have to wait for that one.
Q: When did you hear Lost in Space was cancelled? Were you disappointed?
A: Yes, I was very disappointed. I cried, as a matter of fact. We finished our third season and we broke for hiatus. Everyone went to Hawaii or whereever they went. We had been told we were coming back for a fourth season. We were officially picked up for a fourth season. What had happened was, before we went back to work, CBS wanted to cut our budget and Irwin Allen said no, I can't do the show if you cut the budget and they wouldn't budge and neither would he, so we were cancelled.
Q: How did you get along with the cast especially, Jonathan Harris?
A: Got along great with everyone and that may sound kind of phony but it is really true. I got along excellent with everyone. Jonathan and I, worked together all the time and we never had a bad moment. A real funny guy and a real warm guy. He used to give everyone on the crew and everyone on the cast, Tootsie Roll pops, everyday right after lunch. Guy Williams taught me how to fence. I had a real good time with Guy. I used to tease him about combing his hair all the time. June was a joy to be with and is one of the most lovely ladies I've ever met. She used to play Scrabble and Password with me. Mark and I had a very special relationship. I used to think of him as Batman and me as Robin, his little partner. We used to get into a lot of funny situations. Marta, I want to thank because she turned me on to Bob Dylan and the Byrds. We used to sing a lot together. I had a stereo in my dressing room and I always had my guitar with me. Angela and I just got along great, we were with each other all the time. Bob was a great guy too.
Q: How did you get the role of Will Robinson?
A: It was offered to me. My agent at the time, Howard Rubin, who now runs the Film Board of New Mexico, he's retired from agent work. Howard and I and my family had always decided against doing a television series, because from 1960 until 1965 I'd done about one hundred different television shows and they were all so versatile. One week I would be a demon child on Twilight Zone and the next month I would be doing a Walt Disney movie. We liked that versatility and it really got to be a bonus in terms of learning how to act because I got to work with so many people from Rod Sterling to Alfred Hitchcock to Walt Disney, etc. So we like not being tied down to a series, but when Lost in Space came along, I just jumped at it, because I was a comic book freak, which I still am. I have quite a good collection of comic books dating back to the late 1930's. Science fiction/space stuff is just exactly what I wanted to do. So, I went in and met with Irwin and that was that.
Q: Were you pleased with the way the show turned, "campy"?
A: No, I was not.
Q: What were your favorite episodes?
A: My favorite episodes were all within the first season. I liked that first show, "The Keeper" (Parts 1 and 2), I really like the one when I went back to Earth ("Return From Outer Space"). Angela and I like "My Friend, Mr. Nobody". There were a couple of shows in the last season that I liked, too. There were a few that started to get back to the sci-fi field that I thought were pretty good, like that "Anti-Matter Man" but certainly not the stupid carrot stuff, "The Great Vegetable Rebellion", I wish I were not associated with that.
Q: Who were your favorite guest stars?
A: I had a great time working with Albert Salmi. He was fun. Warren Oates was fun and Michael Rennie.
Q: Can you recall any funny incidents during the filming of the series?
A: Well, I can recall a lot of funny incidents, but I don't know if they would be funny to anyone else. Also, my memories go back to the time when I was 11 or 12, so the sense of humor changes, but the funniest thing that I really remember was this giant gigantic water fight that I started with Angela on Stage 5, that just about ruined the entire corridor of the stage. Got into a little bit of trouble for that, but it was fun. One day Mark Goddard freaked out a bit and climbed to the top of the rafters, again I think this was stage 5, and he had this gigantic ten pound bag of peanuts, and just started throwing peanuts at everyone. You had to be there. There was also the time Mark and I locked Bob May inside the Robot for lunch and he couldn't get out and everybody left the stage. He spent an hour and a half inside the Robot, alone in the middle of the deserted stage. Kind of cruel joke, when you think of it, but Bob painted everything in his dressing room silver and his chair silver. He was really into that metallic character there. Mark and I also stole one of those little golf carts and had some exciting voyages around 20th Century Fox. Those were funny things, but you had to be there.
Q: Did Irwin Allen visit the set often?
A: Yeah, he came down a lot, to check things out.
Q: Before Space, you were in three Twilight Zones, did you enjoy them and did you meet Rod Sterling?
A: Yes, I enjoyed them immensely. I think "It's a Good Life" is one of the best things I have ever done. I did meet Rod Sterling and that was fine. We didn't have much to say to each other.
Q: Who are some influences in the arts?
A: Acting wise, Jimmy Stewart, Dustin Hoffman, a director who became a good friend of mine, who passed away a couple of years ago named Norman Tokar, he directed Rascal and another Disney film I made when I was small called Sammy, the Way-Out Seal. He taught me a lot. He was a very good director. Stanley Krammer taught me a lot. Musically my influences have been, Neil Young, John Lennon, Brian Wilson, James Taylor (in the old days, not so much now) when I was small, The Kingston Trio, tons of people.
Q: How long have you been involved in music?
A: I have been playing since I was ten. My father is a musician, he doesn't really play any more, but he played, my mother played. It is a musical kind of family. I play guitar, bass, drums, a little, harmonica banjo. Music has always been in my life.
Q: Do you enjoy current television?
A: No, I don't.
Q: Do you own any props from Lost in Space?
A: I did over the years. I have my purple outfit from the last season, somewhere in the garage. That's really it. I got a lot of stills and all of the scripts, but that's it.
Q: Have you seen any members of the cast since the series ended?
A: Well, Angela and I continued on going to school together after the show ended and then we dated each other. I used to see Mark at some political rallies and we got together a few years later to work on the script. He originally was going to work on the new script with me. It didn't turn out that way. I had lunch with Jonathan and Marta and Bob May recently. I communicate with June through Christmas cards and phone calls twice a year. Nothing too regular, but I have always kept in touch with June. I went to see her play. She was doing a play with Angela not to long ago. I haven't seen Guy at all since the show ended.
A: Getting back to some of the other antics that we go into. There are these great big tunnels that run throughout the underground of 20th Century Fox, like a maze, a big labyrinth. It is really great, it is under Century City and everything. There are generators under there for power, fuses and all sorts of things. Also, during World War II, the studios were bombing targets, in case of enemy attack on the coast, the studios weren't allowed to camouflage their soundstages because they were decoys for real airports because they looked like hangers. My mother told me this and she was a secretary at 20th during the war. So it is possible that part of this was a fallout shelter. Me and Marta and Mark and Angela, we would go underground, and get flashlights and just go down through these tunnels when we would have a few hours off. It was really spooky, and we weren't allowed to be there.
Q: Did you like your costumes?
A: I wanted to look like one of the "Legion of Superheroes", so I would draw little costumes for Will, because I knew that at the beginning of every season we were going to get a new look. I never liked the ones I got, after the first season. I hated the second season costumes and I hated the third season. I really wanted a different one, so I was constantly sending in these sketches for the kind of costume I wanted. Paul Zastupnevich was particularly responsible for the costumes and he did a good job and is a nice man, but at the point in time I wanted a different look. I really wanted to look like Bucky Barnes, who was Captain America's partner. I wanted it to be in blue too, but I had to deal with purple and red. I remember when we first got the second batch of costumes which was somewhere mid-through the first season, Jonathan's tunic (or top) was yellow and he didn't like that and he got it changed to brown.
Q: What was your very first role?
A: The very first show I did was a show called Riverboat which was in 1959.
Q: Did you ever meet Dawson Palmer?
A: Since he played just about all of our monsters, I guarantee you that we met.
Q: Did you or any other members of the cast ever become injured because of the special effects used on the show?
A: During the course of all those special effects and stunts that we had, everyone got banged around a bit. No one was really hurt too seriously. Mark, had a motorcycle accident coming to the studio one day, that was kind of frightening. Right at the very beginning of the show as a matter of fact, when we first started. I think the monkey which portrayed the Bloop bit Angela's brother, Christopher, when he was a baby. No big deal. However, the ostriches were awful. We had ostriches in the pilot, and they were just kicking and spitting at everybody. I hated them. I have worked with all sorts of animals in my day: seals, raccoons, bears, lions, dogs, cats, monkeys. The bloop was a cute, nice chimpanzee named Debbie, Lou Shoemocker was it's trainer. Angela really like working with it a little more than I did. Penny was supposed to be more of a Zoologist type of character and Will was more of a electrical engineer. We all had these kind clear cut characters. Maureen was a doctor, Don was the military pilot, his job was to just know how the Jupiter 2 worked. Judy was into the plants and all that stuff. Things changed, we weren't locked into anything too seriously. After all, it was a fantasy, I mean, where did Jonathan Harris get all those ridiculous costumes all the time.
Q: What are some favorite times that you remember on Lost In Space?
A: We used to pull a lot of pranks on Bob May. The Robot opened in three sections. The bubblevto the top of the body was one section, the trunk was a second and the legs to the treads was the third section. So, basically, Bob would step in the legs, then they would put the trunk section over him and then the bubble went on top. Well, he can't get out if it is all bolted down. So, Mark and I bolted it down at the time he was smoking a cigar! That was very funny, that was why I remember that.
Ken Sharp (The Complete LISFAN 10th Anniversary Edition)Edit
Q: We were speaking about your move about five years ago, saying you were happy to be back in front of everyone.
A: Well it was always wonderful. I went out every year, and I did four weeks or five. I did Irene for five weeks; the musical. And it was wonderful to again stand on a stage and control things. That is, you are funny, they laugh. You are sad, they cry. You do that. That's the major difference between stage and screen, because on the screen you have no control at all, other than your actual work. When it is finished, other people take over, and they control your destiny with a scissors or a light, you see. But on the stage, you do the whole thing. Now, given the fact that you have been written by the writer, you've been produced by the producer, the set design has been set designed by the set designer, and the clothing, the wardrobe, is done by a wardrobe person, and the lighting is done by the lighting person, and you have been actually directed (and usually very well) by the director. But in the final analysis, up goes the curtain, and it's only you: you do it. And that's a wonderful sense of control, if you will, you see. And that's why I went out every year. In all my tenure in Hollywood I always did that every year. And about five years ago, I thought, "Well, do I want to do this anymore?" It's very hard work, if you work as hard as I do. It was very hard work. Oh then, oh, I loved directing the University Players that I attended, and even the dinner theaters until the drunks just put me off; put me away. I decided that I no longer wanted to do that. Could I live with that, not doing the stage? And I decided, yes I could. It was certainly worth a whack. So I called that agent, and told him that I was no longer interested playing on the stage. Well of course he was horrified: we're talking about a loss of ten percent, you understand. And I thought, "I will give this a whack. I will make a commitment to see whether it works. Whether I no longer need to do that." And it worked: I no longer need to do that, and I have not been on the stage since. Except I headline conventions. And that's a vis-a-vis thing which I adore. I love to do that.
Q: There's such a love for you, though. And that's the thing.
A: That is, and I feel it. And by the same token, I have to tell you: I'm a strange kind of actor. I'm very grateful for the attention. These people have created me, in fact. And I owe them. I do. I feel that. Very, very seriously.
Q: We love you, so that's...
A: Well that's wonderful. It's wonderful to be loved; which I have to give some of that back. And hence, the fact that I have answered every singly fan letter I have ever fingered in my whole life. We are talking, I'm happy to say, thousands of letters.
Q: You know what? Give an address for people where the shows will go out, and in my column, if they want to get in touch with you, and just send you something, or a letter, or whatever.
A: They do all the time. I've been wading through the fan mail now that accumulated since I've been away, and it's lovely.
Q: Do you have a PO box? Or give the address...
A: I can give you the address, because the people have it anyway. By the way: I was very interested to find out how people got my address. There is an organization in this country, and I don't know what it's called, which for five bucks, will give anybody's telephone number and address: are you ready for that?
Q: Yeah, I know what that is.
A: That was kind of scary. Anyway, if people want to write to me, and please do, because I welcome it. And if you have a mind to, put a few bucks in the envelope. Well, whatever.
Q: A few little gifts.
