Updated: September 03, 2006
JONATHAN HARRIS (LISA 1994)
"DR SMITH... IN A LAND CALLED OZ"
By Ian Stahlhut:
It's been 12 years but I still remember the time like it was yesterday.
As a committee member of Australia's Lost in Space fan club and a
budding young actor, I was in an absolute state when I learned that
Jonathan Harris was actually comming to Sydney to appear live on stage.
You see, like all the fans of the hit show Lost in Space, I had grown up
watching it. In Australia the series has the dubious record of being the
most repeated show in television history. We had no toys here in Oz, no
model of the Jupiter-2, or ray guns, just our imaginations and lego and
lots of bushland to play out our childhood version as the Robinsons after
school. I was always Will, and no one wanted to be Dr. Smith. As I got
older and became a serious film buff, I rediscovered the shows and homed
in to what an extraordinary performance Jonathan Harris gave to his
character. It was truly a one in a million. So sometime in 1992 I found
an art cinema screening episodes of Lost in Space and Star Trek on the
big screen for a few weekekends. I attended and met and be friended a
remarkable man named Glenn Ware, who I discovered had just founded
Australias first ever Lost in Space fan club. Eager to become involved
I attended each screening and wrote some small articles in the first fan
club magazine called Alpha Control. Glenn was a man of many surprises
and as the fan club base grew so did our venues. He soon had regular
conventions in a huge auditorium in Sydney with dealers, special
screenings and of course, episodes of Lost in Space on the big screen.
Now for those of you in America, let me tell you, at this time, we had
no cable television or video releases at the time, and Lost in Space
had ended it's television run after 39 reruns sometime in 1988. 1994
rolled along and to my utter astonishement, Glenn announced he was
bringing Jonathan Harris to Sydney for five shows at the Seymour
Centre Theatre. I was floored, and on my 31st birthday, March 5th,
there was the man actually walking into the theatre for rehearsals.
A small group of us were hired as minders for Jonathan during the shows.
We had small but important duties such as keeping the autograph lines
moving along and running up and down stairs with a mike inside the
auditorium for the question and answer part of his show. But that first
day, wow, there he was and you know he did not look all that different
to me. A bit older sure, but by God it was Dr. Smith. I was priveledged
to witness the great man rehearsing his dialogue with our Robot replica,
voiced by pre recorded cd by Dick Tufeld. Timing in comedy is everything
and Jonathan had a very lengthy sequence with the Robot early in his show
full of those famous illiteratives and insults. Around lunch time,
Jonathan took a break and sat right down beside me in the empty theatre.
He regailed me with his wonderous stories of old Hollywood and Marlon Brando
and so on. In retrospect Im sure he was testing me on the type of material
he was going to use in his one man show, did an Aussie know who so and so
actually was and so on. I did, because I was a pure theatre and old movie
buff and I loved talking with him first hand about the greats such as
Joan Crawford, who he told me in confidence, told him she could bed
actor Michael Rennie by lunch time when she appeared on a set of the
Third Man one day...she did (please don't tell anyone).
Well that day I got my first photo with Jonathan and later in the afternoon,
we took him out on a recreation of a famous old sailing ship "The Bounty" on
beautiful Sydney Harbour. Jonathan was a huge Opera buff and was just like
any gobsmacked tourist as we sailed majestically by the famous Sydney Opera
House. Several fans from the club had come along to welcome and meet the great
man, and he was charming, fun and always gracious. I took some marvelous video
tape of the day and treasure it very much. He once again invited me to sit with
him for a while, and I was thrilled. It is a peculiar feeling to have someone
like him to call your name out in that familiar voice as everone around you
reacts in awe. A few days later Jonathan began the rounds of the television
and radio stations. He appeared on more than seven radio shows and as many
television programs, always to great success and a few with the Robot. He
even made a brief flight down to Melbourne for a couple of shows there just
for a day.
Opening night was Monday March 14th 1994. We had a full house and the show
was already sold out for the next three nights. Preceeding his appearance
Glenn had edited a wonderful video montage of clips detailing Jonathans
entire television and film career. For the first time, Australian's caught
a glimpse of Jonathan in the Bill Dana Show, Bewitched, Bonanza and dozens
more clips, culminating with a hilarious sequence of Dr. Smith and the Robot
famous moments. Then the fog machine billowed and out rolled our Robot.
'Warning, Warning, Danger Danger" well that was it, the place erupted in
applause. "My sensors detect new and unusual life forms etc... then, "ladies
and gentleman Dr. Zachary Smith...Mr. Jonathan Harris! Jonathan appeared
from the curtain at the back and the place went nuts! There he was live in
front of us and it was hard to believe.
You know what his first words were? "Never fear, Smith is here !" That did it.
He had the audience in the palm of his hand for the next 90 minutes as he told
us the joys and highs and lows of being an actor in Hollywood, and of course
Lost in Space.
The show was captured professionally on a video by a crew and is a most enjoyable
viewing experience. my special duties came sometime after his 90 minute monologue
and after a brief intermission. Jonathan sat at a table in the centre of the stage
and invited the entire audience down to collect an autograph and a quick photo if
they liked, and the girls were invited to give him a kiss, and if anybody else has
the same idea...forget it! So I stood beside Jonathan for the next hour or so as
he signed litterally hundreds of autographs. Occassionally I took pictures of fans
with their cameras and Jonathan loved how I could quickly get them behind him, say
smile count to three and then...move on. He loved that! At the end of the show, I
shall never forget, it was just Jonathan and us workers, about ten people. "You
were all wonderful, thank you thank you....now, you!! (He was glaring at me)
come here!!! You were just wonderful, oh I want to marry you! Now don't get me
wrong folks, Jonathan despite his characters campness is not gay, but he and I
just clicked and he was being very theatrical towards me, and I melted. What a
great compliment. Well, we did five more shows, some more television and radio,
and then he had to go. The final night was sad, but I went home with the most
awsome memories of working with my idol. But wait, the next morning about 6:00 AM
I got a phone call from Glenn. "Ian, Jonathan was wondering if you would like
to come to his Hotel and join us for a farewell breakfast." Would I ? I flew
into Sydney, and there we were just four of us. Glenn and his girlfriend Sally,
me and Jonathan. He told me he was most impressed by my professionlism and sense
of humour, and we exchanged phone numbers and addresses. I even got try on the
famous ring which deflected the Astrogator in "Wild Adventure".
Jonathan left later that day, but true to his word, a letter appeared in the mail
from his home in Encino just a month later. To the day he passed away, Jonathan
and I wrote and phoned each other for the next nine years. I was thrilled we
actually met on two other seperate occassions which I will write about later. I
miss him very much, and to this day, count him as one of the truly great people I
have ever known. In my career in acting, I have met such greats as Tom Cruise,
Rex Harrison, Claudette Colbert, Lauren Bacall, Debbie Reynolds, Esther Williams
and many others. But none will ever have that special something extra that the late
great Jonathan Harris did. I miss him very much, all my best.