William Winckler has been posting some wonderful stories about Jonathan Harris on Facebook. These were told by Jonathan to William during their many lunches together. William has given me permission to archive these stories here in one place for fans to read and I'm honored to do so. Right now, these stories are in raw form, as William posted them, but will eventually be organized into some sort of logical order. There is off-color material in these stories, so if that offends you, please don't read. I hope you enjoy these wonderful glimpses into the wit and wisdom of Jonathan Harris. Thank you, William, for sharing them and allowing me to archive them for all his fans.
Time for another very quick story . . .
I recall being with Jonathan for one of his Los Angeles convention appearances in the 1990s . . . and suddenly this woman dressed as a bag lady, in baggy clothes, a hood and dark sunglasses, was seen standing in Jonathan's autograph line. She didn't talk, but looked totally weird. Something was “off.” Jonathan looked at me, as if to say “what the Hell is that?!” raising his eyebrows. The bag lady then came up to him, and as I recall, she was sort of shaking, very nervous, and made Jonathan sign a photo. She never really spoke and I thought she was deaf or something. Jonathan was very kind to the lady, signed the autograph, then she quickly grabbed his hand and shook it . . . her hand was a wet, slimy handshake . . . as if her palm and fingers were full of cold cream or hand lotion or something! Jonathan reacted, but then composed himself. The bag lady then bowed, mumbled something like “thank you sir” and shuffled off. Jonathan looked at me and couldn't believe it, asking for something to wipe the slime/goo off his hand . . . then suddenly, the bag lady turned around, removed her hood, took off her sunglasses, and we were all shocked to death to see. . . June Lockhart! Yes, June played a big joke on Jonathan during his appearance at the Los Angeles Comic Book and Science Fiction Convention! Jonathan roared with laughter at that one! We couldn't believe it! June Lockhart – the bag lady in disguise! LOL!
One of Jonathan's favorite restaurants in the 1960's . . . The Queen's Arms! It was decorated like a British Castle, with colorful lights, waiters and waitresses dressed in full costumes, suits of armor on display, etc.! Like a Hollywood movie set or attraction at Disneyland! They had great prime rib and my family ate there too! Sometimes Jonathan would take his family there on Friday nights, still in make-up from the Lost in Space set. It was the wonderful era of the “themed restaurant” and Encino, California, had a ton of great ones!
More stories/quotes I can recall . . .(Jonathan's words, not mine . . . if you don't like “off-color” bits please don't read) . . .
I recall him telling me that whenever he called 411 for information, the telephone operators always recognized his voice . . . “oh my God, is that YOU?!” He found this amusing! “Of course it's me!”
When he did the first documentary on Lost in Space, and there was a planet set and full scale Jupiter 2 spaceship façade, I was kind of impressed by how it all looked. I asked him, “wasn't that fun seeing the set recreations, being there again?” I recall his response to me, “Willy, was I taken back (to the old days)? Not really . . . please . . .I didn't give a sh%$.” LOL!
I remember a funny story he told me about Mae West. (forgive me if I repeat this). W.C. Fields and Mae West, who hated each other, were working on a movie together. One morning Mae was standing right there, and Fields, pretending not to notice her, asked the assistant director in a loud voice, “Has the cun% arrived yet?” LOL! I also remember Jonathan telling me a famous Hollywood story about W.C. Fields alcoholism on a movie set. Every day he'd have vodka put in his orange juice, and he'd be completely loaded during filming. Eventually, the director said “enough is enough,” and he told the assistants NOT to put vodka in Fields juice. The next morning Fields took a sip of his orange juice and spit it out, furiously hollering, “who put orange juice in my orange juice?” LOL! Jonathan loved this story!
My dad, Robert Bobby Winckler, was a well-known child actor in the 1930's & '40's, having worked in over 80 + films and over 200 + radio shows with nearly all the star of the Golden Age of Hollywood. During my luncheons with Jonathan I would often bring scrapbooks of my Dad's work, scrapbooks my Grandmother kept, full of 8 x 10 photos, newspaper clippings, articles, etc. . Jonathan absolutely LOVED seeing all this stuff, especially the pictures of my father as a kid actor with Edward G. Robinson. Jonathan told me that he idolized all the classic 1930's & '40's Hollywood stars, and had wished that he had worked in my Dad's era, instead of his own era. My Dad also worked with Shirley Temple, and had problems with her during live radio broadcasts, which Jonathan thought was funny. “Willy, she was a trouble-maker even back then with your Daddy!” LOL! Dad also played W.C. Field's son Terrance, which amused Jonathan!
Irwin Allen always used to threaten people by saying “Are you calling my bluff?!” . . . according to Jonathan.
In the 1960s & 70's he used to love jogging on the beach . . .in Santa Monica and/or Malibu.
I remember a bizarre story he told me . . . when he was little, his mother killed a mouse with a shoe. It shocked little Jonathan so much, that he stopped speaking/talking. His mother took him to the doctor, and the doctor said there was nothing wrong with him . . .it was just shock and it would pass. Sometime later, a lady in the neighborhood who was supposed to be a witch, or mystical healer (like a fortune teller), told Jonathan's father to take a piece of beeswax and throw it over his left shoulder into a body of water. Jonathan's dad actually did this, on a bridge over a river in New York, and Jonathan started talking again! I couldn't believe this story, but Jonathan swore that it really happened. He didn't know if it was just coincidence, or if it was voodoo!
The Father of Monica Lewinsky (the former White House female intern who had a sexual affair with President Bill Clinton), was Jonathan's skin cancer doctor! LOL! True story! Jonathan told me that when he found out that his doctor's daughter was THE Monica Lewinsky, he was shocked. I recall him telling me, “Willy, I didn't tell the doctor that his daughter was a Tramp!”
I remember in one of our discussions, I asked Jonathan if he thought there was an afterlife. He replied to me, “Willy, when you're dead, you're dead. It's very boring!” LOL! Years later, when I attended his funeral, the Rabbi was saying something like “Jonathan is now with the Lord, and he knows that . . .” and in my mind, all I could hear was Jonathan saying, “Willy, when you're dead, you're dead! It's very boring!” LOL! (Note: I don't think we'll ever unlock the mysteries of the Universe and I don't agree with Jonathan's view on this afterlife subject). It's still a funny story.
During Jonathan's funeral, I remember seeing Marta and Bill, as well as Ricky and of course Gertrude. I remember seeing Arthur Hiller there. Bill spoke. I was then shocked to see June Lockhart show up in the back. It seemed like she was there, then took off. I just know that Jonathan would not have been happy about that at all! She came and went. She was not at the wake up at Jonathan's house. I recall Jewish deli sandwiches at the wake up at the house, and everyone was sad. It was a small crowd.
All the towels in his guest bathroom has the letter “H” on them, for Harris! LOL!
What struck me at the funeral service, was a beautiful painting of Jonathan on display. A fan had painted it. I recall him telling me this. However, it wasn't of Jonathan . . . but of Dr. Smith! LOL! I remember finding this comical! There was an alien desert landscape in the background!
After Jonathan died, I would often call his widow Gertrude, just to see how she was. We were supposed to have lunch together, but never were able to do it. She had lost a leg in an accident later in life.
On the cartoon Freakazoid from Speilberg, Jonathan did the voice of Freakazoid's butler, and the writer wrote all sorts of Lost in Space / Dr. Smith jokes into the scripts. The butler complained of his delicate back, “oh the pain,” etc. .
Jonathan told me that his parents were basically scared, frightened, Jewish New York immigrants. If something happened it was always, “Jonathan, what did you do to deserve it?”
When the producers of Battlestar Galactica asked Jonathan if he'd like to see his robot character Lucifer on stage, Jonathan replied, “no.” He didn't give a shi%.
Jonathan hated the Night Gallery episode he did, “Since Aunt Ada Came to Stay.” He disliked the character he played and the writing. “I didn't like it Willy!”
Jonathan did actually pattern his acting style after Clifton Webb.
I recall him telling me that he and Gertrude slept in separate beds, just like in I Love Lucy! He told me his was a big, adjustable type bed!
One time he and Gertrude were watching the TV news and there were two news anchors talking, one male, the other female. The female was sort of dumpy looking and the male was a pretty-boy type model. Jonathan asked Gertrude, “which one do you think is prettier?” Gertrude replied, “the man.” Jonathan then added, “you're right, he's prettier than her!” LOL!
There was a big West Hollywood Gay Parade on TV, and it was heavily publicized and promoted all over the place. During the promo, the announcer said, “and here come the Queens!” LOL! I mentioned seeing this commercial/promo for the parade and what the announcer said . . .”here come the Queens!” Jonathan told me, “Oh Willy, gays hate the Queens . . . that's not how most gay men look or act! The Queens give them a bad image! Gay men look like normal everyday men!”
At one point in the late 1970's or early 80's, I recall Jonathan telling me that he moved in with Ricky, sharing his apartment. Father and son lived together for a while, until Ricky had had enough and wanted his own space.
One of Jonathan's favorite meals he would cook was roast duck with an orange marmalade sauce. Ricky loved it too!
The TV series Lamp Unto My Feet, which Jonathan did several episodes of, was a religious show that he told me “all the actors at the time did for very little money.” The show focused on Judeo-Christian values, and all the stars did it . . . sort of like public service announcement work.
A truly crazy story I remember Jonathan telling me was this one . . . about the Great Vegetable Rebellion episode of Lost in Space. A llama (yes, a llama . . . not a goat, not a sheep, but a llama) was going to join the cast at the end of the third season. This animal would replace Debbie the chimp who kept biting people! The llama was dyed pink! Jonathan's Dr. Smith character was turning into celery. . . so Paul Z. (the costume man) had to pin celery all over him, including over his fly / zipper, in order to look like a plant. The llama the moment he was turned loose started to nibble on Jonathan's fly! LOL! Jonathan clutched himself and ran off the stage, going straight to his dressing room! He said he refused to come out and be eaten by a llama! The Director Don Richardson, eventually got Jonathan out of his dressing room, and they tried it again. This time, they removed the celery from Jonathan's private parts, believing the llama was attracted to the celery. Sure enough, the animal went right back to Jonathan's fly to nibble! Don finally called Irwin and explained what was happening. Don requested that the llama be replaced. So, the llama was dumped and an actor was hired in place of the llama, and the script was quickly rewritten. Don, being a funny devil, decided to play a joke on Jonathan. He told the actor (who didn't know what had happened with the llama) that as soon as he came on to the set, to run up to Jonathan and attack his fly with his mouth! The actor did it, and everyone roared with laughter, including Jonathan!
I'll end here . . .
Some more stories / quotes I can recall . . . as usual, these are Jonathan's words, not mine (if off-color stories offend, please do not read) –
I remember his calling the New Line Cinema Lost in Space movie an “Abomination” and a “Fiasco.” He told me, “Marta, June, Angela and Mark did the movie . . .whatever . . .I don't hold it against them. They got a free trip to London, etc.” I also remember him saying that an un-named actor “wasn't right for Old Will.”
By 2000, Jonathan told me he was cutting back on his convention appearances . . . he was getting tired of them.
He told me the premier of A Bug's Life took place at the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood.
An un-named actor wrote a science-fiction script for a new project (not Lost in Space). Jonathan refused to read it, because “I would give my honest opinion of it, and __________ wouldn't like it.”
At the New Line Cinema Lost in Space premier, Jonathan and Gertrude attended the screening. Jonathan told me the promoters/New Line people gave Gertrude and him free popcorn. Jonathan said, “Willy, I hate popcorn!”
When I was head of development & celebrity talent at a company called Galaxy Online, I brought Jonathan in for a long video-taped interview. Galaxy Online was like the early Sci-Fi Channel, and many writers and stars from Star Trek were involved . . . Dorothy Fontana, David Gerrold, Harlan Ellison, etc. . Jonathan had a lady make-up artist, and journalist Jeff Berkwitz conducted the long interview. As a surprise, we had actress Vitina Marcus, who played the mystical, alien “Green Lady” in two episodes of Lost in Space, come in to surprise Jonathan. Galaxy Online hired a Hollywood wardrobe person to make an exact duplicate of Vitina's 1960's Green Lady costume with bubble/dome hat, that looked exactly like the one she originally wore on Lost in Space. During the interview, I had Vitina surprise Jonathan and he was in total shock! Vitina went into her “pretty, handsome, Docta-Smith!” act. She did it perfectly, exactly like she had done nearly 35 years earlier! It was remarkable! Voice and body language were dead on perfect! Jonathan died laughing, then turned to me! “Willy Winkie, this was your doing, wasn't it!? You naughty, naughty boy! Ha, ha, ha!” After a few moments, we resumed the interview and Jonathan said goodbye to Vitina . . .to get her out of the room so the camera could focus solely on him! LOL! I remember him saying, “Bye-Bye Vitina darling! Thank you . . .” LOL!
On a more serious, sad note, I recall Jonathan telling me about his mother. He said to me that she basically killed herself. She got all upset about someone not being invited to a Bar Mitzvah, one of Jonathan's sisters kids or friends or someone, and she raced home in an angry huff . . .pissed off, angry. She then had a stroke. Jonathan said, “she gave it to herself and died.” Very sad.
He told me he was amazed at what he accomplished. . . how far he went career-wise. He dreamed of getting his SAG card. Never could have imagined he'd be a TV star. He never reached the “Movie Star level,” but did reach the “Middle Level,” and that's not bad at all.
I recall during several of our luncheons he had major trouble with medicare not paying his doctor bills. There was confusion with AFTRA as his secondary, SAG last, etc. He told me he had to raise Hell with them on the phone. . . that, and a trip downtown solved the problem!
He always played his opera loud in his Cadillac!
Jonathan quotes regarding show biz –
“Willy, it's all a crap-shoot!”
“Don't worry about your type not working. The business is cyclical and what's ‘in' one year is ‘out' the next. Currently it's “street” and “Black.” (during the 1990s). “Don't worry about what you can't control.”
“Willy, do anything you can to make it in showbiz, except sucking co%^!”
“Willy, keep your eyes open, ears open, and mouth shut!” (he learned this one from his mentor Paul Muni)
“Willy, in your acting and writing, don't go on and on about something. Get to the point. Be brief. Once is enough. Too much is ineffective.”
On Lost in Space, he told me he used to memorize his lines and others, so he'd know all his cues.
After his knee replacement surgery, his leg was in an automated machine moving it up and down, non-stop, and it drove him nuts! To add insult to injury, thanks to the anesthesia, he couldn't stop hiccupping for two weeks straight! None of the doctors could cure him of it!
Gertrude had a minor heart condition called mitral valve prolapse, and he also had something similar. I recall it was minor, but he had an extra heart beat now and then, and took medication for it, and aspirin every other day to avoid strokes. When we'd have lunch, after every meal, he would then take a million vitamins and different pills / medicines. He had a fancy pill box that he'd whip out, and everything was inside.
He told me he loved watching bits of I Love Lucy when it was on. He said, “She's still funny today!”
I remember one time I was up for a TV role of a character who was going to commit suicide. I wasn't sure if I wanted to do it. Jonathan scolded me, “Willy, don't be a ‘square' actor!”
More quotes –
“The body is like a machine . . . it wears out!”
“I made Ricky (his son) quit smoking”
“You are your own best doctor!”
When an un-named actor said he was going to write, produce and act in a new project, Jonathan told him that he should just write, and produce, don't act in it too. He added, “Don't shit where you eat!”
Jonathan and I lived close to each other . . . we were distant neighbors. So whenever something happened in the neighborhood, we'd call / phone each other. One time there was a big fire in the hills. During this fire, near his home and mine, Jonathan called the Fire Department. “I smell smoke!” he told them! “What should I do?!” they replied “watch TV!” and hung up! LOL! He then phoned me to see if I was okay. This type of back and forth by phone happened all the time throughout the 1990s ~ early 2000's.
The subject of actor River Phoenix came up once. Jonathan confessed to me, “Willy, I never took drugs or puffed pot.” I told him I never did either. Jonathan and I were on the exact same page when it came to that garbage.
I recall he really hated Geraldo Rivera's trashy day-time talk show Geraldo!
He told me Ricky's Doberman dog peed in the house, but was a wonderful dog. “He was very protective, Willy!”
