Tranquility. In a quiet nook on the far side of 20th Century-Fox’s Stage 5, music trickles in the door of Guy Williams’ dressing room. It is coming from the adjacent quarters of his Lost in Space wife, June Lockhart, who lies reading in semidarkness, soothed by her FM radio. Guy, feet resting on the rim of a wastebasket, immensely enjoying a long black Dunhill-23 cigar, cocks an attentive ear. "Debussy or Ravel," he says. "Ravel," he decides.
"Music is the greatest form of communication," he adds. "Number One, Beethoven; Number Two nobody. Then the Word: Dante, Shakespeare, Pick ‘em." He fills the visitor’s glass with champagne. "Nothing but the best, baby," he says. "You only go through the room once. You might as well see all the furniture."
But now to work. He takes a last minute squint at himself in the mirror, gives his wavy hair an adroit two-handed pat and, with a smile and a shrug, is off for some more "trudge-throughs" – the term he applies to what he does in the role of John Robinson: Space expedition leader, father.
Trim, jaunty in his snug space threads (green stretch pants, cream-colored velours slip-on) and black boots, he heads in confident strides across the bizarre terrain. There, for an instant, the pace slackens. Off to the right Jonathan Harris, who plays Dr. Smith, Space archvillain, is surrounded by a group of kids. They hardly notice Guy, once every youngster’s idol as the swashbuckling Zorro in the Disney series of some eight years ago. Guy is no longer smiling.
Space was originally supposed to focus exclusively on the adventures of Robinson, his wife (Miss Lockhart), their children (Marta Kristen, Billy Mumy, and Angela Cartwright), and Robinson’s assistant, played by Mark Goddard. Then at the last minute Harris was brought aboard as Dr. Zachary Smith, initially an authentic, lip-curling nogoodnik who, it was presently discovered, could be better used for laughs played off Mumy and a sobersided robot ("You bubbleheaded booby," sneers Harris. "That does not compute," returns the robot dryly). Gradually Space evolved into a new show – Harris’s show even though, by contractual agreements, he can’t rise above seventh billing.
Meanwhile, left in histrionic limbo were a bunch of understandably baffled, frustrated, unhappy actors who in effect had been reduced to bit players. At the head of the anguished pack stood Williams.
It was not as though Harris remained quietly humble about his coup. The man oozes triumph, mugging about the set, humming exuberantly and beaming all the while. "Happy as a clam, I am," he purrs, to an excellent approximation of Clifton Webb doing the Cheshire Cat. "Jonathan," recalls actress Mercedes McCambridge, a Space guest star, "certainly rules the roost."
While none of the actors, except Harris, have been overjoyed with the way things have gone ("This show," mutters Mark Goddard, "is lousy with ego"), it was quite naturally Williams, as the ostensible star, who felt most bugged. He admits indulging in a certain amount of "kicking and hollering" on his own and he also had his agent Mike Livingston taking his case to anybody who would listen.
"Anybody" included producer Irwin Allen, who, when asked about it, straight-faces, "Complaints? I haven’t heard of any." Livingston, who is adept at whistling in graveyards, at one point told 20th-Fox TV boss Bill Self, "If the quality of the scripts doesn’t improve, Guy will leave."
But peace was always made, and Williams signed on for a second year on the promise that the scripts will get "better": i.e., have more action—his speciality. And Guy believes a better day is coming.
"Look," he says, "it takes a show a year to open up. It gets in a success pattern… The solution might be to break us up. Have three of us carry one show, two another, one of us take some others. That way everybody will get a fair shake… Any problems I had last season are just that – problems I had last season.
True this season the Robinsons and company have left their last year’s planet and will be meeting bigger and better menaces in space. Hence there should be plenty of action. Yet it seems unlikely that the focus will shift appreciably from Harris, the primary reason for its first-season success. "After all," says June Lockhart realistically, "we probably wouldn’t be here at all without Jonathan."
