Archive for the Irwin Allen Category


Posted in 2012, 60s Television, Aliens, GIANTS!, Irwin Allen, Mark Onspaugh Columns, Remote Outpost, Time Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 12, 2012 by knifefighter

Remote Outpost by Mark Onspaugh

Hello from the Outpost, located on a small planetoid that is actually a dead generation starship which is hurtling out toward the edge of the galaxy… And we’re all out of Poptarts™ and peanut butter……And now back to the science fiction shows of Irwin Allen!

Our third entry from Irwin Allen was my favorite show of his, THE TIME TUNNEL. Ironically, it is also his least successful, lasting only one season from September 9, 1966 to April 7, 1967. The Time Tunnel is a secret government installation under the Arizona desert, code named Project Tic-Toc. The only way inside was via a large secret panel in the desert floor; when it opened, a car could descend into the complex. The Tic-Toc base was a futuristic series of complexes 800 floors deep and employing over 36,000 people (“12 thousand people in each of those complexes”). Its design was inspired by the complex of the Krell in FORBIDDEN PLANET.

In the pilot, a senator tours the facility and concludes it is a waste of money—he is going to shut it down. To prevent this, headstrong young physicist Anthony “Tony” Newman, dressed in slacks and a swingin’ green turtleneck, powers up the giant device all alone and plunges in—and lands on the deck of the Titanic. (Ironic horn sound effect here). Tony tries to convince the Captain that the ship is doomed, and is thrown in the brig.  Dr. Doug Philips is outfitted with a suit from the period and sent after Tony. He is successfully placed on the Titanic, armed with a newspaper that shows the Titanic sank (Remember, the DVD with Leo and Kate hadn’t been invented, yet). The Captain (Michael Rennie of THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL 1951) throws the newspaper away, and throws Doug in the brig as well.

Tony and Doug do manage to escape and help evacuate the sinking ship—just when it seems like our heroes will perish, the crack team of scientists at the Time Tunnel pluck them from the icy waters and send them tumbling through psychedelic corridors of time, to land in the next historically-vital time and place. They never land somewhere insignificant or devoid of people; they never run into anyone that doesn’t speak English; and their clothes were always clean and fresh (Doug’s even update to a more modern look). And, since Irwin Allen was at the helm, they run into their share of aliens. Allen  seemed especially fond of spray painting people silver and putting them in a spacesuit or metallic garb – voila, alien!

THE TIME TUNNEL starred James Darren as Tony and Robert Colbert as Doug.  James Darren was a handsome fellow who was in a lot of GIDGET movies before becoming lost in time… He later found himself working as a cop on a series called T.J. HOOKER (1982-1986), opposite some unknown named William Shatner.  Robert Colbert (no relation to Stephen) was a workman-like actor who appeared in films like MACABRE (1958) and guest-starred on about a zillion series.

Back at the lab, always reliable Whit Bissell was Lt. General Heywood Kirk, John Zaremba was Dr. Raymond Swain and the lovely Lee Merriwether was Dr. Ann MacGregor. Whit Bissell is best remembered for turning Michael Landon into a Lettermen-jacketed lycanthrope in I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF (1957), but he was also Dr. Frankenstein in the same year’s I WAS A TEENAGE FRANKENSTEIN —clearly, a bad influence on teens. Whit also appeared in THE TIME MACHINE (1960) and SOYLENT GREEN (1973).  John Zaremba appeared in EARTH VS THE FLYING SAUCERS (1956) and 20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH (1957).  Lee Merriwether was Catwoman in the BATMAN movie of 1966 (she was neither as sexy as Julie Newmar or Eartha Kitt on the subsequent TV series). She, like the others, did a ton of TV, but I seemed to confuse her with Mariette Hartley, who seduced Mr. Spock in “All Our Yesterdays”.  Sorry, Lee.

Dr. Ann was in love with Doug, but tried to hide her feelings—though very skilled at her job, various men usually pushed her out of the way with impatience to “get the job done.” THE TIME TUNNEL relied on the notion that “the past is immutable and cannot be altered,” a notion that most of us geeks deny. Every week, Dick Tufeld (who voiced the Robot in LOST IN SPACE) would intone: “Two American scientists are lost in the swirling maze of past and future ages, during the first experiments of America’s greatest and most secret project, the Time Tunnel. Tony Newman and Doug Phillips now tumble helplessly toward a new fantastic adventure, somewhere along the infinite corridors of time.” Not so infinite, THE TIME TUNNEL only lasted thirty episodes, and the finale put Doug and Tony back on the Titanic… How’s that for a nice one finger salute to the loyal audience?


