Marta Kristen and Mark Goddard – Fifty Years Later and Still Lost in Space
by Mark Mussari
Fifty years ago this year, families across the United States sat down on a Wednesday evening to watch the premiere of a new science-fiction series on CBS: Lost in Space. When it first appeared — on September 15, 1965 — it was the most expensive television pilot ever produced. No one had ever seen anything like it.
In retrospect, it turned out to be much more than that. In 1965, LBJ was president, the Beatles were all the rage, and the space program was in full gear. The first year of Lost in Space was broadcast in black and white. The show’s dark, at times expressionist, filming captured the pervasive fear of the unknown as we ventured farther out into the galaxy.
In its early, relentlessly eerie episodes, Lost in Space functioned like an extension of The Twilight Zone. But instead of fighter pilots or superheroes,Lost in Space thrust a family, the Robinsons, into the great abyss: a father and mother (both scientists) and their three children.
Lost in Space featured a cast with an impressive acting pedigree: Guy Williams, June Lockhart, Mark Goddard, Marta Kristen, Angela Cartwright, Billy Mumy and Jonathan Harris. The show also gave the world some enduring catchphrases, among them, “Danger, Will Robinson, Danger!” and “That does not compute.”
Marta Kristen and Mark Goddard played eldest daughter Judy Robinson and spaceship pilot Major Don West. The two actors were supposed to have a romance on Lost in Space. The show was also supposed to be an adventure series about a family and their pilot.
But life (and the whims of the show’s imperious creator, Irwin Allen) took a sharp left turn with the addition of Jonathan Harris, as effete expedient stowaway Dr. Zachary Smith, and the Environmental Control Robot (played by Bob May and voiced by Dick Tufeld). Before long, Allen turned the majority of the show’s plots over to Harris, the gifted Mumy as young Will Robinson and the Robot.
Despite three years in space, the romance between Kristen and Goddard experienced very little thrust. In addition to their striking looks — they were one of the most attractive couples ever to grace the small screen — both actors had an impressive acting résumé.
Trained in theater from childhood, Kristen had appeared on such popular series as Dr. Kildare, Wagon Train, two Alfred Hitchcock Presents (one at the age of 16) and The Loretta Young Show, and as the mermaid Lorelei in the film Beach Blanket Bingo. Born to a Finnish mother and a German father killed in World War II, Kristen was sent to an orphanage in Norway; she remained there for four years before finally being adopted by a couple from Farmington, Michigan.
“My mother said I got off the plane from Norway walking like Charlie Chaplin,” she says of her early dramatic proclivities. “It was in my blood.”
When she was only 15, producer Jimmy Harris asked her to audition for the title role in the film Lolita — but her parents had read Nabokov’s book and refused to grant permission. Still, Harris was so impressed he got Kristen Elizabeth Taylor’s agent. Her stints on a number of shows led to her being cast on Lost in Space without ever having to do a screen test.
“I’m thankful for the show now,” Kristen says today of Lost in Space. “Of course, there’s a nostalgia and that nostalgia has been passed on to the children of the people who first watched it.” She also cites “the morality tale that was always given at the end of each show” as another reason for its endurance. “It was all about the family,” she adds, “and that’s why it still lives.”
Fans still laud Kristen’s performance in “Attack of the Monster Plants,” an episode in which she played her evil twin, produced by a Deutronium-guzzling plant.
“For me that episode embodies my love of acting,” says Kristen. “I’ve been acting since I was five — and becoming another person. The distrust and hidden agenda Judy has on that show — it shows in my eyes. I’ve always studied dance, and there’s quite a beautiful piece of movement in that episode when I’m hypnotized and go into the giant plant. I appreciate it now in retrospect.”
Kristen can actually laugh now about the way she was underused on the show. “On one episode I go into the spaceship and all I say is: ‘Will,’” she remembers. “I complained to Irwin, who said I was absolutely right and promised to give me more to say. So, in the next episode I said, ‘Will … Penny.’”
Today, she also ponders whether Irwin Allen was afraid of her natural sensuality. “Even though I was pretty young, I think a real sexiness comes from a kind of innocence,” she explains, “and that’s what I had. The network was very afraid of that, especially in my scenes with Mark.”
Kristen had even tested for a role in The Sound of Music (in which her friend and co-star Angela Cartwright had starred) but says she was deemed “too sexy for it,” citing her Finnish looks as the source of her attraction. “I’m not the all-American type,” she adds.
Today, Kristen paints and coaches young actors. “It’s really thrilling to teach somebody all the different things I’ve learned in the past,” she observes, “and that I can cull from my own experiences. I’m fortunate to be able to do what I wanted to do most of my life.”
Born in Lowell, Massachusetts and trained at the American Academy of the Dramatic Arts on New York, Mark Goddard arrived in Hollywood in 1959 — and within three weeks landed a part on the western series Johnny Ringo.
