Angela Cartwright

Angela Cartwright made her movie debut at just three years of age in Somebody Up There Likes Me. At four, she was signed to play Linda on the TV series Make Room for Daddy. In 1965, Angela was cast as Brigitta Von Trapp in the movie version of The Sound of Music. Soon after, she returned to TV as Penny Robinson in Irwin Allen's Lost In Space. In the years that followed, Angela reprised her role as Linda in Make Room for Granddaddy, worked for Allen again on the movie Beyond the Poseidon Adventure, and to this day pursues her love of photography. Richard McGinlay spoke to her as the second season of
Lost in Space was released on Region 2 DVD...

Richard McGinlay: How do you feel about the enduring appeal of Lost in Space? Is it surprising that after all these years you're still being asked about it?

Angela Cartwright: It's a surprise, but I love it. I think it's fabulous. When we were shooting the show, who'd have thought that over thirty years later it would still be so popular? I know it brings back a lot of memories for people, and I think that any time you're involved in something that has such a long-lasting appeal, you feel very blessed by that.

RM: As well as Lost in Space, another big success story that you were involved in was The Sound of Music. Which of those two would you say gets you the most attention?

AC: In terms of which is popular to people, they both are. And I'm just so glad to have been a part of both of them.

The Sound of Music was just such an honour to be in, because it was a movie that appeals to so many people, and they just loved it so much and they still love it to this day. And I know that for generations to come, people will still love it. People all over the world have seen that movie, and it really strikes a chord in them. They love the music, they love Julie [Andrews], they love the kids, and so it's great to be a part of something like that.

I think with Lost in Space, it kind of appeals to maybe a different side of people. I think here in America the space programme was such an enticing thing to be going on, that the thought of a family being able to go into space and live up there was really kind of mind-bending at the time. And here we are all those years later... we still don't have a family up in space, but we've walked on the moon.

I've had people come up to me saying that they joined NASA or they became part of the space programme because of this show. They just loved the whole thought of it. It just captured people's imaginations.

RM: I think the first episode of Lost of Space really captures that excitement during its countdown sequence.

AC: Yes, exactly, because nobody had really seen anything like that before. It was very original.

RM: So you enjoyed working on the show?

AC: I did. It was fun! It was great to have Bill [Mumy - Will Robinson] there. The two of us used to hang out, and there were a lot of laughs. It was a great group of people. It was wonderful working with Jonathan [Harris - Dr Smith], who has sadly passed away. But what a character, what a storyteller. He was great to have around.

RM: Did it cause any awkwardness on set when Jonathan's character began to get more screen time than the others? He wasn't even in the original pilot, but as the series progressed he came to dominate the show.

AC: I was, y' know, a 13-year-old kid doing a television series and just grateful to be working. I didn't really sit and analyse it, thinking, "Oh, Jonathan's taking over the series," or "This is the way this is going." Maybe with the adult actors that might have been an issue with them, but it never crossed my mind really. I just got up and went to work every day and saw what alien they'd come up with that episode. [Laughs.]

RM: The teenage years are a difficult time of life for anybody. What was it like coping with the day-to-day schedule of working on a TV series - and the media exposure - while you were growing up?

AC: Well, it wasn't the same kind of media exposure that there is today. It was thirty-odd years ago. There's no question that my life was different. I was in a lot of the fan magazines, like Fave and Tiger Beat, but they weren't mean-spirited. They were movie magazines.

Because I had been in the business since I was three years old, I kind of took it all in stride. I think a lot of it had to do with my personality. I'm kind of a disciplined person but I don't take anything too seriously. And I think a lot of that had to do with the raising my parents gave me and my sister - Veronica Cartwright, who's an actress in her own right. We had a very grounded upbringing. We had to make our beds every morning. We weren't put on a pedestal. We were treated like real kids.

But there's no question that when I did end up going back to regular school for a semester - because they kept me at 20th Fox for a while - that was really difficult. Y' know, everybody knew my face. I had been in weekly shows since I was four years old, and that was hard. Not knowing who wanted to be your friend because they liked you and who wanted to be your friend because of their perception of what I was. That was tough, there's no question about that, but I was never unable to deal with it. I didn't have to bury myself in drugs and alcohol and all of that, and I think a lot of that had to do with my strong upbringing.

RM: Your sister Veronica was in Alien. Has anyone ever suggested Lost in Space Meets the Alien?

AC: Not that I know of! [Laughs.] That's interesting!

RM: Perhaps that's one for you and Veronica to perform on stage some time...?

AC: [Laughs.] Actually we did an Alfred Hitchcock Presents together. That's an oldie. It was called The Schwartz-Metterklume Method.

RM: Did you work well together? No sibling rivalry, I hope.

AC: No. We're close, to this day. She's a great gal, and has had quite a career. She continues to work. She was on TV just the other night as a matter of fact, in Six Feet Under.

RM: When Lost in Space wasn't renewed for a fourth season, was that something you were prepared for, or did it come as a great shock?

AC: Y' know, we all thought we were coming back to work for that fourth season. We just thought we would get our call and the fourth season would start, and it was something that came as a big surprise to all of us. It certainly wasn't because of ratings. We were very popular. There are a lot of different reasons they said why it didn't come about, and I don't know which one is true, but it was just a sad thing and we were just all really shocked when we heard it.

RM: Are there any ideas that you would like to have tackled, or script ideas that you've heard of that were unfulfilled because of the cancellation?

AC: I hadn't really thought about that so much. I know that Penny had a few kind of romantic moments - or as romantic as Irwin [Allen] was permitted to get - on shows like The Magic Mirror, and a couple of relationships that she had with aliens, like in my favourite episode, My Friend, Mr Nobody. That was kind of an interesting thing, I think. A young girl meeting people from other lands and stuff like that.