Irwin Allen’s final excursion into 60s sci-fi was LAND OF THE GIANTS, a series that ran two seasons from September 22, 1968 to March 22, 1970. LAND OF THE GIANTS takes place in the “futuristic” year 1983. Passengers are flying from L.A. to London on the sub-orbital vehicle The Spindrift. The Spindrift passes through a strange cloud and the group crashes on what is either a parallel Earth or an unknown planet in our own solar system (this is never definitively stated and the science is even sloppier than other Allen productions). Anyway, everything on this unknown planet is twelve times larger than our heroes are used to. (If this were a roast on Comedy Central, now would be the time you’d send your kids out of the room.)  Apparently, other Earth ships have crashed here before, and the Giants (as our heroes call them) are on the lookout for “little people.” It seems our technology is ahead of theirs, yet the Giants seemed to have mastered cloning and teleportation… Huh?

Our heroes consisted of Captain Steve Burton, Co-Pilot Dan Erickson, Stewardess Heather Young, surly engineer Mark Wilson, pretty Valerie Ames Scott, young boy Barry Lockridge (and his dog Chipper) and the somewhat mysterious and villainous Commander Fitzhugh (a bank robber on the lam). Allen really tried to appeal to all markets with this one—all the men except Fitzhugh were handsome, Valerie wore low-cut tops and mini-skirts (a bit impractical for jungle life and adventurin’) and the relationship between young Barry and Fitzhugh was pretty much identical to Will and Dr. Smith on LOST IN SPACE.

Gary Conway was Captain Steve, and he was the pimply monster in I WAS A TEENAGE FRANKENSTEIN, mentioned above.  He also appeared in HOW TO MAKE A MONSTER (1958).  Co-Pilot Dan was played by Don Marshall, who was Boma in “The Galileo Seven” on STAR TREK TOS (the officer who mouths off constantly to stoic Mr. Spock) and was a doctor in THE THING WITH TWO HEADS (1972), where the head of rich bigot Ray Milland is sewn onto the already-headed body of death row inmate Rosie Grier – why this never became a sitcom, I don’t know. The rest of the cast had many series credits, as actors in Irwin Allen series tend to do, but I would be remiss to all my knife-fightin’ pals if I did not give you a most amazing credit for actress Deanna Lund, who played pretty Valerie Ames Scott.  In 1989 Lund would have a role in the movie ELVES, which has this synopsis on IMDB:

“A young woman discovers that she is the focus of an evil Nazi experiment involving selective breeding and summoned elves, an attempt to create a race of supermen. She and two of her friends are trapped in a department store with an elf, and only Dan Haggerty, as the renegade loose-cannon Santa Claus, can save them.”  Wow.  And again, wow.

(NOTE: By the way, they apparently took a lot of “cheesecake” photos of Deanna Lund with a model of the ship, but nothing of the men—sorry, girls! As far as I can tell—ah, the pains of research—they didn’t do this for any of Irwin Allen’s other shows…)

Beyond the premise that the planet was filled with super-sized people, pets, appliances and breakfast foods, the writers didn’t delve very deeply in the culture, history or politics of the place. The society of the Giants was totalitarian but not very oppressive or militaristic, and most episodes concerned the castaways trying to get home, someone getting caught that had to be rescued, or the Captain preventing them all getting home because the method in question would also allow the Giants access to our world.

The budget per episode was $250,000, which was a record at the time. John “Johnny” Williams wrote the score, which I think may be his worst work—it’s not at all memorable (I could recall the other themes without playing them). The show was cancelled after 51 episodes, and ended without a cliffhanger or the castaways returning home. Despite the presence of Deanna Lund, I grew bored with the series and after just two or three episodes I looked for better fare… I’m sure you did, too. (Looking at the schedule for Sunday nights in 1968, I probably just waited for The FBI, followed by The Smothers Brothers…)

Outpost… out.


(Static… garbled swearing… feedback) Just a second! Before we lose contact again, I wanted to comment on a modern-day series, AWAKE, the Jason Isaacs series that was cancelled after one season.

