How gratifying would it be if something you did 50 years ago was still fondly remembered today, not only by your family members and friends, but also by millions of people all around the globe. Mark Goddard is among those fortunate individuals to experience such a rare privilege. To his many fans, the talented, handsome and affable former actor will always be known for his role of Major Don West, pilot of the Jupiter 2 spaceship in the classic Sci-Fi series Lost in Space. For three seasons, Major West journeyed through outer space onboard the Jupiter 2 along with the Robinson family as well as the ship’s environmental control Robot B9 and the ever-troublesome stowaway Dr. Zachary Smith.
Last month, Goddard appeared along with former Lost in Space castmates Marta Kristen (Judy Robinson), Angela Cartwright (Penny Robinson) and Bill Mumy (Will Robinson) at the hugely popular San Diego Comic-Con. Prior to that, they had come together to record commentary for the upcoming Lost in Space: The Complete Adventures Blu-ray release. These were not the only times over the past several years that Goddard has been reunited with his Lost in Space friends and colleagues – including June Lockhart (Dr. Maureen Robinson) as well as the late Guy Williams (Professor John Robinson), Jonathan Harris (Dr. Zachary Smith) and Bill Tufeld, who voiced the Robot – and these recent gatherings were just as special and enjoyable.
“We recorded several hours of material that will be included in the Lost in Space Blu-ray package and we had a ball doing that,” says Goddard. “We did readings from a script that Bill [Mumy] had written as well as answered all kinds of questions, and talked a great deal while watching a number of episodes from the series. People are going to love the Blu-ray release, and as for us, it was wonderful to get back together once again. We really are a family, which was true back when we were doing Lost in Space, and I think it’s that family that people saw back then when they watched the show.”
Born in Lowell, Massachusetts and raised in Scituate, Massachusetts, the East Coast native had graduated high school and was already attending Holy Cross College when he decided to try his hand at acting. “I had no idea what I wanted to do in life and I certainly wasn’t finding the answer to that in college,” he says. “So I took a leave from college, having been given the opportunity to come back in a year if things didn’t work out, and went to New York to study at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. From there, I began performing in stock [theater] in New England as well as down in Florida, and although I wasn’t doing that much acting, I was having a great deal of fun. Then, however, I took a chance, drove out to California and got very lucky. I had only been out there for three weeks when I booked my very first TV series.”
Goddard was cast in the series regular role of Cully in the TV Western Johnny Ringo, which was then followed by another lead role, that of Detective Sergeant Chris Ballard in The Detectives. “I was blessed to have Dick Powell as the head of Four Star Productions, who gave me the opportunity to do both of these shows,” he says. “The Cully character in Johnny Ringo is still my favorite. I like Don West from Lost in Space and he’s the character I’m most remembered for, which is great, but I thought Cully the cowboy was just incredible. I grew up wanting to be Gene Autry or Hopalong Cassidy, and now here I was working on a Western in Hollywood. I learned how to handle guns as well as ride a horse and I had a ball.
“Johnny Ringo was such a great show to work on, and the guest-stars were fantastic. We had actors like Burt Reynolds, James Coburn, Stella Stevens – a lot of genuinely nice people and really talented professionals. While I was on Johnny Ringo, I also had the chance to do The Rifleman, with Chuck Connors. That was another special job to me, and Chuck was fantastic, God bless him. Again, it’s always a pleasure to work on a show with good actors/people. I was also extremely fortunate to be working for Aaron Spelling [Johnny Ringo creator/writer/producer], who had an eye for talent, and then Levy-Gardner-Laven [producers Jules V. Levy, Arthur Gardner and Arthur Laven] on The Detectives. They brought in up and coming talent like Telly Savalas and Martin Landau; I also appeared with E.G. Robinson on The Detectives. We always had good directors, and I was acting opposite Robert Taylor [Detective Captain Matt Holbrook], who was the ultimate professional.”
Following the above two series, Goddard guest-starred on several other popular shows including The Bill Dana Show, Burke’s Law, The Beverly Hillbillies, Gunsmoke, Perry Mason and The Fugitive as well as had another series regular role playing Bob Randall in Many Happy Returns prior to being cast as Don West in Lost in Space. The major along with his fellow galactic castaways spent three years travelling through outer space onboard the Jupiter 2 and meeting all manner of alien species, from the good to the bad, the beautiful to the terrifying, and some who offered our weary travelers a chance to return home to Earth, but at an unacceptable cost. Of all the Lost in Space episodes he co-starred in, one of Goddard’s favorites is the third season’s The Anti-Matter Man, which presented him with the opportunity to play an anti-matter version of Don West.
