At some point, almost every little boy dreams of being a hero. But very few ever get to play that part opposite their childhood idol. Bill Mumy – the multi-talented star of Lost in Space – is one of the lucky ones. Mumy remembers Guy Williams, Irwin Allen, June Lockhart and the rest of his interstellar family in a new book, co-authored with series sister Angela Cartwright, titled Lost (And Found) in Space. We recently caught up with Mumy to talk about his continuingly amazing career, while carefully crafting our questions to avoid a trip to the cornfield. Lost (And Found) in Space is available directly from the authors and at Amazon.
LAPX: Thank you for the taking the time to speak with us today. Looking over your bio, it is hard to know where to begin. You started acting at six years of age and had a string of memorable roles as a child actor, but then as you matured and continued to act, you had your hands into music, producing, writing, voice overs, narration, and the list goes on.
Mumy: Yes, I’ve been lucky to work in so many arenas and reach so many different audiences. A few weeks ago, I played at the Greek Theatre with Ringo Starr. That was a real highlight. I’m a producer on Ancient Aliens, which is a show that I really like. And I just finished up a new solo album which Angela Cartwright is doing the design for. Our new book – Lost (and Found) in Space – is doing well, so it’s a lot of different creative energy. I’m grateful for the opportunities.
LAPX: Let me start by asking how it was that you got into acting. Is there a connection to Guy Williams with this story?
Mumy: Yes, there is! When I was really little, about 3-4 years old, I broke my leg playing Zorro. I was a Zorro fanatic, as most kids my age were in those days. I was in a cast up to my hip for a good 10 weeks and couldn’t go out and run around with my friends, so I watched TV.
Seeing Guy as Zorro and George Reeves as Superman lit some fuse in my DNA – so much so that I bugged my parents and said, ‘I want to get inside of the TV and be like Superman and Zorro.’
We lived in west Los Angeles, and my parents had me later in life. My dad was 50, my mom was 41. Mom had been a secretary at 20th Century Fox before she married my dad. My grandfather had been a Hollywood agent, but he passed away before I was born. The bottom line is my family wasn’t intimidated by Hollywood, and I was a very energetic red-haired kid with freckles who wanted to be on TV.
My mother wisely signed me up for a show called Romper Room, if you know it.
LAPX: Yes, I do. The show actually originated in Baltimore and was franchised around the nation.
Mumy: Oh, I didn’t know that. Of course, I only knew it as a child and the host in Los Angeles was Miss Mary. Anyway, my mother was smart to see how I would react on a set, under the lights. I had a ball and ended up staying for two weeks. The rest just took its course. I really liked acting and being other people. Memorizing lines was always easy for me. Everybody’s got a gift, and I guess that was mine.
LAPX: It sounds like your parents were both wise and very supportive of you.
Mumy: Absolutely. One hundred percent. My mom was always with me when I was at the studio. If I went on a location with horses, then my dad would come along. He was a cattle rancher. My dad was a successful man, and he invested my earnings for me very wisely. I don’t have any sob stories.
LAPX: Stories about child actors who don’t have horrific set-backs seem to be largely lost in a culture which thrives on tales of gloom and doom. I talked about that last year with Angela and more recently, with Kathy Garver. Both told me that good parenting plays an important key.
Mumy: Of course it does, and it also has to do with luck and with the press. Why would the press want to run a story that said, “Angela and Veronica Cartwright, Ron Howard, Kurt Russell, Tony Dow, Bill Mumy and the guys from My Three Sons are all fine”. They’d rather run a story about Danny Bonaduce getting arrested. That’s just the nature of the press. Pleasant success stories just don’t garner the same attention as the sensational. Look, everybody’s lucky. We all do stupid things when we’re young. I could have gotten into trouble for some of the things I did when I was a kid. Nothing serious, but we can all get busted for doing something stupid.
LAPX: Like wishing someone into a cornfield?
Mumy: Watch it there, Anthony. You’re not the only Anthony around.
LAPX: I guess, of the episodes you did of The Twilight Zone and Alfred Hitchcock, that episode (It’s a Good Life) is the one which sticks out in most people’s minds. How does one audition to play a six-year-old tyrant like Anthony Fremont?
Mumy: You know, I had done a previous Twilight Zone episode, called Long Distance Call, that was directed by the same wonderful guy, James Sheldon. In fact, my very first starring role on the Loretta Young Show was also an episode that he had directed. So he just requested me and knew I could handle the role. Rod Serling was also pleased with my work, so that’s how all of that happened.
