Ten Questions for Stefan Arngrim from Escape Velocity
(Stefan played the young orphan boy 'Barry Lockridge' on Land of the Giants, and went on to other roles in both television and film. Escape Velocity is the science fiction magazine from Adventure Books of Seattle. Interview was conducted by the author.)
Escape Velocity - Irwin Allen is an established legend. What was the most fun thing you remember about working with him?
Stefan - His toupee.
When I first answered this question about Irwin, I flippantly said that I best remembered 'his toupee'. This is because I am probably not the most qualified person to extol the virtues of Irwin Allen; for several reasons. I was eleven years old in 1967 and although I certainly knew who Irwin was and was familiar with Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea, Lost In Space and Time Tunnel, I can't honestly say I was a big fan. No disrespect, I've just never been a big TV series viewer. This was mostly because I was already working in the medium and my schedule made regular viewing difficult. This is true to this day. I was also not Irwin's first choice for 'Barry Lockridge'. I don't know who was, but it was actually ABC who hired me for the part.
Orphans like Barry were a departure from Irwin's family formula, but I was already known for playing orphans, hence ABC's enthusiasm. Also, I was not the 'red haired, blue-eyed, freckle faced American boy' that worked so well in Irwin's previous formula. I think that if Irwin could have hired Ron Howard, or for that matter, cloned Bill Mumy (both of whom are my peers and friends), he would have felt more comfortable. I was just a little too 'European', pale and dark for Irwin's demographic. And although Irwin was always kind and congenial, he was my reluctant boss.
I also don't think Irwin cared for the network pressure on casting HIS show. This somewhat tainted our relationship, and I know Irwin didn't care for butting heads with an eleven-year-old, which I'm afraid we did, mostly over my long hair.
In the second season of Giants, I was in fan mags, making records and touring with my band, and I had to wear a very expensive and 'negotiated' short hair wig! During this second season, 'Barry' has shoulder length locks tucked up under a pricey wig.
So, I can't say that Irwin liked me that much.
My personal tastes in sci-fi ran more to novels by Asimov, Heinlein, Bradbury and films by Kubrick, Truffaut, (Fahrenheit 451) Jean-Luc Goddard (Alphaville), and the like. One thing is not in question though, and that is Irwin's vision and his Herculean ability to get it made and seen by viewers. Believe me; anyone who can do films or TV shows with the success and longevity that Irwin enjoyed has my respect and admiration.
I often thought Irwin had captured the awe and wonder of a nine year old. This is likely the secret of his success. I could not and would not take anything away from his brilliance at realizing his vision, both in the many films he made before conquering TV and then with his move from Fox to Warners, and the ground he broke in essentially creating the disaster film, i.e. The Poseidon Adventure, and The Towering Inferno. He always knew what he wanted and always managed to get it on film. A miracle! For that alone, his greatness will always be legendary.
We may not have shared tastes, but at no time did I ever feel anything but respect and admiration for his contribution, not just to the world at large, but to my own film making education. There is room for everyone who has something to show and tell in this weird business of pop entertainment.
Kurt Kasznar ('Dr Fitzhugh' from the show) and I were well aware that we were essentially reprising a brilliant chemistry brought to life by Jonathan Harris and Bill Mumy, and it was always a challenge to 'stay within the lines' and still create our own unique relationship. I believe we did.
Irwin Allen was a great producer and if possibly not always an innovator, he most assuredly cut his own path with a rare success and a career that spanned decades. I don't think it gets better than that.
I do hope this overview satisfies some curiosity and helps to put Irwin in perspective as I write this however, so much more fills my mind. Maybe someday I will put it all down on paper. It is history, after all, and all history improves with age.
Irwin gave me one of the best memories of my life, when he took me to lunch and introduced me to one of his closest friends - Groucho Marx! For that alone, I will always be grateful and humbled by Irwin Allen's memory.
Escape Velocity - Of all the actors on Land of the Giants, it seemed you were closest to Kurt Kasznar, at least onscreen. You and he had many scenes together. Do you have a favorite anecdote about the two of you during your time on the show?