A: A few little gifts. No, I'm just kidding. Anyway, I gave up the stage. And I felt good about it. It was very hard; very hard. Because I'm stage trained in New York during the halcyon days of the theater, when to be a Broadway actor was such a mystical thing. I don't know if the mystique still exists; I don't really know, actually, because I've been away from it. But during my tenure, there was a mystique about being a Broadway actor. Wow, I mean you were something, really.
Q: Did you have the theater in your blood from the start? Did your parents take you to the theater a lot to develop that?
A: Good heavens no. My parents were very simple peasant folk, who didn't understand about being an actor. Except they knew it was a very precarious and erratic way of making a living, so they fought me. But I won. And I understood their point of view: they wanted me to have a good life. Nine to five, good salary every week, where in the theater you don't have that. And when I say the theater I mean films and television and the whole shot, you see. But it was something I wanted to do. So I did it, hoping that there would be some success involved. And by god, there was, and still is. It's been a hell of a career, Mr. Sharp. And I wish that on only my dear friends, my career. Because I'm still doing it, at my tender age.
Q: Do you remember your first acting role, or maybe your first performance on a stage?
A: I remember everything; I've total recall, I warn you. Total recall, going back to the day of birth. Well, not really.
Q: Can you tell me about your first performance on stage: was it in school? Where was it, and what was it?
A: It was in the James Merle High School. I did a tennis dance, are you ready? Two left feet, which I've got. And a tennis racket, I remember, and there were, I think, twelve of us lined up, doing a tennis dance. It was the time step or something. And that was my first appearance on any stage It was all terrible. And people applauded. And I said, "Well, well well well. Well, it's not too shabby." And that was the first. And then, in 1940, I joined a stock company on Long Island. And the first play I did was Yes, My Darling Daughter. I told you I have total recall. I played the girl's father; I was a kid myself. Yes, My Darling Daughter; I remember nothing else about the play. I did 16 plays that season. And from there I went to Winter Stock, and again Summer Stock, and I ended up having done 100 plays.
Q: What a great training ground.
A: The best. You know in stock, you play one and rehearse one. You rehearse next week's while you're playing this week's. You never quite know all the words, but that's the nature of it, you see.
Q: Did you ever have any problem with scripts, or...
A: I am the quickest study in the world. It has served me very well, thank God.
Q: You're blessed with it.
A: Yes, yes, a blessing. Because I always hated to do it. The line learning drove me mad. But I was awfully good at it. So that was a help.
Q: Were there any actors or actresses that you grew up watching that you really loved that you wanted to emulate at the beginning to at least get a bit of...
A: Oh, absolutely. I went into this business because I found it very glamorous. And the glamor is gone, I'm sorry to say. And I miss it. Greta Garbo, Cary Grant, Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, those are my idols.
Q: My idol is Cary Grant. Did you ever work with him or meet him?
A: No, but I'll tell you a wonderful story about him as we go along; remind me. I mean, total worship. I did work with Bette Davis though. That was wonderful and very exciting. What a professional lady she was.
Q: How about Ingrid Bergman?
A: I loved her. Loved her; she was an idol as well. A very unique, one of a kind lady. Katherine Hepburn: a one of a kind lady. Bette Davis: a one of a kind lady. Cary Grant was a one of a kind gent, you know. The only thing of his kind.
Q: Tell me the story about Cary; I'd love to hear it.
A: I'll tell you because it's wonderful. I was doing something at Universal one day, and I went to the executive dining room to have lunch; I think it was a Twilight Zone as a matter of fact. I was beside myself. Spencer Tracy and Katie Hepburn were sitting over there. I said, "Oh, be still my foolish heart, I will absolutely not live through this." Gina Lollabrigida, great star, beautiful woman, was there. Tony Curtis. Richard Widmark, with whom I had done a play, so I sort of tentatively waved, and he waved back. I nearly died. Rock Hudson, who was a lovely man and a good friend, I sort of waved at him and he waved back. I was beside myself in this room. Then suddenly in this dining room was a hush. People stopped with fork and knife in midair. I said "What in the world?" So I looked around, and Cary Grant walked in, and stopped the room dead in its tracks. Stopped it. Dead. Looked around, saw a table, sat down, and then life resumed. And I remember saying to myself, quite loud, 'That is a star, and nothing less than that is a star." I never forgot it. He was so magnificent. And he had a big neon sign which framed his head, saying "I'm a star." He didn't do a thing; it was just that.
Q: Did you go up to him?
A: Oh good God, no. I would have fainted dead away.
Q: That's a great story.
A: I really would have fainted. Like a giddy girl. That is Abby Glover (apparently referring to someone else in the room), who's a lovely actor.
Q: Really? Have you done anything with her?
A: No, never worked with her. (unintelligible). Wonderful actor, wonderful actor. And that's not (unintelligible) either. The heiress apparent; lovely child. Anyway, contrary to public opinion, we don't all know each other. The public thinks we do, but we don't. We don't all know each other. And if you're like me, who has never done the Hollywood route - I spend a great deal of time at home, because I love it, you know. Anyway, where were we?
Q: We were talking a bit about your first acting role; your moving through Summer Stock. You know, it's interesting, prior to The Third Man, you played a guest villain on Zorro, with a...
A: Yes, with Guy Williams.
A: I did three of those, as a matter of fact, at the Disney Studio. And interestingly enough, Guy and I never discussed that on Lost In Space, the fact that we have met originally on Zorro, on which he was the star. We never discussed it.
Q: Did you ever meet Walt Disney, because he...
A: No, I never met him. But I do live in the house that Walt Disney built for his daughter Diana, who is married to Ron Miller. It's a beautiful house.
Q: Was the atmosphere different on the Disney sets - a bit more jovial, or...
A: It varies from set to set. I have been on very jolly sets. But you know, it's a serious business. And usually 12 pages a day have to be shot. That doesn't allow time for any kind of, you know... If you have a little fun it's because you've made a little fun. Which is very good. And I personally have always had to have some of that; giggles. A giggle a day is vital to my life, because it makes it all possible. Because it's hard work, and it's also very boring work. You have to sit a lot while they light and things. It's very boring.
Q: What do you do when you have those long breaks? Do you read or what...
A: No, I do needlework.
A: Yes, I always do needlework. Or crossword puzzles. Which passes the time, and so one can concentrate on the next scene, you see. Reading books is very difficult, because I would get terribly involved in the book, and not get involved in the next scene. Whereas I could do a crossword puzzle, or do my needlework, and still concentrate on the next thing I had to do. So that worked out very well for me. Because there are long periods of, you know, boredom.
Q: A friend of mine visited the set of Star Trek: The Next Generation, and actually has been to some other sci-fi shows, and he was surprised by how slow and boring it is, actually.
A: It is slow, and it can be very boring. It was never boring to me because I loved it so. But I filled my time between shots.
Q: Bradford Webster: what does he conjure up in your mind?
A: I dreamed him up out of whole cloth. He was a true eccentric, I decided. By the way: the series was of course The Third Man with Michael Rennie, now dead. A darling friend. Lovely man. [He died] at a very early age: 65. And my part had never appeared in the film. It was actually created for my by the producer, for which many thanks. And he was just a whiz financial person; you know, financial wizard, that Harry Line needed; the part played by Michael Rennie. And I always look for something else as an actor; I always have. And I fashioned a character for him, which was a true eccentric. For instance: I never changed my watch. My watch was on New York time. And wherever in the world we were, like in Afghanistan, which happened, I would have breakfast at 5pm Afghanistan time, but my watch said 8am, breakfast time. He was a true eccentric. He was not a frivolous man: to change one's watch was frivolity. To change one's clothes was frivolous as well. I had a collection of suits, but they were all the same suits. Navy blue with a sincere tie and a white shirt. Anything else was frivolous. And I decided that although this man had humor, he never smiled. Oh, the mail: "Are you never gonna smile?" Oh the mail; worked like a charm. I never did smile. He didn't smile. He didn't smile.
Q: Another creation which I really wanted to talk about, which is the show that I grew up with mostly, because I'm from that generation: Dr. Zachary Smith.
A: Ah yes: him. I guess he's been my all-time favorite.
Q: How did you become involved in that series? I mean, were you fascinated with space?
A: No. I was never fascinated with space, and I am not now fascinated with space. How did I get involved? I got hired to do the job. Simple as that. But they had done a pilot; I was not in the pilot, you know. The pilot was a series of floods and earthquakes. And I guess CBS felt there should be something else in it, like a resident villain. And so I was hired by Irwin Allen to do that. And to begin with, he was a deep-died villain, which bored me to death. There is no longevity in a snarler: none at all. I mean, three weeks and they hate your guts, they lose you. Or they kill you off. But comedic villainy is a whole different cup of tea. And that's what I did.
Q: Such a work of genius.
A: Well, I don't know whether it was genius, but it was well done, shall we say. I created that man out of absolutely blank page, all his foibles. And really what I created was all the kids I'd ever met. Put them all together and out came Zachary Smith. Oh yes; I was the absolute child, and that's why they all loved me. Because I got away with murder. I got away with murder, didn't I?
Q: You did. I wish I got away with some of the..
A: Kids never did, that's why they loved me. They wanted to be me, because I got away with murder.
Q: Like stealing water when there wasn't much water...
A: Exactly. You remember, there was one - I don't know whether you remember, but I do, because it was a brilliant thought: during the take - hadn't planned it - there was a big chocolate cake, and I cut out a wedge, and then ate it, and then pushed the cake together so that nobody would know. Which kid hasn't done that?
Q: We would get caught.
A: Of course you would get caught, and punished.
Q: That's true.
A: I loved him dearly. I found him a tremendously interesting man.
Q: It's interesting: the character was just (unintelligible) from within, I mean you...
A: It came from thinking. I'm a thinking actor: I think. And if you're not a thinking actor, you're not a very good actor. You have to think it out: who is this man? Where does he come from? What is he like? What is his relationship with other people? You know, you can call it what you will: the The Method, or the Strassborg Method, or the Actor's Studio. It's all the same thing: it's the right way to work: to find out who you are, and why you're there, and what your relationship is with everybody else, and what purpose you serve.
Q: With that role and any other roles, do you have to get to the studio early to get into the mindset? How do you prepare? I don't mean scriptwise, but just mentally.
A: To begin with, for the first month or so, you are seeking; you are looking. And that's the creative part: to find the character; find the man. Once you've done that, and if you are in a series, you know him so well that you can really literally never draw a wrong breath or say the wrong thing as him. At least, that's the way I've worked. And of course, always the mind is working to find new avenues, to find new interesting things. Because otherwise it gets to be a bore.
Q: How long would a typical day be, and what would go on through it?
A: A typical day started for me a 7 o'clock in the morning in the makeup chair.
Q: Where was the studio?
A: 20th Century-Fox, which was my favorite studio because I did The Third Man there, as well as in London. We were a joint effort between NTA, an American concern, and the BBC.
Q: Is 20th Century-Fox on (unintelligible - sound like a street name)? I passed it the other day, and I didn't know.
A: Try to get on the lot. It's a wonderful old, big movie studio. I loved it.
Q: That's amazing. I'll have to drive by and just picture...
A: We were on stage 11.
Q: So the day would start at around 7 o'clock...
A: Not around: 7 o'clock sharp, in the makeup chair. With my wonderful Bobby Mark, now dead, makeup man. Lovely, lovely man. Geniuses. I don't think the actors are the geniuses of Hollywood, I think the technicians [are].
Q: You know, I was going to ask you about that. I read that you said that, and especially with the effects and the technicians. Obviously, Lost in Space was a show which really relied on it...
A: Yes. We had wonderful geniuses doing all that. We had a man named Stu Moody who had been a college professor, and gave it up and became a special effects genius. And he did all the explosions and all those wonderful things that you saw. He was an absolute genius, because none of us ever got hurt or killed. And yet they all look very good today.
Q: They look very good.
Q: That's good that no one got [hurt] , because all in all, I mean...
A: You can't kill the actors.
Q: Yes, that's true. So around noon, you would take lunch, or...