“That was really fun for me,” he remembers. “I didn’t even know how to ride a horse or handle guns. It was produced by Aaron Spelling.” That part led to a number of one-shots on such successful series as The Rifleman, Gun-smoke and The Rebel — and eventually to a part on The Detectives.
“As an actor you take what comes,” recalls Goddard. “It’s a job — and you adjust to it. I had two good years on The Detectives.” Ironically, he was joined in his final year on The Detectives by Adam West, who would go on to play Batman. “They were going toward the youth movement with me and Adam,” he adds.
After he filmed the Lost in Space pilot, Goddard had little hope that it would be picked up. “Before I went into it I didn’t particularly want to do it,” he says today. “I thought, that’s science fiction — I wanted to be Paul Newman not Buck Rogers! And then the pilot sold, and I was not happy.” Seeing himself in wardrobe the first time — a tight, silver lamé spacesuit — made Goddard cringe. “I looked like a baked potato in the oven,” he recalls. “But it all worked out great. We had a wonderful cast of people.”
With such a stellar cast, the show looked promising in its darker early episodes. “Some of the early black-and-white shows had an Outer Limits quality to them,” remembers Goddard. “That’s the way we thought the show was going to go. Irwin Allen thought that the show had to compete with Batman, so it became campy instead of staying true to a science-fiction show, which would have been more like Star Trek. But it went the way it went. I don’t fault anyone.”
For years following the end of Lost in Space, though, Goddard refused to even talk about the show. “After it went off the air,” he admits now, “I didn’t realize that anyone had ever seen it. I thought the audience had all been children. I thought nobody watched it. Years later, I was signed to The Act with Liza Minelli on Broadway. I never even mentioned Lost in Space in the show’s Playbill. I didn’t want the show to be a career buster, because Guy Williams told me at the time: ‘This show’s a career buster.’”
Eventually, after numerous other guest spots in the 1970s, including a stint onGeneral Hospital, Goddard returned to his home-state of Massachusetts and received his master’s degree in education. He went on to teach special education for more than 20 years.
Yet, after attending science fiction conventions and hearing from fans over the last few decades, Goddard began to realize the show’s cultural impact. He concurs with Kristen: “It’s nostalgia. Fans out there who are in their fifties and sixties grew up in a time when there wasn’t that much on television. Lost in Space was a family show. People like the family, and they hooked onto the characters they could relate to. Characters that could become part of their family.”
Goddard views this as a cultural phenomenon, particularly when the show went into reruns. “They recall coming home after school and wanting to see the show,” explains. “It brings you back to a time in your life that was good for most people — and for some not so good — but they have Lost in Space to fantasize about.”
While fans often tell Goddard how much they enjoyed seeing him play his wicked doppelganger in “The Anti-Matter Man,” he cites “The Condemned of Space,” the season-three opener with Marcel Hillaire as a guest star, as one of his favorites. Yet, he admits that many of the episodes are, indeed, lost to him. “Those were the sixties, and I wasn’t smoking or anything, but many of them I do not remember.”
Today, fans can visit a Mark Goddard Appreciation Society Page on Facebook. “We’re kind of mini-icons,” he realizes. “We did have a large viewing audience. It’s 50 years and people are still talking about it.”
In 2008 Goddard released his memoir, To Space and Back. “It’s a very candid book,” he explains, “and that’s what people love about it. There is one chapter on Lost in Space.”
In 1998 New Line Cinema released a major motion picture of Lost in Spacewith a new cast. Kristen, Goddard and Cartwright had cameos. The movie featured some never before seen special effects, but it lacked the heart of the original show (despite some powerful acting by Gary Oldman as Dr. Smith). In 2004, director John Woo made a pilot for a new television series of Lost in Space, but the pilot never sold.
Still, as John Updike once wrote in Rabbit Is Rich, “That was good, solid space they were lost in.” Somewhere in that space, maybe the Robinsons finally return to Earth — and Judy and Don finally had that romance that never really materialized.
After Lost in Space, both Kristen and Goddard went on to perform in numerous television series, films, commercials and theater productions. Despite their fame from Lost in Space, both trained actors had lively careers both before and after the show’s three-year run.
The surviving cast members of Lost in Space — Kristen, Goddard, Lockhart, Mumy and Cartwright, will gather to celebrate the show’s 50th anniversary at this year’s Hollywood Show, held January 23-25. The panel is scheduled for Jan. 25 at 11:30 a.m. at The Westin Los Angeles Airport Hotel, located at 5400 West Century Blvd. in Los Angeles. Admission is free with purchase of a ticket for the Hollywood Show (click on link to find out how to order), but only 200 will be admitted to the “Lost in Space” event.
Mark Mussari, a freelance writer, translator and educator living in Tucson, Arizona, is also the author of an educational book on the history of Popular Television: American Life & Television: From I Love Lucy to Mad Men.
Copyright ©2015 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: January 14, 2015.
Photos courtesy of Living Legends Limited. All rights reserved.