We would often lunch at the following restaurants . . . Shaine's in Studio City, The Hamburger Hamlet in Encino, Lau Trec in Woodland Hills, TGIF in Woodland Hills, and a Jewish Deli on Beverly near the Farmer's Market (not Canters Deli). Most of these places are gone now. Whenever Jonathan wanted Jewish Deli, he'd say, “Willy, let's have some ‘Soul Food!'” LOL!
Jonathan often gave me the goodies that other people gave him. He dumped a bunch of Lost in Space comic books that were given to him, throwing them in my lap, as well as books signed by authors, etc. . Jonathan really didn't care about “stuff.” As I mentioned in a previous posting, when he was given a sample Commander Gampu action figure from Space Academy, he took one look at it, then gave it away to a kid who lived next door.
One of Jonathan's favorite jokes was this one . . . it is visual so I will describe it. One day there was a terrible bus crash / bus accident. Everyone was dead. The bus was a total wreck. The police arrived and suddenly saw a little monkey . . . still alive. The police questioned the monkey. “Did you see the accident?” The monkey replied shaking it's head “yes.” The police then said, “What happened?” The monkey made a drinking gesture, as if holding a bottle of booze. “People were drinking alcohol on the bus?” asked the officers? The monkey shook his head “yes.” “What else happened?” The monkey then made a funny gesture, as if smoking a short cigarette. “People were smoking pot on the bus?” they asked. The monkey immediately shook his head “yes.” “What else happened?” The monkey then took one hand, using his middle finger, and the other hand forming a hole, and shook the finger in and out of the hole. “People were fuc&^ng on the bus?!!” asked the officers? The monkey then shook his head in a big “yes.” Then one of the officers asked “What were YOU doing?” The monkey replied by gesturing that he was steering a wheel and looking in a rear view mirror!
I'll end here . . . .
More fun anecdotes, personal stories, etc. based on over 100 luncheons / 12 years of personal friendship. . . . showing who Jonathan really was as a human being, a person . . . (his words, not mine – if off-color stories offend, please do not read) –
Jonathan told me he had a trust and that he left everything he had to Ricky (his son Richard)
He used to write on his scripts what time lunch happened, any overtime, and when he'd officially wrap (end the day's work). He would then complain to producers if his check/pay didn't include the extra money for overtime, meal penalties, etc. .
Jonathan quote – “Willy, the best English actors did “Day Player” roles on The Third Man, but in America, it would be hard for Stars to do that, due to egos!”
During filming on The Third Man in England, British actors often thought Jonathan was English too, because of his voice, and they sometimes “bad mouthed” Americans!
Jonathan quote – “Willy, if someone screws you in showbiz, and you fight to get what you're owed, etc., you won't be ‘blackballed.' But, if you START trouble, then yes, there's the ‘blackball!' “
Jonathan quote – “Willy, actor friends get jealous when you're working and they're not. It's a natural human reaction.”
Whenever he was on a series, he hoped all his friends would also find work, otherwise there would be trouble. Envy. “Why didn't I get that part?!”
When he had his double-hernia surgery in 1993, he told me that I was the only one he talked to . . . nobody else gave a damn.
I recall him telling me about a 1992 Chicago convention that was a complete failure. No one showed to meet him, they didn't pay his 50% appearance fee up front, there was no hotel room booked, no transportation, etc. . Jonathan totally “bawled out” the organizer, then left on the next plane back to L.A. .
I recall telling him about my working as a writer / producer / director and getting into animation (anime), and he told me “Willy, you're doing everything perfectly!” (for my career).
Bob May, the stuntman in the robot suit, one day phoned Jonathan, asking why Jonathan didn't want him to appear at an Atlanta convention. Bob May was not invited. Jonathan barked back on the phone, “Bullsh&^! I never said that! I don't give a shi% about anyone else but me! I negotiate my own deals for conventions! Fu%# everyone else!” then he hung up the phone. Jonathan later found out who the true culprit was who banned Bobby from the convention! He told me, talking about the person barring Bobby from the show, “That &^%@! Willy, I never would take bread out of someone else's mouth, not even Bobby's!”
Jonathan liked KCET'S (the Los Angeles PBS station's) series MYSTERY. I recall him telling me that he thought they should have replaced Vincent Price with a man, instead of Dianna Rigg.
Jonathan was hired to do radio commercials / spots for Fox's dating show STUDS. I recall him telling me that he thought it was all awful trash, but he did it strictly for the money. Jonathan and I used to discuss the sad state of 1990s ~ 2000's television, and he especially hated all the reality shows! He thought everyone associated with reality television were talentless fools, and that such garbage polluted the landscape of television. Lucky fools. Remember, when TV first started, Jonathan was in the greatest dramatic anthology series ever made, Studio One, the Web, etc. . These were very “high class,” sophisticated, live dramas written by the best writers, produced by the best producers, directed by the best directors and cast with the finest New York theater actors. Flashing forward to modern American TV, Jonathan saw a total decline (for the most part), with “reality TV” being the lowest of the low!
More Jonathan showbiz advice /quotes –
“It's us against them! You can't trust anyone in Hollywood! They're out to screw you!”
“It costs them nothing. You can't change the business!”
“I wouldn't do on-camera work again . . .what, get a script at 9:00 PM to shoot 8 pages the next morning?!”
“You must treat ‘them' with contempt. It's sad. You shouldn't let it affect your personality, but you must be tough to get things done your way and not be screwed.”
“You must boss your attorneys around. You don't have to be nice to them in your serious legal matters/troubles.”
“Willy, make sure your doctor is a friend. Be friendly, so you're remembered – not just a patient!”
“No one is ever magically successful in showbiz. Willy, it takes years of hard work, failure, rejection, training, luck, etc. . “
“Willy, you're doing something for your career, others are not. You have a brain in your head!” I was flattered and never forgot that!
“Big Stars have to audition, because the idiotic producers today don't know who people are!”
I recall him telling me that he one time “called collect” a convention manager, sending back Red-Eye Coach airline tickets, because they were not First Class, per his written, signed, appearance agreement. He really got sick of convention organizers unprofessionalism. Not all conventions, but many.
He told me that when an actor is booked on a show and gets “top of show” – highest pay / salary – the actor's agent can get more money by adding extra goodies, perks, 1st class airfare, $ 2,000.00 a day per diem, private trailer, etc.. He called this “good agenting!”
Gertrude, Jonathan's wife, never joined us for our luncheons.
He auditioned for a commercial voice over job for Marriott Hotels, and the script copy's directions read “prefer English woman, but could be a man.” This irritated Jonathan. He told me his agents didn't read the Breakdown (casting notice) carefully enough, and he did not get the job.
He told me he argued with an unnamed actor/co-star during a luncheon, telling the individual what he really thought of Guy Williams!
A dove used to make a nest every year in his flower pot at home. He usually took the nest away. However, one day another nest appeared in the same flower pot again, this time with eggs in it. Not wanting to harm the birds, he left it alone.
He hated it when the “rich cry poor.” A friend built a $ 100,000.00 tennis court and told Jonathan “money was tight” and that he might have to “sell the beach house maybe.” Jonathan got pissed, thinking to himself, “Fuc$# you! You just built a $ 100 K tennis court!”
Lou Schiemer, president of Filmation, once told Jonathan (after he had sold Filmation and opened up his own small independent company) that there was no business and that he might shut down the new office. He told Jonathan he was losing $ 20 K a year keeping it open. Jonathan found this crazy since Lou had multi-multi-millions . . . tremendous sums of money . . .in the bank from his Filmation days and his later sale of the company!
More quotes –
“Showbiz is a ‘Killer.' Don't let it get you!”
“Willy, when you get angry about a situation, don't get stressed out. It isn't worth it. Sit in your room, shut the door and say to yourself, ‘Have I done everything to solve the problem? Yes. Is there anything more I can do? No.' Then move on to something else bigger and better! Don't get stressed out or get anxiety. Do something creative!”
I'll end here . . .
More bits I can recall/remember from my 100+ luncheons with the wonderful man . . .(my usual disclaimer, these are his words, not mine, and if off-color material offends, please do not read!) –
Jonathan showbiz quote: “90% of casting directors are failed actors!”
He loved the taste of booze, especially Gin.
He became an Uncle to me, like part of my family, and often said, “Willy, I want you to have my career or better! I want you to have your own ‘Lost in Space'!” I also recall him saying “You're a charming boy, with talent, a good, nice face, nice eyes and a very good voice!” Needless to say, I was thrilled and loved him for that!
He told me an old Hollywood story that was awful! Whenever drugged up Judy Garland had problems, she would go see Louis B. Mayer and sit on his lap. Mayer would put his fingers where they were not supposed to be, while saying to her, “tell Papa what's wrong.”
He wore a Lost in Space tee-shirt to one of our luncheons, and we both laughed our heads off!
Jonathan showbiz quote: “you never see a percentage of anything!”
“If you get a bad hair or make-up person, nicely tell them they are doing it wrong it that's the case.”
“Write like the tabloids to sell to the idiotic audience!”
One time he commented on a lady seated at a table next to us . . . she was sawing away at her steak and he wanted to kill her! Later, a big fat woman walked by and Jonathan shook his head as if saying “no.” I said, “What's wrong?” Jonathan replied, “Willy, all she has to do is stop eating.”
At the end of one of our long luncheons, as we were walking out to our parked cars, Jonathan realized he left his headlights on. His car battery was dead. He said, “Oh Dear,” in a Dr. Smith tone! LOL! I stayed with him as he opened his car's trunk. He held up an extension cord and asked me, “are these cables?” I could see the cord was attached to some kind of sander! LOL! I replied, “No, but would you like me to sand the hood?!” He laughed. I stayed with him, since the restaurant parking lot was in a narrow alley with nobody around. It was late afternoon with dark clouds. He then commented, “how kind of you to stay here and wait with me!” Then it started to rain! He said, “Oh God, here comes the rain!” We got into his car and waited for AAA. We started laughing and joking about the situation. Jonathan then said, “I better put the hood up,” and he got out and did it. He climbed back into the car, looked out the front windshield, then frowned, saying, “Willy, I can't see him, the hood's too high!” We laughed, as Jonathan got back out and put the hood down again! It was pouring rain now! Back in the car, we laughed again, telling jokes! Jonathan then went into the most hilarious Red Foxx impression you ever heard, and we laughed so hard we cried! “Where the fu&^ be that God-damn auto club?! I's gonna call them S.O.B's again!” LOL! I died laughing! Finally, the AAA guy arrived. Jonathan jumped out of the car, waving his hand, yelling “Yoo-Hoo!” in a Dr. Smith way! I laughed again! I'll never forget that funny, rainy day!
He always gave me a hug and a kiss on the cheek when we met, and one when we said goodbye!
More quotes – “Don't think about your competition or let the crew distract you.”
“In renegotiating, you must have a 60-40 chance of getting what you want or higher . . . or else forget it.”
“You can't have a professional relationship with a producer if you have a living-room one. You have no friends in this business.”
“Don't dwell in the past, concentrate on new, better things for the future. Do everything you can to help yourself at every given moment. If the role is good, maybe do nudity. Love scenes are tough.”
“Don't tip your hand that you want a lot of money. Say ‘that's interesting. Call my agent to find out my price.' Friends try to use friendship as a tool to get you to work cheap. Never close a door or burn a bridge. Say ‘I'd be interested in doing it.'
“Show up to the set on time, know your lines, don't leave without telling the A.D.(assistant director). Watch rushes, don't let things distract your character. Personal problems must not interfere with your performance.”
“Stay away from Network people and Producers. Your ‘Mama' is the Director!”
“Read newspapers, scenes, or poems out loud when alone, every day to keep “in shape” as an actor. Even use a tape recorder and listen back to judge your performance.”
“If I can do it, you can do it! I started with nothing!”
“Write for the obvious!”
“Red Wine will prevent heart attacks.” He would often have a glass of red wine during our luncheons, and I'd take a sip now and then.
“Willy, I'm teaching you everything I've learned in 50 years of the business!”
At one time movie star Gregory Peck was his main competition for Commercial Voice Overs.
Jonathan did a voice over for a movie trailer for Clint Eastwood's movie ANY WHICH WAY (I can't recall the exact title).
He loved Sand Dabs with French Fries extra crispy! His Gin bloody Mary's too!
He told me he was not invited to Guy Williams wake.
He told me John Farrow was screwing Patricia Medina on BOTANY BAY.
Jonathan was paranoid of Earthquakes and whenever we had one, he wondered if it was “The Big One!” Jonathan only lived 15 minutes away from my home, and one time there was a big earthquake. After the tremor, he called me, saying “Willy, we just had a big one!” I replied, chuckling, “I know, I felt it!” LOL!
One time at the Encino Car Wash, Jonathan was not pleased with the job the workers did on his Cadillac. He pointed to spots on his car that were still dirty, and spoke in broken Spanish to the Hispanic cleaning man . . .”Aqui!” (here!) . . . then he pointed to another spot . . .”Aqui!” . . and then he pointed to a bigger dirt spot, mixing Spanish with English . . .”Aa-Fuckin'-quii!” LOL!
In the 1980s up until he died, Jonathan hated going to movie theaters to watch movies due to noisy crowds, people eating, etc., so he would often rent VHS videos of films at the local video rental store The Warehouse (long out of business).
When he saw his photo in the Academy Players Directory in the Leading Man section, he told me he should have been in the Character section, and that his agent was a fuc&in' idiot!
On the early 1950's anthology series OMNIBUS, he told me that the Producers cut the show's budget by cutting the crew's coffee rations in half! LOL!
He told me one time that he would like to direct me in a villain role!
He had the same gardener, maid and pool man for years.
He told me he read a 1990's book about the making of Lost in Space, and when certain unnamed individuals were interviewed and said negative things, it only confirmed his memories.
He got an audition for SWAN LAKE thanks to me. I believe it was retitled THE SWAN PRINCESS and it was a full length animated feature film. I believe Jonathan told me Jack Palance was later cast in the role he auditioned for.
One time Jonathan was sick with pneumonia, so I sent him a big bag full of Tootsie Pops (like in the old days of Lost in Space). When Jonathan got better, he called to thank me for the lollipops! He joked, “I just had a good suck!” LOL!
I'll end here . . .
Additional stories from the 100 + luncheons I had with Jonathan (his words/stories/anecdotes – NOT MINE, I'm simply relaying what he told me – if “off color” material offends you, please do not read – my usual disclaimer) –
Jonathan often said to me, “Willy, if I hadn't starred in Lost in Space, I never would have watched it!” We always laughed about this. This did not mean he hated the show, on the contrary he loved it and loved the character he created . . . it was the best job he ever had! However, he did not particularly care for the “science fiction genre,” regardless of it being science fiction literature, science fiction films, sci-fi TV, animation, etc. . Wasn't his cup of tea. In fact, I remember when I asked him about Star Wars, his reaction was he didn't care for it, nor for Star Trek. He was totally uninterested in them.
Similarly, he was not a fan of pop / rock music, or rap music. He was often invited to rock concerts and refused to go. Again, like the science fiction genre, rock music was not his thing. He despised rap (and no, it was not because of race, it was because of the artistic integrity of the music).
Passengers on one of his 1990's cruises asked him if he'd do a “reading,” and he passed! “This is my vacation, besides if you wanted me to do that it would cost you five-thousand dollars!” LOL!
An unnamed person had a second child, however, this person didn't immediately tell Jonathan and that hurt Jonathan's feelings. “I didn't know, so I won't send a card.”
(forgive me if I repeated this) Jonathan often brought his own food on airplanes. One time a stewardess saw him eating, as she was passing out dinner trays. She commented, “I see you've flown with us before,” and Jonathan replied smiling “yes, I have!” LOL!
(forgive again if I repeated this) In the Lost in Space episode “Condemned of Space,” Jonathan explained to me that the scene where he's supposed to freeze was difficult to act. “I remember that was tough to do Willy, being automatically frozen, very slowly!”
One project Lou Schiemer (Filmation's President) was able to get off the ground in the early 1990's was a series of religious Christian cartoons. Jonathan worked in them all, except for one for some reason. Lou replaced him with Frank Welker, who did a lousy imitation of Jonathan (according to Jonathan), so Jonathan later wound up dubbing over Frank's dialog. “Frank can't do me Willy,” Jonathan explained to me, “the timing was all off.” One of the secrets to Jonathan's unique voice wasn't just the sound of the words and sentences, but the speed at which he said them, with certain words hit for emphasis. Jonathan joked that he met the backers of the religious cartoons, some big church, and he jokingly referred to them as the “religiosos!” In fact, they gave him a big, gold leaf bible as a gift!
