Friday, 1 May 2015

Coo Coo C'choo Judy Robinson.... An interview with Marta Kristen

"Ready for take 5 and... action!" the director shouted through his megaphone... I starting slowly lolloping across the set, moving slowly and fluidly, which wasn't easy in this big suit and to be honest no one had actually done this before so it wasn't as if I had any pint of reference...   
"And now... stop... Nice... OK now stick the pole into the ground triumphantly..." he instructed,  I did as he said, Well I hope I did, I wasn't sure how to portray triumphant in a giant suit and helmet!

"Beautiful, beautiful" he called

It was my first big acting job, I was thrilled and so excited and was dying to tell everyone, but I had to sign this stupid contract clause, I couldn't tell anyone who I was, where I was filming or the content of the film itself... My god, I'd never expected it to be like this... I wasn't even allowed to tell my mum!!

Finally after a lot of lolloping over the sand the director called "Cut!" and we broke for lunch.

I got changed quickly - thankfully I had no make-up to remove because my face was always hidden under that huge helmet - and headed to the canteen. I was starving and the inside of that suit was boiling hot and although the set was only meant to be starlit and pretty dark, it was still extremely hot! I needed to get back those lost calories... I headed for the buns.
Reaching the particularly sticky one my hand collided with other, although this hand was reaching out for a much healthier option of an apple, I looked around to apologise and there I was confronted with a sci-fi icon, Judy Robinson herself, Marta Kristen!

Born in 1945 and looking as gorgeous as ever, Marta is best known for her role as Judy Robinson, daughter of professor Robinson in the TV series 'Lost in Space'. Filmed from 1965 to 1968, Marta played the part of the eldest sibling, Judy, a 20 something and with fabulous costumes and her natural blonde hair and gorgeous looks, she became a firm favourite amongst the viewers...
 She has appeared in many other TV and films, including playing a reporter in the 98' remake of Lost in Space, but will always be known to her fans as the mini skirted, teenage dream,z Judy Robinson.
I had an hour for lunch... That was long enough, I shuffled my tray alongside Marta's and after grabbing the bun, a bowl of soup and some bread and  paying, I made a beeline for the
table she was sitting at. She smiled as I walked over... Was it that obvious that I was a fan? I asked if the seat adjacent to her was taken, she kindly told me it wasn't and I sat down. After a bit of small talk... Of course, because of the contract I'd signed, my talk was very small... So I asked if I might ask her a few questions about herself... Maybe pick up a few tips along the way? She was more than happy to do so.

You played Judy Robinson in Lost in Space for 3 years. Was it hard to get other parts when you were so associated with that character?  
"I really don’t know, because I didn't look for new roles. We were fully expecting to film a season four, and when that didn't happen...
... I took a break from showbusiness. I travelled, had a baby, and dealt with some personal issues. I really didn't start looking for work for about five years. By then, Lost in Space was already fading from the memory of casting directors. And frankly, with my daughter starting school, I was really more interested in staying close to home, so I looked for commercials, guest spots and local theatre, not a new series or a film role. 

You also played a replicant of Judy too... Did that ever get confusing?
"The plant version had no emotions, which can be harder because you can’t react to conversations. Of course, scenes were not shot in sequence, so remembering which Judy I was playing any particular scene could have been a problem, but that’s what the director is for!" 

Have you seen the Robinsons computer pop up in other TV shows and movies? 
"The studio reused everything it could. The working robot (the one Bobby May operated) ended up on a Saturday morning show, spray-painted white with a new bubble and no treads. The stunt robot survived and can be seen in the new DVD set coming out for the 50th anniversary. "

 There have been many parodies of the show, do you have a favourite?

"Mad Magazine did a parody of the show, “Loused in Space.” We thought that one was hilarious. In fact, June had us take a photo mugging for the camera that we sent to the magazine with a thank you note. It ran in a later edition."  