In terms of auditioning, it was a different process in 1960 than it is today. You’d wait out in the hallway with your mother and a room full of other kids, then walk right in with a casting assistant and do a couple of scenes. You’d know right there or at least by six o’clock that night if you got the part. Nowadays, it’s quite different. You’re put on videotape by someone who just gets coffee, then you come back and you come back again. I don’t know. It was just so much easier in those days.
LAPX: It’s a completely different setup really.
Mumy: Yeah, the industry has changed ridiculously and not necessarily for the better, but I’m not looking to be the killer of the week on CSI.
LAPX: Speaking of CSI, you appeared in an absolutely gripping Hitchcock episode titled, Bang, You’re Dead.
Mumy: I appeared in three, in fact, but that was the best one.
LAPX: Sadly still relevant today?
Mumy: Yes, very much so.
LAPX: Getting back for just a moment to your parents and their involvement in your early career, is it true that they nixed the idea of you playing Eddie Munster because of the makeup?
Mumy: First of all, the character of Eddie Munster is Butch Patrick’s thing. He’s a friend of mine, and it is a one-of-a-kind role. But it is something that we passed on.
It wasn’t necessarily my mother saying, “We don’t want him to wear the makeup”, it was kinda everybody. The thing was – and I don’t want to sound egotistical about this – but I would go from an episode of Wagon Train into a Munsters episode, into a Disney movie into Bewitched into a Twilight Zone. All those different styles of work – one show set a hundred years in the past – the next a hundred years in the future. It was such a great time to work for me, a lot of great directors and wonderful actors. I just wasn’t looking for television series where I would be nailed down to that reality all the time. I did a Munsters episode eventually, but the role of Eddie Munster just wasn’t a good fit for me. Now, when Lost in Space came along, it was what I had wanted to do from the very beginning – that is – get inside the TV and be a super hero. Plus, Lost in Space was filmed at 20th Century Fox, which was literally half a mile away from my house, so everything about the gig was perfect.
LAPX: Prior to Lost in Space, you had played a boy genius named Erasmus.
Mumy: Yes, in Dear Brigitte, with Jimmy Stewart.
LAPX: So you went from playing a boy genius on film to playing one on Lost in Space. That seems like an easy enough transition.
Mumy: Yeah, Dear Brigitte was a 20th Century Fox film, and Lost in Space was a Fox project. You know, I didn’t audition for Lost in Space. It was offered to me, and I’m glad it was.
LAPX: I was going to ask you about that, because Angela told us a funny story about her audition.
Mumy: Irwin was great at assembling his casts. And at putting the right numbers into the budget to get a Jupiter 2 or a Seaview for Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. Those sets looked fantastic. It got cheaper as the show went on, but the Robot is a great prop; the chariot, the Jupiter 2. I think all of those designs hold up very well.
BPE: You mentioned Dear Brigitte. By the time you were 10 or 11, you had worked with Brigitte Bardot, Elizabeth Montgomery, Barbara Eden, Yvonne DeCarlo…
Mumy: Shirley Jones, in her prime.
LAPX: Yes, Shirley Jones and several other heart-throbs. I think I speak for every baby-boom guy when I look at that list and say, “JEALOUS!”
Mumy: Dude, don’t think I wasn’t totally hip to it. Even at eight, because I was. I had such a crush on Shirley Jones; she’s still a good friend. We did a film, called A Ticklish Affair, together. I had a huge crush on Connie Stevens, while filming Palm Springs Weekend. I saw her 2-3 years ago and we had a giggle about that. Yeah, I loved Elizabeth Montgomery and got to be in two Bewitched episodes including the one where I played her husband. That was like the greatest gig of my life.
LAPX: Were you playing a young Dick Sergeant or Dick York?
Mumy: (emphatic) Dick York. You know, that episode holds up pretty well. I saw it recently and think I did a pretty good Dick York, but just the fact that I could play her husband, I loved that. Brigitte Bardot – I was the first American actor to get an on-screen kiss from Brigitte Bardot, so that was very cool. She was lovely. That was the first time I’d ever seen anyone with an entourage.
Jimmy Stewart was one of the biggest movie stars in the world, but he might as well have been the Good Humor man, he was so down to earth, always just hanging with me playing baseball and goofing around with the crew. A lot of those people – Lucille Ball – all those people I worked with were very grounded. I’m not saying Brigitte Bardot was snobby in any way because she wasn’t. But she had an entourage. It was like Miss Diva Reality, where she had this whole group of people around her taking care to make sure everything was the way it was supposed to be for her.
LAPX: At that moment in time, she was a huge international star.
Mumy: She still is. We re-communicated about a decade ago. As you probably know, she is very much involved in animal rights, which is something I am also passionate about. We signed fifty 8×10’s of the two of us from Dear Brigitte and all of the proceeds for the sale of those pics went directly to her animal foundation. We exchanged some lovely letters, and she sent a nice note as a follow-up.