One time the subject of x-rated movies came up! Jonathan told me he had seen The Devil in Miss Jones in a theater, and his favorite was a film called Behind the Green Door! We laughed! He told me, “Willy, I thought that Behind the Green Door was extremely well made, almost artistic. In one scene a woman had a pen%$ in practically every orifice!” We roared with laughter! Please understand that in the 1970s when X-rated movies started, they were shot like real films, on 35 mm film, with real camera crews, actors with scripts, sets, locations, wardrobe, and these films were played in actual movie theaters (there was no VHS Video / DVD / Cable back then). The pornographic actors had to act out lines, there were stories, etc. . They were like art films with sexual scenes. There is a famous story of Lucy (Lucille Ball) and a bunch of her Hollywood friends all going to a theater to see Deep Throat when it first played (Lucy of all people!). So, Hollywood stars, including giants like Lucy, out of curiosity more than anything else, would go to actual XXX movie theaters to see what these new films were. (Lucy and her friends only stayed for a few minutes, then left the theater, according to stories I've heard).
While doing a play in Texas, Jonathan often went to bars for drinks and socializing with other actors. However, many of these bars were full of red-necks who Jonathan didn't care for. Jonathan was using some profanity while telling a joke to a friend, when one red-neck came up to Jonathan as if to punch him out. “Don't say ‘fuc%' in front of my God-Damn Wife!” LOL! Jonathan did as the man told him, but then laughed at the idiocy of the man's sentence and mentality!
In the 1970's Jonathan used to hang out at the Beverly Hills Athletic Club, a hang out for all the old timers in Hollywood. Many stars went there. One time he met a famous producer of pornographic movies and was invited to visit the set. Jonathan was intrigued and unsure if he should take the producer up on his offer or not. He debated this. Curious, Jonathan finally / actually went to the set of this producer's XXX film! Jonathan spent the afternoon watching the shooting, which he thought was amateur compared to the Hollywood sets he'd been on. At the end of the day, the leading lady wasn't “satisfied,” so the producer took care of her! Most of the guys in the movie were college kids working part time for the money! Jonathan told me, “Willy, I'll never forget what I observed that day!” We laughed!
One day Jonathan had trouble at the Bank of America in Encino, where he'd been a VIP customer for over thirty-five years! The young teller girl told Jonathan she couldn't cash his check without seeing his I.D., claiming she didn't know him. Jonathan saw red! “What do you mean, you don't know me?! The whole fuc&^%g world knows me!” Jonathan and I laughed. He later saw the humor in this. This is a perfect example of how fame is fleeting . . . if successive generations are not exposed to the shows that made certain actors stars, those actors are forgotten. This is what happened at the bank . . . the teller girl in her 20's never saw Lost in Space, she was too young, thus she had no clue who Jonathan was.
When actor Hugh Grant was arrested for soliciting a prostitute on Sunset Blvd, for oral sex, Jonathan joked with me saying,”Willy, Hugh didn't have to do that, he could have called _____________(an un-named actress)!” We howled with laughter!
When interviewed about Irwin Allen, Jonathan would say, “I'm not holding back when it comes to discussing Irwin . . .you can use your scissors if need be!”
One time he went to see a doctor who had the wrong chart. “How's your leg Mr. Jones?” the doctor asked. Jonathan shocked, replied, “Why don't you ask Mr. Jones! I'm out of here!” and he got up and left! When he got a bill from the doctor, he sent it back with a note written on it saying “surly you jest!”
Irwin Allen always invited Jonathan to parties and events. Why? Jonathan told me he felt Irwin wanted him for other projects, so he was motivated to stay in constant contact with Jonathan. In other words, Irwin had motives – often the rest of the Lost in Space cast would not be at these parties and events. At a New Year's Eve party at Chasin's, Jonathan took about as much as he could, then he and Gertrude left. Irwin caught him at the door. “Eating and running?” Irwin asked. Jonathan replied, lying, “Sorry Irwin, I've got two other places to go!”
When Jonathan was in elementary school, he used to be hit by his strict teachers. One teacher used to grab him behind his ear, dragging him back to his seat, while saying “let's take piggy to market!” This teacher also used to pit kids against each other by holding “mock trails.” If one student did something wrong, the other kids would form a judge and jury! Jonathan was often the defendant! When the death sentence was carried out, one of the kids would use a ruler like a guillotine and slice at the back of Jonathan's neck! Jonathan hated it, and the teacher would ask, “is he dead yet?” Jonathan would look up at the executioner with sheepish eyes, hoping the kid would stop – but the kid was a monster, relishing it, and would say “No, he's not dead yet!” so the execution would continue! When Jonathan told me this, I said, “Holy sh^%, you've got to be kidding me? That really happened?!” He told me it did . . .he never lied to me! “My God Willy,” he added, “teachers could never get away with shit like that today! But in those days, kids got whippings from teachers all the time.”
The principal of Jonathan's elementary school used to make the entire class sing along as a chorus every morning. All the kids sat in numbered chairs, and Jonathan's chair was number ninety-seven. Because he was a lousy singer (he always was, even in plays – so he faked), the principal always humiliated him in front of the other children by announcing, “Seat ninety-seven, BE SILENT!” LOL!
As a kid, Jonathan was lousy at math. He did have a nice teacher who helped him with the subject, but he never did “get it.” Years later, it was Gertrude who balanced all the checkbooks!
I'll end here . . .
Here are some more anecdotes / funny stories Jonathan told me over the years . . . . (my usual disclaimer – these are his words, not mine, as told to me over 100 luncheons . . . some are “off-color” so please do not read if you are offended by such material) . . . –
When Jonathan found out that one of the executive producers of the new LOST IN SPACE movie was a man he knew, Jonathan told me that he didn't believe knowing this man in the past would be his “ace in the hole” guaranteeing Jonathan a job in the new film. “______ was a peon when I knew him, he was a manager for Don Adams on THE BILL DANA SHOW. I will remind him of the days when he was “shit” and those are negative feelings for him, I'm sure.”
When a script was late on delivery to Jonathan for PROBLEM CHILD, he wondered if he was in that week's show (Jonathan's contract stipulated that he wasn't going to be in every show). So, he made his agent call the producers saying he would be out of town. They responded that was fine, since he wasn't in the next two episodes. “Those swines didn't bother to tell me, they never do! They would have left me hanging!”
Jonathan once said, “I can't believe girls cream their panties over ____ (a young male star of the original BEVERLY HILLS 90210), that no talent fool with a gap between his teeth!” LOL!
Jonathan had problems with his neighbors in Encino. He had reported them to the police for keeping cars in the street (which they worked on). The small dead end street looked like a messy mechanic's garage! Jonathan was convinced those same neighbors robbed his home weeks later, in retaliation!
His on-camera agents (the last ones he had) tried to take ten percent from an old scale payment of his. He found out and demanded the ten percent back, which was around forty dollars! Taking commissions out of scale payments is against SAG-AFTRA rules.
Jonathan quote: “The best advice is to keep your eyes open, ears open, and your mouth shut.”
He worked with John Astin (Gomez of the original Addams Family TV show) on PROBLEM CHILD, and Astin was pleased to see him. “Why haven't we worked together in the past?” Astin asked. Jonathan replied, “You never asked me!” LOL! Jonathan also joked with the kid actor who played the “Problem Child,” saying “watch it kid, I know a few adults who can replace you!” Comedian Gilbert Gottfried did the voice of the school principal and often asked Jonathan “why don't you go on Howard Stern?” (I previously mentioned why Jonathan didn't!)
Paul Muni, Jonathan's acting mentor, had a trick to hide the gap between his forehead and the wigs he wore for his performances. Muni cut a lady's diaphragm and glued the rubber on his skin, then glued the wig to it, resulting in no visible gap.
On THE THIRD MAN, Jonathan wanted to socialize with the British actors in England. Many were stars he admired, but they were very cold and distant. He was very disappointed. “The English are like that Willy” he told me. The newsagent who used to sell him papers wouldn't bill him on a regular basis. When Jonathan was preparing to return to America, he kept asking the man for his newspaper bill, but didn't get it. Finally out of desperation, Jonathan called him up, saying “I want my fuc%$ng bill!” The man meekly showed up and Jonathan asked him why he procrastinated. The old Brit replied,”not customary to bill in July.”
In 1993, Jonathan had a dispute with the man working on his Cadillac brakes at Casa De Cadillac (an iconic Cadillac dealership in Southern California). Not looking, Jonathan tripped over a jack and fell down, spraining his hand. He was immediately rushed to Encino hospital.
Once he was offered a convention appearance at the very last minute. The promoter said over the phone, “Oh Mr. Harris, we love you, the fans love you, Lost in Space is everyone's favorite, we'd love to have you attend our upcoming convention as the big star of the show!” Jonathan knew this was B.S. by looking at such a close date on the calendar. He then shocked the promoter by saying “That's nice . . . who canceled?” The promoter died, and after a few moments of silence, he confessed that George Takei had! LOL! Jonathan then said “give me five-thousand dollars, plus my other perks.” The promoter never called back!
Jonathan often complained to me in his later years that he was tired of acting. Complaining about a PROBLEM CHILD script, he said, “there's too many fuc&%ng lines in next week's show!” He really didn't want to be bothered!
Jonathan had worked with Mercedes McCambridge in the past, prior to her appearance on SPACE, where she had booze on her breath! (his words not mine!)
Jonathan fought with Gertrude about her going to the doctor. She kept putting things off.
Jonathan was sort of a non-practicing Jew. He didn't go to Temple regularly. He thought Israelis were tough, mean bastards, but he loved and respected them. However, he didn't care for the real fundamentalist, Hassidic Jews, who he felt were over-board extremists. He and Gertrude used to laugh when they'd see them wildly dancing up and down, out of control, on the local Jewish TV telethon (the Chabad Telethon). Jonathan would comment, “. . . and we laugh at the primitives on National Geographic? These Jews are just as bad!” LOL! Jonathan told me he thought it was hilarious that Hassidic Jews had sex using underwear with holes in the strategic locations, so no other skin would touch!
One time when there was an emergency with the pipes in his home, Jonathan screamed at his plumber over the phone, “drop everything and get over here!” The plumber was there in five minutes!
Jonathan told me time and again that he did NOT like Las Vegas. Gary Crosby from THE BILL DANA SHOW took he and Gertrude to Vegas. Jonathan like the shows, but hated the gamblers and gambling in general. He saw newlyweds complaining that they “lost it all,” and what really touched him was the sight of a little child crying outside of a casino. The kid's mother was inside gambling away, while the child cried, “Momma, come out . . .it's cold!” Jonathan could not stand this! During one Vegas show comedian Don Rickles, who was a friend of Jonathan's, attacked them during his stand-up routine. “Is that your Bat mitzvah dress you're wearing?” Rickles asked Gertrude, embarrassing the hell out of her!
(forgive me for repeating this if I do) One time during LOST IN SPACE, Jonathan severely strained his back getting out of his car on the Fox lot. He had to be hauled out of the car and taken to the hospital for cortisone shots. Irwin immediately shuttled him back to the set!
When Jonathan heard that Fritz Feld (Mr. Zumdish on LOST IN SPACE) was seriously ill and about to die, Jonathan told me, “Willy, I don't go to funerals, but I'll go to Fritzels!” Jonathan always called Fritz “Fritzel.”
About an un-named actress, he told me, “Poor _____ has no talent, but still has ‘the bug' (the acting bug).
About another un-named actress, he told me, “_________ is a sweet girl, but dull as dishwater!”
About an un-named person who often hired him, Jonathan told me, “you know Willy, __________ thinks he's my buddy! Well, he's NOT my buddy! Willy Winky's my buddy!” We laughed.
Convention appearances began drying up for Jonathan in later years and he blamed it on the new STAR TREK shows, NEXT GENERATION, DEEP SPACE NINE, etc. . Those actors were booking his appearances, he thought.
Gary Crosby from THE BILL DANA SHOW once told Jonathan that he hated his famous father Bing. “He was no father . . . he beat me, etc., etc.!” (Jonathan's words to me, not mine).
Jonathan did a voice-over for a product called MELLOW SMELLO. We laughed and laughed about this. Jonathan told me, appropriately enough, that the ad copy stunk!
Jonathan loved old movies and movie stars, and he especially loved Mae West. He went and saw a big, live show Mae was in, and laughed up a storm! Howled till he cried! He really adored Mae West!
When Jonathan met Walter Koenig at a convention, Jonathan asked him in a friendly manner, “so, how's Bill Fuc%-Face Shatner doing?”
When asked if he'd wear his LOST IN SPACE / Dr. Smith costume for the big Australian appearance, Jonathan replied, “I don't wear costumes, I work nude!” LOL! When he got there, the Australians wanted him to do many extra appearances, interviews, TV shows, etc., and he said no. “I'll only do what we agreed upon. I'm no spring chicken and I need my rest!”
The following story is very “off-color,” and it was one of Jonathan's very favorite, funny stories. It's a famous one. Many of Jonathan's close friends know it. It's that infamous! It's called the OKAY FREDDY STORY! LOL! Here goes . . . .In old Hollywood there was a famous actor/extra known as “OKAY FREDDY!” Okay Freddy had the biggest, longest, “male member” in town, possibly the world! All the actors and show people in Hollywood at that time knew about Okay Freddy! Well, one day Jonathan was on a set and he asked a fellow actor if the story about Okay Freddy was true. The actor replied, “not only it is true, but Freddy's working extra on this picture.” The actor called Freddy over and Jonathan was surprised! “Can we see the prick?” asked the actor. Jonathan was dumbfounded! Freddy replied, “Okay!” (That's how he got his name Okay Freddy!) Freddy opened his fly and Jonathan couldn't believe what he saw! “My God Willy, the cock went on for MILES!” he told me! We howled with laughter . . . I nearly chocked on my lunch! LOL! After a few moments Jonathan was red in the face and said “alright Freddy, I've seen enough, you can put it back now!” Jonathan never forgot that! Okay Freddy!
At Jonathan's wake up at his house, I joked with a few there, to cheer everyone up, and said, “how about telling the Okay Freddy story?” and that broke several people up (who knew the famous Jonathan story!) Now you guys know it too! I hope these stories are archived!
I'll end here. . . .
Another set of anecdotes / quotes, etc., from Jonathan . . . his words, not mine, if off-color material offends you, please do not read (my normal disclaimer) –
Jonathan knew that I worked with famous little actor Billy Barty on a TV series in 1989, and he found it hilarious in every way (contrary to popular belief or political correctness, Billy Barty himself told me that midgets are perfectly proportioned little people, whereas dwarf's are not precisely proportioned! The term Midget actually has a definition/specific meaning as opposed to the term dwarf. Barty was a dwarf, not a midget). The syndicated series (sponsored by 7-Up) was called Short Ribbs, and it was like Saturday Night Live with little people (midgets and dwarfs). I was one of the writer/producers. I personally had tremendous headaches and endless problems / unhappiness working with Barty, and personally felt he was a gigantic nightmare to deal with. Jonathan knew all this and more! I felt Barty had a giant sized ego, and Jonathan found all this absolutely hilarious! We would always laugh about it! Jonathan would literally say to me . . . “Billy Barty! Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha . . . etc.! Laughter would continue for a few minutes! Then a few moments later, I'd repeat, “Billy Barty!” He'd reply “Billy Barty! Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha!” roaring with laughter!
This literally became a run-on gag at our luncheons. I'd mention “Billy Barty” and Jonathan would howl with laughter, repeating the name Billy Barty! I don't know why this tickled Jonathan so much, but he found Billy outrageously funny! Probably because the little man caused so much grief and headaches for me and others on the crew!
Jonathan made investments in real estate, owning property in Laurel Canyon at one time. He also invested in properties along with several other TV stars at the time. Some investments were great, others were not. He often did the book keeping. I've said it before and I'll say it again, Jonathan Harris was a very good, smart businessman!