A: Begin at seven, lunch is at one. And then an hour for lunch. And then back at two, to be pumped up for the makeup, and wish you could go home, which of course you can't.
Q: Tootsie Pop break at...
A: Well, whenever, whenever. And it's a long day, and one that exerts a great deal of energy and thought, of course. Yet one has a great deal to do, which I had. And then you go home, generally, in a state of shock on the freeway. And you go home in time and cook a couple glasses of gin, and maybe a piece of sugar, salad, and you're gone. To get up at 5 o'clock the next morning. But that's it. And I mean, did I ever resent it? No, the rewards were great, and I was doing exactly what I wanted to do. So of course you don't resent it.
Q: Now there were three seasons, and I know which one I prefer, but I was curious which one you felt closest to. A lot of people like the first, because it was more relying on the sci fi in terms of being a bit authentic. I actually like when it became color, and it's a bit more...
A: Well, color is prettier; simple as that. Color is prettier, and I think by that time I'd found exactly who I was. A lot of people have said at the conventions: they've said, many people, that they enjoyed the first one more, and I said "Fine, as long as you watch." It matters not to me, my dear: just keep watching.
Q: You know, the amazing thing about that show and some other shows from around that time is: such beautiful color. The colors were crafted and that showed up on the screen are still so beautiful today, as opposed to colors now. On regular TV it's just kind of drab.
A: Well, we were very colorful. We had colorful costumes.
Q: Do you think the pop-art explosion and the Batman [TV show] , with that type of imagery, affected the show in terms of how it was presented visually?
A: I think they did what they designed to do, is what I think. You know, it's difficult to get into their heads, Ken, it really is. But I think that the way it went, as it turns out, was that it went towards me, which is fine. Every series has got to have something that draws the audience. If it turns out to be you, fine. If it turns out to be anybody else, no quite as fine, but fine anyway, because that means you stay on another year, and that's all that matters. That is all that matters, is to stay on and not bomb, you know. Because if you bomb, everybody in it is a loser, and if you're a hit, everybody in it is a hero. At least that's my point of view.
Q: In the 60's, there were so many space shows: Star Trek, Lost In Space, Dr. Who...
A: They were a year after us, Star Trek.
Q: But even before was Dr. Who, and things like that. Do you think it was just because it was an unexplored realm, and it was just...
A: Well, the climate was right for it. It was an unexplored realm. Now it's sort of old hat, isn't it? I mean, who pays attention to the fact that the Challenger went up again? You remember how it was - you were too young, but maybe not. But the first time that anyone went to the moon, my god, we were all glued to the tube; we never left it.
Q: It was in '69, I was at my grandfather's house.
A: Now, we just say, "Oh! Another Challenger: that's nice." We have become so blasé.
Q: I mean, it's just so amazing to think about it that...
A: It's beyond human comprehension. Certainly beyond mine.
Q: It's amazing; just amazing. You know, we were talking about the Tootsie Roll, which I thought just a lovely touch to do. Was there chemistry there, even from the start, with the cast? Because it seems like you were such a family. I mean, it didn't seem like there was any falseness. It just seemed like everyone was kind of linked together.
A: Well, that's a myth. We did like each other for the most part, most of us. Of course there's Billy and I, a still wonderful friend. I love him. You know, he's a daddy. Did he tell you?
A: Yes. First time. On every series, and I've done many of them, as you know, there is always tension. There is personality conflict. There is a conflict of egos. It's inevitable. But I like to think that I'm a civilized human being, and that everyone else is as well, so you manage. You get along; you have to.
Q: Do you think sometimes a little tension is needed to bring out the best work?
A: No. No, the best work always happens when actors adore each other and adore the work. Because what is created is a sense of love, and that is apparent. Now, I have been in plays where everyone hated each other, and the play was wonderful.
A: Oh, yes.
Q: Is that difficult to do that? As you mentioned, there's some major weirdos.
A: Major weirdos.
Q: That's why you're an actor, I guess.
A: If the play is there. Remember: we are not playing US on the stage: we are playing HIM, or HER. And him or her love each other, or hate each other, or whatever they're supposed to be doing. But it is not always peaches and cream; it's never meant to be. It doesn't hurt or help anything I think if you're a professional. You do your job, and if you find yourself acting with someone you basically dislike, which has happened to all of us in our time, you overcome that, because HE doesn't dislike HER. You dislike HER, HE doesn't. I mean, it's an attitude. And if you have training, which happily I have, you can do that easily.
Q: Who were you closest to on the set? Was it Billy?
A: I was very close to Billy, because I needed him desperately, theatrically, and I believe he needed me.
Q: You were so great together.
A: And I loved Billy from the start, because he was so talented. I mean, I have a worship for talent. And Billy was a kid, and already such a good actor that it staggered the imagination. So immediately I worshipped him.
Q: I thought Angela was pretty good. I mean, she was in The Sound of Music. Did you have a good rapport with her?
A: Darling girl; lovely girl. We had a wonderful rapport. And basically, it was a pleasant enough set, basically. But I did have a special feeling for the kids.
Q: That's great, because you worked with them probably the most as well, which is nice.
A: Well, yeah. I worked with Billy a great deal. And of course I worked with the man who shall be nameless: [the] idiot Robot.
Q: I was curious: when you read a script (and obviously you get scripts all the time, I'm sure), what do you look for? Can you tell immediately when something touches a chord, or are you looking analytically, or are you feeling from your heart? How do you know [if] something [is what] you want to undertake?
A: Something happens when I read it. Something calls out, and you say to yourself, quite seriously and selfishly, "I can score in this." Otherwise, why bother? I can score in this: it may not be the biggest part in the piece, but it's one hell of a scene in which I will score and fulfill myself. I do that. Basically, in the old days (here I go with the old days), well they were different. They were.
Q: In what way?
A: Oh, we had writers. You know, really. I'm talking about live television and early filmed television. We had wonderful writers. Wonderful. And they were characters; not just illusion, but characters. They came from somewhere who did something and then went somewhere, and affected the other people around them. Now it's all, you know, flim flam flat, for the most part.
Q: Do you think it's easier or more difficult now to really break through as an actor, as compared to when you began? Do you think it's tougher now to really make a mark?
A: It was always tough, and it is tougher now. It is wild. Now anybody who would start is crazy. It is so hard. It is the worst. It is as I said earlier, the most erratic and precarious way to make your living room known to man. I mean, the competition is a killer. And many of the competitors will kill you to get the part.
Q: Did you always have that edge though? Did you always have the competitive spirit that pushed you along?
A: I had very little competitive spirit. I never wanted to be the best: I wanted to be very good. And it never occurred to me that I was as good an actor as Lawrence Olivier. I'm much too smart for that. For the first year of my career, I have to tell you I used to look in the mirror and see Cary Grant. But eventully I got realistic, and when I looked in the mirror and I saw Jonathan Harris, so I tried to find out what there was there to sell. To sell for money. I happen to be engaged in an art form at which I make my living, and I never forgot it.
Q: Have you ever done a role where maybe you weren't that crazy about the script and you did it, and you said, "Oh, it's an OK part", or maybe even a series, and then maybe in retrospect, a while down the line, you looked back and said "I see something in that; a bit more than I did originally."
A: I saw it at the time; I saw whatever it was at the time. You know, I'm not omniscient or whatever about things like that, but I do have a good theatrical sense, and I know that I trust it. I trust it. I've learned to trust it. I've done a lot of shows for the money. No problem to me at all. It doesn't have to be Chekhov each time, you see. You hope that it will be Chekhov or Shakespeare each time, but it's not. And it's not going to be. So you do it for the money. But even though you do it for the money, I mean, you read the script and you say "Oh, what a pile of crap, but the money's good, so I'm going to do it." But still, if you are a professional actor, they send a script and you go to work on it. Try to find something to make it breathe a little. Because it's in your nature if you are a professional actor, to try to find something other that just the words on the page which are not very good to begin with. You try to breathe some interest: make him a little more interesting. Or give him a facet that the author never even thought of to make him more interesting. Because it's the survival instinct: you don't want to look like an ass on the tube. You don't want to look like that: you want to look like a pro.
Q: You know, for me the halcyon days of television were in the late 50's and early 60's, like Bilko and Car 54...
A: Which turned my stomach...
Q: Yeah, it did? It turned your stomach?
A: Bilko didn't; I loved Bilko.
Q: Did you ever work with Joey Ross, who was on the show?
Q: What was he like to work with?
A: Very nice. And I worked with him, let's see - where else? I think on one of my series at Filmation I worked with Joe several times. Don't remember where; I remember that I did.
Q: A fun man to work with?
Q: Because I adore him.
A: Yeah, most actors are OK. Most actors are OK, if they're not too frightened. Because it's in the nature of the business to be, you know, frightened. I mean, your heart is on view, you know, really. Millions of people are watching your heart beat. You want to appear to be a professional and to be enjoying the work, which I always did. I never did a job which I was embarrassed to do. There was always a reason why I did it. If it was for the money, I loved the money; consequently I worked my ass off to make something special of it. If it was a part that I loved,well that one really was not a problem. Like old Zack Smith in Lost In Space: I adored him. I adored him, and Bradford Webster. These were creations of mine.
Q: Totally original too.
A: Totally original, I think. I mean, I dreamed up the alliteratives that I used to call the Robot. I was up all night, nightly, dreaming up new ones to call him. "Bubble headed booby", my favorite. "Neanderthal ninny". "Perspicacious pippet". "Parsimonious, pugnacious pipsqueak".
Q: You turned me onto some word that I would look up when I was growing up.
A: Interesting you should mention that. CBS did a little survey in the schools, and it appears I'm ending all the kids to the dictionary. I was doing good work.
Q: You were doing good work.
A: In school Thursday morning, the teacher would say "Now what did Dr. Smith say last night that you didn't understand?" And the kids all rallied to the flag. It was wonderful.
Q: There was a good one you made up for Debbie the Bloop, the monkey. "Sinister simian", you did that one time?
A: I didn't love Debbie; she loved me.
Q: Really? Was Debbie OK to deal with?
A: Scared the crap out of me. She's a wild animal. And Louie the trainer told me "You can train a wild animal, but you will never tame it. Never." And I was very aware of it. She didn't like girls: she bit Angela several times. But she loved me. But I always had a weather eye peeled then: but you can never tell. Also she was a wicked witch. That monkey was sly. Oh yes, sly.
Q:You know what's funny. Even when you see the episodes with the Bloop, you can see sometimes it's doing something totally no one's expected, but you have to go along with it.
A: Louis used to watch her like a hawk. And she was very smart. He would train her to, you know, fill the pail of sand, dump it over and then look over there. She would do it beautifully until he turned his back, and then she would really...
Q: I always wanted a bloop though, but maybe I don't really want one in my home.
A: They're not to be trusted; they're a wild animal. The last I heard, Debbie was in the San Diego Zoo, probably killing a few trainers. By the way, in the second season (because she had bit Angela) Irwin wouldn't hire her, because she was dangerous. So Louie had her detoothed: every tooth in her mouth, taken out.
Q: You know what's funny? Debbie the Bloop just kind of disappears from the episodes. I was just kind of wondering that, you know, she held out for more money and they didn't want to pay her.
A: I think she was costing $150 a day, in those days. And also, when I said to Louie, "Oh, you bad person, you detoothed her: that's so terrible." He said, "Let me tell you: she could gum you to death. Watch it." They are powerful.
Q: Do you keep Dr. Smith alive in you?
A: No, it's finished. Onwards and upwards. I've never done that. I used to leave him in the studio, come home, and pick him up again in the morning. He was so in me that I never had a problem. But I would leave him there in the dressing room, or on the set, and pick him up again the next morning. He was never too far from my mind, but that is my acting nature.
Q: Say that there was going to be a new Lost In Space movie or something that you would appear in. Could you jump into the role real quickly or would it...
A: I seriously doubt it, and I seriously doubt that I would do it.
