A few years back I spotted my postman Victor coming to the door so I went out to meet him. As he handed me my mail, he asked if I had anything to do with writing about television (probably guessed it from all the network mailers). I asked him what he was watching in this age of Peak TV and he told me: Lost in Space.
“The new Netflix re-boot,” I asked? Nope. The ’60s original, which was then being rerun daily on Hamilton, Ont.’s CHCH.
“It gets pretty corny in later years,” he said, “but that first black and white season is out of this world.”
Good Lord I thought. Exactly right.
Sad news Victor: Mark Goddard, the actor who played Major Don West on the sci-fi series, has passed away. The Massachusetts-native, who died Oct. 10, was 87.
As Goddard once wrote, he spent three years in Space. The series ran from 1965 to 1968. Goddard’s character was the pilot of the Jupiter 2 which set out with the Robinson family on a mission to colonize space.
West did other work on television of course. Before Lost in Space, he had a regular role on The Detectives (1960-62). He guest-starred on everything from The Rifleman to The Beverly Hillbillies to Perry Mason to The Mod Squad and The Streets of San Francisco. In the ’80s he appeared on soaps such as One Life to Live and General Hospital. He appeared opposite Tommy Kirk and Annette Funicello in 1965’s “The Monkey’s Uncle.”
He was married three times, including one union with wife No. 2, actress Susan Anspach.
I had but one encounter with Goddard. He joined the entire cast of Lost in Space — save for lead actor Guy Williams, who died at 65 in 1989 — at a Television Critics Association press tour gathering over 20 years ago.
At the press tour session, Goddard and the rest of the surviving cast members could hardly get a word in thanks to Jonathan Harris. The fussy New York actor rambled on about himself, setting an unofficial filibuster record of 17 minutes according to long-time member Howard Benjamin, who apparently keeps tabs on such things. (Oprah, who seemed loath to answer any questions, came close to breaking Harris’ mark in a 2011 press tour appearance.)
During and after the session the cast, and Goddard in particular, made no secret that they had already had it up to here with Harris, and not just with his pontificating. Most also resented the fact that Harris, who was originally supposed to be a saboteur written out of the series after the first episode, stuck around and took over the series as Dr. Zachary Smith.
Goddard saw his role shrink as Harris played Laurel & Hardy in comic relief scenes paired with the Jupiter’s robot, the real star of Lost in Space if you were eight years old in 1965. Billy Mumy, as young Will Robinson, also gained air time in scenes where he was being set up by the doctor. Goddard and other adult co-stars such as Marta Kristen, Guy Williams and June Lockhart, spent a lot of time in their trailers.
As producer Irwin Allen’s cheques continued to clear, Williams didn’t seem to mind too much. Goddard, however, who wrote a 2008 memoir titled “To Space and Back,” made it clear he never got over being upstaged by Harris.
Press tour critics, however, quickly moved on from this injustice. We were all too busy nerding out at our hero, the robot.
Surviving cast members include Lockhart (who starred in the ’50s as the mom on Lassie), who is 98, Kristen, 79, Cartwright, 71,and Mumy, 69.
Fans of the series can stream Lost in Space nowadays on Tubi but “WARNING!” as the robot (and my mailman) would say. Anything past Season One is so campy you can see the tents.