Stefan - Not one but many. Kurt came up with the name Spindrift. (Name of the suborbital commercial spacecraft depicted in the show) Kurt taught me much about music, about Vienna, and of course about film tech. He has probably been the greatest single influence on my professional ethics. I could write a book about Kurt.
Escape Velocity - What is your opinion of the science fiction television shows coming out these days, such as Stargate and the newer version of Battlestar Galactica? Do you have any favorites? Or do you gravitate more toward the classics when you watch?
Stefan - I have terrible TV viewing habits and rarely watch any series for more than two episodes. I watch science and nature shows. My new favorite series is the UK's New Tricks. (BBC series where retired police officers get together to solve cold-case type crimes) Other than that, I watch DVD's, go to films. I like that one can visualize anything today. I just wish the visualizers had more imagination.
Escape Velocity - New websites that carry classic television shows in their entirety are springing up all over the Internet. Many of them are doing Giants and other sci-fi shows. Traffic to those sites is extremely heavy. Why do you believe there has been a resurgence of interest in classic sci-fi shows such as Lost in Space, Time Tunnel, Twilight Zone, Outer Limits, and Land of the Giants?
Stefan - Because they are there? They still hold up pretty well today.
Escape Velocity - In the years since Land of the Giants finished its run, have you been in contact with your former cast members at all?
Stefan - Not as often as I would like, but yes. Gary (Conway) and I chat from time to time. As I do with Deanna (Lund). Don Marshall still seems to think I am eleven and just gets pissed off and tells me what to do! And I still love him for it. But of all the cast members, the one I wish I had a standing communication relationship with is Heather (Young). She was nineteen when we did the show and being closest in age, some bond formed. Plus, I had a crush on her and several hundred other actresses at Fox in the 60's. Heather has always been able to make me forget my Little Big Self and laugh. And I love her voice and her country music.
Escape Velocity - What is your all-time favorite sci-fi film, past or present?
Stefan - I still believe that the film The Final Cut, that I had a scene in with Robin Williams is a stunning, frightening dramatic film. Mira Sorvino and James Caveziel will someday find an audience. It was written and directed by first time filmmaker Omar Naim, whom I heard is in 'movie jail' now. Still don't know what happened to this film, but I personally hold it up with Blade Runner as one of my all time favorites. I also like From the Earth to the Moon, Things to Come, Fahrenheit 451 by Francois Truffaut and of course Alphaville by my personal directorial hero the great Jean-Luc Godard. I love film and its derivative media.
Escape Velocity - Irwin Allen liked to use formula in his productions, as he did with the 'Will Robinson/Dr Smith' relationship on Lost in Space and your own 'Barry Lockridge/Major Fitzhugh' relationship on Land of the Giants. Did you and Bill Mumy ever get a chance to compare notes?
Stefan - Irwin hated me for 'Barry Lockridge' because I was not Bill Mumy. ABC loved me and trumped Irwin. Bill and I went to school together on the Fox lot when we were not shooting, but the parallels were so obvious there was never any discussion. We knew we were formula. I did produce Bill's first record when we were fourteen though and despite that, we have remained cordial.
Escape Velocity - Sooner or later, it seems Hollywood likes to make a big-budget production out of those classic TV shows. If they did a big-budget production of Land of the Giants, would you be open to the idea of a cameo or perhaps a larger role?
Stefan - Not much chance of that happening or certainly of being asked. I think no, except if it was funny or if the fans really wanted it.
Escape Velocity - What do you like to do when you are not working?
Stefan - Make more work.
Escape Velocity - Can you tell us about some of your current projects?
Stefan - Writing two novels, one done and being proofed, doing demo songs for my new CD, and writing a script for a likely un-makeable film. I play a lot of guitar and listen to 1920's-1930's American blues. 'I am not nothing, but the Haunted Man ...'
My thanks to Stefan for providing many insightful thoughts into the making of the show and what it was like to work for the late, great Irwin Allen. Additional thanks to 'Jet' the moderator of Giants' Log, for his assistance in obtaining the interview.
Giants' Log, the Official Fan Site for Land of the Giants.