A: I have no interest in going backwards. That was lovely; I adored it. But that was then. I now have a brand new career, which I treasure and which I love, which has been a great success. And it does not involve appearing in front of a camera; that suits me fine.
Q: You did so much of it, that I guess...
A: 612 films...
Q: Are you serious?
A: I'm totally serious, by actual count. That's rather a record, I think.
Q: And you remember each one...
A: Just about. Just turn me on, and I'll remember everything I ever did.
Q: Amazing. As an actor, what's the most enjoyable part of it for you?
A: It has always been the creating of the character. That's why I always love the four week rehearsal period of a Broadway show. That's when it all happens; that's when you create something from nothing. And that was the happy time for me: creating him. And then come to opening night: which god knows how we survive. But what it is, opening night, is the culmination of the four weeks of rehearsal, of all the planning that you've done.
Q: Did you get the jitters, or did you just live for it?
A: It's horrid. It is the worst.
Q: It must be.
A: Oh god, how do we live through it? It's a terrifying experience.
Q: Once you're past opening night, you're fine?
A: A good actor stands in the wings, ready to go on, and he's got a little tremble in the knees. Always waiting in the wings, there's a little butterfly. Always.
Q: We were talking about Philadelphia before I started. Tell me some of your recollections, so I can at least have them, about Philadelphi
A: the theaters you played...
A: The Ritz Hotel; find out if it's still there. It was a wonderful hotel. The (unintelligible) Theater. There was another theater, the Wilber Theater, I played that. What did I play in that? "Twilight Bar".
Q: That's amazing. I think actors, especially in the theater, should write the travel books, because they really know about what is good...
A: Only hotels, restaurants, and dressing rooms. We find them.
Q: The one good one, it was Frankie and Johnny's?
A: Either Frankie or Frankie and Johnny's, and it was around the corner from the Ritz in an alley. You're talking many, many years ago.
Q: In the fifties, or even before?
A: Early fifties. And it's still there, you say?
Q: I think it is. And the Belleview is definitely still there, and the Shubert is still there.
A: What about Bookbinder's?
Q: Still there. Yeah, Bookbinder's is a tradition now.
A: We have eaten there.
Q: Did you ever have a Philadelphia cheese steak?
A: No, we never (unintelligible).
Q: If you ever come to Philadelphia, we'll treat you to one. They're great.
A: Philadelphia cheesecake? Or Philadelphia cheese steak?
Q: It's kind of like each area had their own culinary favorite, and...
A: How do they do that? Put the cheese on the steak?
Q: It's a thinly sliced steak. It's only on like a roll: we call them hoagies, or submarines, or heroes or whatever, on a big roll. And it's grilled, and it's real thin, and it's melted cheese, and sometimes you can put onions and hot peppers in it.
A: Sounds very interesting.
Q: It is very interesting; it's good.
A: It sounds like as good a combination as Smith and the Robot.
Q: Dr. Smith and the Robot - I mean, what a pair, inextricably linked together through eternity maybe. He was believable as the Robot, as a person, but you really developed that.
A: I treated him like my alter ego. When you treat somebody like a person, the audience decides that he is. And I did that.
Q: The Robot grew in popularity as you developed it.
A: Of course. I treated him like a member.
Q: I know that Bob May was inside the Robot. Did he speak the lines; I know they were overdubbed, but how did you...
A: He learned every line that the robot spoke, so he could act with me, and then it was all dubbed in the recording studio by Dick Tugeld. Strange young man, Bob May.
Q: How was he as an actor?
A: He was not an actor. He was in the Robot, but he was not an actor.
Q: Did he have any problems, I mean being in that Robot suit for such a long time?
A: He loved it.
Q: Now I know why you meant he was a strange man.
A: He loved it; couldn't get him out. Oh, yes. For the first month or so I had a great deal of compassion for anybody who had to be in that bucket. But then I realized they couldn't get him out.
[at this point there is another gap in the tape. The conversation resumes about Bill Mumy]
Q: I actually talked to him today. I might be doing something with him. I'm actually going to be focusing more on [his] new musical project, a group called Seduction of the Innocent.. A bunch of comic book people are in the group, and...
A: He's very into comic books. He's written a couple as well.
Q: And he said he was so into music even back then that he had his guitar on the set...
Q: Was he a pretty good player, even then?
A: Very good; excellent.
Q: I was curious, the show was a favorite of a lot of people, and some stars as well. Did any guest stars ever stop by? I mean, just visited the set that you were excited to meet?
A: No, the only guest stars that visited the set were...
[another gap in the tape comes up. The conversation resumes about Michael Rennie.]
A: ...because we were such dear, dear friends. We had done The Third Man together. 90 films. He was wonderful. We had John Carridine, with whom I had done a play on Broadway, and we had him. We had lots of lovely actors, I thought.
Q: Were there any scripts or scenes that you did that were so outrageous in terms of campiness in a fun way, that you would not be able to concentrate and laugh a little bit? Because some of the characters especially in the third season, were kind of fun, like the carrot...
A: Oh god. The carrot. "The Great Vegetable Rebellion" it was called. Oh god. Interestingly enough, that was written by Peter Packer, now dead. Lovely man; a lovely writer, basically. But you know, there are just so many creative ideas. And that was, of course, abysmal (unintelligible). Isn't that the one where he had the llama. I refused to act with that llam
A: that llama wanted to kill me. They're mean animals, you know.
Q: Bill said that at one time (I don't know if it was on Lost In Space), but he worked with an ostrich, he said they are the meanest; they spit.
A: So do the llamas, and they bite. And I wouldn't do a two-shot with the llama. So Irwin came running down: "What do you mean, you don't want to do a two-shot with the llama?" I said, "That llama means to kill me: the hell with it."
Q: Did he spend a lot of time on the set, Irwin, or [did he] occasionally come down?
A: On and off, to create a little havoc, and then go away.
Q: What were some of the special effects that really impressed you?
A: I was impressed with all the special effects, because as I told you earlier, I've always thought that the technicians were the genius of Hollywood, and I still do. They're wonderful, and they're unsung. It's not their face on the screen; it's mine. But they're all wonderful; the things that they did were etraordinary.
Q: The great one is the masks of Dr. Smith. It was unbelievable.
A: John Chambers did that, and I, being claustrophobic, had a terrible job. But John was wonderful. I went to the makeup department, and they had to put a plaster cast on your face, you see. And I was terrified. I hate to be encased. And they put straws up my nose, and just kept patting me. It scared me to death, because it took a long time. And we had I don't know how many [masks] ; but I was given one. And I took it home and gave it to my son. It was in a plastic box, my head sat. And he kept it in his entryway until it disintegrated. Which took years, if you please. Years. John Chambers did wonderful work: the man was a total genius.
Q: Was that strange to see little Dr. Smiths, especially on little Billy Mumy?
A: Yes. I have some pictures of that somewhere. I'm the only actor in the world, I guess, that doesn't have a scrapbook gathered up. I remember all of it: I remember the good notices and the bad.
Q: Did you read them?
A: Sure. Sure I read them. I don't pay all that much attention, but I do read them. I did on Broadway as well. On Broadway it is very important to get good notices, because it meant another job. So that was vital. Out here it's not all that vital, but in New York it was. To get good notices, because the producers remembered that, and it worked towards the next job. It's always about the next job, isn't it, Ken. I mean, if you're going to be in the business, you have to work, otherwise you're not in the business.
Q: Did you ever feel that when, after you worked on a role, that was it. I mean, I know a lot of actors that think "I'm not going to get another part; that's the last movie role I'm going to do." Did you ever think that, or [did you always know that] there was something around the corner?
A: It's the nature of the actor. When you pack up the makeup box, and say "Bye bye honey, I'm never going to see you again," it's the basic insecurity of business. And I guess I was prey to that as well.
Q: So you felt that way after The Third Man.
A: Not after everything, no. I have, you know, really, I always knew that there was a career sort of wandering about there, if I were going to be terribly lucky. Because luck is everything. Talent helps too, but to begin with it's luck. And although the rap day, the final day, it does run through your head: "Oh, dear, will I ever work again?", it wasn't all that serious with me. It was serious enough, but not heart wrecking. Because, you know, you have to go back through your own history to realize of course that you will work again. There will be another series; you don't know when. There's no way of telling that. But if you look at your record; you open your record books. I keep books. I'm a business person, I keep books. And I see the pattern. And I realize each time: "Stop the bullshit: of course you'll work again. Take a look: you always did." It may be six months, it may be two months, it may be next week: but of course you will work. And so it always was; I've been very lucky.
Q: When did you first realize that you were a success as an actor? Was it your first paid performance or did it take a while...
A: The first paid performance on Broadway was very meaningful, of course. I mean, I'd finally made it.
Q: What was the tour?
A: It was called The Heart of the City, and it played at the Henry Miller Theater on 43rd street, east of Broadway. See, I told you I remember. It was directed and produced by Gilbert Miller, the son of Henry Miller (unintelligible). And I had ten lines. Ten lines. You see, I had made a little vow: because I had already done over 100 plays in stock engagements, and I thought I was ready to hit the big white way. Terrifying of course, but I felt I had something now to sell. I had learned enough of my craft to warrant getting a job. And I was determined that I was going to talk in the first play: no spear carrying for this chicken. I wasn't going to do it. Although I knew nothing, I knew that that was not the way to start. I had to talk: I didn't care how many lines I had, but I had to talk. And it was ten lines, so I did that. Then I said to myself "(unintelligible), all this, it was lucky. I mean, next show, I'm going to have more than ten lines, or I won't do it." And I was starving to death, my dear. My next part had a scene; a small scene, but a scene. I had these little plans.
Q: What was your first starring appearance?
A: On Broadway? No, I never starred. I was always a feature player; top feature. Star is starred IN the play; that means people come to see you. And that's what a star should be: Helen Hayes IN, Katherine Hepburn IN. Because those are the people who are bringing in the money. People come to see THEM, also the play. But then, I never hit that on Broadway. After I decided I was not Cary Grant, I had no illusions or delusions; none. Very hard headed, practical: saved my ass. Because I faced it all head on: who I was, and what I was worth. I never asked for $50,000 when I knew I was only worth ten, because it would be stupid, and stupid was only worth ten, and stupid I'm not. Many actors have made that mistake. I have never made that mistake. I only asked for what I felt I was ready to receive, or that my position warranted.
Q: What episode of Lost In Space touched you, maybe that you have the personal...
A: I remember a personal note: the writing, the better writing, are the ones that appealed to me. And we had some lovely writers. Some. Some lovely writers. And that's what appealed to me. The part was always the same, wasn't it? I mean, I never changed. I believe I grew in the framework in which I had developed him, but he never changed. He was always the same Smith.
Q: There is an interesting episode where there was a double of you, which was obviously played by you. That was kind of the alter ego of Zachary Smith.
Q: That was you?
A: That was me: the fastest gun in space. Oh, I loved that. That was a one-parter in which I played two roles. I played Smith and I played Zeno.
Q: Would you say Zeno was the closest to who you are?
A: No. Nor is Smith the closest to what I am. There was a part of me in Smith; I don't think you can ever avoid that, really. It was part of me; the part that I allowed to show, you see. Because, you know, the actor does have some control. Even in films you can control what you're doing. But that's your only control, as I said to you earlier. That's the major difference between the stage and the screen.
Q: So you're not concerned about revealing too much of yourself.
A: I want to reveal too much of HIM, not of ME. I rather feel that the audience is not interested in seeing all of ME; they want to see all of HIM. That was my feeling you see, and I still feel it. Although, may I tell you, dear boy, I am no longer doing any films, thank you. I say "no" to everything. I've made the commitment. People still call, and it delights me to say no, because I don't want to do it any more. What do I have to prove, after 612 films, especially to ME: I'm the important one. Don't want to. It's called F-You Money. I have F-You Money; thank you, God.
Q: You deserve it.
A: I deserve it, but I've got it. I can say no; I mean it.
Q: You know what's interesting: 1997 was when the series was supposed to be. Seven more years: who knows what's going to happen with that?