And what did you think of your costumes? Did you have any say?
"We all hated the space suits during first season. They were fireproof suits, stiff, hot, heavy, and inflexible. I think there are photos that show us resting between scenes on angled boards they erected because we couldn’t sit in the suits. We were elated when they gave us Mylar suits instead. AS to my other costumes, I hated the colors of the first season costume, but it looked great in black & white, and that’s all that mattered. I liked both the two later costumes much better. Bright, more futuristic, all thanks to Paul Zastupnevich, Irwin’s right hand man. A patient and kind soul and a brilliant designer." 
                                                And the robot... He wasn't Robby... But what was the he called?
"Will and Dr. Smith called him “Robot.” Bob Kinoshita, the robot designer, called him “Blinky.” I believe his official name was “B9.”  Loads of people mix it up with Robbie - who I heard did appear in one episode - do you find that?Robby the Robot appeared in two episodes and was a villain in both! But yes, I have heard people refer to our robot by the name Robby. I don’t think they’re confusing the two robots, just which one had the name."

And what was it like interacting with it?
One of my regrets about the show was that the writers really didn't use Judy very often. So I didn't really get the chance to work with Bobby May the way Billy and Jonathan did. On the other hand, Judy was originally designed to be the older, sensible sibling, so I'm not sure she would acknowledge that the robot was anything other than a piece of equipment.  To her, it would be like talking to a washing machine."  

Ha! I've talked to my washing machine before... "Work, damn you! please!"... I must get that fixed... 

How did it feel when the 3rd series changed to colour?
"We changed to color in the second season...
Oop Sorry... 
...And it was appropriate. The first season was strictly a science fiction version of Swiss Family Robinson. The color reflected the change in the show’s direction and tone. Once we started “planet of the week” type shows in season 2, we were more of an outer space fantasy show."

And do you have a favourite memory of the show?
"I went to Irwin Allen one week and complained that Judy was getting no lines. The previous week, I told him, my entire appearance in the episode was to step out of the Jupiter 2, gaze around with a concerned look and then call “Will?” Irwin nodded and said he’s talk to the writers. Sure enough the next week, I had more lines. I stepped out of the Jupiter 2, gazed around with a concerned look and then called “Will? … Penny?” — He doubled my lines!""

Ha! Well at least she had a line, in this movie, or what ever it was that I was working on I just had to jump around with a massive helmet on... There is talk that they're going to dub a voice over, but it wouldn't be mine... Probably someone really famous! 

I suddenly noticed that I had got so carried away talking to Marta that I had totally forgotten my soup and time was ticking, I picked up my spoon and started tucking in to the lukewarm liquid, not before asking another question though...

And so what is your funniest memory of filming?
"Mark and Billy locked Bobby inside the robot right before we broke for lunch one day and apparently “forgot” to let him out. The crew came back an hour later and the robot was sitting there on the stage with smoke pouring out of it! They rushed over with fire extinguishers, popped the top and there was Bobby, just relaxing, He had sat there waiting so long that he decided to have a cigar, which filled the interior with smoke."

And now time to dispel a rumour, I had heard that June Lockhart drove a fire truck into work everyday... Surely 
"Doesn’t everyone have an antique fire truck to drive to work? She did own the fire truck, and she did drive it to work. It was really more of a publicity stunt – she didn’t commute every day in the thing. Of course now, you wouldn’t dare bring that behemoth out on the LA freeways, never mind the gas prices."
Now on the set of whatever I was working on at the moment there were only a couple of us and no time to fall out, but I had worked on some long running plays in my day when the actors were after each others throats by the second week... So I wondered what it was like after 3 years?!
"There may have been an occasional snapping at each other after a long day, but problems and issues were left at the stage door. We were all professionals. Look at the cast: Lassie’s Mom, that kid from the Twilight Zone, a Von Trapp daughter, Johnny Ringo’s deputy, the mermaid from Beach Blanket Bingo and dear, sweet Jonathan, who had been in everything. Poor Guy was supposed to be the star. Instead, he went from being Zorro to playing second fiddle to a kid and his pet robot. Never a complaint. The man was the consummate professional.  More importantly, by third season, some of the scripts were so bizarre that we had to stick together just to keep sane." 

And are you still friends with the surviving cast members?
"I see Billy and Angela quite a bit. June I see less often, and of course Mark lives in the East Coast. The conventions are really the only time we all get together as a group."