One time while rehearsing a play, the writer sat in the audience and kept shaking his head, as if saying “no.” Jonathan thought the writer was reacting to his own performance! Later he found out that the writer was only changing lines! It had nothing to do with Jonathan! He commented to me on this, “Willy, as actors, we are insecure, precious, delicate creatures!”
Trivia – Jonathan always used Binaca breath freshener, especially after eating!
Jonathan quote – “Willy, acting is like having to show your coc& to strangers!”
Jonathan quote (in the 90's) – “If they want me for the Space movie, they know where to reach me!”
He turned down a three-day part in the movie MY GIRL 2. The producers and director wanted him badly, and tried to get him to screen test.
In 1993 Jonathan did TV promos in San Francisco for the Sci-Fi Channel. When he arrived at his hotel, the girl at the front desk wanted his credit card! KA-BOOM! Jonathan hit the roof, and made a big scene! Sci-Fi Channel was supposed to foot the entire bill, as pre-arranged! Immediately they got the Sci-Fi Channel representative on the phone and Sci-Fi paid the hotel bill, per the agreement, plus his meals and drinks.
In the 1960's, Jonathan left the William Morris talent agency because there was no work (he told me). He later left the Gersh Agency after Lost in Space for the same reason (he said to me).
Jonathan quotes – “In showbiz, with the exception of Spielberg and Lucas, idiots are in charge! Willy, your life is in the hands of idiots!
(in my personal 30 year experience in showbiz, I must say Jonathan is 110% right! I've dealt with some of the biggest names in Hollywood, and again, Jonathan was right! He was absolutely correct!)
Jonathan quote – “Willy, I never ran my career as a ‘nice guy.' I ran it as a business!”
Jonathan told me he had dated a few girls prior to marrying Gertrude when he was 21 years old.
He found out about his cruises initially in the newspaper. He and Gertrude tried one out and fell in love with them, ultimately doing them yearly.
One of Jonathan's sister's had told him, “thank God I never married with children!” His other sister had family issues I will not go into here.
In the 1950's Red Button's wife used to phone Jonathan and ask him to lunch, but the way she did it was totally bizarre! “Hi Jonathan, it's me. Listen, I'm on the TOILET. Are you free for lunch today?” LOL! Jonathan couldn't believe it! She also used to pick at other people's food to taste it! One time she tried it in a restaurant on Jonathan! He barked at her, “Get your fuc&^g hands away from my food!” She did! Red commended him for telling her off! Jonathan told me she was nuts and eventually divorced Red.
He told me the male star of one of his early TV series was a great playboy, and he “loved” nearly every pretty girl who guest starred on the show. Jonathan added, “he was kinky too,” telling me that star “loved” lesbians, including a girl who worked in the Fox research department. (Jonathan's words to me, not mine, I am simply repeating what Jonathan told me).
On THE THIRD MAN, there was a big difference between the U.S. camera crews and the British camera crews. “The show used to be a four day shoot in America, but was a six day shoot in England!” he told me. Jonathan would take tea breaks in England and especially loved all types of meat pies and pasties.
Jonathan and I would often discuss current events and one time the subject of illegal immigration came up. Here's how the exchange went –
“You know Willy, I know how we could solve the illegal immigration problem” he said. I replied, “really, how?” He said, “Well, we have a fence down there don't we?” I said, “yes, I'm sure there's a fence down there.” “Well,” he said in a funny Dr. Smith style, “all we have to do is ELECTRIFY it.” LOL! We roared, and then I said to him, joking “you are so bad!” Now, please let me clarify, Jonathan was a John F. Kennedy type classic, old Democrat, liberal on some issues, conservative on others, and he loved everyone, including immigrants (his family were Russian immigrants!)! However, he confessed to me that he felt that illegal immigration cost California taxpayers money, there were crime problems, other headaches, etc. .
He told me, “Willy, Lost in Space was a kiddie-show, not even as popular as Gilligan's Island at the time.” He didn't know how it would translate to the big screen as a movie, and was very curious to see how it would be done.
Jonathan quote – “I don't really give a shi% about the casts I work with.”
He did plays in the 1970's around the country in colleges. College kids . . . acting students . . . would round out the casts. He usually got five-thousand dollars a pop, plus hotel and first class air. These plays were a way to keep active when there was no TV, Film, or voice-over work, plus the money didn't hurt. Some of the plays were “theatre in the round” and between acts the lights would go out – and sometimes Jonathan couldn't see in the pitch dark and didn't know where to exit to get off stage. He often bumped into audience members, and in his stylized voice would say “Oh, pardon me!” which usually brought the house down! The audience would roar with laughter in the dark, hearing that voice and knowing Jonathan bumped into someone in the crowd! P.A.'s used to guide him with a flashlight! “Some of those college kids were damn good actors,” he added.
As a working college kid, Jonathan used to eat Jewish sesame candy, Halva, on corn rye bread, like a sandwich. Years later as an adult in the 1950's, he was in Hollywood. He had lots of stress and anxiety and thought to himself, “I'll make a Halva sandwich like in the old days!” He did, took one bite and nearly died! It tasted terrible to him as an adult and he threw it away. He couldn't believe he used to eat that. “Willy, you can't go home again!” he told me, figuratively speaking.
Jonathan's mother was an excellent cook of Jewish food, he told me. His favorites were her chocolate desserts, especially her “dripping chocolate cake!” He loved it, it was so moist!
He told me that when there were arguments or fights or problems on particular set, it didn't always affect him, because his characters were often angry. He could transfer his real anger to his angry character and use it, and the audience never knew the difference. However, other actors could not do the same thing if their characters were happy, nice protagonists . . . if they were angry it could sometimes be seen on screen in their characters.
He said of a particular actress, “Sometimes she simply ‘threw away' her lines and it was awful.”
In 1993 Jonathan got a series regular voice over job on the cartoon PROBLEM CHILD. He played a mean, nasty grandfather of the problem child!
One time he and Arte Johnson had to audition for a voice-over job, and Arte played his part using a Jewish accent. This angered Jonathan, since Jonathan felt Arte's creative choice was wrong, and neither one of them got the job. Jonathan felt Arte blew it for him! (again, Jonathan's words, not mine!)
Jonathan always warned me, “beware of hospitals! They are so busy they make mistakes . . .wrong tests, wrong food, wrong medicines, wrong operations!” One time while in the hospital, a stupid nurse couldn't find a vein in his arm to take blood! After ten minutes of stabbing him repeatedly with the needle over and over, spreading blood all over his bed, Jonathan screamed at the top of his lungs “Get the hell out of here!”
Jonathan quote – “Willy, if I had to do Space all over again, I'd be bored to death. The only reason I'd do it is for the money, and maybe curiosity about what it is.”
On SPACE ACADEMY, he used to joke with a particular teenage male actor, needling him about his pimples. “What have you been doing to get those pimples? You need to go out and get laid more often!” LOL!
I'll end here . . .
Back again . . . more of the stories / interesting anecdotes Jonathan told me! As usual, my disclaimer is these are his stories, not mine, and if any off-color material offends, please do not read. What I relay is exactly what he told me over a ten year period of time, over one-hundred long luncheons –
Jonathan lived in Encino, California, and his home was just a couple minutes up the street from the famous Michael Jackson compound / the home of the Jackson family (The Jackson 5). Jonathan lived in Encino for nearly most of his TV career, up until his death, in the same house (built by Walt Disney for Disney's daughter Sharon). Throughout the 1960's, '70's, 80's, etc., he would drive past the Jackson compound every single day! There were often teenage girls and paparazzi outside Jackson's front gate, waiting to get a glimpse of the star!
When Jonathan moved to Hollywood permanently in the late 1950's, he looked at over 200 homes by himself. Many of the mansions or “white elephants” in Hancock Park he could have purchased for nothing (today the homes are worth many millions). After searching and searching and coming up with nothing, his real estate lady said she wanted him to see a home in Encino. It was Sharon Disney's house. It was perfect and he bought it. There were no maids quarters in the house because Sharon didn't want a maid. Disney studio carpenters and builders built it! Sharon Disney moved only a few yards away to the Will Rogers Estates. Years later Jonathan bumped into Sharon at Gelson's supermarket. She asked Jonathan, “how do you like the house?” and Jonathan replied,”Love it!”
In 1993 Jonathan had a double hernia operation. He was in the hospital and joked with me on the phone, “Willy, they're still trying to kill the Jews!” Jonathan told me that his two day hospital stay cost $ 12,000.00. He noticed that $ 600.00 was for six little pills from the pharmacy, and so he called asking for an accounting. The pharmacist said,”oh don't worry about it, your insurance will cover it!” This sent up a “red flag” in Jonathan's mind. He quickly replied, “I've told my insurance company not to pay you until I've had an accounting!” The pharmacist said “one will be sent out immediately.” The cost for the pills suddenly dropped. Jonathan had just prevented medical insurance fraud on the part of the pharmacist and hospital! (I noticed he often did things like this, double-checking bills, etc.).
Many times Jonathan was as kind as his father used to be. When friends were sick, he called them often to see how they were and sent them gifts. However, when he had his hernia operation, none of his friends seemed to care except me! He confessed this to me.
Arthur Hiller, his famous director friend, did hire him for some TV work, but never the feature films. Jonathan did audition for TEACHER, TEACHER (or something – I can't remember the title), but the role went to the guy who starred in TV's EMPTY NEST.
Jonathan told me he had a Chinese tax lady who totally screwed up his taxes one year! He wound up getting audited by the IRS! Jonathan had to go in person to meet a tax worker who was nasty as hell to him . . mean as a snake. “Willy,” he chuckled, “she was fat, ugly, and single!” When all was said and done, Jonathan was finally in the clear! The audit was not his fault.
In the play MADWOMAN OF CHAILLOT, the female star of the play was really a “mad woman.” Jonathan thought she was nuts! She made crazy script changes, changed the director's “good” direction, and many other things, being a huge, monumental problem to work with. She destroyed her own career by being difficult and was eventually out of the business. One time during a show she suddenly touched Jonathan as he was speaking, nearly throwing off his concentration and whole performance. Needless to say Jonathan was royally pissed off, and when the play was over that night, he ran backstage to her dressing room and screamed, “If you ever touch me again, I'll kick your fuc^%n' ass!” She didn't!
One time on the BILL DANA SHOW, Jonathan refused to take a pie in the face for a funny scene. The director and producers tried to convince him to do it, but Jonathan stubbornly refused. “Willy, my relationship with Sheldon Leonard was never the same after that.” Also on BILL DANA, Jonathan used to do the audience “warm up,” before the filming began. “It sort of prepared me for the convention appearances I'd do years later,” he told me.
When he returned to the U.S. after doing a USO show overseas (during World War 2), he made phone calls and wrote letters to the families of all the G.I.'s who asked him to. I found this incredibly loving and kind! Jonathan had this in him, it was clearly his “father's influence.”
He attended Hollywood parties and “worked'em,” meeting every important producer at the time. However, he felt that not many jobs resulted from this networking, so he quit doing them. His work generated more work.
Jonathan quote: “I wish Lost in Space had gone on for ten years Willy!”
Jonathan regretted having to leave his family home alone as he travelled around the country in plays, but he said to me, “Willy, my career had to come first!”
In the 1970's, Jonathan did a play with Rita Moreno. At the end of the play (I believe it was THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER), Jonathan would come out and bow, getting the biggest applause from the audience. Rita would then rush out to “steal” the attention / thunder. “That cun%!” Jonathan remarked!
(Forgive me if I said this in a previous post) Iconic drive-in movie producer/director Roger Corman wanted Jonathan to star in a horror movie back in the 1970's. Both Roger and his wife met with Jonathan and practically begged him to do the movie. Jonathan refused, because they couldn't afford the high salary he wanted. Eventually Corman hired Patrick McNee to play the part. In fact, to rub it in Jonathan's face more or less, Corman told Jonathan's agent that McNee accepted the role for the money they offered! (I recall telling Jonathan that I thought he should have done it, because it could have propelled him into being a horror film star in the 1970s & 80's, and he semi-agreed with me. Corman seemed to be looking for another “less expensive” Vincent Price type at the time.)
In 1993 Jonathan made a concert recording with a famous Mexican conductor. Jonathan narrated as the symphony played (the narration part was previously recorded). He got five-thousand dollars for it. He told me he worked for that small sum, because the organizers of the recording took care of his son for a while. (As I recall, Jonathan worked for this Mexican conductor several times . . . can't remember his name).
Jonathan quote in 1993: “In this climate with nenewals like Beverly Hillbillies, if Lost in Space isn't revived, it never will.”
Jonathan quote (on producers/studios/networks/troublemakers): “They interpret nice as weakness.”
Jonathan's father lived to be 99 years old, then was hit by a car! That's how he died! This happened during the filming of SPACE ACADEMY. Jonathan flew to New York, took care of matters, then returned to L.A. by Monday morning to shoot SPACE ACADEMY. “Nothing must interfere with the work,” Jonathan sadly told me.
Gertrude worked as an executive for CLAIROL, the women's make-up company for many years. She actually was a pioneer in early hair dye products for women in America!
In LAST OF THE GOOD GUYS, Jonathan played an old Jew. Robert Culp, who was a long time friend of Jonathan's (Bob installed the plumbing in Jonathan's home), strangely acted “weird” and was “cold” to Jonathan during the shoot. Jonathan thought to himself “Fu^& you, Bob!”
Jonathan once told a famous writer friend to start “writing commercial.” This friend who won several awards for TV movies and novels, thought of himself as an “artist.” The last thing in the world he'd do would be “write commercial.” Jonathan said,”when I go to the supermarket, I watch what novels the ladies put in their baskets. Most of the time they read the first few pages . . if there's lots of sex, kissing, fuc#ing, undressing, etc., they buy the book!” The writer replied,”I could never write that trash!” Jonathan told me that the writer's career later failed, and that he was in big financial trouble. “Maybe if he had taken my advice, he'd still be making a living!”
Jonathan quote: “Most conventions are run like ‘amateur night in Dixie!'”
One time Jonathan asked Marlon Brando why he turned down a big part, a major Broadway play, starring opposite Tallulah Bankhead. Brando mumbled back to Jonathan, “the old lady (Bankhead) wants to fuc% me, and I don't want to fuc& the old lady!” LOL!
I'll end here . . .
More funny stories Jonathan told me . . . these are his words, not mine! Some “off-color” material, so be warned. Enjoy!
During one particular voice-over recording session, a female director kept asking Jonathan for take after take after take. It went on and on, and Jonathan was losing his patience. This lady and Jonathan did not get along. She remarked after one of his takes, “Ooh, that one sounds sinister!” Jonathan snidely replied “Oh, really?!” Finally after several more takes of the same sentence, Jonathan had had it! After like 50 takes, he said, “this is the last one, then I'm out of here!” He said the line, then raced out!
He “took his hat off” to big stars like Madonna, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Chuck Norris for beating the Hollywood system. “Willy, actors should get as much money as they can!” he told me.
In 1993, television production company Carsey-Werner (The Cosby Show, 3rd Rock from the Sun, That 70's Show, etc.) met with Jonathan for a possible series regular role on a sitcom called GRAND (something – I can't remember what Jonathan called it). Jonathan refused to read for the part. It was the part of the butler. Jonathan told me he was very nervous and shaking during his meeting with them. They tried to calm him down, saying “trust us.” The show never materialized to my knowledge, and Jonathan was not cast.
True story that he found hilarious . . . Jonathan's proctologist used to joke with him, saying “you're my favorite assho%*!”
He did not like the cat he had to work with on an episode of MCMILLIAN AND WIFE. He hated the animal, saying “Willy, she was a bitchy lady cat!”
Part of the THIRD MAN series was shot in England. Jonathan relocated there, without Gertrude or Ricky. He had a tough time with the British actors. “The trouble with London is there are too many English people there!” LOL!
Jonathan quote: “There's no such thing as the ‘black ball' anymore. The saying has changed to ‘You'll never work in this town again – until we need you.'”
During a commercial audition for an on-camera job, all the actors, including Jonathan, were ordered to line up by the strict director. This director was very mean and tough. . . like a rude, discourteous drill-sergeant. The nasty, evil director then barked “everyone smile!” Jonathan laughed. “What are you laughing at?!” the bug-eyed director angrily snarled. “You!” Jonathan calmly replied! Jonathan then walked out.
