LOST IN SPACE-Through a (Magic) Mirror
By Bruce Fedow (8/27/20)
When you are a child of five most words spoken to you by well-meaning adults are heard in the voice of Charlie Brown’s teacher. But images-now that’s another story. At that age, an awesome (or frightening) image can be burned into your memory, sometimes forever. I remember little from those years, save images of monsters from television shows like The Outer Limits and from Lost in Space.
My father and brother loved sci-fi, and the night Lost in Space was to premiere, the male portion of my family was glued to the screen of the one black and white Zenith television that we owned. The one image that, fifty-five years later, still sticks in my mind is when Professor John Robinson, played by Zorro’s Guy Williams, takes his walk in space and snaps his tether. After the climactic cliff-hanger — would his family rescue him or was he to be lost in space forever? — I ran to the kitchen holding a Kleenex box (my makeshift space pack) for my upcoming spacewalk. When you’re five you are not allowed to walk in space alone, I soon learned.
Thus began the weekly ritual where we followed he adventures of
the Space Family Robinson until January, when HE arrived on the television screen…the Caped Crusader! Watching Lost in Space after that was sporadic to say the least, although I must admit I, along with the rest of the country, was enthralled with the adventures of Batman and Robin twice a week-almost but not quite as much as the Robinsons.
As Christmas approached I asked (begged) my parents to get me the Remco Lost in Space robot. As usual, my older brother got it instead of me but that was cool; we played with it together, gluing the claws back on after they snapped off and re-taping the stickers for his tread section onto his plastic body when they fell off. Selling that robot helped me pay for the first month’s rent on my first apartment many years later!
During Lost in Space’s third season we went to my Aunt Wanda’s house on a Wednesday, where she let me watch my first episode of Lost in Space in color! Granted, it was “Deadliest of the
Species,” a mediocre episode at best, where the Robinsons’ robot falls in love with a malevolent female robot, but to see the actors, props and sets in color was a treat. Sadly, the great night came to a terrifying end when Aunt Wanda took out her false teeth and chased me around the living room with them until I cried. No day is perfect!
My father and brother collected and built a lot of models in those days (I was a year away from doing complicated stuff like that) and so we had an Aurora Plastics Corp. Lost in Space robot as well as the Cyclops and Chariot model on a shelf in “the boys” bedroom. The other collectibles from the series such as the board game and space helmet were not available in my neighborhood, but I did get a Lost in Space lunchbox a year or two after the series ended from the discount rack at the drugstore of all places. I still have it displayed proudly in my room, complete with thermos.
Lost in Space hit the syndicated air waves in 1969, and in New
York it was broadcast on WNEW channel Five every day after school. It was then I finally got to see all the episodes I had missed, this time in color, and recorded them all on audio tapes, first reel to reel then on audio cassettes, way before the advent of DVD or even VHS.
By 1974, after having seen other Lost in Space and sci fi home produced “fanzines” I decided to create my own, and Lost in Space Forever! was born. After eight or nine issues I called it a day and turned the reigns over to someone who got a lot more interviews with Lost in Space stars and guest stars then I ever did. My issues were still better!
My days as an editor at LISF! were very interesting, to say the least. I had limited access to celebrities for interviews, but Robert “Big Buck” Maffei was one of them. He played the Cyclops monster in the Lost in Space pilot for the scenes with the miniature Chariot model but was replaced by Lamar Lundy for the location shoots after he and Irwin had a disagreement. A friend in California interviewed Robert, sent me the tape, and gave him my phone number. He would call me “long distance” and we had a lot of great conversations and he sent me several different autographed pictures.
My friend David and I interviewed Stanley Adams, the infamous Tybo the Carrot Man in the “Great Vegetable Rebellion” episode of Lost In Space (and from the fan favorite Star Trek episode “The Trouble With Tribbles”), at the 1976 Star Trek Bi-Centennial Convention. Riding up in the elevator, David and I realized we had no questions to ask him (hey we were new at this!) so we quickly scribbled a few on a brown paper bag before we reached his suite. The first thing Stanley said to me was, “Your name is Bruce? You’re not
gay are you?”, an obscure reference to the belief that Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson were homosexual lovers. Then he laughed. I didn’t take it personally, and we got a great interview for the fanzine. I corresponded with him by mail several times until his untimely passing. I also interviewed Jonathan Harris/Dr. Smith in those days. More on that later.
Since then, real life showed up, and I got real jobs and a real family of my own. Occasionally I found time to meet the stars of Lost in Space and get an autograph and photo with them, as well as amass a good-sized collection of scripts, photos, etc, and contribute to several Lost in Space reference books.
My encounters with the stars of Lost in Space were stories in themselves. I waited in line at the New Jersey Chiller Convention to see June Lockhart (Maureen Robinson) and get her autograph. The gentleman ahead of me on line was having an animated if lengthy conversation with June, and at one point the exasperated lady behind me told him to shut up and leave so the rest of us could get our turn with Ms. Lockhart. June heard this and politely, if sternly, put the young woman in her place! I wanted to give the obnoxious young lady the finger but was afraid of the wrath of Maureen Robinson so I refrained.
Bruce Fedow with Bill "Will Robinson" Mumy
I met Mark Goddard (Major Don West) at Chiller as well, and his son took a picture of the two of us together. We had met previously backstage at a Broadway theatre, again thanks to my good buddy David, where Mark was a featured performer in Liza Minelli’s Broadway show The Act. This time David and I forgot to bring a Sharpie so Mark signed our photos with an orange pen he had.
I first encountered Marta Kristen (Judy Robinson) and Angela Cartwright (Penny Robinson) at Chiller as well. A few years later they saw photos I had of each of them for sale on eBay and through mutual friends requested copies of these as they had never seen these pictures before! I sent them two copies of each photo-one to keep and one of each to autograph for me…hey, when Judy and Penny ask you for a favor how can you say no?
Bill Mumy (Will Robinson) and I first met at a New York convention years before Chiller. A group of his admirers and I treated Bill to lunch at an East side deli that I knew that served Beck’s Beer, Bill’s beer of choice at the time. We all chatted and later posed with him for pictures.
Seeing Bob May, the man inside the Lost in Space robot for the first time at Chiller was a treat. I saw him many times after that at New York conventions, and he always remembered my name when I stopped by his table to say hello. He was a real sweetheart.
Last but not least, Jonathan Harris (the nefarious Dr. Zachary Smith)…our friendship began in the 1970’s when I interviewed him for my Lost in Space Forever! fanzine by mail. I sent him a cassette tape and a list of
Bruce Fedow with Mark "Don West" Goddard
questions, but, as his recorder was on the fritz, I instead got back the interview with answers, typed by himself, in a large envelope with a recent autographed photo. As he did with almost all his fans, he wrote me a letter or two after that and even sent a Christmas card.
It’s easy to explain why five-year-old me was fascinated with the Robinsons, Don, Dr. Smith and the robot, but why, all these years later, now that I have aged like a fine bottle of Ripple, does it still appeal to me so much? Part of it is nostalgia…my parents are long gone, my siblings have moved away with lives of their own, and although life has been very good to me since then, I can never get those Wednesday nights in front of the Zenith with my family back. Part of it is the wonderful actors, along with their costumes, gadgets and sets that still thrill me even though I’ve seen every episode a hundred times. And part of it is the future world of 1997 that never came to be-twenty-three years after the fact, we still don’t travel in jet packs or Chariots or flying saucers. Maybe, just maybe, someday I will slide into an alternate universe with an alternate Earth, and if I’m lucky can stowaway on the spaceship carrying America’s first family into space and share in their adventures.