I never really thought about other scripts that could be done, but I do know that Bill Mumy wrote a really great idea for a series of Lost in Space and how to take it forward to please the fans who were never completely pleased because we were just kind of left stranded up there. They never brought us back to Earth. We were never able to have closure on what happened to the Robinsons. Bill wrote a great script about how to have that closure with that family and how to go on. But they haven't followed up on that idea.

RM: I think he may have put some of those ideas into a comic he co-wrote, which did develop Penny's character as she grew up a bit more than you saw her in the series.

AC: That's not all that developed in that comic, let me tell you! [Laughs.] Do you believe my body in those comics? My God! That artist really had an imagination!

But yes, Bill did do a lot of comic writing, and I think he did touch on some of those ideas for stories that he had, which I think was the best way to resolve something like that. Because we have so many Lost in Space fans and they deserve to have some kind of closure on it. We're still up there, y' know what I mean?

RM: Have you seen Star Trek: Voyager? That has a similar concept, about being lost in space, and the two shows have been compared.

AC: Oh, they have? You know what, I haven't seen that. I've maybe watched bits of it, but I've never gotten into the story. I didn't know about the comparison.

RM: Well, I think actually that Lost in Space made a better job of getting across the idea of people roughing it out there. In Voyager you never really thought they were having a hard time of it, whereas you did get an idea in Lost in Space that the family were facing food shortages, droughts, that sort of thing.

AC: That's an interesting point. We had to grow our own food, in the hydroponic garden - I worked in there. There were many episodes when it was really cold or hot. That's a very interesting point. They did show that there was a struggle, that everything was not perfect.

RM: One thing I've always wondered is why, each season, you would escape from a planet, and a few weeks later you would crash on another planet that was remarkably similar!

AC: Er, because we didn't have another set! [Laughs.] I know the show had a large budget, because in those days doing those kinds of special effects was expensive, and we had animals and we had costumes and stuff like that to pay for somehow.

I do remember the set so well, with the half of the spaceship in the sand. I have such a clear vision of that. We walked in and out of that spaceship week after week after week. That was cool. But we didn't go on location that much.

RM: You mentioned animals, which reminds me: do you know what happened to Debbie the chimp?

AC: I do know. Debbie left Lost in Space and went on to have a very fruitful career. She was in the TV series Daktari, and the mould they made for Planet of the Apes was of Debbie's face. She passed away about six years ago, I think. But that's a long life for a chimp.

I loved having Debbie on the set. It was an uncomfortable apparatus that she had to wear on her head. That was a drag for her. But I love animals, so it was great having her, and I loved that Penny was involved in zoology and stuff like that.

So there were things like that they never explored very much. We had another season in us, so it's just a shame we didn't go on to have it.

RM: You appeared briefly in the 1998 movie version of Lost in Space, in which Lacey Chabert played Penny Robinson. Did you spend much time on set with her comparing notes on how to play the role?

AC: Well, they flew me to England to do that movie, and I did meet with Lacey, but not under those pretences. I had decided that it was time to pass the torch. I wasn't going to tell Lacey how to play it. It was a much hipper, sassier Penny that was written in the script, and Lacey's very capable of doing her own interpretation of it.

I'm sure she watched the old series and saw Penny as she was, which at that time was pretty sassy too, but nowhere near what the late '90s kind of sassiness was!

So, no, I didn't go to advise her who Penny was or anything like that. You can hold tight to a character and say, "This is mine", or you can just kind of say, "Hey, you know what? This is the next generation," and just be honoured that they decided to make the movie.

RM: Have you been involved in the recent DVD releases of the TV show?

Angela [left] in a recent reunion with some of her Lost in Space family - June Lockhart (Maureen), Marta Kristen (Judy) and the robot

AC: We did an interview for the DVDs, but I'm not sure how they're splitting it up between the different seasons. What I can tell you is that on the DVD for the second season there are radio interviews with June [Lockhart - Maureen Robinson] and Jonathan [Harris].

RM: What do you think of DVD as a format for issuing shows like this?

AC: Oh, I think it's fabulous. When you look at the second season, the colours just pop off the screen! It is so colourful, and that's probably the first thing that strikes you. There's a lot of depth in it. It was done on film, and it's just so clean looking. That makes it really fun to watch.

And you get drawn in. I don't know what it is about the show. It may be terribly corny, and our aliens may be look like men with masks on, but you still get drawn in. The stories are simple but interesting - entertaining.

RM: I know what you mean about the colour. At the end of the first season, it cuts straight into the teaser from the second series, so it bursts from black and white into vivid colour.

AC: You need your sunglasses! [Laughs.]

RM: You certainly do!

More recently you've been pursuing your interest in photography - some of which is, in a way, similar to Lost in Space, because it starts in black and white and then you add colour...

AC: [Laughs.] That's an interesting analogy!

I've been shooting photography since I was 16 years old, and I've been hand-painting my [black and white] nature landscapes, stuff like that, for the past five years. I just really love it. I grow with my photography and painting, so it's taken on different forms. It's such a wonderful medium. I love photography. I'm passionate about it. And you can see some examples of that on my website [].

RM: Thank you for your time. It was great talking to you.

AC: Thank you, Richard.

With thanks to Nina Criswick at DSA

Lost In Space Season 2 is available to buy on DVD from 05 July from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Order the DVD of season one of Lost in Space for £43.99 (RRP: £49.99) by clicking here
Order the DVD of season two of Lost in Space for £37.99 (RRP: £49.99) by clicking here

Return to...

banner ad