(SPOILER ALERT) As you know, the series concerned a police detective who survived a terrible car accident and lives two realities—in one, his wife survived and his son died. In the other, his wife is gone and his son lived.  He goes to sleep in one reality and wakes up in the other. He has a different partner in each, and a different therapist, each trying to tell him the other world is but a dream.  Often, insights gained in one help him with a different case in the other.  I loved this show—it was creative, well-written and had some wonderful actors.  My wife (the lovely Tobey Crockett) had the theory that Detective Michael Britten was in a coma—I loved that—and someday he would wake to find both his wife and son alive… Perhaps the conspiracy behind the accident (involving heroin and other cops, including his Captain) would be real, and he would have solved the whole thing while unconscious… beautiful.

So what was the conclusion? IT WAS ALL A DREAM!… Both realities were dreams within a dream that he had in one night – he woke to find his wife and son alive, no accident, and presumably no conspiracy.  Show creator Kyle Killen said he always considered one of the realities a dream, but hadn’t decided which one when the cancel order came on down.  Now, I am a forgiving, easygoing feller – I liked the conclusion of LOST while others wanted to hunt down everyone from the creators to the caterers… But this… A dream, really?  Ack—at least give us a dream while the guy is on a ship to Mars, ala the American version of LIFE ON MARS (2006-2007).  I expected more from you, Kyle, who gave us LONE STAR (2010) and who is supposed to reboot Daredevil… A dream—SHEESH!

Outpost… out. (This time for real)

© Copyright 2012 by Mark Onspaugh



Posted in 2012, 60s Television, Aliens, Classic TV Shows, Irwin Allen, Mark Onspaugh Columns, Remote Outpost with tags , , , , , , , on June 5, 2012 by knifefighter

Remote Outpost by Mark Onspaugh
PART 1 of 2

Hello from the Outpost, located on a small planetoid that is actually a dead generation starship which is hurtling out toward the edge of the galaxy… And we’re all out of Poptarts™ and peanut butter……

Today I wanted to talk about the science fiction of Irwin Allen.  Allen never created a franchise to rival STAR TREK or STAR WARS, but his own name became a recognizable brand in the 60s and 70s. He is responsible for two of the most iconic disaster movies in the history of cinema, THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE (1972) and THE TOWERING INFERNO (1974)—both loaded with stars and special effects.  But before turning his attention to upside-down ocean liners and mega-skyscrapers aflame, Irwin Allen was ruling the small screen with family-oriented sci-fi adventures that were filled with great props, good actors, silly concepts, riotous color and little or no concern for the laws of physics, chemistry, biology—hell, any of the sciences that makes up science fiction.

The first and most successful of these shows was VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA. It ran from September 14, 1964 to March 31, 1968. At 110 episodes, it was the decade’s longest running science fiction program with continuing characters.

The series was about a futuristic atomic submarine, the SSRN SEAVIEW, which was based at the Nelson Institute of Marine Research (NIMR) in Santa Barbara, California.  When not patrolling the world’s oceans, the sub was moored some 500 feet below NIMR in a secret submarine base carved out of solid rock. The Seaview was officially designed for undersea marine research, but its secret mission was to defend the Earth from all terrestrial (mad scientists, dictators, Amway salesmen) and extraterrestrial threats in the then-future of the 1980s.

VOYAGE starred Richard Basehart as Admiral Nelson (designer of the SSRN Seaview) and David Hedison as Captain Crane. Basehart and Hedison did an amazing amount of television, and there never seemed to be a period where they were not working.  Basehart was Ishmael in John Huston’s MOBY DICK (1956, script by Ray Bradbury) and was the Narrator on KNIGHT RIDER (1982-1986). Hedison, of course, was the eponymous character in THE FLY (1958) and also played Felix Leiter in LIVE AND LET DIE (1973) and LICENCE TO KILL (1989).

Based on his movie of the same name (released in 1961 with Walter Pigeon, he of FORBIDDEN PLANET, 1956), Irwin Allen recycled sets, props and models, something he was famous for. Later, when he had more than one series running, alien costumes from one show would show up a week later on another series with just a minor paint job.

Allen also was famous for the “Irwin Allen rock-and-roll,” —the camera was rocked as the on-screen cast rushed from side to side on the set, simulating the ship being tossed around. This would later be seen a lot on our next entry, as well. With an iconic theme (by Paul Sawtell), cool props like the flying sub, monsters and sea creatures, kids like me tuned in faithfully every week—how about you?