One time Jonathan worked with the famous Stella Adler in a big play. He rode along with her to the theater in her limo. When they arrived, Stella walked to the front of the theater, took out a ruler, and measured the size of the letters of her name on the marquee / billboard. The letters weren't big enough – as her contract stipulated – so she refused to perform that night unless the producer got a painter to quickly change it! He did! The producer of the play had to make an emergency call and have a painter repaint the marquee! Jonathan told me he wouldn't have had the balls to do that, “Willy, the letter size was only an eighth of an inch different!” Jonathan knew all the Adlers, but never joined the famous New York Academy of Dramatic Arts because he would have had to audition. “Audition for an acting school? Fu&^ that!” He told me, “While they were all studying, I was out working in plays and making money!”
He used to walk his father to the park in New York. His dad loved to visit children and animals there.
Jonathan told me he had a mean dog in New York. It was nuts and would attack people. He finally had to get rid of it, and it was heart wrenching for him. The funny thing was this dog liked his maid / cleaning lady! Whenever the animal saw her, he would “hump” her legs! Jonathan would try to stop the dog, and the housekeeper would joke, “oh that's okay Mr. Harris, when they gets ‘the nature' there's no stoppin' em!”
In the early days when Jonathan worked in the pharmacy, many in the neighborhood did not have their own telephones, so they used the pharmacy's public phone. Calls would cost five cents. Young Jonathan would sometimes have to run three blocks to tell someone they were wanted on the phone!
Howard Stern kept trying and trying to get Jonathan to appear on his show, but Jonathan was scared to death to do it. “Willy, I'm good,” he told me, “but I'm not that good! I couldn't handle Howard!”
Jonathan quotes: “I always played weird, stylized eccentrics. They were my ‘type.” “Agents never did a damn thing for me, nor did putting ads in the trades. Only the work generated other jobs.” “Managers are absolute sh*&.” “For every job Willy, you must ask for more money, then at a certain time, you must reject job offers if your figures aren't paid.”
I remember the subject of Judaism came up and I asked Jonathan, “Do you think there was a real, historical Moses?” and Jonathan looked at me and said philosophically, “Well, Willy, I don't know. There might very well have been.” . . (there was a 3 second pause, then Jonathan raised an eyebrow!) . . . “although I would have loved to have seen him part the Red Sea!” LOL!
I'll end here.
More stories and anecdotes for you (his words, not mine – some “off-color” – be warned. The administrators of this site want it “real” . . . no “white-washing” or “Political Correctness.” What I write below is exactly what Jonathan told me verbatim) –
Jonathan often told me “Willy, women are different than men chemically . . . watch out!” He really did not care for “Women's Lib.” He also once told me that “All mothers are Jewish” (meaning they are mostly all protective of their kids).
Jonathan told me that he wasn't happy when his Dr. Smith character seemed to be pretty much “written out” of the 1990s Lost in Space comic books. In other words, the comics didn't star Smith the way the TV show did.
Jonathan had a dog in New York, in the 1970s, who was very protective of him.
In the early 1950's, Jonathan LIED on his acting resume and was caught by the casting director! “When did you do this particular show, Mr. Harris?” asked the casting man. Jonathan replied, “Oh, last year.” The casting man raised his eyebrow . . .”Really? Well I don't remember you and I was the casting director on that show!” Jonathan gulped, then came clean. “You know, I knew this would happen one day, and now it has” he sheepishly admitted. Amazingly, the casting man found the whole thing funny, and hired Jonathan for the new TV job!
His work on FANTASY ISLAND and VEGAS were only a few days work each.
Jonathan told me he stopped receiving residuals from the Lost in Space TV airings after the first original five runs, and some money for the cable TV runs. For years he received nothing, until the home videos were released.
He often told me, “Willy, if Lost in Space is ever done again, it'll be with a different cast.”
Jonathan did seven (7) pages of close-ups at the end of each day on SPACE ACADEMY, as he did on LOST IN SPACE. He was still a quick study in the mid 1970s.
Jonathan told me several times during our luncheons . . . “Willy, you work a show, the show ends, and you never see the people again! You have your own circle of friends. I was never friendly with casts.”
When he filmed his ZORRO episodes, the wrangles laughed at him when he was afraid/refused to ride a horse! His double had to do it!
Jonathan told me, “Willy, do NOT marry an actress!”
He remarked that some commercial voice-over directors sometimes told him to “tone down” the voice. Sometimes it was too “up and down” “sing songy.”
A quote he often repeated was . . . “I've had to fight everyone I've worked for to get paid! No one wants to pay you! They want freebies!”
A certain unnamed actor was often referred to as “the big lum-ox.” His words, not mine.
A certain unnamed actress was often referred to as “the best fu%@ on the studio lot.” His words, not mine.
Another unnamed actor was known as being “a kid mentally, even though he was a grown man.” His words, not mine.
He often felt that grown adults acted like “children” when they got excited over Lost in Space. He confessed to me that many times he felt like the only “adult” in a room.
During a 1990s visit to the 20th Century Fox lot, Jonathan was held up at the main gate because he had no pass. Jonathan later chuckled to me, “Willy, when you're not ‘hot,' you need a pass to get on the Fox lot!”
Most of the jokes Jonathan told me were filthy-dirty and absolutely hilarious (I can't repeat here).
Jonathan always put his self interest first! He was tough and stern. Business was business. “Me first.” He was very defensive. He treated his acting career as if it were a real business, not a hobby or a game.
In the Yiddish Theatre, he witnessed rivalry between Paul Muni and another actor named Schwartz. During a premiere, Muni poured everything he had into his performance, knowing full well that Schwartz was in the audience that night. After the play, Schwartz went backstage. Muni asked his rival, “Well, how did you like the play?” Schwartz replied, “the acoustics were good,” then he left. Muni was outraged, and Jonathan laughed his ass off!
A rich CEO of a company back east who hired Jonathan for a voice-over commercial job, asked Jonathan for an autographed photo. What shocked Jonathan was this CEO wanted it written to, “You Ninny! . . ” Jonathan did it, shaking his head in disbelief!
When Jonathan did his first play, he didn't know about make-up, so he faked it. “I left mine at home, can I borrow yours?” he asked a fellow actor. Jonathan then watched very carefully what the other guy did, and imitated him.
Jonathan wrote a few letters to casting directors in the early 1990s, trying to generate voice-over work. He would write, “I've done 812 films, 150 plays, and just completed my 811 voice over job. If any of the above interests you, contact my agent.”
Believe it or not, most (nearly 90%) of all his on-camera acting jobs he got without having to audition! He rarely auditioned after a certain point in his career. This is unheard of today!
Jonathan told me he once wrote a fan letter to Tom Brokaw of NBC News, but Brokaw never responded.
I recall a magazine wanted him for an interview, he said he'd do it for one-thousand dollars. They never paid, and he never did it.
Jonathan's mother had a bit of a mental problem. He told me she could never appreciate anything, she was a “negative pill.” Not a happy lady. Jonathan absolutely loved his father, who was a kind, gentle man. Jonathan would take his dad to the opera, and even took him to Disneyland once! Jonathan and his dad had a ball at Disneyland! “Willy, he loved the submarine ride,” he told me!
When Lost in Space fans would ask him questions he didn't know the answers to, he just made stuff up!
For convention appearances, Jonathan always wanted half the money paid up front in a cashiers check, and the other half in cash the moment he arrived at the hotel. He insisted on free first class airfare, hotel accommodations, food, and a limo!
Jonathan loved his sisters, but didn't get along too well with them. One called him “stupid” five times during a long distance phone conversation, before Jonathan finally had had enough and hung-up on her. He loved the distance between them (they lived back east, and Jonathan lived in Encino, California). When his sisters came to visit, he was “happy to see them arrive,” and then just as “happy to see them leave!” LOL! He didn't like people staying overnight in his home! He loved his home . . . telling me once, “Willy, I'm a homebody!”
One time there was a big scene at a Hamburger Hamlet restaurant. Jonathan ordered a hamburger medium rare. It arrived well done, so he returned it. It arrived again, this time raw! He returned it a second time. It arrived again, well done! At which point he complained to the manager, “Listen, I have all day and I'm going to sit here until that fuc%@n' hamburger arrives medium rare!” LOL! (It finally did, but I wonder if the cook spit in it?! I told Jonathan even I thought that was a bit extreme!)
A funny Bobby May story . . . sometime in the 1980s Bobby May (the stuntman in the Lost in Space robot costume) phoned Jonathan. Bob told him he had a film project with a part in it for him . . . a small, tiny, one-day role. Irritated, Jonathan told Bobby over the phone to “shove it up his idiotic ass!” Of course, the film never materialized.
I'll end here . . .
More random Jonathan stories for you . . . again, if “off color” material offends you, please do not read . . . these are his words, not mine . . . taken from over 100 luncheons I had with the man –
During his commercial voice-over jobs, he would often “butter up” the ad agency producers, so he'd get more work from them. He would read the script, then say “this is wonderful copy, who wrote it?” – knowing full well the writers/producers were seated right there! 98% of the time, the script copy was pure, unadulterated shi#! Horrible stuff. LOL!
In the 1980's, Jonathan wanted to change agents, and sign with Hollywood's biggest, hottest, most powerful talent agency, CAA – Creative Artists Agency. He spoke to one of the head agents who knew him, but was REJECTED by CAA. The guy told him, “sorry Jonathan, we're only representing big name star talent!” Jonathan was FURIOUS and DEEPLY INSULTED! Even I was really surprised to hear this, because CAA did rep TV actors who were “nothing” compared to Jonathan's worldwide fame. This is a perfect example of how dysfunctional/rotten Hollywood became after the 60's/1970's.
Jonathan did not like agents. He often told me, “Willy, agents don't push to get you work, they ‘book.'” This meant agents waited until job offers came to them, asking for you (once you're established). He once said, “Agents may have different names, but they are all basically the same. All they do is answer the phone and take ten percent.”
During auditions Jonathan had a positive attitude so he'd get the jobs. He would walk in the casting office mentally thinking “I am a professional, I am the character, no one else is perfect for the part, and you're damn lucky to have me!” It worked! He told me he did this time and time again during auditions.
Jonathan did needlepoint on his vacation cruises. It was one of his hobbies and he once made a large tablecloth matching his rug in his living room.
Jonathan took lots of pills and vitamins daily. Some of his medication was for a thyroid problem.
In the 1970's, Irwin wanted Jonathan for a Saturday morning live-action kids show called “Bumbellina” (or some similar title), where he'd travel all over the world in a balloon. The character was like Dr. Smith, and Jonathan refused to do it. Besides, it was Saturday morning programming and there wasn't a lot of money in it for him.
Jonathan once traveled to Japan, where Gertrude was involved in the wig business. The Japanese couple he and Gertrude had dinner with got loaded/drunk on sake (rice wine). The Japanese husband was overweight. Jonathan referred to them as “Buddha and Wife!” LOL!
Coming home from Lost in Space every Friday night, Jonathan would take Gertrude and Ricky out to dinner at an famous Encino restaurant called The Queen's Arms – still in his Dr. Smith make-up! The restaurant looked like a medieval English castle and was beautifully decorated on the inside, like a Hollywood movie set. The place was famous in the 1960's for delicious Prime Rib (I used to eat there as a kid with my family too, it was great – I also grew up in Encino, just minutes away from Jonathan's house). Of course The Queen's Arms is long gone.
When he did OZZIE AND HARRIET, he thought the actors were nice, but that the show was really stupid. I mentioned this before, but one of Jonathan's mantras was “Willy, if you're hired to act in a piece of shi@, you must think of it as wonderful material you love doing!”
The Budwing Sandwich Meat commercial was the first and last “on-camera” TV spot he did! He didn't like the constant take after take after take for a thirty-second spot. In the commercial, he played a butler in a mansion who served a sandwich to his employer, only to find the meat missing (people loved the meat so much, they kept stealing it without the butler knowing). His line was “your . . . bread, sir!” as he serves the sandwich on a silver platter, and is surprised to see the meat all gone.
“You must be in a category as an actor,” he told me. “Sell something . . .sex, funny, weird, tough, macho, brainy, college kid, whatever as an actor, so casting can ‘pigeon hole' you.”
Jonathan loved gin-bloody Mary's, and for lunch he liked his hamburgers rare, with French fries extra crispy crunchy! If the food wasn't prepared exactly as he liked, he always had it taken back!
He had problems with his Encino neighbors. When a woman above him asked for a tree to be cut, Jonathan did it without hesitation. . . but when he asked her to trim a tree, which was dropping acorns into his pool and ruined its motor, she refused, saying “I like that tree!” This royally pissed off Jonathan. He was kind to her, a good neighbor, but she didn't reciprocate!
When he wasn't working in the 1970s and '80's, even up to the 1990's, Jonathan always collected unemployment insurance. “Why not,” he'd say, “It's my money!” He used to joke to me, chuckling, “if tourists really wish to see the Stars, all they need to do is visit the Hollywood unemployment office!”
In his first feature film, BOTANY BAY, Alan Ladd did his own key-haul stunt. “Willy, Mr. Macho, nearly killed himself!”
Fox Video Australia wanted him to do promotions for them, but they wouldn't pay. Jonathan said “Screw'em! June or Billy may do ‘freebies,' but not me!”
An interesting bit of acting advice he gave me. Jonathan said that if he was uncomfortable with a role he was auditioning for, he'd say to the casting director, “thank you for seeing me, but I'm not right for this part. I hope you'll consider me for something else.” He would then walk out. “One must not audition poorly. Willy, never leave a ‘pile' in the casting office.”
During the play MADWOMAN OF CHAILLOT, someone off stage dropped something, and it made a loud funny noise. One of the lead actors on stage (who was then President of AFTRA) broke character in the middle of the live performance and asked “was that a fart?” This broke the cast up, including Jonathan, who roared with laughter! The audience was not amused that the play was interrupted. This play had been running for some time and the actors were bored, thus Jonathan couldn't stop laughing at the fart joke! This was the first time he really ever broke up on stage during a live performance. Finally, he did stop, and the play continued until the same actor said, “yes, I do believe that was a fart!” Well, there everyone went again, dying with laughter! By this time the audience started to “boo” and “hiss.” Jonathan was on the floor, dying of laughter, with tears in his eyes. Eventually the play continued and at the end, realizing his total unprofessionalism, Jonathan vowed NEVER to crack up on stage again.
During the early years in New York (the 1950s), Jonathan and a female friend/actress of his would “work” the other actors to find out what acting jobs were available. Jonathan would go to the girls/actresses and carefully ask what roles they were auditioning for. The girls would tell him, and of course, he would then relay this information to his female friend/actress. She would do the same thing with the guys/actors. When she found out what male acting jobs/parts were out there, she told Jonathan. It was a secret system that worked well. At the time, not many actors had agents, so if you “did the rounds,” (visited all the casting offices) you could get work.
During Lost in Space, he used to do promos with other CBS actors/stars at the time. Many were Press Junkets that took place in hotels, where the press would go from room to room interviewing the stars. One time he travelled around doing P.R. with Irene Ryan, “Granny” from THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES. He loved her!
Another acting note to me – “Willy, make sure every piece of film is excellent! Jobs come out of it! You never know where you next acting job comes from!”
A bit of trivia . . .in the 1980s Gertrude taught English to foreigners at their local Jewish temple. It was volunteer work.
Jonathan went through six or seven different agents during his career.
He used to complain, in the late 1990s, that money in commercials (voice over work) wasn't what it used to be.
His main interests in the late 1980s to the day he died were Gertrude, Ricky and himself.
In the cartoon series PROBLEM CHILD, there was a scene where Jonathan's character had to burp/belch. He had trouble doing it, so after a few takes another voice actor did it for him. The belch was loud, long and disgusting . . . “BBUURRRRPPPPPP!” After hearing what the other actor did, Jonathan smiled and said, “Oh, that was splendid!” LOL! Everyone in the recording studio died laughing!
His sisters in New York called now and then to tell him they saw him on TV. They both had New York accents and would often say, “I saw you on Bonanza!” Jonathan would boringly reply, “that's nice.”
Another acting tip . . . when auditioning . . . “Willy, if in doubt, do it loud and strong!”
Jonathan was not invited to Guy Williams wake.