So where does that leave Guy? Making a nice cool $2500 weekly and not exerting himself too much to get it—the same low-pressure, if not terribly satisfying state of affairs which has prevailed during most of his professional life.
Guy Williams was born 40 years ago in New York as Armando Catalano, son of a man who once called Palermo, Sicily, home. "Guy is a real Sicilian," says pal Berne Giler, a TV writer. "He has all the polish and temperament of a true Sicilian and the tremendous pride and ego to go with it."
Williams’ good looks and athletic 6-foot-3 frame have always been his most salable asset. They earned him a good unstrenuous living in New York as a male model during the Forties. "I’d work only a few hours a week. It was kind of like loafing pays," he says.
Meantime he studied with Sanford Meisner, did a little theater and some TV, which ultimately led him to Hollywood in 1952. The roles he got were primarily bland, crew-cut, All-American types, and image he felt he had to overcome. He grew long hair and a mustache to bag the dashing heroic role of swordsman Zorro in 1957, a sort of early-California Batman. Zorro vaulted him from Nobody to Somebody and made him a considerable amount of money, fattened by such ancillary benefits as $2500 rodeo appearances and cuts of merchandising action.
Ultimately he grew disenchanted with the Zorro characterization, dismissing it at one point as being "more like a comic strip."
"Guy," says Lou Debny, Zorro’s production coordinator, "was happy to get in and happy to get out."
Zorro ceased filming in 1959 amid a legal battle between ABC and Disney. Disney wanted to switch the show to NBC; and ABC, which had carried it the two seasons, said no. The beef continued for two years, during which Guy was kept on full salary though virtually inactive. Careerwise it was strictly suspended animation, but Guy, a man with a keen appreciation for the good life (vintage wine, classical music, gourmet food, sailing, chess) enjoyed his two years of well-paid leisure.
He had a beautiful wife (former model Jan Cooper), two handsome kids and a 42-foot black ketch. "I climbed way up on the hog," he recalls fondly. "Maybe I’d do an eight day rodeo tour and then go off for three, four weeks sailing."
When the Zorro litigation finally ended and the show was officially interred for good, Guy was again a free agent, and over the next few years made two swashbuckling adventures in Europe: Damon and Pythias and Captain Sindbad.
Europe was very much his kind of scene, and Williams today says the two films were his most enjoyable professional experience. "I’m surprised he came back at all," says an associate. "Those guys ate heroes over there, make good money, live high. It seemed perfect for Guy."
But he did come back. He spent a few weeks as a Cartwright cousin on Bonanza, an intended replacement for Pernell Roberts, but it didn’t work out. Then he was offered Space.
The high hopes he started with, the feelings that this series might be just the thing he had been looking for all these years, faded in an exact ratio to Harris’s rise. Perhaps the lowest point in a "lousy" year was the morning a director placed Harris, a master scene thief, in the foreground of a scene written for Guy and June Lockhart. "That, baby, was the last straw."
"I walked off the set and called Irwin," concedes Williams. "He came down and we reached a compromise." Not long afterward Guy’s ego suffered a second rap when Clyde Baldschun, the man who had booked all those lucrative Zorro personal appearances, told him to forget his planned tour of the rodeo circuit in Space garb. There was no interest.
Not that the man is exactly pressed for cash. Among the fringe benefits of a financially well managed career are a 16-room, Mediterranean-style villa off Sunset, furnished in expensive Italian and French provincial, and a healthy portfolio of stocks. His wife says, "Guy is a very exciting person. It is never dull around him, and in the final analysis that is all you can ask."
His critics accuse him of playing it a little large. Says one of his directors: "He walks on the set, combing his hair, ‘Hold it,’ he says and we wait. This man is more interested in his hair than his performance."
Occasionally, Guy and Berne Giler will be talking, and Guy will give vent to some of his frustrations. "I have to beat him over the head," says Giler. "‘Take the money and shut up,’ I tell him, ‘and then you’ll have your 72-foot ketch and your villa on the Riviera.’"