Irwin Allen’s second foray into 60s science fiction television was LOST IN SPACE. Based on the Swiss Family Robinson story (but not related to an earlier Gold Key Comic of the same name), this program ran on CBS for three seasons, with 83 episodes airing between September 15, 1965, and March 6, 1968. LOST IN SPACE was filmed in black & white the first season and then in riotous color thereafter. Its well known theme was by a composer named John Williams (billed as “Johnny Williams”)—I wondered what happened to that guy?

The pilot was much advertised and I watched it eagerly. It was far more serious than the series ended up: The year is 1997 and the Earth is overpopulated. The brave Robinsons are space-faring colonists headed for a planet revolving around Alpha Centauri.  Since the journey will take some time, they’ll remain in suspended animation.  Villainous Dr. Smith is an enemy agent who sabotages the ship so that the Robinsons will die and their mission will be a failure. When his people fail to extract him from the doomed ship, Smith has no choice but to wake the Robinsons to save his own skin. Had the tone and writing of the series continued in this vein, it might have rivaled the original STAR TREK (1966-1969) in popularity. But, no.

LOST IN SPACE didn’t really look much at the foibles of mankind or the consequences of bigotry, racism, war and greed like TREK. Its stories seemed more inspired by taking notions popular with kids and sticking the word “space” in as a qualifier: thus, Space Pirates! Space Cowboys! Space Orphans! Space Delinquents! Space Circus! Space Gangsters! Throw in occasional episodes about murderous, humanoid vegetables and you’ve got a series.

LOST IN SPACE starred many familiar faces and a robot second only to Robbie (FORBIDDEN PLANET) in look and personality. (Coincidence? Perhaps not, as both Robbie and the LIS Robot were designed by Bob Stewart.) Guy Williams (Doctor John Robinson) was TV’s Zorro on both the series ZORRO (1957-1961) and on WALT DISNEY’S WONDERFUL WORLD OF COLOR (1957-1962), and Sinbad in CAPTAIN SINBAD (1963).  June Lockhart, (Doctor Maureen Robinson), was an iconic TV mom in LASSIE (1958-1964) and would leave outer space for PETTICOAT JUNCTION (1968-1970). Billy Mumy (Will Robinson) may be best known as creepy but powerful Anthony on the TWILIGHT ZONE (1961-1963) episode “It’s a Good Life” and the kid taking calls on a toy telephone from his dead gramma (eek) in the episode “Long Distance Call.”  Mumy would return to space in BABYLON 5 (1994-1998).  Angela Cartwright (Penny Robinson) was the epitome of a TV daughter on THE DANNY THOMAS SHOW (1957-1964).  Rounding out the cast were Mark Goddard as handsome pilot Major Don West, Marta Kristen as blonde beauty Judy Robinson, Dick Tufeld as the voice of the Robot, and Jonathan Harris as Dr. Smith.

As with other TV series (such as HAPPY DAYS’ Fonzie), villainous Dr. Smith was intended to be a limited or peripheral character, but took over the show. Jonathan Harris, a stage and screen actor, turned Smith from a cold and calculating villain to a whiny, lazy, selfish, greedy hypochondriac who was by turns sarcastic or petulant. Children adored him, especially when he was dressing down the Robot, referring to him as a “bumbling booby” or a “cumbersome clod,” among many, many other insults. Smith became pivotal to most episodes, which more and more focused on young Will, the Robot and Dr. Smith’s ill-conceived plots or alliances with treacherous aliens.

This focus (and ever-growing campiness) proved unpopular with adults and teens, leaving children the main audience, and children do not buy advertisers’ products. Its skyrocketing budget was cut—Paramount had lost a lot of money with CLEOPATRA (1963) and was trimming everywhere—and this caused Irwin Allen to storm out of negotiations for a fourth season, hastening its cancellation. Had it survived, it is doubtful stars June Lockhart or Guy Williams would have returned, as both were unhappy with the direction of the show and their diminishing roles in it. Oh, the pain, the pain!

(FINAL NOTE: It seems to me a strange notion to start a colony with one family plus one male – pilot Don West – but this was a family show and the writers obviously knew what the characters didn’t, that the mission was doomed and the idea of a colony would be abandoned in the search for home—back to good old overcrowded, polluted and doomed Earth.)


© Copyright 2012 by Mark Onspaugh