Lucky kids! There was no such thing as Comic Con when I was growing up. The closest thing was when the clown from the local kid’s show sat at a table in a department store and gamely signed 8×10 glossies of himself and let parents take pictures of him with their little darlings who usually marked the moment by deciding the clown’s lap was a good place to dispose of their lunches.
But many years later I scored a meet-up with a true TV sci-fi bad guy and, to say the least, it wasn’t what I expected.
As a kid I was a regular viewer of “Lost in Space.” The stories and effects were cool for that era, but what really kept horny pre-teens like me engaged were the form-fitting outfits worn by the female cast members–especially Angela Cartwright, who had grown up quite nicely since her days as the precocious daughter on “Make Room for Daddy.” Oh, mama!
So while I was on an assignment with CNN in Atlanta and received a call from the national assignment desk that the Showbiz Tonight program needed me to pick up an interview with a “Lost in Space” cast member who was in town, I had thoughts of quality, fantasy time with Ms. Cartwright, or maybe Marta Kristen, the luscious blonde who played Dr. Judy Robinson. No such luck. I was told I was to report to the Marriott Hotel in Gwinnett County, in suburban Atlanta where none other than Jonathan Harris, who played the icky Dr. Zachary Smith would be waiting for me. Just c’mon up to his room.
My crew and I knocked on his door and rather than being greeted by a villainous vulture known for his devious deeds, the man leading us into his suite gave us hugs, big, BIG hellos and appeared less a bad guy than some incarnation of Angela Lansbury.
Dressed in a grey sport coat, silk shirt and ascot, thespian Harris shooed us into the suite with sweeping waves of his elastic arms, wide eyes, arching brows and a mellifluous order to “sit! sit! eat something!” as he pointed to a table full of 15 kinds of danish, bagels, butter, jams and jellies.
We made small talk as the crew set up, but there was no discussion of plot lines or cast trivia. The warm and tender host only wanted to hear of my family and love life and career aspirations. “Oh, silly boy!,” he laughed. “Once that camera rolls you can ask me that nonsense about the show and I promise you I will make up some simply wonderful answers that will make you a hero at the station!”
That’s exactly what happened. I really only had a few questions supplied to me by the Showbiz Tonight people, targeted at whatever angle they had in mind. The interview lasted but a few minutes, but all this time I can’t get over being in a hotel room with the dastardly Dr. Zachary Smith, who turned out to be a pussycat in every sense of the word.
Sadly, there are no photos. Selfies didn’t exist yet since early cell phones were the size of Rhode Island and barely made calls, let along take photos. That’s fine. I will always have that image in my mind’s eye of being lost in amazement at being in a hotel room with the ebullient nice guy who played the bad guy, who was Lost in Space.