A: Yes. No, no, it's all been lovely. I don't want to do that any more. I now do what I do, and thank god I've been very successful at it.
Q: Do you love the adulation now?
A: The adulation and the love. Let me tell you, in simple words: any actor who tells you that he really doesn't wish to be recognized is full of shit, OK? Succinctly, because we all need that. Remember: working in front of a black box called a camera for 612 times: the camera does not laugh, it doesn't applaud, it doesn't cry, it doesn't do anything. It just photographs your innermost thoughts. But there's no reaction: you begin to wonder, at least if you're me, "Is anybody watching anywhere? Is anybody watching this?" That's why the conventions that I do are so important to me now, because you get not so much the adulation which is there and it's lovely: it's a big ego trip for me, but you get to meet people who have actually watched you all the time that you were wondering whether anybody was watching you.
Q: Are you surprised by such dedication and loyalty; I mean, you must be asked some very intricate questions that maybe you...
A: I do or I do not answer them. I cannot be had on the podium. I'm very hip, and I'm very good on my feet. And I will tell you quite honestly, rarely, rarely, has anyone asked a question that should not have been asked. Lovely manners.
Q: I didn't mean it that way, I meant, you know, people asking you a question that has such detail that, god, it's kind of amazing that they would, you know, maybe why the chariot was painted this color...
A: I'm always very honest: I say "I haven't got a clue."
Q: What's the strangest question you've ever been asked? I mean, obviously not a bad one, but have there been any strange questions?
A: Not really.
Q: [Such as] why didn't Dr. Smith have a relationship with anyone?
A: No, I've never been asked. Generally the questions are very general about me, and my work in the piece, and my relationship with the other people, which I skirt because it's none of their business. But I don't want to be insulting, so I just say what I've said to you: that there is tension on every movie set, and it's unavoidable. But basically we were all very civilized people, you know, and it's madness to have grudges and feuds going on. It exists, of course, but I've never allowed it. Also it shows up on the screen; [it's] a terrible waste of energy.
Q: Are you amazed by the wide demographic of people that love you? I mean, obviously there are still the fans that grew up that might have been...
A: You should read the mail: totally adult mail now. Lovely mail. We just had a run; we're still having it, in England, Scotland and Ireland, and the mail has been profuse. And it's lovely. And Australia and New Zealand. And it's lovely.
Q: It's back on USA Network.
Q: Do you ever occasionally turn it on?
A: I have not seen Lost In Space for twenty years. And I have no interest in seeing it; I know exactly what I did; I don't have to see it to prove it.
Q: Did you watch it when it was on?
A: I watched every episode on Wednesday night. I also went to the dailies, to study the work to see what was happening. And that's the neatest trick of the week, going to the dailies. You have to educate yourself to go to the dailies, because if you go there to examine the makeup and the lights, you're not watching the performance, and I will honestly say that about 75% of the time, I'm very good. I watch HIM. The other 25%, I'm checking the makeup, and "My god, I've got to lose five pounds." You're no longer watching the performance; you're wasting your time. The trick is to watch HIM: not easy, but it can be done. And about 75% of the time I did it, you see. Just as, in my present work, which is voiceovers and animated cartoons, when "they" decide that take four is wonderful and they're going to use that, I always say "I'd like to hear that, please." I have to feel that it's wonderful as well. Or, "I think I'll do two more, if you don't mind."
Q: Tell me more about the voiceover work that you do, and the cartoons...
A: It's wonderful, inasmuch as it is now my career. So it's wonderful. All my careers are wonderful. That's my point of view, really. And I have just spoken for my 174th product, thank you. Cellular One: 174, by actual count.
Q: And is that the 'blank' money.
A: That's the "F-You Money".
Q: "F-You Money". I can say that too.
A: Of course you can. That's exactly what we call it. In show biz we have always called it F-You Money. It enables you to say "No", because you have Fuck You Money to pay the rent, buy the food, and feed the children.
Q: And have some fun.
A: And have some money.
Q: Which is the most important. Which is a Dr. Smith trait, which you must admit.
Q: What are some of the cartoons you have done?
A: Oh, let me see here. I just recently finished a 60 part segment one called Bugsburg, which was delicious. Oh it was charming; the dearest characters in it. And I played Leftenant Grumblebee, an old fart. But he was a bee, not a bug at all: he was a bee. And he was the head bee. It was wonderful. Old fart; I loved him. I can do trick voices. What you just heard is my trick one. But I was working with these geniuses who do trick ones. (unintelligible), Inspiring. Wonderful. I can't do any of them. I can barely do me. They are wonderful. Again, acting is such heaven. It's a learning experience, at my tender age, after all this work, I can still learn something and be inspired by another performer. It's wonderful; I did that.
Q: Do you watch the visuals when you're doing it?
A: No, no, no, the visuals haven't even been done yet. You're creating, and they will visualize after your creations. So I did that, I did a thing called Three Musketeers at Hanna Barber
A: I now am on the resident artists group of Hanna Barbera. I'm always in and out at Hanna Barbera, doing everything they've got, which is wonderful.
Q: I was there once; it's amazing.
A: Oh, they're very good. Very, very good. And I worked for DIC, and for Marvel: I've done all of that (unintelligible).
Q: What have you done for Marvel?
A: I've done Visionaries - that was not Marvel, that was (unintelligible) Productions. That was one of the best animated series I ever remember. And really very high class. I enjoyed that. The characters were wonderfully interesting. Now in "Bugsburg": the characters were delicious, including mine. Just lovely, lovely characters. But in Visionaries they were really solid, developed characters. That was a lovely series; I enjoyed that. I enjoy all of them. And as far as the voiceovers are concerned, I tell you, it satisfies what is left of my creative urge. And I tell you quite honestly: that if it all fell apart, that I don't know what I would do. I don't know whether I would then say, "Well, I have to do a little more television." I doubt it.
Q: No more television for you?
A: No. No, I'm finished. Don't want to do it. I don't want to work that hard. Really, it's very hard work. I've done all that. That's fine. I have acclimatized my mind towards doing all now what I do. I'm that kind of an actor: I put things into place. I am finished with the stage. That means I am not going to act on the stage any more: I'm finished. I've loved all of it: finished. I've loved every film I was in: finished. This is not to say, if somebody called this afternoon, "I have written this wonderful part in a series for you, which is presold to NBC," I would maybe think about that, and then I would insist that I don't work more that two day a week. I'm tired of it.
Q: But you would consider that...
A: I don't know. I tell you, I don't know. The likelihood is, you never know. But I don't know.
Q: It seems like, though, that's the thing: when you acted, you threw yourself totally, you gave your...
A: Everything. I tell you something interesting about my kind of actor, and this started when I was on stage: The part is never far away from you. I told you, and I meant it, that I left Smith in the dressing room, and I picked him up in the makeup chair the next morning. True, but on the ride home, he was there; he was always there, until the final wrap, and then he was finished. So on the stage as well: the part was never too far away from me in my mind. Always thinking, hoping to find a new something of interest. (unintelligible) Basically, I would leave him in the dressing room. But always he was alive; he was not a dead character. He was a live character.
Q: Did Lost In Space end too soon for you after three seasons?
A: I firmly believe that they had another season in it, but somebody blew it. I was in New York at the Regency Hotel, and CBS sent luggage and flowers and champagne. Oh, it was very grand in those days: I loved it. So I called the man whose card was with the goodies: Tom something or other; I can't remember his name, for the obvious reason. [I called him] to thank him, because I am a gentleman. And I said, "Thank you so much for all the goodies. It was very lovely of you." "Oh," he said, "it was our pleasure. Thank you for being so kind to my wife and child when they visited you on the set." And I remember that I had been nice. Well, that was a pleasure. And he said, "We must lunch. How long are going to be here?" And I said, "three days or four days." And he said, "We must lunch," and I said, "Yes, we must." The very next morning, my coffee is brought to the suite with "The New York Times": this is pure show biz stuff - beautiful. I immediately turned to see whether I'm on the list; in which case I don't have to shave. Or the television page and drama section. Big flyer: Lost In Space Cancelled. The next morning - he knew it, the stupid ass, but that's typical - so I said, "Well, well," because I never called him again. (unintelligible) the job's over. But it turns out later that he was fired because it was a wrong move: there was another year left in us. And it was HE who cancelled us.
Q: That's terrible.
A: Show biz, baby. Show biz. Or shoe biz.
Q: You worked on Land of the Giants.
A: Yes, Irwin had me in to do "The Pied Piper". Lovely piece. Somebody sent it to me; I never saw it on the air. Wonderful fans; they're marvelous. Didn't want me to do without.
Q: Do you get some interesting things in the mail? What are some of the things you get besides letters?
A: Oh, oh. Gifts, you know. Some people draw wonderful pictures, or they paint lovely things. I had from England, from Dover, a lovely painting of the Dover cliffs from this lovely girl, so I wrote her a lovely letter. It was beautiful; I have it at home, yes. Sort of a pied piper; something in relation to that. Somebody sent me a videocassette of it, because I'd never seen it on the air. And I think maybe at one of the conventions somebody mentioned that and I said "I've never seen it." By and large it came in the mail. They're wonderful.
Q: And you watched it.
A: I watched it, because I've never seen it. I must check the work once.
Q: How'd you do?
A: I did pretty well. I did very well. Lovely part.
Q: What do you think is the greatest lesson that you've learned as an actor that maybe you wish you knew once you got into it that it would've put you even more ahead of the gang. Was there something, or is it just something that you earned while...
A: Stand still. The neatest trick of the week: stand still. If you've got no place to go, stand still: The hardest thing for an actor to learn. I mean, really stand still: not put your hands in your pockets. I've always hated pocket actors: they don't know what to do with their hands, so they put them in their pockets. You hope they're playing with themselves, but probably not. What do you do with your hands? Put them in your pockets? No, do nothing with your hands: let them hang. Hardest thing in the world. I learned this on the stage: the value of sitting still or standing still. I was in a play called The Madwoman of Shalott; [a] beautiful work, wonderful play. And I had a gorgeous part in it. Now for the first twelve minutes of this play, after the rise of the curtain, I had to sit still at my table at the Cafe Francis; that's for the setting. Just sit still. Very hard. I learned the value then of sitting still without moving a single facial muscle: not too easy. On my good nights, perfect. On my bad nights I'd be counting the house. But every eye in the place [was on me] . People used to come backstage and say, "Were you wearing a mask in the first act?" That's how still I sat And it was exactly right; that's what he should have done. He was a depraved fanatic who was going to blow up Paris because of the oil underneath Paris. Madman. And he was planning, and that meant sitting perfectly still. You see, it was real; it was motivated. Not anything I decided to do, it's what he did: he sat still and planned. Now did that work. That's the best thing I ever learned.
Q: What is the best thing for you now just about success?
A: Well, you know what I do, and that's it for me now. I do it as well as I have ever been able to do anything. I want it to be as perfect as I know how to make it. Whether they think so or not, that's their problem: they've already hired me, they have to pay me. And they hire me because they know what I'm going to do for them: that's the reason they hire me.
Q: Have you ever done a role that closests epitomized a perfect role for you?
A: I would say Zachary Smith was about as close as I could get without doing me. By the way: there are a lot of people in this town who do me in comedy clubs. I've never had the guts to go. Always in my gym or health club somebody comes over and says "Jonathan, there's a guy at The Comedy Club who does you: you'll die." Never gone.
Q: He does "Oh, the pain, the pain".
A: No, he doesn't do Smith, he does Jonathan Harris. I guess I'm sort of an individual creature for people to do me, and I've never had the guts [to see them].
Q: Really? You should go.
A: No, no I can't. I can't.
Q: I have one last question for you. You have been so...
A: I am very open. I have agreed to do this, and therefore I give you everything I've got.
Q: Was there one role you would have loved to have been in, just to work with the cast or with the script? Or even a couple of roles.
A: Hard. What comes to mind. Peter O'Toole in Beckett. Oh.
Q: You would have done anything for that.