LAPX: Jimmy Stewart’s affable nature is legendary. But is it true he once said you were the only child actor who was ever worth a damn?
Mumy: Yes! That was in an interview that he gave to TV Guide, and it was several years after the making of Dear Brigitte. It wasn’t to promote the film, and it was a very pleasant surprise. Over the years, we continued to exchange Christmas cards and spoke every once in a while. He was the best of the best. His wife Gloria was just a doll.
LAPX: I know you’re a sci-fi fan now, but were you a science fiction fan when you were making Lost in Space?
Mumy: I was a super hero / comic book addict from the age of four til this day. Will Robinson was just perfect for me. Here’s this guy – you’re ten years old – you get this cool little super hero suit. You get a laser gun and you get to use it! You get to save everybody week after week after week. You program the Robot; you fly the ship. What’s not to love? I would be Will Robinson tomorrow if the opportunity presented itself. I never had a bad day on the show, and I loved everybody on it. I’m still ridiculously close with the cast. I was with Angela today, I talk with Mark and Marta. I talked with June on her birthday.
LAPX: June just turned what, 90?
Mumy: 91. We had a long talk and you know what she said to me? She said, “I feel like I’m in my late 30’s” and I believe it. She said, “If someone had told me when I was in my late 30’s, ‘You see that woman over there? She’s 91′ I would have thought, ‘Oh, I can’t relate to her’ but it’s not like that at all. Nothing has really changed. I just have to slow down a little bit.” But she’s an amazing woman.
LAPX: I guess the older we get, the more we all feel that way.
Mumy: Oh, absolutely. I feel the passing of time a little bit. I mean, I’m not gonna run a mile anymore, and if I’m gigging on stage for two hours, I will probably play a Telecaster instead of a much heavier Les Paul.
LAPX: I’d like to ask if you have any special memories of the show, but I suspect that is the subject of the new book you co-authored with Angela, Lost (And Found) in Space.
Mumy: Um, yeah – good answer. (Laughter)
LAPX: Without giving away the store, what can you tell us about the book?
Mumy: The book was a true labor of love. The stories that we share are true, and they are not exaggerated. It’s 200 pages full of never seen and rare photographs and our memories of working with the cast and the crew. A lot of pictures are behind the scenes, so you can really get a glimpse of what it was like to make the show. It’s not just, ‘Oh, here’s a great pic of Dr. Smith with Will and the Robot” although those are in there too. It’s the 50th anniversary and at times it feels like 50 years, but most of the time it feels like 5 years ago.
I have a very good memory about that project, and I guess that’s because I was 10 when we started it and 14 when it went off the air. Those are such formative years. And let’s face it, I had a lot to do on Lost in Space. Angela and I both agreed, “Let’s do the book while we still remember it.”
LAPX: Angela did another book, called Styling the Stars, about fashion in the films based on photos culled from the archives of 20th Century Fox.
Mumy: Yes, and that’s a beautiful book.
LAPX: Did Styling the Stars provide a springboard for Lost (And Found) in Space?
Mumy: Yeah, there was a relation. I think her Styling the Stars book was a catalyst for Lost (And Found) in Space because what she initially proposed we do was to put out a book of the wardrobe photographs from Lost in Space. These were photos which were never meant to be seen by the public. But with the 50th Anniversary coming up, I said, “Let’s tell the whole story and really get into it.”
Kevin Burns has been controlling the Irwin Allen projects for a long time. Kevin had – very luckily – all the original negatives; all the old proof sheets, neatly organized, and he made them available to us. So, we spent a week going through thousands of pictures with a magnifying glass, looking for shots which had never been published before.
It’s interesting how an image you haven’t seen can trigger a memory you may have forgotten.
There are so many classic images from Lost in Space that you’ve seen repeatedly over the last 50 years, but those are a finite thing and may no longer cause a reaction. When you’re looking at a proof sheet from that same day, or even that same photo session, you might see something and say, ‘Oh, yeah – that guy. Remember what a jerk he was?’ or whatever. It opened up a lot of memories. Our brains are like computers with a massive amount of information stored, and sometimes it takes a certain keystroke to open up a particular file.
LAPX: I got the impression from Angela that the atmosphere on the set was a pretty good one.
Mumy: It was a great set, and I’ve been on not great sets. I’m not gonna say that in the three-plus years that we filmed the series, that people didn’t have a bad day every once in a while. We talk about this in the book. Certainly, Guy Williams wasn’t happy that he had signed on to play the hero in an adventure show, then became relegated to a supporting role to Dr. Smith’s comedic thing. Obviously, agents talked to business affairs people and compromises were made. But I can swear to you that nobody ever stormed off of the set or refused to come out of their dressing room. And even when the show turned because of its tonality, Guy and June and Jonathan Harris all got along. There wasn’t a splintering of the cast into camps. Obviously, Jonathan became the star of the show, but that never meant he and Guy did not get along. They were consummate professionals.
