Marta Kristen from 'Lost in Space' can be found at Pensacon
Marta Kristen was a busy working actor in the early 1960s when she landed her signature role. She played Judy Robinson, the oldest daughter on the original “Lost in Space” TV series. After that show she concentrated on raising a family while still appearing as a guest star on TV through the 80s and 90s. Marta Kristen will be in Pensacola later this week as a guest at Pensacon.
Marta Kristen: “I was doing, well I did almost all the shows on television during that time. I was always the ingénue that they would call to do, like 'My Three Sons' and 'The Greatest Show on Earth.' They knew that I could work, they knew that I was able to understand what was going on on the set, they could depend on me. And also, I was very, I would say, I fit the Hollywood mold at the time. The blond, blue-eyed, cute, very I think sexy, although I didn’t know it at the time. I didn’t know that I was beautiful or that I was sexy. But Irwin Allen, when we met, for some reason, I don’t know why, but I wore a pink suit and big, bangled, round-hoop earrings. And he just loved that. He loved the color. He also, of course, loved my work. He was testing other women for the role but I think he fell in love with me at first sight when he saw what I was wearing. And he had (also) seen one of the shows that I had done with Jack Palance, 'The Greatest Show on Earth' and he just loved my performance. So, there I was.”
Bob Barrett: “How did you feel as the series evolved? After that first season, it became (a bit more campy) than it had started out (or) that you had signed up for.
MK: “That’s true. I was disappointed in many ways. Because, as I said, I really love acting. I knew that acting was what I wanted to do all my life. When I came from Norway, from an orphanage in Norway and I got off the airplane to my adoptive parents, my mother said I walked off the airplane like Charlie Chaplin. And I loved singing and dancing so I knew that’s what I wanted to do. So as the show progressed we were opposite 'Batman,' and 'Batman' struck this note of camp. And also Jonathon Harris, (who played) Dr. Smith decided that he was going to be fired from the show or somehow gotten rid of if he continued to be the darker Dr. Smith. So he changed his character in so many different ways and started rewriting his character. Which was very smart of him. It’s true, he couldn’t sustain the darkness that he was playing. I mean he killed a man (in the show’s pilot). That was all forgotten. Also, the network didn’t want (close male/female relationships). You know, the mother and father and Don (West) and myself. They decided that it was a children’s series and they didn’t want any kind of romance. So, that all went out the window, all of the things that I had been promised had been stopped by the network. And Irwin was pretty much a slave to what the network wanted. And we were getting very, very good ratings. Also, people began to enjoy the combination of Will, Dr. Smith, and the robot relationship. And it was sweet in some ways, but it certainly stopped any dreams that I had of getting married to Don and having a family of my own. You know anything like that was just out of the picture.
BB: “You mentioned you had good ratings and you really did. It was still a popular show after the third season but, there it goes (it was canceled). Was that a surprise to the cast?
MK: “It certainly was. I remember exactly where I was when I got the phone call saying ‘Do you know that we’re canceled?’ I think it was Billy (Mumy) who called me and told me. And I said ‘No! What happened?’ Apparently, the head of CBS wanted Irwin to show him five different treatments for (future episodes) and Irwin was busy with so many other things. And I also think he got tired of us. Because we were all complaining about wanting to do more. And Irwin just refused to give (the treatments to the network). At that time I think one person or two people could make a decision about a show, even though it was popular. Irwin thought that he would make it up with “Land of the Giants” (but) it didn’t have the same feeling that we had (on Lost in Space). I think the reason why we were so popular then and it sustained to some degree now, is because we were really a family show. We really cared about each other. Even though at the end of the day I didn’t have that much to do (on the show), we still ended up being a unit. And how many science fiction adventure family series were there? None. And there was a sense of belonging and a sense of caring in the show. It resonated with families who could sit around and watch it together.
BB: “I want to talk about another role that you had. You played a mermaid in the classic movie “Beach Blanket Bingo”. And I mean Tom Hanks and Daryl Hannah had nothing on you and Bonehead. Could you tell us about making that movie because I’m fascinated by that movie, it had such an incredible cast.”
MK: “Thank you yes. It was the time of the beach party movies. And of course, Southern California with the surfer lifestyle was a wonderful way to start these beach party movies. And “Beach Blanket Bingo” was, I thought, one of the best, of course, I’m a little prejudiced. I was and still am a lover of the ocean and swimming for it was sort of a perfect part for me. We filmed it in November, which is not the warmest month here in California. But I loved playing the mermaid, I loved being a part of Frankie (Avalon) and Annette (Funicello), that whole genre of film. I was very excited to be a part of that and I knew a lot of the people who had small roles and were extras in it because I lived near State Beach which is where a lot of the surfer people hung out. And my parents had a place up in Paradise Cove so we filmed a lot there. I was very honored to be a part of that group and all of the amazing actors in it. And Buster Keaton. I couldn’t believe I was acting with one of the great filmmakers of all time. To me, I was speechless when I met him. Because I had seen so many of his silent films (and) I understood that he did everything. He directed and produced and acted and did all of his own stunt work. It was a remarkable, remarkable experience for me to be a part of that.
BB: “Well if you want to stick around after Pensacon, Frankie Avalon is actually going to be playing a concert in Pensacola in April. So we could have a reunion.”
MK: “I love Frankie Avalon. I just saw him recently and we were laughing and talking about doing 'Beach Blanket Bingo' and all of his experiences there. And I swear to God he doesn’t look any different. He’s a little greyer, but that’s about it. I think he had 10 children, something crazy like that and that’s wonderful for him. Yes, he’s such a nice, nice man. And gentle, a gentleman.”
BB: “If he has 10 children I know why he’s still working.”
MK: “Yes, exactly."
BB: “As a young woman entering the acting profession when you did, do you think there are the same pressures and opportunities for young women entering acting today? Are they different? Are they worse? How do you see the change in the industry?”
MK: “Well a big change is how women are treated. I had a lot of encounters and I couldn’t believe the men who I had to fight off, and near-rape and the way that young women were treated as sex objects. None of that happened in 'Lost in Space' or most of the films that I did. But in interviews and auditions. I remember one time I was grabbed by a producer and pulled down on his lap and I said ‘I’m 16! I’m 16!' I didn’t know what to do except to say ‘No, no, no, we don’t do that!’. The opportunities were more limited when I was young. I was lucky in so many ways that I was able to work as much as I did. But you have to stand on your talent, ultimately, when you’re given the opportunity. There’s certainly a lot more content out there (today) so there should be more opportunity for people, but I hope that women have less difficulty standing on their own. Stand on their own two feet and say ‘I’m a woman, I’m here, I’m talented, I’m smart, I can do this (and) I have ideas’. You have to respect that, you have to admire it and not have to worry about fighting about sexual content and innuendos and harassment.”
Marta Kristen will be a guest at Pensacon this Friday through Sunday in downtown Pensacola.