A: William Hurt in Kiss of the Spider Woman. Wonderful, wonderful part. Wonderful form. I adore him anyway. He's wonderful. I would have liked to crack that, but I'm far too old for it. But I would have loved to crack that because of the dimension of the part.
Q: Do you go to a lot of films?
A: No. I haven't been to the movie theater for six years; I rent only. In the privacy of my home. No popcorn, no Coca Cola, no talking. Drove me out of the movie theaters. I'm going to do it for you: you go with your wife to the movie theater, and it's a good movie, so the movie is packed, right? You manage to find two seats. Always next to you is a young couple on both sides. There's chattering before the movie starts; fine, no problem. The screen lights up, and it begins: she says, "I'm thirsty honey." They're all called honey. He says, "Okay, honey," tripping over your feet as he goes. He comes back with two Coca Colas, tripping over your feet, pours just a little in your lap, sits down. She says, "thanks, honey." He says, "what did I miss, honey?" And "honey" tells him. You are going mad, right? So you say, "Excuse me, would you please be quiet? I'm trying to concentrate on the movie." He says, "What's the matter with you, mac?" We're all called mac. She says "What's the matter with him, honey?" He says "I'm taking care of it, honey." I'm gone; I'm out of the theater. Six years: I now have to wait two months to see all the goodies, like Driving Miss Daisy. I'll wait; I'll wait. Because then I enjoy the film And I pick them very carefully. Isn't it wonderful that Jessica Tandy won?
Q: I just saw that, actually, a couple of days ago.
A: I hear it's lovely. She's a wonderful actress. I worked with her once, in New York. In Heartbreak House, George Bernard Shaw's [play] . She was lovely then; she's always been a lovely, lovely actor.
Q: Do you think there's any people today that carry on the tradition of people you really admired. You mentioned Cary Grant and Bette Davis...
A: I like very much Tom Cruise; I think he's the best young actor. I think he's a lovely actor, as a matter of fact. And he should have a wonderful career, with any luck. Should have a wonderful career. Robert DeNiro, of course is a bloody genius of an actor. I give you Raging Bull, and Taxi Driver. Oh my god, what a good actor he is. I love him. Who else do I love? I don't know who else I love. There are a lot of likes. I love Meryl Streep. She's a wonderful actress. Glenn Close is a very good actress. Meryl Streep is I think in a class by herself. Jack Nicholson is my all-time great. I think he's a bloody genius.
Q: Did you ever work with him?
A: No, and at this point I can't even be tempted. Isn't that awful? But it's enough for me to go and see him. He's a wonderful actor. Did you see The Witches of Eastwick?
Q: He's wicked in that.
A: And The Shining? He's a wonderful actor. We have wonderful actors.
Q: Do you like Dustin Hoffman at all?
A: Very much, very much. I was rather surprised at his Oscar for The Rain Man, because I didn't think it was much of anything. He did the same thing throughout. Doing definitely the same; didn't go anywhere. But he's basically a very, very good actor, at least I think so.
Q: You mentioned The Twilight Zone: did you ever have any dealings with Hitchcock?
A: Never met him. Never worked for him, never met him.
Q: I love his films.
A: Oh, yes. Quite a genius, wasn't he? We haven't got too may. We've now got Woody Allen, who is out resident genius, make no mistake. Of all, he's the one. Brilliant, brilliant genius of a man.
Q: North by Northwest with Cary Grant, and Notorious with Cary and Ingrid...
A: You're talking glamour, which I miss terribly. I think I went into this business really because it was so glamorous. And oh god to walk into a room and see these wonderful images. It was a childish dream, but that's what drove me into the business. Really.
Ken Holland; article by Flint Mitchell (LISFAN # 3)Edit
If you only think of June Lockhart in her role as Maureen Robinson on Lost in Space, then you are doing June - and yourself - a great disfavor. June Lockhart began her long and distinguished acting career at the age of eight. This is not so surprising, considering the fact that she's a third-generation performer. Her grandfather, John Coates Lockhart, was a noted concert singer; her mother and father, Gene and Kathleen Lockhart, were known performers in movies and theatre. In a way you can say that working in the performing arts is a Lockhart family tradition, since one of June's daughters, Anne Kathleen, is an actress (known best to sci-fi fans for her role in Battlestar Galactica), and her other daughter, June Elizabeth, is in personal management, as well as the theatrical division of 3-D video.
June began her career in the Metropolitan Opera House's production of Peter Ibbetson; four years later, at the age of twelve, she appeared as Belinda Cratchet in the now-classic film A Christmas Carol. That film was a real family affair, since her parents, Gene and Kathleen Lockhart, were also in it as Bob and Mrs. Cratchet.
While still attending Westlake School for Girls in Beverly Hills June appeared in such films as All This and Heaven Too with Betty Davis and Charles Boyer, Sergeant York with Gary Cooper, and Adam Had Four Sons with Ingrid Bergman. After graduation she signed a contract with MGM and appeared in The White Cliffs of Dover, Meet Me in St. Louis (with Judy Garland), The Yearling (with Claude Jarman), and, prophetically enough, Son of Lassie. After her engagement with MGM, June appeared in her first Broadway play: F. Hugh Herbert's For Love or Money. Her performance as the ingenue won her the Donaldson Award, the Theatre World Award, the Woman of the Year in Drama Award (given out by the Associated Press), and the first Antoinette Perry "Tony" ever given for the Best Debut Performance.
After an amazing 260 performances of For Love or Money, June went into another field: television, where she appeared for three years as a panelist on the new-quiz show Who Said That? Her love of game shows continues to this day; she has appeared in well over fifty of them. Following Who Said That June was the mother in Lassie for six years, a role that got her an Emmy nomination. Next, of course, came Lost in Space, a role she acquired, strangely enough, because she was a guest star in another Irwin Allen TV series: Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.
When Lost in Space ended its three-year run, she appeared as a regular on the Petticoat Junction series for two years. After her role on Petticoat Junction June appeared in many movies, plays and TV shows, including such diverse projects as the Magnum, P.I., Quincy, and The Greatest American Hero TV shows. Her most recent film appearance is in Strange Invaders, an interesting 1950'sish 'creature feature' sci-fi film about aliens from outer space invading Earth in human form.
Mentioning June Lockhart's performing roles is only a small part of the picture, however. She has a strong sense of social responsibility, and is involved with such groups as the American Cancer Society, International Hearing Dog, Inc. (she owns a 'demo' dog from that group, and has a videotape of it being trained), and she's a member of the board of directors of the First Federal Savings Bank of California.
Other of June's interests include journalism (a field she might have gone into had she not taken up acting), antique cars (once owning a 1923 Seagrave fire engine), limerick writing and...well, too many things to list here; she has a lot of interests.
I spoke with June Lockhart on Sunday, November 20th, 1983. She called me at 6:20 PM CST, and we talked for approximately 20 minutes. The following is an edited transcript of our discussion.
Q: Why did you choose acting over your first interest, journalism?
A: I was also very interested in medicine, but I was readily employable as an actress from an early age, so it was a matter of my going where the jobs were. At the time I had the opportunity to pursue television journalism I was already supporting two children and, economically, it is not as remunerative as acting. I read newspapers all the time, and I really am a political journalism buff, and I love it, so I'm able to enjoy it that way, anyway.
Q: Were you encouraged by your parents in your acting career?
A: Oh yes, but without any pressure. I was able to pursue it with the enjoyment that one might follow a hobby, until in my twenties when I found I had the two children to support, and then I was able to stick with it and pursue it properly, as one would a career.
Q: Did you encourage your own children to take up acting?
A: Only if it pleased them. I had no feelings that it was something they should get in to, unless they really liked it. In fact Junie tried it and did not care for it, and is now working in the managerial and backstage areas. She worked for the Liberace office for quite a while. She worked for Seymour Heller, Liberace's manager, and now she's working for a company that manufactures 3D lenses, glasses and projection equipment. So she would prefer not to be on stage herself, but she has quite a remarkable wit, and is great fun. I'm very close to both the girls, which is nice too.
Q: I've seen your daughter Anne on Battlestar Galactica and she looks quite like you.
A: Oh, of course. Yes, we are remarkably similar, except Anne's eyes are brown. In a Magnum P.I. we both played the same part. She played her in the 40's, and I played her in the 80's. Jose Ferrer played opposite me, and Jose Ferrer's son played opposite Annie, because they also look alike, so that was fun.
Q: If your daughters marry eventually and have children of their own, do you think they will encourage them to take up acting?
A: Oh, I wouldn't pretend to answer that question. We have no idea what the field will be at that time.
Q: Is there a difference in the way you approach a stage role, as opposed to films and television?
A: Not necessarily. I think what you do perhaps might be a little broader, wider and higher, because you must reach the back of the theatre, but for the most part, styles of acting used in the theaters in the 20's and 30's is not too similar now. That was very broad and very exaggerated, I would say. Now you can use an interchangeable technique for both media.
Q: Did you find the transition from the stage to films and television difficult?
A: No, you just play the part.
Q: How do you prepare for a new role?
A: Well, first I read the script, and then I get a sense of the ambience of where the character lives, the rooms in which they work, and then, as I'm learning it I do the old thing (I guess many people do it). Sometimes I will write all the dialogue, the other person's and mine, because I find something happens when I can commit it both visually and through my right hand as I write. I own it then a little better. Then, as I'm studying it (once I'm in the run of a play for instance), I will cover my line of dialogue and the cue line and go down the page that way. Or when I'm in a play (in a run), I like to be cued through the entire show each night before I do it. Usually there is someone in the company who will very kindly do that for me. Sometimes it's an understudy with whom I will be playing the scene, if the leading man is out. That helps a great deal, just to run through the dialogue very briskly. You don't play it, just do the lines. Whip through it. And that's a help. That's a good refresher each night. And it's a good idea to be able to do that. Sometimes I will do it for two or three months in a run.
Q: Of the three media (stage, films and television), which do you enjoy most?
: They're all the same, and I enjoy all of them equally. I also love doing commercials, game shows, public appearances, ribbon cuttings. I like working for the American Cancer Society, and public speaking, and for International Hearing Dogs, and fund raising. I like being out there, spreading it around.
Q: How were you cast as Maureen Robinson on Lost in Space?
A: I had done a Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea [Ed. note: it was the episode "The Ghost of Moby Dick", written by Robert Hamner and directed by Sobey Martin], and after the first day's rushes, Irwin Allen came down on the set and said 'they're just wonderful rushes, and we love what you're doing in them, and I have a new series going, and we're doing a pilot next Christmas, and would you like to do another one?', and I said 'yes, I'm interested', and then he sent me the script, and it was this wonderful Lost in Space show. It was then called Space Family Robinson. So I was the first one cast.
Q: What about the role appealed to you?
A: Well, I think at that point anything that involved space was interesting, and the woman was very much a leader of the family, in the initial concept. She was a biophysicist who was doing medical tests, and things like that; biological tests.
Q: Yes, I've seen the pilot, and your part was much more detailed.
A: Yes, as was Dr. Robinson's. But with the way things evolved, it got away from that pilot. Anyway, it was grand to do; it was a pleasure. I have great regard for Irwin Allen.
Q: So you weren't worried about appearing in a space series?
A: Oh, my lord no! It was a thrill to get out of the apron, as a matter of fact.
Q: Did you approach the role in any way differently than you would a 'mainstream' part?
A: Well, no. You do your homework, and you prepare for it; get a concept of the plot, the historical significance of it. All of which was lost later on, you know.
Q: How much creative control did you have?
Q: How much does Maureen Robinson's personality differ from yours?
A: Well, I think I have a far more bumptuous sense of humor than Maureen was permitted to have.
Q: Do you think the changes made in Lost in Space (from straight adventure to comedy) hurt the series?
A: I don't know; we were on only three years.
Q: Compared with today's television that was quite a respectable run.
Q: So you never objected to any of the changes?
A: Oh yes. I felt it would have been nice if we had had more family oriented stories which innvolved relationships; but, you know, you stay with what the audience is enjoying at that time.