Look, you get paid by the episode when you work on a television show. I did Babylon 5 for five years, and I can tell you that sometimes it’s a lot more fun to get the same paycheck for working one day a week instead of five. There are times when you work in every scene and that’s great, and there are times when it’s really tiring.
LAPX: Some years after Lost in Space was cancelled, you approached Irwin Allen with a story idea about how to bring the Robinson’s home. Irwin nixed your storyline, saying he had his own ideas. Can you tell us what happened?
Mumy: No, no, Irwin didn’t have his own ideas. That’s not the case.
First of all, that project – the epilogue – is included as a bonus on the Lost in Space Blu-ray, so 38 years later we did get to do it with the cast and I’m very happy with the way it turned out.
What happened was, in 1980, I wrote this script and called Irwin. But I didn’t call Irwin until I had called the rest of the cast and gotten their feedback. I had also gone fishing at CBS because I thought it would be a perfect movie of the week. They were doing Gilligan’s Island gets rescued, etc.; all of these vintage shows were getting resolved. Andy Siegel, who was a production assistant on Lost in Space, ended up being a powerful dude at CBS in the 1980’s. I went to Andy and said, “Hey, I’ve got this idea”. Andy was into it and very supportive. Once I had my ducks in a row, I called Irwin.
In retrospect, I probably didn’t play it as smart as I should. Irwin had created the show, he produced it; it was his property – not mine. His response to me at that time was simply, “I don’t do television anymore. If I ever want to go back to Lost in Space, it would be with an original idea of mine, not yours. And if I were to read your script, there are only a handful of ways the project could go, so I won’t read your script if you send it to me, because I don’t want you saying later on that I plagiarized your idea.” It was just Irwin being protective of his own property, but at the time it hurt my feelings because it was something I did because I wanted to do it, not because I needed to pay the bills. That was the last time I talked to him. It wasn’t a great feeling for me, but he was probably right.
LAPX: Pulling the plug on a made for TV movie may be a perfect segue to ask about the news that Netflix has ordered 13 new episodes of a reboot of Lost in Space. Would you share your thoughts on that project?
Mumy: I can’t really share my thoughts, because I haven’t read it and so much is going to boil down to the chemistry of who they cast and the tone of direction. Think about our show: The music was by John Williams. Do you realize how powerful those themes are and how that played into the success of our show. The Robot, which was designed by Robert Kinoshita – who also designed Robby the Robot for Forbidden Planet – was an iconic design which worked so well.
So I don’t know what this reboot will be like. I know the tone which was described to me sounded good. They got a lot of money to make it, so I hope they make it well.
There was a pilot made some time ago, and I don’t mean to hurt anybody’s feelings, but it was really bad. As for the feature film that was made back in 1998? Look, they all did their best, but that was really bad, too.
LAPX: I have to tell you that I purposely skipped the movie, because the ads looked abysmal. As a fan of the show, I didn’t want to sully my memories.
Mumy: I absolutely understand my personal objectivity about how to do Lost In Space anew is highly questionable, because I’ve written the comic book, I’ve written scripts, I’ve dealt with those characters. So I have my vision of it, and someone else will do something completely different, and I hope it works. One of the main things about Lost in Space was there was humor within the situation. If they could do something that was similar to the first season, but still had the heart and some of the humor of the third season, it would be great. I’m rooting for it. I’d like to be a part of it in some way – I think. You really have to say to yourself, ‘Do you want to be a part of that or not?’ Who knows. It might be 10 hours on Netflix or it might be 10 years. Look, we did what was called three seasons of Lost in Space, but it was 84 episodes. In today’s world of TV, that is about seven seasons.
LAPX: As an actor, though, you pretty much know if a show is working.
Mumy: True, but an actor is a chess piece for the director and a director, a chess piece for a producer. That’s the layers of the cake. You may be a great actor, but that doesn’t mean you can salvage a questionable project.
LAPX: We’ve covered a lot of ground here. I’m looking forward to reading the book.
LAPX: And this coming weekend you’ll be doing Alien Con?
Mumy: Yes, as I said, I’m a producer on Ancient Aliens, and that’s where that project stems from. Most of the cast of Lost in Space will be there.
LAPX: Is there anything else we should know about?
Mumy: Yeah, I have some films coming out, some music videos and a new album coming out in November. There is always something new.
LAPX: It’s a good life, isn’t it?
Mumy: Real good.