A '60s show, 'Lost in Space,' took off today Television: The sci-fi series saw nothing far-fetched about space colonization in 1997.

October 16, 1997|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN STAFF

The future arrives today.

The future as imagined by Irwin Allen, at least. For it was today, Oct. 16, 1997, that the spaceship Jupiter II blasted off, taking Prof. John Robinson and his family away from an overpopulated Earth to the friendly -- and roomier -- confines of Alpha Centauri.

Unfortunately for them, stowaway Zachary Smith had other things in mind; his efforts at sabotage ended up throwing the Jupiter II hopelessly off course and dooming the Robinsons to be forever Lost In Space.

Yep, one of TV's campiest classics set itself in a future that begins today. What followed wasn't exactly profound television, but it was plenty of fun: the Robot, shouting "Danger Will Robinson!"; the conniving Dr. Smith, whom veteran ham Jonathan Harris turned into TV's most sniveling bad guy; and young Will, forever gullible enough to fall for Dr. Smith's shenanigans, forever resourceful enough to figure a way of saving his family.

"I loved every minute of that show," says Bill Mumy, who was 10 when he started playing the youngest member of the space family Robinson. "Will Robinson was a real hero; he was the genius who saved everyone's butt every week. He was the man. What kid wouldn't love doing that?"

Harris, who was given carte blanche in his portrayal of Dr. Smith, savored the experience.

"Everything you saw me do I wrote or re-wrote," says Harris. "The relationship with the robot -- I did that, and I'm very proud of that. Who ever had a robot for a straight man? It worked beautifully, and it became a crazy, wonderful thing."

1997 must have seemed awfully far off back in 1965 when producer-director Allen -- the master of all things grand and glorious and overblown in Hollywood -- put together the pilot episode of "Lost In Space," which aired Wednesday nights on CBS for three seasons.

Far enough off, perhaps, that almost anything could become real by then. After all, President Kennedy had pledged to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade.

"It didn't seem like a stretch at all," says Mumy, who continues to act, most recently as a regular on "Babylon 5." "That was an extreme challenge to the space program, and we achieved it. To think that 30 years later we would have a colonization experiment is not much of a stretch."

Time has treated "Lost In Space" well. About 30,000 fans showed up for a 25th anniversary commemoration in 1990, a big-screen adaptation (starring Gary Oldman as Dr. Smith) is scheduled for next year, and cable's Sci-Fi channel is commemorating today's launch day with a 13-episode marathon beginning at 3 p.m.

"If you had told me 32 years ago," Harris says from his Southern California home, "that this would become a cult classic worldwide, and that I in my dotage would become a cult hero, I would have gotten the greatest laugh of my life."

Pub Date: 10/16/97

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