“I loved getting to play the other side of Don West, including the beard, the eye and the rest of the make-up,” recalls Goddard. “He was a badass, and it’s always a treat when you get to play a bad-ass. I really enjoyed shooting the scene where the anti-matter Don is going after Guy Williams’ character of John, who’s locked in a cage that’s suspended from the ceiling of a cave. Because it was a cage, the bottom was open, and the badass Don is hitting the cage with chains and trying to shove a touch through the bars.
“As an actor, it’s amazing to have a moment where you can just let go and let it all flow out. This particular scene in Lost in Space gave me the chance to get out things that maybe I was feeling at the time about my personal life, or perhaps about the show, or just the little things that hadn’t quite worked out the way I thought they might. Thank God, though, I was able to do that on a studio soundstage. It wasn’t like I was driving home after work on the freeway, and somebody cut me off and I chose to take it out on them. That kind of anger is called road rage. Well, I had ‘cage rage,’ I guess you could call it,” he jokes, "or some kind of rage, but it was good to be able to let it go in a safe environment and also use it to my advantage as an actor in my performance.”
“After Lost in Space ended, I branched off and worked on a number of other shows that were also memorable and special to me, like Switch with Eddie Albert and Robert Wagner as well as an episode of Dog and Cat, which was Kim Basinger’s first TV series, and a wonderful episode of Adam-12 called Elegy for a Pig narrated by Martin Milner [Officer Pete Malloy]. It’s about a young cop who goes through the police academy and ends up getting killed. That episode was shown for 20 years at the Los Angeles Police Academy to recruits as part of their training. Again, it’s something very special to me, and Jack Webb [series creator/writer/executive producer] came to me specifically and asked if I’d play the part. We played golf and once in a while we had a drink together, so Jack knew me and felt I’d be right for the role. That meant a great deal to me.
“So out of Johnny Ringo and The Detectives came all these other work opportunities, including Lost in Space and the rest of the great shows I worked on. Because of my early work on those first two series, I didn’t have to audition for any of these other shows. Of course, things eventually began to change, as often happens in life. I’d be speaking with 20-year-old casting directors about a small part and they would ask me, ‘So what else have you done?’ That’s when I began to think, ‘Maybe it’s time to retire.’ I was very fortunate, though, and had a terrific career. I seem to have had my share of comebacks, too, including in the late 70s when I did [the musical] The Act onstage with Liza Minnelli, but when I felt like I’d run out of comebacks in Hollywood, I decided to come back home. I returned to college, got my degree in special education and taught for 23 years here in Massachusetts. I retired a year ago, but spent 30 years as an actor and 23 years as a special education teacher at a residential school for children with behavioral problems.”
Although embarking on two decidedly different career paths in his life, Goddard found both rewarding in their own ways. “It’s interesting that as an actor, you never realize until years later that you’ve had an impact on other peoples’ lives,” he says. “Fifty years later, I’m meeting all these wonderful fans who tell me how much Lost in Space affected them growing up and just how much it still means to them today. That’s an incredible feeling. As a teacher in special education, however, you can see the results of your work pretty much right away. You can see when you’re trying to help someone, and that they’re coming along and can change the direction of their lives. It’s very gratifying to know that you’ve been a part of helping that happen,” enthuses Goddard.
He may have recently retired from teaching, but Goddard is just as busy. Among the projects he is currently working on is his second book, a follow-up to his first book, To Space and Back, and entitled My Three Years Being Lost in Space. “I’ve been encouraged to do this by the fans on MGAS [Mark Goddard Appreciation Society page on Facebook] and other people who’ve said to me. ‘Hey, we loved To Space and Back. It was a great read and very enjoyable, but there wasn’t enough about Lost in Space,'" he notes. “I only have one chapter about the show in my first book, which is really a memoir about my experiences going through various things, but with this second book, I’m going to concentrate on my three years doing Lost in Space. It’ll cover all the episodes as well as the guest-stars and all the backstage stuff that’s appropriate to print and so forth. It probably won’t be ready for eight or nine months, but I think I’m going to have a lot of fun writing it.”
Lost in Space: The Complete Adventures (Blu-ray) is scheduled to be released on September 15, 2015. For more information on Mark Goddard, including how to purchase his book as well as autographed photos, check out http://mark-goddard.com/