Lost in Space: Bill Mumy Passes The Torch To Maxwell Jenkins
The actors who portray the Robinson’s youngest son share a bond that extends well beyond Lost in Space.
Editor’s note: This story appears in our latest Den of Geek special edition magazine presented in parternship with Netflix. You can find more infomation on the issue here.
“Danger, Will Robinson!” by Bill Mumy
I’ve run the gamut of emotions when hearing those three words over the last 54 years. I was a prolific and experienced professional actor, having worked half of my 10 years, by the time I accepted the role of Will Robinson in Irwin Allen’s ambitious television project, Lost in Space. What kid wouldn’t have loved to be Will? He was a genius. Brave, trusting, open, bold, and respectful. He had a laser gun and he used it. He often saved the day. And… he played the guitar.
To me, Will was a superhero and I modeled him after Bucky Barnes, Captain America’s sidekick from World War II. At the time I was filming Lost in Space from 1965-1968, the Marvel Comics character was being written by Stan Lee and illustrated with great power by Jack “King” Kirby. Their work had a big influence on me and how I portrayed Will.
“Danger Will Robinson” became a catch phrase during the psychedelic ‘60s—like “Sock it to me!”—and I was proud to be connected with it.
The show varied in tone—from gorgeous black and white adventure stories about a family struggling against the unknown dangers of an alien planet (all played out to the percussive themes of John Williams’ brilliant score) to the campy, brightly-colored, over-lit insanity of a six-foot talking carrot in a rubber suit hamming it up while the cast couldn’t keep a straight face. After 83 hour-long adventures in space, Lost in Space ended its original network run on CBS. I was 14 years old.
Soon I found myself touring and performing as a professional musician. When someone in the audience shouted, “Danger, Will Robinson” during a set, those three words didn’t resonate as positively as they had a few years earlier. Like most young adults, I wanted to distance myself from how the public perceived me as a child and I rebelled against that image. I soon came to understand that Lost in Space would never go away. It resonates with generation after generation. But why?
The imagination is able to fly untethered when placing a family in the potential stories of countless deep space alien worlds. The conflict of a self-serving stowaway—a character you despise but come to love at the same time—who gains the trust of the youthful protagonist is brilliant. The addition of Robot, who can serve as a “Swiss Army Knife” in times of conflict is another eternally great idea. And our classic robot, designed by Robert Kinoshita, who also created “Robby the Robot” for the film Forbidden Planet, remains a brilliant design.
But beyond that, Lost in Space is about family. That is why it worked for the past 54 years—and that’s why it works now on Netflix.
For the past 20 years or so, producers Kevin Burns and Jon Jashni have single-handedly been in charge of the classic Irwin Allen properties. Thankfully, they knew the proper approach to re-launching Lost in Space, and held out until they had assembled the precise creative team to do it right. Chemistry is a funny thing. You can’t “cast” it. You can only hope for it. The original cast had it and the new cast has it in spades.
read more: Lost in Space is Lifting Off With A Bigger Sci-Fi Quest In Season 2
So far, they’ve done everything right. The tone of the show is appropriately dramatic—just as our earliest episodes were. The danger comes from every direction. The characters are well defined and brilliantly acted. The expanse of filming exteriors in distant locations and then blending them with state-of-the-art CGI works beautifully. The music harkens back to the original John Williams themes. And there are plenty of affectionate “nudge nudge, wink wink” moments that let you know that the people behind the new Lost in Space love the original version just as much as the fans do.
During the production of season one, I flew up to Vancouver to work on the show and was so pleased to learn that the cast had bonded like a true family. The crew was happy and proud. The production office couldn’t wait to jam on the next idea.
They have a winner here.
I am honored to see Will Robinson’s destiny in Maxwell Jenkins’ capable heart and hands. He is a thoughtful, deeply talented actor and a genuinely wonderful human being. Max and I bonded quickly. We talked about Will and his connection to the Robot and Smith, the technical intelligence of the wardrobe, and props he was working with on set. We got into deep discussions about working on a series and having to be shuffled back and forth to a school trailer whenever a scene was finished. That was always my toughest pill to swallow as a kid. We talked about music, and I was blown away to learn Max was in the process of writing a report on Pete Seeger and plays the mandolin.
When I was filming Lost in Space in the ‘60s, I was a huge folk music fan, and Pete Seeger was one of my heroes. And, I play mandolin. Max and I jammed. I made him an 80-minute mix of Pete Seeger songs. Then we talked about comic books and I was surprised to discover not only does Max read comic books, but his favorite character is Captain America. So, I remembered a comic book store in Vancouver that I had visited while shooting a sequel to The Twilight Zone episode, “It’s a Good Life” with Cloris Leachman and my daughter Liliana years ago.
On a long, cold walk over the weekend, I found the store still there. I bought Max a collection of the Kirby-Lee Captain America and Bucky stories that had so inspired my performances as Will Robinson over 50 years earlier. I also picked up the “Winter Soldier” Bucky Barnes collection that brings the character back into modern continuity. It features a “darker,” more realistic, Bucky. Perfect for a darker, more realistic, Will Robinson.
Now, I’m seeing and hearing those three words again more than ever: “Danger, Will Robinson!”
And it makes me smile such a sweet smile.
Original Lost in Space images courtesy of PhotoFest.