Jonathan Harris was as unusual off stage as his characters were on. Even with Dr. Smith overshadowing the cast members in Lost In Space, they liked the actor who would later be typecast because of his portrayal of the diabolical Dr. Smith. Harris projected his character's dire paranoia well.
Is this fair?
Was he a classically trained Shakespearean actor? Some sources would have us believe this. We know his roles spanned decades and generations. During his career he would entertain WWII troops--where the acting bug bit him hard. One source states he played in 100 stock companies/summer stock theatre. Making his way from the stage to the sound stage, he continued to be successful and after many movie roles and guest appearances landed the fateful role of Dr. Smith. After Lost In Space ended, he used that now aging face to his advantage by playing roles that would continue to be memorable, Space Academy's Gampu, included. When his body was tired, his voice served to continue his craft in commercials, cartoons and films. It would be a pity if all he is remembered for is the villainous Dr. Smith. Yet, look in those eyes... he schemes even for the still picture!
There is more...
...stories of tootsie-pops and double-entendre comments on the sets of two different shows... autograph signings and interviews where he refused to participate unless paid... dear pictures of an aged actor many years later leaning on the very same set of the series that made anyone with a television remember his voice and his face.
Harris was his own character-reinventing himself as an American with a crisp British accent and disposition to match. Perhaps it was this quality of humor and demanded respect that makes viewers enjoy his work? One thing is certain, no matter how he worked his personal life or his acting career, he was difficult to pass off as 'just' a character actor.
Bill Mumy and Harris...then and now...
Gampu was and was not the antithesis of Dr. Smith. We saw a humorous and gentle side of Gampu, but Mr. Harris illuminated for us a fearful, dark side to the beloved Space Academy Commander who perhaps, through his many life-times, had seen too much. Only this consummate, professional actor could make us believe in such a mentor/authoritarian who could berate a cadet in one breath and soothe the orphaned boy-child, Loki, in the next. Eric Greene (Loki) tells of great fun with him on the set, and visited the actor after the series ended. There will never be an actor with such a vocal/emotional range nor one as stereotyped as Jonathan Harris.
Jonathan Harris 1914-2002
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