Friday, February 6, 2015

Sci Fi Trifles: Lost in Space was the End of Guy Williams' Acting Career

Actor Guy Williams is well known by fans of classic sci fi television for his portrayal of Professor John Robinson on all three seasons of Lost in Space.  But did you know that series (often ranked among the Top 10 worst sci fi shows ever) was effectively the end of his career as an actor?

Guy Williams (born Armando Joseph Catalano to Italian parents) began acting in the late 1940's and had mostly bit roles for the first ten years of his career (including an appearance as a cop in the B-Movie "classic" I Was a Teenage Werewolf).  His career jumped up to the next level, though, when he was offered the lead role for Walt Disney's Zorro in the late 50's and he would continue with that series until the early 60's.  After that show had ended, he had starring roles in two minor movies as well as a short stint on TV's Bonanza before he was offered the lead in Irwin Allen's Lost in Space.   He played Professor John Robinson who was the patriarch of the spacebound Robinson family and he was originally supposed to be one of the focal characters of the series.  However, Jonathan Harris' Dr. Smith character proved more popular with the younger-skewing audience and the show started to focus more on the trio of Smith, the Robot, and the young Will Robinson as the scripts became more and more outlandish throughout the show's three season run.  Lost in Space was cancelled at the end of its third year and after sharing screen time with such absurd antagonists as space hillbillies, space ghosts, space werewolves, and a giant talking carrot, apparently Williams decided to call it a career.  He had done well in the stock market and with business investments and decided by the mid-70's to retire to Argentina, a country he had fallen in love with and which received him warmly because of his well-respected portrayal of Zorro. Williams has no acting credits to his name on after Lost in Space except for a 1980's German translation of The Prince and the Pauper which he had starred in on The Wonderful World of Disney in the early 60's.  And that was likely a very good move for him seeing the troubles that other well-known TV actors from the 60's had in finding roles after being typecast from the earlier shows they starred in.

One additional note: Williams actually came close to never playing the role of John Robinson in LiS.  He joined the cast of Bonanza in 1964 when Pernell Roberts wanted to leave the role of Adam Cartwright.  Williams played Will Cartwright and was set to become one of the co-leads on the show, but producers lured Roberts back and Williams' character was written off.  Had he stayed with the show, he likely would have never been considered for the Lost in Space lead as Bonanza remained on the air until 1973.  And if had followed that course, it would be interesting to ponder whether he would have retired at that the same point in his career.

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