Q: I've heard that Lost in Space was not cancelled so much because of bad ratings but because Irwin Allen refused to continue on a reduced budget; is this true?
A: Possibly; I don't know that. It was a very expensive show to do, and I think it would have been difficult to do it at a reduced budget.
Q: Have you heard anything definite about a Lost in Space remake?
Q: If there were a remake, under what conditions would you reprise your role of Maureen Robinson? Or would you?
A: Oh, I don't know. I'd have to see the script.
Q: Is Michael Laughlin's Strange Invaders the first science fiction since you've done Lost in Space?
A: Perhaps; I really don't remember. I haven't seen Strange Invaders; it's certainly the first movie I've done (since Lost in Space). We shot that in Toronto. The little scene I was in was at the Castle Olla in Toronto. We worked all night for a couple of nights. It was great fun being up there. I have not seen it though, as I say.
Q: Unfortunately, it hasn't come out here yet either.
A: It hasn't? Oh, I thought it had been released there in New York.
Q: Well, I'm in St. Louis.
A: Oh, that's right. I'm sorry. I love St. Louis; I was there last November or December for General Electric. I'm spokesperson for General Electric microwave ovens, and I did a tour there. You couldn't get to the Arch; the Mississippi was right up under it. I don't know if it was Thanksgiving or December that I was there. Great floods.
Q: Yes, we've had some great floods here.
A: I played at the Empress for a long time; I did about eight shows there, in two years before they tore it down. It's a parking lot now.
Q: That may have been before my time.
A: Probably; that was almost thirty years ago.
Q: What can we hope to see from you in the future?
A: Well, let's see...I have a couple of interviews coming up that I've done. I have had a very wonderfully quiet summer. Last year I was away 176 days: in and out, in and out; doing game shows, television and things like that. So to be home this summer has been absolutely wonderful; and at present I don't think there's anything coming up. I'm Quincy's mother-in-law; that's been cancelled, but that show's been on. Then I have an interview show I do regularly called Breaking the Habit; that's on the Cable Health Network. Then also there's a game show I have in syndication called Take My Word For It. We did a hundred of those shows up in San Francisco, and that was fun. And then, you know, just other things that come along all the time. At the present moment I - well, one can't tell, you know. Today I can say I'm not in a series, and by the end of the week I may be.
Q: I did catch you on Family Feud.
A: Wasn't that wonderful? And that Guy was back from Argentina for the moment, and he's such a dear man, and so bright. And to have Bobby May out of the Robot, and Angela and Marta. I mean, it was just the sweetest reunion.
Q: All of the Lost in Space fans really loved it.
A: I think it really shows, too, the affection we had for each other, and the regard. And of course, we were thrilled to make so much money for the International Hearing Dogs. If any of your readers would like to support the International Hearing Dogs, they can send a five dollar bill off to Denver. It costs about $3,000 to train each dog, and we train them and place them at no expense to the deaf. And then there is a follow-up on them for about a year before they're fully certified to make sure that the dog is performing the way it was trained to do for the deaf person. And here's the address: International Hearing Dog, Inc., 5901 East 89th Ave., Henderson, CO 80640. As a matter of fact, it would be a great project for your readers to support a dog, because everybody could send in some money and then we could call it Lisfan - or Lizzie.
Q: We could sort of adopt it as a mascot.
A: Yes. The dog could be called Lizzie, and it would be placed because there are people on the list waiting to have the dogs delivered. And the dogs are trained to be (for instance) if there's a deaf mother, the dog is trained to let her know when the baby's crying, because deaf mothers have to sleep with their hands on the baby. So, with a dog they can tell when the baby awakens or cries or turns over; or when the kettle boils or somebody's at the door or the telephone rings. I mean it's quite marvelous, really. So there's an idea for a project.
Q: We would love to do it.
A: Wouldn't that be a hoot? And the little dog could be called Lizzie; there you are now.
Q: We would be proud to do it.
A: Go for it! I love it!
Lee Stobel (Galaxy Gift #3)Edit
Q: How did you get the part of Don West?
A: Irwin Allen, who produced the series, was represented by General Artists' Corporation, so we had the same agency. And I finished The Detectives with Robert Taylor, for three years, and they asked me if I'd like to do the pilot; there was a pilot for Lost in Space. It took twenty days to shoot the pilot, and then this film was then broken up. It was later used in certain episodes. In the pilot there were all the disasters: going across the sea and the giant and all the earthquakes. The pilot took a long while to shoot, because we were going across the sea, and water had come in on us on the stage. All the location scenes were shot first. It was a place that was very red and looks like the moon, and they had the little Chariot. I never went on location; none of the principles went on location. We had doubles with our clothes on, but you could never see them up close. But when they did the show and came in close on the stage or on the backlot, then you'd see us and think we were out there also.
Q: A miniature Chariot was used in the scene with the giant Cyclops, wasn't it?
A: Right. A lot of miniatures were used throughout the pilot.
Q: How did you feel when CBS decided to buy Lost in Space as a series?
A: At the time science fiction wasn't my favorite subject to do, and I wasn't really happy about doing the show. But when we got into it, it was all right. For the first year, I enjoyed it. I liked the episodes closer to the Star Trek type of shows. Then, when it became more campy and dealt with Batman type plots, I didn't like it.
Q: Why was Jonathan Harris' role emphasized so much as the series went on?
A: I guess it was because they felt that the people wanted to see more of the Robot and Jonathan. Originally, when it was more science fiction, Irwin can really do those things so beautifully. So he really took those away from himself when he wanted to deal with the Robot and Jonathan playing games, cooking souffles, or whatever else.
Q: Did the actors get along on the set and off?
A: No. There was a lot of tension on the set for the three years it was filmed. There was always a lot of tension, because the shows started going more toward the Robot and Smith. There were hard feelings from especially Guy and June, and also myself, but not as heavy as them, because they were originally sold as being the stars of the show when it began. It ended up that Harris became the star of the show.
Q: There were personal grudges between them?
A: Yeah; Guy and June didn't like it at all. There were strong grudges between the three of those people.
Q: Is there anything that sticks out in your mind that happened on the set because of this?
A: Yeah; there were incidents when Guy would walk off the set. He left the show for a couple of episodes; we did the episodes without him. You'll see shows that he wasn't in; he'd just go home and we'd continue shooting without him. And he was more or less justified in that feeling: he was signed to play the father and be the star of the show. He had to fight all the time to get shows that were written around him and they did that after awhile. Say in the second year, but in the third year, no, they went pretty much with Smith and the Robot.
Q: How were you and Jonathan Harris off the set?
A: I was friendly with everyone, pretty much. I think there was a period for a couple of months when I was angry at Jonathan Harris, for the same reasons, feeling that he was getting too many shows thrown his way. But we talk today. I see him, and there's no animosity between us. But I also had my disagreements with Guy Williams. When they started taking shows away from Guy, giving more to Jonathan, then Guy would come in and demand whatever I had in the show: any confrontations with Smith, or to save the kid, or anything. He'd end up doing all of that and I was the one that got squeezed out; I was doing almost nothing. There was one time where I went in to do a bit and had learned my lines, and was all ready to do my scene, when Guy started reading my lines. I said 'What's going on?' and he said 'This is my scene now.' They had given the lines to him. And that's where I got angry and walked off.
Q: Was anyone hurt when an explosion was filmed?
A: I had an incident where a special effects man was hurt. He had a bucket of explosives below me, and I was on some kind of rigging. He was nearby and a cigarette was dropped in or something, and he was badly burned and I was scorched.
Q: There were a lot of dangerous scenes to be shot.
A: We had doubles, we all had doubles. Jonathan would have a double if he just had to fall down.
Q: Who was your double?
A: Jerry, uh, I can't remember his name, I blocked it from my mind. He's dead; he was killed two years ago in an accident. He was a good double, though.
Q: Was extra coaching given to either Angela Cartwright or Bill Mumy?
A: No, never. They had to go to school, only for the schooling. But never any coaching. Billy was really sharp with lines. He could learn them very quickly and was very natural at what he did; he was a bright kid. Angela was the same way. They needed very little direction on the set, too. It was a tough show to do with so many explosions and special effects that the director didn't really have time to work with the actors.
Q: Did the jet pack really work?
A: Yes, Guy was in it. He never actually went on it, though. They had a man from Bell Laboratories who did the flying on the jet pack. They filmed him in the air, and Guy would come into the picture or jump out, so you would think it was him all along. They actually worked; they were really quite exciting.
Q: How did the Robot move?
A: Whenever we did something on the space ship set, they had him on wires, however the blocking of the set went. And when we were outside, too. Going across dirt they used the same technique. On close shots above the waist, Bob May used to only wear the top part from the waist up. His legs would be showing, but you wouldn't see them on the screen.
Q: What was Bob May like?
A: He was all right; he took his role quite seriously. He got to feel that he was the Robot. They'd dub in his voice afterwards. Bob would have liked to have done the voice himself, but that never worked out. He got along with everyone fine and worked hard. First time I met him, he was a friend of Jerry Lewis.
Q: How long did it take to do the scene where the Robot runs amuck in "The Reluctant Stowaway"?
A: If you get scenes like that in one take, you're all right. But that was a hard scene to shoot because explosions had to be rigged up and had to go off at certain times. The camera had to move from left to right like the ship was moving, and the actors had to move left and right. That kind of scene would take the better part of a morning. I remember that show: I had just been in a motorcycle accident.
Q: How was the effect of stars shining through the Jupiter 2's window done?
A: That was done with large screens and back projection. They'd shoot the planet or stars or miniature -on film, and shoot it backwards on the window as if it were a screen. They'd say 'one-to-three go' and they'd run the film while we said our dialogue and at the same time the stars would be shot on the window.
Q: Was Irwin Allen ever seen on the set?
A: He'd come down to see if everything was going fine. Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea was right next door to us. He'd visit Voyage, and us, then The Time Tunnel. We'd see him every day, every two or three weeks.
Q: Did he direct the pilot film?
A: Yes; he's a good director. He knows his business. He's a nice man; I like him, now that it's all over.
Q: Has he offered you any parts in his movies?
A: There's been talk about some things. I haven't been out there, though. Whether I do a movie for him depends on what the subject matter was. I may though; I might like to.
Q: How do you feel about the laser pistols?
A: I just went along with it. I did a western where I used a rifle and a pistol. When I was on The Detectives I used a police special. I was doing a space show where I was using a ray gun. It was just an extension of those periods. I was fortunate enough to use a rifle of the 1880's, and use one in the sixties, and a ray gun of the future. I just had to hold it a long time so that they could draw in the beam.
Q: Did you keep any of the laser pistols?
A: No, they're at 20th Century Fox somewhere.
Q: Why was the Jupiter 2 brought out only in "Visit to a Hostile Planet?"
A: Because the Jupiter 2 was built inside on a stage on the back lot, and they built it so large they couldn't get it through the doors. It cost them $30,000 to build it. Finally, they took it apart for this one show and brought it outside. They never had any reason to take it back outside again.
Q: What were your favorite episodes?
A: I liked the one with Michael Conrad ["Fugitives in Space"] and the one where I had to fight Warren Oates ["Welcome Stranger"]. I liked the one with the kids on motorcycles ["Collision of the Planets"]. That was kind of fun. The pilot was exciting to film. It was fun when we were dealing with heat and earthquakes, the kinds of things that can possibly happen when you're out in space.
Q: There were several changes over the years, such as the addition of the Space Pod in year three, the disappearance and reappearance of the Astrogator in year two, the disappearance of the Bloop. What was the rationale for this?
A: You couldn't analyze these things too closely. If you tried to figure them out, you'd go crazy. They did everything arbitrarily.
Q: How was the shooting of the upper and lower decks arranged?
A: We used to shoot it in a separate stage for the bedrooms and where we used to eat.
Q: How long did it take to film an episode?
A: Six or seven days, sometimes eight.
Q: Have you seen any of the cast since the show was canceled?
