Updated: November 09, 2019
JONATHAN HARRIS PHOTO GALLERY #04
"Happy as a clam I am."
- Jonathan Harris - at the end of Lost in Space's first season.
The time: Spring 1965. the place: 20th Century-Fox Studios, Hollywood California. Irwin Allen, already a respected producer/writer/director is overseeing the construction of a $75,000 robot costume designed by Forbidden Planet alumnus Robert Kinoshita, a last minute addition to his new TV sci fi series Space Family Robinson, now re-titled Lost in Space. The powers that be also decided, upon viewing the "No Place To Hide" pilot that an additional character somewhere along the lines of "Treasure Island's" Long John Silver is needed as an irritant-someone to create conflict and more interesting storylines. The task of creating the character fell upon the very talented Shimon Wincelberg, who initially wanted an exotic name for the character but was advised by Allen to make it a simple American name and Dr. Zachary Smith was born.
Talented actors like Carroll O' Connor ("All in the Family") and Roger C. Carmel ("Star Trek" and "The Mothers-In-Law) were briefly considered but did not get the role. Instead, in one of the most fortuitous castings in television history, Allen chose Jonathan Harris to portray the space-age spy and saboteur. Jonathan initially refused to audition for the part, preferring Allen to watch and judge his previous performances on television but finally relented and for three seasons amazed and amused televison audiences the world over as Smith.
Who was this man who first appeared on Broadway in 1942 in "Heart of a City" and continued to entertain us until his untimely death in 2002? If a man's life is judged by his accomplishments Jonathan Harris' TV and screen credits demonstrated his incredible range of talent.
He was born Jonathan Charasuchin in the Bronx on November 6, 1914 and started his career as a pharmacist but soon switched to his first love-acting. His early film career was far from spectacular, appearing in small supporting roles in films like "Botany Bay," "The Big Fisherman," and and the never-released ":Catch Me If You Can", but it was on televison that his star began to shine. Allen had obviously seen Harris opposite Bill Dana in his self-titled TV series and with Michael Rennie in the "Third Man" and realized what an asset to his fledgling sci fi series Jonathan would be. Irwin's uncanny ability to to cast the right people in the right roles had paid off again and Jonathan Harris and his wicked alter-ego Dr. Smith were an instant audience favorite.
"Because of my stature-or status-I should've been top of the heap."
-Harris commenting on his "Special Guest Star" status in the credits in a 1990 Australian interview.
The character of Smith was originally conceived as the Robinsons' nemesis, ready to "liquidate" the intrepid family at a moment's notice. While this plotline would have opened a plethora of intriguing stories, it was determined that the viewing audience-and Jonathan himself-"Did not like this man." Ever so subtlely the character of Dr. Smith was altered very early on in the series to a less-than-fearsome comic relief of sorts.
"Jonathan certainly rules the roost."
-Mercedes Mc Cambridge during the filming of season one's "The Space Croppers" episode.
Amazingly, Harris had almost complete script control by the beginning of season two and thought nothing of deleting and re-writing entire scenes which was usually no sooner said than done. This was never done with malice or with the idea of stepping on any other actor's toes-Jonathan honestly believed he was improving the series and headed for higher ratings. If the public wanted more Smith, Will and the robot adventures that was what Jonathan and the sadly-neglected rest of the cast were going to give the audience.
Eventually Lost in Space was in danger of cancellation and Guy Williams and the rest of the cast complained . As a concession, when the re-vamped third season premiered in the fall of 1967 not only were the credits and costumes changed, but Harris' scenes diminished to allow more time for the principal actors to show up and actually do something. Jonathan made up for less screen time by often using the newly-created Space Pod to travel from world to world and from the Jupiter 2 to other alien vehicles.
Allen had other ideas for boosting the ratings, the most bizarre by far a purple llama named Willoughby who would join the Robinsons for the rest of the season and hopefully into season four. This idea was shot down by Jonathan when, in test shots, the very lively llama attacked his unprotected crotch. In the summer all of Allen's efforts were for naught as CBS cancelled the series.
After the demise of Space, Jonathan Harris kept busy, appearing in shows like "Night Gallery", "The Ghost and Mrs. Muir", "Bewitched," "Lancer," "Sanford and Son," and "Land of the Giants." In the 1970's, Harris tapped into the lucrative cartoon voice market, adding his talents to cartoon shows like "The Three Musketeers" and "My Favorite Martians" as well as the voice of the evil robot Lucifer in "Battlestar Galactica". Harris' later years found him again in great demand, lending his voice to animated movie and television features like "Freakazoid!," and Pixar films like "Toy Story 2" . Lost in Space and Twilight Zone conventions re-introduced Jonathan to his loving fans who flocked to his table for autographs, photos, and salty anecdotes.
Thirty-two years after the premiere of Lost in Space a planned reunion and TV movie featuring all of the surviving cast was being scripted. Harris, eagerly looking forward to this television adventure after reprising his Dr. Smith role in "Lost in Space Forever," never got the chance. Due to a blood clot in his heart, Jonathan passed away on November 3 2002, ending forever the return of the Robinsons to Earth.
These pages are an attempt to give Jonathan Harris the love and respect he so richly deserves as one of televsion's finest character actors ever.