So you do conventions?
"I do an occasional show, but I don’t do as many as I used to. Perhaps with the 50th anniversary of the show, I’ll start agreeing to more."

And are you amazed that it still has such a cult following?

"Keep in mind that Lost in Space was one of the most popular shows on television during broadcast. Our lowest Nielsen ratings were still higher than Star Trek’s highest ratings. Trek didn’t catch on until syndication. What amazes me is that it’s the children and grandchildren of the original fans who are now watching the show with such fondness."

And talking of the grandchildren, most of them were probably introduced to Lost in Space with the 1998 film version...
"I was delighted that they made Judy a doctor, and a more integral part of the cast. I still think not letting Billy play the older version of Will was a major mistake – everybody I met said they thought the actor looked so much like Bill they were distracted from the film trying to decide if it was him or not.  

And you even made a cameo as a reporter... How was that? 
The film was on such a tight production schedule that no one had time or opportunity to really sit down and chat. Angela and I, being in the same scene, were at least able to find time to go shopping in West End."  

And Heather Graham played Judy...
I did meet Heather and she’s a lovely girl. 

I suppose it's a bit like people asking who would you like to play you in a film of your life?! - would this be Heather Graham too?
As for a film of my life, I’m still kicking and I’m still acting – I’ll play the part myself!  

Ha! Very true!

I was getting to the end of my soup, just mopping up the bowl with my bread, I checked the clock, I still had a few minutes and my bun to finish, so I carried on...

So, when it got to 1997 - when the show was set - and it wasn't quite as you had pictured?! 
"Irwin Allen was a masterful producer but he was a business man, not a visionary. Technology was whatever he needed to advance the story. I remember one scene where we’re doing the laundry. We put the clothes in a ordinary-looking washing machine, pressed a button and voila! Clothes immediately come out folded, pressed and shrink-wrapped. Futuristic, with no added special effects (or costs). Gene Roddenberry seems to have had a better record with future technologies." 

I can only dream of that... My clothes came out more crumpled than ever... I was beginning to think that I really did need a new washing machine...

If you could have played any other memorable repeating characters, what would it be?
"I would love to be on Big Bang Theory. Penny must have a mother, right?  

You appeared in many other fabulous TV programmes, how did they differ (apart from not being in space I mean!)?
Television guest appearances are really like any other job – you show up, you do what you’re told, and go home.  You’re not there long enough to really get a feel for the show or make new friends.   Do you have a favourite?I made a guest appearances on a Jack Webb show called Project Blue Book and it was an Irwin Allen reunion – David
Hedison was the guest star and Bob Kinoshita designed the UFO, which had design elements from Lost in Space and Time Tunnel. The only thing missing was a rubber suit monster or two."

And I bet you get great fanmail?! 
"My buddy Dave handles most of the mail, and the really odd stuff never makes it past him. The funniest questions I get are usually questions about very specific plot points, such as “why did Judy turn left in scene 42 when the path obliviously led to the right” or technical question about the Jupiter 2’s engines. My

answer is always “I don’t know. Ask the writers.” "

I checked the clock again... Damn, I was meant to be back on set in 2 minutes, I quickly downed my tea, grabbed my bun and stood up... But before I left I had the perfect last question...

What do you think the Robinson's would be doing now, had they been real of course!? 
"Between Major West’s navigation and Dr. Smith’s shenanigans, I think we’d be “Even More Lost in Space!” " 

Good answer...

I said my goodbyes and  speedily made my way back to the studio, stuffing down the sticky bun as I jogged,
trying desperately not to get too much round my mouth, a mucky face is not very professional now, is it?! 

The director was at the door shouting at me?

"Where have you been?! We've been waiting! It's the big scene!"

The big scene?! Waiting? What there were others with me this time? I looked in and there they were! Two robots, one tall and gold, the other looking a little like a walking dustbin... Excellent!

"Sorry Mr Lucas" I said grabbing my black helmet and cape... Maybe this film might be exciting after all? 

For more information visit her Wikipedia page, IMDB, or website... Or Google her!


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