The sneaky way Jonathan Harris tricked Irwin Allen into making Dr. Smith a more comedic villain
Who's got more schemes: Dr. Smith or Jonathan Harris?
Read to Me
If you're a fan of Dr. Smith on the original Lost in Space, it should delight you to no end that the actor responsible for the oddball villain is arguably just as sneaky as the character he played.
When Jonathan Harris was cast as Dr. Smith, he'd already played dozens of roles on TV and in movies, and among all those roles, it was common for him to play villains with a comedic twist. As he settled into the character of Dr. Smith, he found those familiar instincts rising up, and he decided he wanted to add more funny tweaks.
But how? He'd never been a writer before, and in fact, his acting career only began after he came up with a ruse where he faked his own resume to join the theater company that quickly launched his career. So naturally, his impish nature provided a solution: In an interview with the Archive of American Television, Harris said, "I decided I would sneak in comedic bits and just see what happens, and that’s what I began to do."
It took two weeks for someone to notice, but it wasn't series creator Irwin Allen or one of Harris' castmates who raised the first eyebrow at this new interpretation of Dr. Smith. It was actually story editor Anthony Wilson who confronted Harris. Harris said Wilson, who he described as a very nice man, came up to him one day, and this is the little talk they had:
Anthony Wilson: "You ain't foooling me."
Jonathan Harris: "Tony, Let's talk."
AW: "I don't want to talk about it."
That set the scheming Harris on edge, but the hammer wouldn't fall for a few more days. That's when Harris said Allen "charged into my dressing room" and said, "More!" Luckily, it seems Allen had the same reaction to Harris' ideas that viewers did: sheer enjoyment.
For Harris, this was the first time in his entire life he'd been given this kind of control, and what's funny is that after he got permission to do what he'd already been doing with the character for weeks, that's when he got cold feet. He said he went up to Allen and said, "Irwin, did you really mean more?" Apparently Allen's response was, "Anything you want."
With those three words, Allen unwittingly launched Harris to the next phase of his career. Harris said, "I don’t claim to be a writer, but I do claim to be a wonderful re-writer. I began to rewrite every word of the script that affected me. And then, thank God, came the Robot. That’s the best thing that ever happened to me. But I developed the relationship. ... I wrote everything you heard that I said to him or that he said to me."
So next time you see a scene where Dr. Smith and The Robot are chatting it up, now you know it's the product of one of Harris' successful sneaky schemes!