Jonathan made it a point to leave a studio quickly when his work was done. “I'm a ‘get-outer.' When it's a wrap, I'm out of there.” He never hung around after a show finished.
He refused to do third call-backs (being interviewed three times in a row for the same acting job). You either hired him or not.
Jonathan would always check up on who was cast in a TV show or movie for roles he auditioned for, but did not book.
One time Jonathan was in a play with Jewish actor Paul Muni. Muni was known as “Mr. Concentration.” You could not break Muni up at all when he was “in character” performing. Muni was famous for this. Well, during the summer, the theater was extremely hot. Everyone wanted the air conditioner turned on, but Muni did NOT want to work with it going. So, when the play started, the stage manager thought “to hell with him. Everyone wants it on, so I'm turning it on!” The air conditioner was turned on, while Muni was acting on stage. Then, in the middle of the play, Jonathan looked at Muni, who was slowly moving to the edge of the stage. “Oh my God, something's wrong with him,” thought Jonathan! “Why's he drifting to the wings?!” As “Mr. Concentration,” Muni edged over to the stage wings, turned his head and said off stage “Turn – it – Off!!” (pause) “Turn – it – Off!” This nearly broke everyone up! Jonathan nearly died with laughter!
Paul Muni had a tremendous influence on Jonathan. Muni and Jonathan worked together in plays for a long time, with Jonathan the pupil and Muni as the mentor. Muni showed Jonathan how to put on stage make-up, etc. . When Muni did feature films, he was the only actor to insist and get on-screen credit as “Mr. Paul Muni.”
During his vacation cruises, Jonathan loved to stand out on the deck during rough weather. He loved the big crashing waves, the strong wind, etc. . “Willy, that's nature saying don't you fuc@ with me, I'll show you what I can do!” Jonathan ate like a pig on the cruises, and he especially loved salted salmon, but there was one problem – he was allergic and his legs would swell up! He didn't care, the food was worth the swelling!
He was very good friends with director/producer Arthur Hiller. Hiller auditioned him once for some movie, but Jonathan didn't get the part. They still remained friends though.
One of the biggest mistakes Jonathan made in his career happened in the mid 1970s. He was offered the part of “Bosley” in CHARLIES ANGELS and refused to do it!!! At the time he didn't realize what a huge mistake that was. CHARLIES ANGELS was a phenomenal hit and the series not only would have revitalized Jonathan's career throughout the 70's and 80's, but it also would have made him millions of dollars. I remember asking him, “Oh God, Jonathan, why didn't you do it? Why?!!” and he replied, “Willy, at the time I thought, fuc$ it, the angels are the stars, not me!” Even he realized later what a monumental “boo-boo” that was.
I'll stop here . . .
Some more Jonathan “zingers” for you all . . . . his words, not mine . . . I'm simply the “messenger boy!”
During the filming of THE THIRD MAN, the L.A. Times wrote a nasty article on Jonathan's performance. Jonathan was furious and wanted to write back saying “Fuc% you!” However, Michael Rennie told him “don't admit to, or lower yourself, showing you actually read his column!” Jonathan realized Michael was correct and never responded to the Times reporter.
Jonathan quote: “Willy, our lives depend on whether the telephone rings or not.”
When Jonathan was invited to go to conventions with other members of the Lost in Space cast, he told the promoters that he'd rather appear alone!
Jonathan preferred watching videos at home, rather than going to the movies. He hated the crowds, the eating, the noise, etc. .
As a joke with his voice-over agent Rita Vennari, Jonathan would always pinch her behind!
Jonathan quote: “Until you get a check Willy, it's all bullshi#.”
Another Jonathan quote: “The audience is mostly stupid. The general public aren't the PBS viewers Willy.”
Jonathan was a BIG HUGE FAN of British comedian, BENNY HILL! “Willy, Benny Hill was the only comedian who really made me belly laugh, till I was crying!” He absolutely adored Benny Hill / The Benny Hill Show. He'd be crying with laughter watching him.
Jonathan loved the food in Hong Kong! He and Gertrude ate where the locals ate. While in Japan however, he felt there was anti-Americanism, as he was rudely elbowed in the crowded streets of Tokyo (he may have misinterpreted the Japanese culture – they cram into trains together too, elbowing and pushing, but it's not personal). Jonathan did however, love the Japanese countryside.
“Gertrude can't cook worth a shi% Willy!” he told me. She did, however like watching Jonathan in reruns of Lost in Space!
During the filming of Lost in Space, Jonathan had to get away from the studio for a while. He needed a break! Too much stress for him. Irwin wouldn't let him take a week off. Jonathan tried to convince him, “let me go to Dallas or something. I'll boost ratings there while I'm taking a break.” Irwin was adamant! No! So, sadly, Jonathan never got time off, other than the normal breaks between seasons!
Jonathan received an award from the Academy of Science Fiction, run by Dr. Donald Reed. Jonathan refused to appear at the show to receive the award, because he didn't like awards and roasts generally. However an Emmy Award would have been different, because that really could have positively impacted his career.
Every time Jonathan received an award, gift, or a “Key to the City,” whatever, he usually dumped all this junk on his son Ricky, who either threw it away or put it in a closet.
Jonathan drove expensive Cadillacs most of his life. He didn't really care for cars, for making big impressions on people. “Willy, cars are machines that get you from one place to another.”
Jonathan remembered a lot of his Bar Mitzvah, but couldn't remember much about his own wedding, he told me.
When Jonathan first came to Hollywood for the feature film BOTANY BAY, he and a girl/actress in the film used to walk from their apartment building on Franklin, all the way down to the Paramount studios lot! It's a long, long walk!
Jonathan quote: “Willy, in the 1950's and '60's the business was tough, the money was shi@, but there was more work . . . on stage, in radio, films, television, voice-overs.”
Jonathan joked when his doctor used cortisone shots to shrink the scar behind his ear (from skin cancer), “they're still trying to kill the Jews!” I noticed that Jonathan would often make this remark when doctors gave him shots or people made trouble for him . . “Willy, they're still trying to kill the Jews, but I won't let them!” LOL!
Jonathan quote: “Problems in your personal life must not affect the work! You are the character!”
Certain unnamed actors tried to have him fired from a TV show during its last year. When he saw these people again years and years later at public events, Jonathan would put on an “act” pretending to be nice to these particular individuals. In reality, he told me that he'd never forget or forgive them for what they tried to do. (his words, not mine)
The highlight of his career, he admitted, was “Smith.”
Jonathan was dirt poor as a kid. His mother took in borders who often slept in Jonathan's room. Little Jonathan had to sleep in the kitchen, using two chairs put together as his bed.
Jonathan miraculously received residuals for the then newly released Lost in Space videos (VHS releases).
I, William Winckler, was able to use my connections to help get Jonathan work. The Sci-Fi Channel called Jonathan to do promos (voice overs) years before the Lost in Space movie Sci-Fi promos, thanks to me. Jonathan also got an audition/interview for Disney's JUNGLE KING movie, later retitled THE LION KING thanks to me. Because of my Disney connections at the time, Jonathan got to meet the new casting people at Disney. Although he did not book a voice over job on THE LION KING, his renewed casting connections at Disney later helped land him the jobs on TOY STORY 2 and A BUG'S LIFE! I was happy to do it, and expected nothing in return from Jonathan! A bit of trivia for those who really want to know the truth. As he said, agents never really helped his career, they just sat around on their asses waiting for the phone to ring with requests for their clients. I pro-actively pushed Jonathan at Disney! TOY STORY 2 and A BUG'S LIFE were the last major jobs he did before he passed on.
A certain Lost in Space cast member wanted “favored nations” for convention appearances, meaning all the guests received the same amount of money / pay to appear. Jonathan said . . . (by now you all must know what Jonathan said about that!) “Fu%# You!” He demanded his own pay rate, regardless.
An incredible incident happened while Jonathan and Gertrude were in Israel on vacation. Outside Tel Aviv, Jonathan and Gertrude took photographs, and angered several Palestinians! The pissed off Arabs chased Jonathan and Gertrude, meaning to do them great harm, and Jonathan thought he and Gertrude were goners! Dead! Down a side street, a nice Palestinian opened the door to his home and let them in, to protect them both! Panting for breath while safely inside, Jonathan turned to the kind Arabic man, and then the man reacted bug-eyed . . . and with a heavy Palestinian accent, he cried “Doc-ta Smith!” Jonathan and Gertrude were shocked! They couldn't believe it! Amazing! The Arab was a Lost in Space FAN! LOL! (I always thought this was one of the BEST stories he ever told me!)
I'll end here . . . .
Since so many enjoy hearing my stories of Jonathan, here are more . . . again, these are his words, not mine, and if “off color” material here or there offends you, please do not read –
Every year Jonathan and Gertrude would take a cruise on a cargo ship. The ship actually carried cargo, and in the back were luxury apartment size cabins for the cruise passengers. The passengers were all basically wealthy old people, and the ship would stop every so often to drop off cargo. The cruise took them from New York all the way down to South America and back.
During one of Jonathan and Gertrude's cruises in 1991, a young sailor was transferred to their cargo ship for home. The sailor was very sick, and the doctor said that if Jonathan popped his head in, it might cheer the young man up! Jonathan did so, and the sailor was thrilled. He wouldn't let go of Jonathan's hand! Needless to say, the excited sailor's health improved for the rest of the journey, where he later made a full recovery in a New York hospital. Jonathan told me that situations like that one made him proud of his celebrity status!
Jonathan had acting nightmares as a young man. “What am I doing in this profession?” “Am I going to make it?” “Am I wasting my time?” All these thoughts ran through his mind. It was tough on his family in New York, Gertrude and son Ricky, and he even waited on tables in restaurants. Originally his parents hated the idea that he was going into acting. In those days everyone was expected to have a trade, and Jonathan going into acting, didn't really have one. Once Jonathan started making money, his parents slowly began to change their minds. His father was his biggest fan!
Lou Schiemer, the President of FILMATION, wanted Jonathan for some live-action project he was developing in 1991. Jonathan told Louie that maybe he'd consider it. Nothing ever happened. The show never materialized and it was going to be science-fiction . . . Lou Schiemer's answer to Saban's MIGHTY MORPHIN POWER RANGERS.
On SPACE ACADEMY, Jonathan was more or less an acting teacher for his fellow juvenile cast members. He gave them acting points here and there. He remembered however that Pamela Ferdon was a “pain-in-the-as@!” “She was a naughty girl, unprofessional, we were always looking for her,” he told me. On a funny note, Jonathan bumped into Ferdon years later. She approached him (then as a grown woman), and said, “Jonathan, remember me?” He did NOT, but pretended to. “Ah, yes, Land of the Giants . . ” Ferdon interrupted him, “No, Space Academy!” Jonathan recovered, thinking to himself, “Jesus Christ!” “Oh yes, how nice to see you again, how have you been?” LOL!
Marlon Brando was another actor who never rehearsed. It drove Jonathan nuts. He owed Jonathan a dollar, which he never gave back. All the actors at the time, including Jonathan, were mesmerized by Brando. “What's he gonna do today?” Jonathan would wonder. Brando was “King.” Years later at some premier, Brando spotted Jonathan, walked over to him, and gave him a giant bear hug!
Jonathan thought that publicists for actors were all a load of bullsh#@! However the only one he ever had did get him on a game show, he told me.
On GET SMART, Jonathan got along well with Don Adams. He demanded respect from Don, and got it.
On the TV special WITCHES, WARLOCKS AND WIZARDS, hosted on-camera by Jonathan, Jonathan didn't have time to memorize the script so a teleprompter was used. He was afraid of looking like he was “reading it.” Jonathan was also secretly afraid that he'd blow his lines at age 76. “I was known in the old days as ‘One-Take Harris,' and didn't want to change that now,” he told me.
Money paid to actors was lousy back then, in the 1950s & 60's, compared to today. In the '60's Jonathan was paid top TV wages for an actor, but today's stars are infinitely better paid.
Jonathan once said that actors in the old days came from theater, or vaudeville or radio. Today, many are gas station attendants one day, then TV stars the next!
People in the 1980s and '90's often mistook him for MY FAVORITE MARTIAN actor / star Ray Walston.
Jonathan didn't do “freebie” charity events. He didn't believe a lot of charities were really charities.
He used to be a gourmet cook, and loved to drink gin! He loved the taste of booze! When he used to cook gourmet meals, some of them took three (3) full days to prepare!
Jonathan told me that he had a successful marriage to Gertrude, but with a lot of fighting! I remember him telling me, “Willy, women are chemically different then men, . . . and they bitch . . .well, I bitch back! I won't take that shi#!”
Jonathan didn't like the English actors who guested on THE THIRD MAN. He hated their attitudes.
Jonathan once appeared on Merv Griffin, and didn't care for Merv either! “I couldn't stand him!” he told me.
Entertainment Tonight wanted Jonathan for the “Hart File,” a where-are-they-now segment. Jonathan told them he'd only do it if they paid him. They didn't. He also joked with me, “where-are-they-now? Willy, I haven't gone anywhere!”
Jonathan was offered a guest role on DOOGIE HOUSER, but he turned it down.
He really admired Aaron Spelling. “Aaron Spelling is a genius, he's got his fingers on the pulse of the public.”
Wild ducks used to swim in his pool, and he'd shoo them away! “I hate duck shi% in my pool!” His house was originally build by Walt Disney for Disney's daughter Dianne. Jonathan had a Mexican gardener who he used to boss around. The two of them, Jonathan and the Mexican, had a fun relationship, kidding each other. When the gardener was high in a tree, pruning it, Jonathan would yell up to the man, “Watch your Balls!” in Spanish! This would break the gardener up!
Jonathan and Gertrude once visited Russia. In fact, over the years they travelled all over the world, seeing most of the major tourist sights.
“Willy, I don't dwell in the past,” he once told me, “I concentrate on new, better things for the future.”
Seeing the 20th Century Fox lot in the early 1990s, Jonathan remarked that it looked the same as it did during Lost in Space. He looked at Stages 10 and 11, and said “I remember that!”
One of Jonathan's biggest highlights in his life was performing at the Metropolitan Opera House. He was SO proud of that!
During the Boston Anniversary show for Lost in Space, Jonathan and June were interviewed on the CBS morning news. June kept talking about Guy Williams, which drove Jonathan nuts! Jonathan finally interrupted her, saying “June, let's talk about the show!” He told me she would have kept on talking about Guy during the entire segment! “She might have told'em how big Guy's di#@ was! God knows she knew!” he told me! LOL!
Jonathan thought the Lost in Space animated cartoon pilot done in Australia by Hanna-Barbera was a total piece of sh#$! He hated the script, but did the cartoon voice-over job for the money. “Willy, it was no good” he confessed to me.
He told me that after Lost in Space was cancelled, his phone stopped ringing, meaning there was no work for him for a while.
Jonathan once told me that looking back, he was happy he was able to achieve all his life's goals, working in theater, radio, TV and film.
He received SAG and AFTRA health and retirement benefits, and so did Gertrude.
Jonathan would often call his commercial voice-over agent, Rita Vennari (of Sutton, Barth & Vennari) and ask “You guys dead? What's happened, you closed the office?” LOL! (how hilarious is that?!) He didn't push for work too hard, so he wouldn't piss Rita off.
“The actor auditions for the rest of his life. Sometimes your last film is your audition” he told me.
He called Lucille Ball, “Lucille Balls,” since she was one tough businesswoman.
He told me he met Leonard Nimoy at a dinner, and thought he was nice.
Jonathan was going to rent his New York apartment to Bill Shatner, but the arrangement never worked out.
“Directors don't give direction, they direct traffic” he told me.
Jonathan found long speeches of dialog easier to memorize, than the short one liners.
“Producers don't like actors because they have to pay us and we get all the attention. They're forgotten, and we're the Stars” he told me.
In the 1970's Jonathan taught acting to actors referred to him by CBS. This took place in his New York apartment. One time a pupil of his was a truck driver, who wanted to learn how to speak properly. Overall, he said none of his students were really serious about acting as a profession.
After he did a Saturday Morning Preview Show (a prime time TV special aired on a Friday night showing kids the new fall program line-up), for SPACE ACADEMY, he had to fight the producers for the thousand dollars owed him. AFTRA was of no help to him, since they only help scale talent over disputes. Jonathan fought the producers and finally won.