A: I see Billy Mumy once in a while. He used to live near me on Lookout Mountain. I was in an acting class with Marta Kristen for awhile. She has a little girl who is six or seven by now. I got a note from June when I was in Los Angeles; she congratulated me on the show (The Act). As for guest stars, Michael Conrad studies at the Actor's Studio and I've seen Warren Oates once in a while. I worked with Albert Salmi when I did Petrocelli; he's a nice guy.
Unknown Interviewer (LISFAN #4)Edit
Fans of Lost in Space are doubtless familiar with Marta Kristen's exploits as Judy Robinson; her off screen life is no less interesting. Marta was born in Oslo, Norway, near the end of World War Two. An orphan of the war, her parents left her in an orphanage when she was only two weeks old. She lived in the orphanage for over four years until Professor and Mrs. Harold Soderquist of Detroit, Michigan, expressed an interest in adopting her. After a year of working through international red tape the adoption was finally culminated. Marta was placed on a plane and, on her own, flew from Oslo to New York. Despite the cultural differences, Marta quickly learned English, and eventually excelled in school.
Marta's interest in acting evidenced itself early in her life when, at the age of ten, she starred in an original comedy that she and two of her friends had written. At the age of twelve, Marta was accepted at the Will-O-Way Theatre in Birmingham, Michigan, where she appeared in such plays as Peter Pan, and Little Women. Some time later, she decided to take a course in drama at the Detroit Civic Theatre. When Marta was fourteen, Professor Soderquist took his family on a sabbatical leave to California. Marta studied at Santa Monica High School for a year, and then she remained in California with a guardian when her family returned to Detroit.
The decision to remain in California was a fortunate one for Marta. While eating at a drive-in restaurant producer Jimmy Harris approached her about reading for a movie that would later become a classic: Stanley Kubrik's Lolita. Taking the offer as a joke at first Marta checked into Jimmy Harris' credentials before reading for the part. Marta did not get the part, but thanks to Jimmy Harris she acquired an agent who soon got her a featured role on The Loretta Young Show. Other television roles were soon to follow, including My Three Sons, Mr. Novak, Leave it to Beaver, and Wagon Train. In 1964, Irwin picked Marta to play Judy Robinson for a rather unusual reason, as you will see in the following interview. When Lost in Space ended its three year run, Marta went on to appear in various other TV shows such as Remington Steele, Trapper John, MD, and Battle Beyond the Stars. Her main emphasis in recent years has been in live theatre, where she hopes to further develop her skills as an actress. The following interview was conducted by phone on August 30, l985, and lasted approximately fourty-five minutes.
Q: How were you cast in the role of Judy Robinson?
A: I had been doing a bit of film at the time, and television shows, and I went in for sort of a general interview with Irwin. It was for Lost in Space; he liked me. I think one of the reasons he liked me was because of my earrings. I was wearing these big round gold earrings, and that was my impression. He said, "Go get me the girl with the earrings."
Q: Was there a difference in age between you and Judy? I know that for Angela Cartwright's role of Penny, there as an age difference of two or three years.
A: You're right about that. Let me think...I was nineteen at the time. I think that was Judy's age too. There was never any mention of her age.
Q: In the pilot, there is one point where they say that Judy is nineteen.
A: Then that was right. I really don't remember.
Q: How did Judy's personality compare with yours?
A: Well, I was really young at the time. Not at all really. I was a very hysterical type of person. Very artistic and emotional. She [Judy] didn't have the kind of depth that I'd hoped we could have established.
Q: Do you think that Judy's character changed at all?
A: No. I think that there was more development in the beginning than at the end. I must say that I was really heartbroken that I did not get a chance to develop the way I was promised. If I had it to do all over again, I would not do the show.
Q: Did you enjoy the stories that were written around Judy?
A: Well, I had always considered myself a serious actress; I tried to make the most out of what I had. I would have liked to have had the relationship with Mark Goddard develop more.
Q: I think that a lot of the fans would liked to have seen that develop more too.
A: That would have been nice. They didn't want to bring any kind of seriousness to the part. I can understand that, unfortunately. It was not supposed to have been the way it ended up. I'm sure you've heard that before.
Q: Could you elaborate on that a little more?
A: Jonathan Harris, for instance. The role of Dr. Smith was not in the Lost in Space pilot. They thought that they needed more of an antagonist, so they wrote Jonathan in.
Q: As well as the Robot.
A: Yes, the Robot too. That was all right, but that left the family with very little to do; it was aimed towards him. It was a great disappointment later on.
Q: When the stories shifted away from the family to just Dr. Smith, Will and the Robot?
A: Yes, that's right.
Q: Your mention of the pilot brings up a familiar argument going on between Lost in Space fans.
A: What's that?
Q: Would you happen to know if there is a color pilot to Lost in Space?
A: My opinion is that there is not. I mean, I was in it, and as far as I know, it was in black and white.
Q: Did you enjoy working on Lost in Space?
A: Well, I enjoyed working with the people; I really liked the people involved with the show. The part of Judy Robinson was not developed the way it was supposed to be; I was promised all kinds of things as far as Judy's development was concerned.
Q: Did you enjoy working with Irwin Allen?
A: Irwin is a real interesting man. He's sort of a dynamo. He was always "Time is money... time is money!" Very good sense of humor. I would always try and complain to him about my lack of anything to do on the show. He would always try and get my humor back; he'd say "Don't worry, we're building all kinds of stories around Judy." Of course, he would have to tell that to every character on the show.
Q: Did you have a favorite guest star on the program?
A: I liked Michael Rennie a lot. He was a real nice person. He was erudite, and I liked the way he held himself, and he flirted with me.
Q: Did you have a favorite episode?
A: I suppose that my favorite episode is the one where I'm eaten by the plant.
Q: That would be "Attack of the Monster Plants."
A: "Attack of the Monster Plants"; that's it. That was silly; I enjoyed it. I like a lot of physical work. That was a silly show and I'm a silly person. I liked "Space Beauty" too.
Q: There were some repeat guest stars on that one.
A: Yes. I used to like Fritz Feld; he was on a lot. Fritz Feld was wonderful. He was great to work with. He showed us how he popped his mouth. He's charming. He's a very lovely man.
Q: How did you feel about the costumes on the show?
A: I didn't like the first season space suits; they were very uncomfortable. You couldn't sit in them and they were very hot. I thought the costumes were nice. I thought that Paul Zastupnevich did a good job. For the pilot and for the first year, I had the red top with blue trim, and the blue skirt. Then we went to the red and yellow jump suit, and for the third year, it was the lavender with the green trim and tights.
Q: Which one did you like best?
A: I think the purple, lavender one; it echoed the era. It afforded me to be more mobile; I could move around in it much easier.
Q: Do you remember any difficult situations as far as filming went?
A: Well, when the whole group got together it was difficult to find the camera. Everyone felt upstaged by the Robot, and the children, and mom and dad. That was the only real difficult part I can remember.
Q: Do you remember any amusing incidents during rehearsals or shooting?
A: Mark and I would go out to lunch at Shea Jay's in Santa Monica when we had a couple of hours. It's a place where you could get steamed clams right off the beach. Shea would have these huge bowls of peanuts on the tables, and sometimes he would give us enormous bags of peanuts to bring back with us. One time Mark went on the scaffolding and started throwing peanuts down to everybody. Mark's a crazy man; he was fun to work with. Also, there would be times when we would have really silly lines to say. They were always lines like, "We must cut to the left", or "Thousands of tiny little robots". We would get to a point where we couldn't say it with a straight face. It would be just so difficult to get the lines out and the director would go crazy, because we would almost get it and then one person would start cracking up. Then all the rest of us would start laughing.
Q: Well, some of those lines were just so ridiculous.
A: That's what made it so impossible. Let's face it, it was really silly, but I guess that's what pulled us all through.
Q: How did you learn of Lost in Space's cancellation?
A: I think we were working. It was one of the last days of the last show and it was in a news cast, or written in a trade paper that we hadn't been picked up. The network never told us.
Q: Were you sorry, or did you think that it was time to quit the show?
A: I was sorry, because I felt that the family had never been developed the way they should have been. In that way I was sorry. In the other way, I felt that they probably never would be. I felt that nothing was going to change. Of course I had grown to really like the people on the show; I knew I'd miss them. I figured that I'd go on to other things, and I wanted to have a child, which is eventually what I did.
Q: How many children do you have?
A: I have one; she's almost sixteen. She has no ambitions to become an actress.
Q: What does she want to do?
A: She wants to be a fashion designer. She's a wonderful artist.
Q: Have you worked on any other Irwin Allen's projects?
A: No, I haven't, I forgot to mention (that) I have been doing some film lately. I did an episode of Fame.
Q: What was the story about?
A: I had a nice part on that; I played Morloch's girlfriend. I was his old girlfriend who ended up marrying his best friend.
Q: I did see you on the Family Feud reunion.
A: Oh yes; I really enjoyed that. I love games; I'm a game addict, I think.
Q: June Lockhart enjoys game shows too.
A: Oh yes. That was a fun thing to do. I also did a Trapper John episode in which I play a woman who is in an automobile accident and my face is going to be scarred, and I'm worried about it. I did a Disney thing called Wildside. I did a new show called Our Time. That was fun; they were terrific. It was a Johnny Carson production. Everyone there was just lovely.
Q: I heard that you were in another space feature called Battle Beyond the Stars. Could you tell us a little bit about your role in that picture?
A: It was a Roger Corman film done by New World Pictures. It was a nice film; it was sort of like The Seven Samurai. There was a planet in trouble, and a group of space men and women came to our aid. I was the leader of my planet; it was a nice role. George Peppard and I were supposed to have a love thing together, but unfortunately we didn't hit if off too well. I think that a lot of the stuff which we did was cut because the electricity just wasn't there. George and I didn't get along too well. In the past four years, I've been part of a company called the West Coast Ensemble; we've been doing all kinds of theatre. We've also been doing an experimental type of theatre. I was in The Lover. We worked with a playwright in a production called Never Say Die. I just finished another one-act; Darlene Young wrote it and acted in it. She wrote Cross Creek and Diary of a Runaway. She is an Oscar-nominated writer. She's part of the company, and she asked me to do this one-act play with her. It was really a thrilling experience. Each part has been very different; I think that I'm establishing myself as more of a character actor. The parts I've been playing have been people of my own age; they've really been very different. I just got finished playing the part of Gloria; she's a meaty, beefy kind of waitress with a heart of gold. She's a sort of desperate kind of person; I really love playing that kind of a part. She's very vulnerable, and she just had an awful lot of heart. It's difficult too, because the parts take so much energy; they take a lot of work and preparation. Mainly, they take a lot of emotion. They're beautiful parts, but they're very, very difficult. Q: Do you see any of the other (Lost in Space) cast members? A: Rarely. I do see Jonathan once in a while. Jonathan and I will go out to lunch, but that's about all.
Q: Have you heard anything about a Lost in Space movie?
A: Yes and no. Once in a while I'll see Irwin and he'll say something about it. Or I'll say something about it and he'll say, "Well, you never know, you never know." It's always something that hangs in the air.
Q: If there ever was such a project, would you want to be involved in it?
A: I don't know whether I would do it; I really don't know. I don't want to be known for Lost in Space my whole acting career. I'm just now getting back into other parts; it's taken me a long time. Also, because I didn't have all that much to do on the show. It was sort of a career buster for me. I've been identified for Lost in Space, and I'd really like to get away from that.
Q: It's a shame that they didn't have more family-oriented stories in the later episodes as they did in the beginning of the series.
A: As the show progressed, it became the Jonathan Harris show. Jonathan Harris is a wonderful actor and I don't mean him any ill when I say that. He deserved what he got on the show. It just left us all high and dry and that was not fair.
Q: You mentioned before that you wished that Judy could have been more developed.
A: Yes. Irwin Allen is not known for character development. I knew that. To tell the truth, I did not want to do the show, but Irwin was calling me every day for about two weeks. As I said before, I had been doing really good drama. He saw me, and he knew that was the type he wanted as Judy Robinson, but had I known that the show would not develop the way in which I was promised, I would not have done it.