A very important fact that fans don't know is this one. In his later years (1980s ~ 90's), Jonathan had nightmares about doing on-camera jobs. He was afraid of blowing his lines, or forgetting them completely. He confessed this to me. In other words, on the outside he was all confidence, but deep inside he began to worry that he might not have his talent anymore. He was insecure, and worried that he might have lost it in his later years (70's and beyond). This is the main reason why he chickened out of so many great jobs. Secret insecurity from the most confident acting man in the world.
Jonathan had told me about each of his major characters motivations / objectives. Bradford Webster from THE THIRD MAN wanted to be Harry Lime's friend, and felt happy on the inside, but never showed it on the outside. Mr. Phillips from THE BILL DANA SHOW was angry all the time and disliked everybody. Dr. Smith from LOST IN SPACE wanted to have it all and nobody else to have anything – it was a game – Smith was like a devilish kid. Commander Gampu from SPACE ACADEMY wanted to teach the kids and felt noble, intelligent, and caring, like a Father figure. Lucifer from BATTLESTAR GALACTICA wanted to kill Baltar and felt hatred, but didn't show it – a sneaky pussycat, who's character was never looked at as a machine (Jonathan never played him like a robot).
Jonathan one time told me that he had no friends, just acquaintances. He considered most of his friends to be “fair weather” types . . then said to me, “but I'm not counting you Willy Winkie!” One of his close friends, a casting director, refused to see or hire him for a perfect role, and their thirty-five year friendship ended.
He told me one time that next to the Lost in Space set one day, there was a hell of a stink coming from the PEYTON PLACE set. A young female star cut her hair during lunch, and the producers went crazy because of continuity problems!
Famous Jonathan Harris quote: “Nobody cares about you more than you!” He told me, “Willy, never forget it!”
Jonathan thought films like SILENCE OF THE LAMBS and BOYS IN THE HOOD were excellent.
Jonathan once told me, “If Irwin hadn't been such an assho#$, we'd be doing ‘Lost in Space' 6 by now!” He was referring to the final STAR TREK film (Star Trek 6) featuring the original series cast.
When an unnamed actress returned from a trip to Vietnam, she told Jonathan that she was actually arrested! Jonathan later said to me,”that's about the only place she could get arrested!” LOL! (a joke on the famous saying in Hollywood about out of work actors who can't get arrested).
At the end of a lunch at the FOX studios one day (in the 90's), June Lockhart followed Jonathan to his parked car. She then asked him privately, “do you think they'll really do a movie with us?” and Jonathan replied, “no.” He then slammed his car's door and drove off.
He once told me, “Willy, Lost in Space is ancient history!” The fan mail he got in the 1960's was mostly from children, but in the 1980s and 90's it was from adults. “Those kiddies grew up!” he'd chuckle!
I'll end here . . .
Here are some more random things Jonathan told me over the years . . . .his words, not mine . . . about various subjects (some “off color” stories – be warned/do not read if you are easily offended) –
Irwin offered him a “day player” part in THE TOWERING INFERNO. Jonathan told the casting man, who called him on the phone to make the offer, “can you give Irwin a message for me, verbatim?” The casting man fearfully said, “oh-oh.” Jonathan then proceeded to say “tell him to shove it up his a*#!” Being the “Star” of Irwin's most famous show, he was insulted to be offered just a quick 1-line “nothing” part in a big movie.
Jonathan later admitted to me that he made mistakes. Regarding the 1970s, he told me, “Willy, I should have taken more of the Dr. Smith type roles offered to me, which I rejected.” At the time, he thought, as many actors do today, that actors should “vary” their work . . . only years later did he finally realize that it really doesn't matter. He told me “John Wayne did the same thing his whole career . . .not everyone is Dustin Hoffman!”
Jonathan approached LAND OF THE GIANTS star Kurt Kazner one day at lunch. “I know what Irwin told you to do . . . you're doing me!” Kazner denied this, shaking his head, “Oh no he didn't.” Jonathan just smiled. The Fitzhue role, especially with the young boy character Barry, “mirrored” the Smith / Will relationship.
Jonathan sued THE THIRD MAN producers for residuals owed him. In fact, fans of the show sent him TV Guides, which Jonathan used in court as evidence. The producers claimed the show wasn't running, but it was! The fan supplied TV Guides proved it!
On LOVE AMERICAN STYLE, Jonathan played a scene as a Bank Teller who had to read an account number tattooed on a sexy woman's belly. During the scene, he was on his knees the whole time (all day). He joked to me, “Willy, I was close enough to lick her pus%*!” He laughed! Yes, he actually said that!!!!
Jonathan told me time and again that he “works for the money!” “Acting is my trade, it's how I make my living.” He never wanted his family on the set. “It's not play time.” Jonathan also felt that his “friends” didn't do him favors, such as hiring him for acting jobs. However, one of his biggest breaks came from long time friend, Felix Jackson, the creator of THE THIRD MAN series. Felix wrote the part of Bradford Webster in specifically for Jonathan as “payback” for Jonathan helping him and his wife out during tough financial times. Jonathan used to bring dinner over for the struggling couple. Felix, by the way, was not directly involved in the law suit Jonathan had against the THIRD MAN producers.
Show business is cruel. Jonathan, on a set, actually saw an actor die. Another actor, instead of first calling an ambulance, called the casting office to see if he could replace the deceased! Unbelievable!
One day Jonathan read in the trades that Jerry Paris was directing a big movie. Although he never did it before, he decided to phone Jerry (who he'd previously worked with). He said, “Jerry, if there are any parts that say ‘Jonathan Harris,' I'd love to hear from you.” Jerry angrily replied, “Oh God, every actor I know is calling me, hitting me up for work on this picture!” This set Jonathan off, and he then told Jerry. . . “Fu@# you!” and slammed down the phone!
In early live TV, Jonathan would sometimes be in one scene, then the camera would fade out. Like clockwork, he would quickly change into another outfit with the help of the wardrobe man, like choreographed dancing. . . .then race to the next set. The camera would fade back in, and there Jonathan would be in a different scene, wearing different clothes.
Jonathan memorized his Lost in Space scripts on Saturdays and Sundays, because there was no time during the week. Gertrude would coach him. He'd also take breaks doing the gardening, or whatever, then go back to studying the script. By Sunday night, he'd have the week's script completely memorized.
Jonathan always called his agents “creeps.” He'd joke, “Hey Willy Winkie, guess who just called me? The Creeps did!” “They want me for . . .” LOL!
When he met with Irwin in 1990, he asked him “how's Paul Z?” (Paul Zastupnevich, his best associate/costumer). Irwin replied, uncaring “I don't know.”
If Irwin Allen's 1990s version of a Lost in Space Movie would have been made, only Jonathan and the Robot would have remained (from the original cast). All the other roles would have been recast with younger actors. Irwin actually told Jonathan this at the meeting. Jonathan said to me, “Willy, Irwin said ‘I don't need the others. . . just you and the Robot'.” During this same lunch meeting, Jonathan realized that Irwin was sick, when at one point Irwin grabbed him by the arm and desperately said, “Listen, I can't do this movie without you!” This SHOCKED Jonathan! He said to me, “Irwin NEVER would have said that to me in the '60's . . . his ego was too big!”
Jonathan had several acting secrets. He often said, “when you act, you become the character. Don't think about anything else, but the character. Live, breath, act in the character's clothes. Do plays, which are the best training in the world! After you audition for a part, forget about it, it's out of your hands. Most importantly, invent business for your characters, like I did with Dr. Smith. I invented everything. Also, dream about things the character can do, as I also did with Smith. I'd lay in bed at night, thinking about crazy things for Smith to do.” Brilliant advice from one of the best character actors ever!
Jonathan also told me, “as an actor, you must be selfish! Me, me, me, me, me! You must have one-hundred percent concentration!”
He also said, “when on a new set, the actor should get familiar with it . . . walk the set . . . as it is known.” Jonathan had a method of acting called THE THREE C'S . . . they were Concentration, Communication, and Confidence. It would take a long time to go more into it, but this was basically it.
Jonathan believed that even if you are sick, the show must go on! One time he worked on a Lost in Space episode, sick with a very high fever (over 100 degrees!). “Willy, I was so sick during that episode, I didn't know where I was!”
If a director is a jerk who doesn't know what he's doing, he told me to say “okay, I'll do what you want,” and then to go off and do what I feel is best for the character. Jonathan did this often if he felt the director didn't know what he was talking about, or could possibly ruin a character. However, Jonathan never did this with Don Richardson, who he loved and greatly respected.
Jonathan worked with all the Lost in Space writers. He even brought them on SPACE ACADEMY. Jonathan arranged for Peter Packer to be the story editor on SPACE ACADEMY. . . and Peter hated that kiddie show! LOL! Jonathan once said “there's nothing wrong with nepotism!”
Jonathan wasn't going to return to Lost in Space for the second season, because he wanted a big pay increase! He was really prepared to “walk,” and would have if Irwin had not caved in to his demands. Jonathan didn't give a damn. During this time, Irwin auditioned New York actors to possibly replace Jonathan. A meeting was held with attorneys and agents on both sides, and Irwin finally agreed. Jonathan later told me that he should have also renegotiated for the third season, but he didn't.
During the Truman Capoti play THE GRASS HARP, Truman drove the music composer nuts! Jonathan witnessed the scene. The temperamental composer asked Truman if he liked the music for a particular park scene (which the composer worked on for a very long time). Truman, in his slow, flamboyant voice sarcastically remarked, “I imagined hearing birds!” Jonathan laughed, as the composer screamed in a fit of rage, tearing up his music sheets . . . “birds?!” “BIRDS?!!” “BIRDS???!!” LOL!
Jonathan would not go to Irwin Allen's funeral. “I'm no hypocrite” he told me!
On BONANZA, the wardrobe man told Jonathan that he always had to clean Michael Landon's underpants, because of all the actresses Michael was constantly screwing! During the long speeches Jonathan had (as Charles Dickens), Lorne Green, Landon, and Roberts kept making faces at Jonathan, trying to break him up. Landon crossed his eyes, etc. .
Famous quote . . . “when it comes to producers . . . management. . . it's ‘us' verses ‘them.'” This was Jonathan's attitude as an actor, due to all the trouble, headaches, problems he often encountered with various producers of television shows and feature films he was involved with. Many times problems involved money . . . Jonathan was owed it, and producers did not want to pay it. This happened over and over and over.
In order to save production money on Lost in Space, Irwin made Jonathan do all his close-ups at the end of each day. Jonathan could memorize very well, so at night, after all the other Lost in Space actors were dismissed, Jonathan was all alone doing the day's close-ups . . . all of them! He hated it! Imagine working all day long, and now the most important scenes for you . . . your close-ups . . . have to be done when you're ready to go to bed! You have to recall everyone's parts, the earlier scenes shot hours ago, only the script lady is there (and she's no actress). You got to go into Dr. Smith and react / act to people who aren't there, for your most important scenes! It was really, really hard. This happened often for him.
He told me “Every actor in the world gets nervous!” “I was nervous the first day on Lost in Space, but you get over it.” “One must psych oneself out!”
Vincent Price's manager wanted to represent Jonathan for speaking appearances at rich ladies tea luncheons during the 1970s, etc. . He knew Jonathan was constantly working on episodic television, and warned him before signing, “You are ‘Mr. Television,' but you better show up to every lecture I book you on.” Jonathan never signed, because he didn't want to lose a good TV job.
I'll stop here . . .
(DISCLAIMER- below are more stories Jonathan told me about his early days working in a New York pharmacy. If “off color” material offends you, please DO NOT READ. These stories are factual, they were part of his early life, and I think its important to pass them on – otherwise nobody else will. Also, I'm assuming this tribute group is mostly made up of adults, and it isn't just about repeating the same old stories he told at conventions – I will not do that here, since everyone has heard those “public stories” countless times. What I pass on is selected information about the man, told to me by the man!)
When Jonathan worked in the pharmacy, he studied all the characters (customers) that went in and out. One time a nice little old lady walked in. “What can I do for you m'am?!” Jonathan asked. She said, “I'll take a bottle of cough medicine, a bottle of mouth wash, oh, and six boxes of prophylactics (condoms).” Jonathan was shocked. He gave the woman her merchandise, took her money, and she left. Jonathan then turned to the old pharmacist in back. “What is that nice little old lady doing with six boxes of prophylactics?” he asked. The pharmacist replied “she runs the whorehouse on 37th!” LOL!
Another time a father and son walked in, and the father asked Jonathan for a box of condoms for his 16 year old son. Jonathan gave the man the condoms and said “Sir, it is none of my business, but may I ask why you're doing this?” The man replied, “my son is coming of age, and I want him to get off to the right start.” Jonathan deeply felt that this was wonderful and told the man so. Jonathan told me his father never would have done that, in fact, Jonathan's parents were petrified about the subject of sex. “Needless to say, that boy took to using condoms like a duck takes to water!” Jonathan chuckled! “He was in the pharmacy buying rubbers every week!”
Another condom story involved a woman who had eight children. She thought that “enough was enough” already, and bought condoms from Jonathan. The next morning, before Jonathan opened the pharmacy, the woman knocked on the glass door in a panic. Seeing that she was clearly shaken, Jonathan opened the door. “What's wrong?” The frantic woman said, “I'm so embarrassed, I made my husband put one on and now it's stuck up there!” Jonathan nearly died laughing, but for the woman it was no laughing matter! He gave her advice, “Listen, calm down. Now go home, get on your hands and knees, then have your husband dig it out with his fingers! Have him dig it out.” As Jonathan explained this to her, he made a “digging gesture” with the first two fingers of his hand. LOL! She left and obviously followed his advice and retrieved it, since she didn't return.
Another funny story involved an attractive hooker/prostitute who frequented the pharmacy often. The pharmacy had an ice cream fountain, as most pharmacies had in those days, and this lady talked to Jonathan explaining that she needed to eat ice cream to coat her stomach. Many of her male customers used to buy her drinks (hard liquor / alcohol) in bars before taking her to bed! So, Jonathan became the prostitute's “ice cream man!” Many times, this “lady of the evening” didn't pay for her ice cream, and Jonathan later found out why . . . the old pharmacist (who was married) worked out a special “barter/payment plan” with her too! The prostitute would go in the back room and “service” the old pharmacist! LOL! Jonathan, of course, never said a word to the pharmacist about it. The pharmacist knew that Jonathan knew, but neither one of them talked about it. They pretended nothing was happening.
Here are several trivia bits Jonathan told me regarding Lost in Space . . . just random things I recall him saying . . . . (Disclaimer – These are Jonathan's words, not mine. I am simply repeating what the man told me over nearly 100 luncheons I had with him, since once again, these facts will probably die if I or others do not pass them on. In some instances I've censored parts or did not mention names, but the overall stories remain basically as told to me).
Jonathan thought Albert Salmi was totally weird. Not all together there. “It was not a surprise to me, when I heard of the suicide” he told me. “Willy, Albert was always weird.” He used to call Albert Salmi, “Albert Salami!”
Jonathan really loved Hans Conried.
He always thought of Sheila Matthews as “just a normal broad.” After years of pursuing Irwin, he finally gave in and married her. When Jonathan was invited to the wedding, which was done up like the Arabian Knights, he joked to Sheila, “you finally got'em!”
Jonathan hated Edy Williams, the (then) sexy actress (and later wife of Russ Meyer). Edy was a contract player at Fox, who starred in Russ Meyer's famous cult movie Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. One day on the Lost in Space set, Edy turned to the cameraman. She wanted to look as great as she could on film, so she moved to the man and jokingly asked “are you the guy who's di#@ I'm supposed to suck to get good coverage?” Jonathan actually heard this, and couldn't believe it! “Willy, what a pathetic creature!” he told me.
Jonathan told me that most of the guest stars on Lost in Space really didn't make a good living. He explained to me, “Willy, you can't make a living on episodic work alone, you must be a ‘series regular!'” This is why he said many of the guest stars on Lost in Space never earned big time money.
One day during the first season, he tried to apologize to Guy Williams for stealing the show. “I understand how you feel Guy, but there's nothing I can do.” Guy, pissed off, just shrugged and walked away from him.
At another time, Guy once passed by Jonathan – who was acting his butt off that day. Guy remarked to him “heavy is the head which wears the crown!” On the episode “His Majesty Smith,” the first crown was in fact too heavy, so a lighter one was used.
Mercedes McCambridge was a great actress, but on the Lost in Space set she had alcohol on her breath. When Jonathan and she did a long scene together, he smelled it, and joked “what have you been drinkin' honey?!” Jonathan had worked with Mercedes in the past.
Jonathan hated the British actors on Lost in Space, like John Abbott and John Carradine. Abbott was always jealous (according to Jonathan) because Jonathan always snagged different acting parts away from him (they were both similar types). I recall Jonathan also telling me that John Abbott thought he was a better actor than Jonathan, and hated the fact that Jonathan got all the work. Abbott was apparently very jealous/envious of Jonathan.
James Westerfeld, the circus barker “Marvello,” blew his lines terribly. Jonathan tried to reassure him, “we all have these days.”
Jonathan thought Vitina Marcus and Dee Hartford were “not the strongest actresses in the world,” but he loved Strother Martin and Marcel Hilliare.
Jonathan told me one of the female guest stars, who appeared in many of Irwin's shows, was having an affair with Irwin (I don't want to mention the name).
Torin Thatcher was very sick with arthritis during the filming of Space Trader.
He felt Warren Oats was a good actor, and the Liam Sullivan and Royal Dano were “okay.” Jonathan also thought that Werner Klemperer was a “funny, crazy German man!” He liked Walter Burke and Ronald Long, and loved Stanley Adams. Jonathan thought Stanley was very professional, considering the silly things he had to do (wear a carrot costume, utter horrible lines, etc.)
Jonathan loved director Don Richardson, they went way back to the days of live TV together in New York. Jonathan liked all the directors, except Sutton Rolley. Jonathan felt Don was the greatest director, and that he gave a lot of great direction, ideas, moves, etc., for Dr. Smith. As a coincidence, Don Richardson was my acting/directing teacher at UCLA in the early 1980s (when Richardson retired, he taught at UCLA).
The episode “Curse of Cousin Smith” starring Henry Jones was truly unique! It was meant as a “threat” to Jonathan from Irwin. “How do you like what Henry's doing?” Irwin would ask Jonathan. “Isn't he great?!” and Jonathan, knowing full well what Irwin was up to (going to possibly replace him with Henry) calmly replied,”Oh, he's wonderful Irwin.” This pissed Irwin off. Needless to say, the threat didn't work and Jonathan stayed on the series. This explains why the Hell Dr. Smith's cousin, of all people, would show up on the Robbinson's alien planet! LOL!
Irwin used to threaten him, pointing his finger, “Are you calling my bluff?”
Irwin also used to threaten him by saying “I'm the Magic Scissors in the Sky,” opening and closing his first two fingers, as if they were scissors. This threat meant that Irwin could or would “cut out” or “edit out” certain people or scenes from shows, if actors didn't follow orders or behave.
One time he had a fight with Irwin and didn't talk to him for two weeks. Jonathan's agent finally said, “Jonathan, you better start talking!” So Jonathan did. Irwin fearfully walked up to Jonathan (who was standing on the platform of the Jupiter 2). Jonathan said, “Hello Irwin.” Irwin joyously replied, “Hello, you're doing a great job! Keep up the good work!” Irwin then left with his “yes men.”
Jonathan had a lot of stress filming “Lost in Space.” He had terrible bouts with diarriah and went to the hospital to get an upper G.I.. While in the hospital, he was almost operated on by mistake! “Willy, stay away from Hospitals, they can kill you!” he used to say!
He had sand in his boots all the time. He liked the Lost in Space sets, “until the wind-machine was turned on!”
He favorite episode was “Cave of the Wizards.”
One time during Lost in Space, Jonathan severely strained his back getting out of his car on the Fox lot. He had to be hauled out of the car and taken to the hospital for cortisone shots. Irwin immediately shuttled him back to the set!
Jonathan never had a chauffeur drive him to and from the Fox lot during “Lost in Space.” He drove himself. The only time he had a driver was when there was a terrible rain storm, and he was unable to drive out of his Encino home. Irwin sent a pick-up truck to Jonathan's home to pick him up!
Jonathan absolutely loved Fritz Feld. He called him “Dear Frizel.” He took a picture with him for Fritz's scrapbook. Fritz had a scrapbook with photos he took with all the stars he worked with over the many years. Jonathan was actually honored to be asked by Fritz!
He had to fight for every extra “goodie” on the show, such as a separate dressing room.
He refused to do stunts, and made his stuntman/double “Handsome Harry” do them. When Irwin questioned this, Jonathan would cleverly say,”. . . but Irwin, what if I hurt myself?!” That satisfied Irwin!
He hated the “sinking in quicksand” scenes, because little pebbles got into his clothes!
He used to go to the TV Academy for the Emmy Awards, but then RESIGNED when the Academy failed/refused to nominate him for Dr. Smith in “Lost in Space.” He was really, really, pissed off about that, feeling that he deserved to be nominated. Jonathan even wrote a nasty letter to the President of the Academy . . . “how dare you! I resign!” The President replied “you wouldn't . . .” Jonathan answered him “Oh, really?!” He did! Jonathan resigned! “Fu%*'em Willy” he told me!
Jonathan thought Jimmy Hassinger was a wonderful set decorator.
Jonathan was fond of the nightgown he wore on the show.
Besides handing out Tootsie Pops to the cast and crew, Jonathan would sometimes buy cookies every Friday to give to the cast and crew. He told me, “Willy, the bakery I used to buy them from was called, pardon the expression, the Fairyland Bakery!” LOL! It's no longer there.
Jonathan was loosing his hair while shooting the series, so during each break between seasons, he'd get hair transplants. This is why Dr. Smith's hairline changes between seasons! He used to tell me, “Willy, if you have money, you can have hair!”
There was an actress on the Fox lot (who shall remain nameless) who would arrive at the studio with no make-up on. She would shock Jonathan. “Willy, her face looked like shiny, wet rubber!” He couldn't believe it. A while later, when she was all made up, she looked okay. Jonathan referred to this process as “The Transformation.” LOL! Jonathan was fascinated by “The Transformation.” “Willy, I never saw anything like it before or since!”
Gene Polito, the first cameraman on the show was too slow, so Irwin canned him.
Bill Faralla was Irwin's spy, who Jonathan hated.
During the series, a director friend at Fox asked if Jonathan would do a quick “walk on” on a big Fox feature film. Just a no-line bit as a joke. Jonathan said “that'll cost you one-thousand, five-hundred dollars. I don't do free walk-ons.”
I'll stop here . . .
Some more Jonathan trivia . . .
Opera was his passion. He often played opera tapes in his car and sang along with them. He and Gertrude would regularly buy season tickets to the opera in Los Angeles. Their routine was Gertrude and he would go to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and first eat dinner at the restaurant on the top floor. Then after dinner, they'd go downstairs and watch the opera.
Gardening used to be one of his hobbies, but later in life he gave it up due to his bad back – yes, he really had a bad back.
When he had his knee replaced in the hospital, he couldn't stop hiccupping for nine (9) days! His metal knee replacement used to always set off alarms at airports.
He had terrible skin cancers that popped up all over his face and neck, even on his back. It was from years of sun bathing. He told me “of course in those days, nobody knew about skin cancer, really.” “I used to lay in the sun all day, saying how tan can I get?!” The excessive sunbathing took its toll years later. “I'm sure paying for it now” he told me. Jonathan always encouraged others to “wear plenty of sun screen when you go out!” When he used to see young people sunbathing on the beach he wanted to scream at them, “You fools! You don't know what you're doing!” One of Jonathan's skin cancers left a terrible scar, a keloid, on the back of his right ear. Gertrude also had a problem with skin cancer.
More funny showbiz stories Jonathan told me . . .
On UNCLE CROCK'S BLOCK, (a live-action 1970s kids series Jonathan co-starred in), Charles Nelson Reilly (the star of the show who wore a crocodile costume) would drive Jonathan crazy by yelling “Haul-Ass!” Charles did this to get the crew guys moving quicker, so the days work would finish sooner! Jonathan couldn't stand the daily screaming of “Haul-Ass!” uttered by Charles in a very slow, flamboyant style! Jonathan warned him, “Listen Charles, if I hear ‘Haul Ass' one more time . . .” Charles responded, “fine, I'll stop.” Then two minutes later Charles yelled “Haul Ass!” Jonathan gave up!
Charles would bring food to the set from McDonalds. “I love McDonalds” Charles would say, again in a slow, flamboyant manner! Jonathan, having been a gourmet cook who ate only the finest foods would look at Charles in disgust!
One day, Charles showed up real late to the set. “Where the Hell have you been?” asked Jonathan. Charles replied, “at the garage, my car wouldn't start!” Jonathan then asked “what was wrong?” Charles said “No oil.” Jonathan then followed up with “Didn't you regularly change it?” and Charles answered, in a surprised and confused manner . . .”you're supposed to put OIL in it???”
Paul Volpe on this feed asked about the sitcom SOAP. Here's what Jonathan told me about that experience.
Jonathan was called in to ABC for a meeting / audition to replace Robert Guillaume on the sitcom SOAP. His agent forced him to go, but he kept telling them, “they'll never replace a black man with a white one!” “They'll never replace a black man with a white one!” Jonathan read the script during his audition for the ABC executives, he did hilarious things/business, but the execs just sat there stone faced. No reaction at all. This royally pissed off Jonathan, he was rightfully expecting the ABC guys to laugh. They didn't. Finally, as a joke at the end of his audition/meeting, as he was leaving, he held out his parking ticket and asked if they “validate?” Again, no response from the ABC suits.
Jonathan told me, “Willy, I CRAWLED out of those ABC offices and vowed NEVER to do that again!”
Funny stuff Jonathan told me about his time on SANFORD AND SON in the early 1970s (story is a little “off-color” so be warned).
On SANFORD AND SON, star Red Foxx would never rehearse and many times the assistant directors couldn't find him. Red held up the production! It drove Jonathan mad! Then Red would show up on the set and yell “Oh-oh, I ain't half hard!” – meaning he was sexually aroused! LOL! Jonathan would shake his head in disbelief! Red would then yell “some Bitch better take care of this, or I ain't workin' today!” The director would throw his hands up in the air, the script lady would storm off, and Jonathan, again, just couldn't believe it!
Red Foxx actually liked Jonathan and invited him to his home for a party. Red gave Jonathan a tour of the place and every room was painted a different color (the entire room a different color). “This be the green room, this da blue room, this da red room, this da yella room, etc.!” Jonathan couldn't believe it again, and wondered if Red bought out a paint store or something! Jonathan was also the only white person there! At one point in the evening, Red turned to Jonathan and said, “You know somethin', I respect you!” Jonathan replied, “why thank you Red.” Red then said, “Let me ask you somethin'. I ain't never had an agent. Bubba here's been my manager. Who do you think I ought to sign with?” Jonathan thought it over and said “Well Red, I think William Morris might be good. They don't generate heat, but they parlay heat, and you're hot right now.” Red took Jonathan's advice and signed with the William Morris talent agency.
Another funny note . . .there was a mean, racist white woman who lived next door to Red. This woman was fairly well known in the community. Red joked with Jonathan, “know who lives next-door?” Jonathan replied “No, Red, who lives next door?” Red answered “Miss Whitey!” LOL!
Red never rehearsed but on the day of shooting, in front of the live audience, Red shocked Jonathan – the man performed perfectly, as if he had been rehearsing all week – a real talent!
SANFORD AND SON was a big hit during it's time, a very successful sitcom. It was based on a British comedy series called STEPTOE AND SON, and the American producers of the U.S. version were originally going to make it a “white show” not a “black one” and guess who was selected to play the father part (Red Foxx's role)? Jonathan Harris!!!! Yes, that's right, Jonathan told me that HE would have been the star of SANFORD AND SON had it featured a white cast of regulars as originally intended. Bud Yorkin, the producer, actually selected him!
When Jonathan was later cast to appear in an episode of the new show, he played a crooked art dealer who swindled Fred Sanford.
An amazing story Jonathan told me about Chuck Norris during one of our luncheons . . .
Jonathan taught Chuck Norris acting for his first film “Good Guys Wear Black.” He was hired by the director. He thought that Chuck was a very bad actor. Like a puppeteer, Jonathan tried to show Chuck how to act in every scene – except the fighting and stunt sequences. It was awful. In one scene, Chuck was in an airport and walked up to a girl working behind a ticket booth. Jonathan explained the scene to him. “Now Chuck, you're going to walk up to that sexy girl. You're going to say your lines, and you're going to look at her and think ‘I want to fu*% you'.” It was impossible for Jonathan to get Chuck to make the quick flirtatious scene work. Later at a location in Indian Dunes, Chuck started getting very angry at Jonathan's coaching instructions. “Why do I have to say all these lines? Clint Eastwood doesn't talk. . . Charles Bronson doesn't talk!” Jonathan replied, “you want to tell the director that?” A knock came at the dressing room door, “we're ready Chuck!” Jonathan barked back “Well we aren't!” They rehearsed the scene again, and Chuck blew up! He jumped to his feet as if to hit Jonathan. “Chuck, you raise one foot to me, and I'm gone forever!” warned Jonathan. Chuck slowly sat back down.
Later on the set, the director had an actor stand on a hill, with Chuck on the lower part. Chuck looked shorter than the guy he was speaking to. After the scene was shot, Jonathan walked over to Chuck. “Do you know what just happened?” Chuck replied, “No, what?” Jonathan answered “you looked like a fu*@in' midget!” Another lesson learned.
At the end of every day, Chuck's wife would pester Jonathan, “is my husband going to be a superstar? Is my husband going to be a superstar?!” Jonathan told her over and over, “the picture will tell us!” “The picture will tell us!” Finally at the premier, she approached him again,”well, now you've seen the movie. Is my husband going to be a superstar?” Jonathan, having nearly thrown up watching Chuck's lousy performance, thoughtfully replied,”the NEXT picture will tell us!”
When the picture wrapped, Chuck gave Jonathan a present for all his work. . . to Jonathan's surprise it was a plaque with a carving of Chuck's face on it. “Thanks Chuck.” Jonathan was supposed to receive one percent (1%) of the gross profits from “Good Guys Wear Black,” but as standard operating procedure in Hollywood, he never saw a penny of it. When Chuck Norris went on to really become a superstar, it shocked Jonathan. “Who the hell would have thought that Chuck would actually make it!” Jonathan told me, “It's unbelievable, and I'm still stunned to this day! He's no actor, he'll never be . . .he just doesn't have it!”
(Jonathan Harris's famous Chuck Norris story!)
Jonathan told me an interesting story about a play he did, HAZEL FLAG. During the play, an actress got sick, so Jonathan took over her lines for his character and it worked for several shows. The director liked it and was going to fire the girl. Jonathan was furious when he heard about this and said “don't you dare fire that young woman simply because she got sick . . if you do, I'll quit!” The girl stayed! A wonderful example of Jonathan's kindness.
I'll never forget telling Jonathan at one of our 1990s luncheons . . .
“you know Jonathan, nobody talks, dresses or acts like you in today's films or TV shows.” I added, “everyone is so bland and . . . trashy!”
and he replied,
“Oh No, Willie, what I do is very ELEGANT!”
LOL! I laughed my rear off! So did he!
If you guys like the luncheon stories, here's another . . .
I asked Jonathan one time . . . a very “deep” actor-to-actor question. . . “what do you do when you talk?”
He replied poetically, “Willy, I paint with language!”
Another interesting story Jonathan told me during one of our luncheons . . .
long after Lost in Space was cancelled, Jonathan and Peter Packer (one of Space's main writers) got together for a new TV series project. Peter wrote a pilot script for Jonathan, where Jonathan was an international tour guide for college kids – sort of like a “Love Boat on land,” starring new groups of young people each week and their romances, stories, etc. . Jonathan and Peter took this to ABC and pitched it. The network rejected it, but then stole the concept and actually shot a pilot starring a female actress instead of Jonathan! Jonathan wanted to sue them, but Packer said forget it! The rip off pilot aired, but failed to sell as a series.
I'll never forget a line Jonathan told me . . . he said –
“Willy, if you're hired to act in a piece of sh#*, you must think of it as wonderful material you love doing!”