Born Jonathan Charasuchin in the Bronx to impoverished Russian-Jewish émigrés, Jonathan Harris worked as a box boy in a pharmacy at age 12 and later earned his pharmacy degree at Fordham University. However, the desire to act proved overwhelming and he forsook this promising trade for the theater, shaking off his thick Bronx accent and changing his surname to one easier to pronounce. After performing in over 100 plays in stock companies nationwide, he made his Broadway bow in 1942 with "Heart of a City" and entertained World War II troops in the South Pacific.
Following his introduction to live television drama in 1948, he ventured off to Hollywood and made his film debut, co-starring with Alan Ladd and James Mason in Botany Bay (1953). However, it was television that would make him a household name - first as Bradley Webster in "The Third Man" (1959) opposite Michael Rennie, and then the role that made him a cult icon, Dr. Zachary Smith, the dastardly, effete stowaway on "Lost in Space" (1965), with Harris easily stealing the show week after week as he botched and mangled all the good intentions of the Robinson family to get back home to Earth. Unable to top this achievement and seriously typecast as a plummy villain, the remainder of his career was spent with great relish providing voice-over work in commercials and animated cartoons. Harris died of a blood clot to the heart just three days before his 88th birthday.
|Bregman, Gertrude||(1938 - 3 November 2002) (his death) 1 child|
Clipped quasi-English sounding villainous baritone
Deep ominous baritone voice
Received a degree in pharmacology from Fordham University.
Born in the borough of the Bronx (New York City) to Russian-Jewish immigrants.
Survived by his wife, Gertrude, of 64 years and one son, Richard.
Although he reprised his most infamous role as Dr. Smith in a one-hour TV special Lost in Space Forever (1998) (TV) in 1998, he refused a cameo in the motion picture version of Lost in Space (1998) later that year, unlike June Lockhart, Mark Goddard, Marta Kristen and Angela Cartwright, the other stars of the 1960s series. With typically cryptic Dr. Smith flair, he announced that if he could not play his own role in the movie, he wanted nothing to do with it. Interestingly, Gary Oldman portrayed Dr. Smith in a curiously subdued fashion.
Often brought a large bag of tootsie-roll pops to work for the cast and crew.
He was the only cast member of "Lost in Space" (1965) who would not appear at fan-related conventions without being paid. His asking price was $500.
Harris died from a blood clot in his heart while receiving therapy at an Encino-area hospital for a chronic back problem.
Although his character's eventual monopolization of "Lost in Space" (1965) aggravated members of the cast, all of them stated that he was the nicest of people to work with.
Just before his death, Harris was involved in the NBC project of "Lost in Space: The Journey Home" in which the Robinson family may be returning to earth.
Was a frequent guest on the Opie and Anthony radio show
Before entering the show business, he watched lots of English movies to adopt the ways of a classical British actor.
His Broadway debut was in 1942 on the play "Heart of the City".
Would often sit up at night thinking of ways to insult the robot ("Be quiet, you bubble-headed booby!") while on "Lost in Space" (1965). His colorful put-downs for his mechanical colleague, almost all of them unscripted, are among the best-remembered aspects of the series.
He was the co-star of the Bill Dana show. Much of his banter from that show was used on the robot in "Lost in Space".
At conventions, insisted that his booth or table be separate from the rest of "Lost in Space" (1965) cast members. He refused to be in the same part of the building as June Lockhart and convention coordinators had to accede to his demands - he was a major draw to conventions.
Following "Lost in Space" (1965), he did numerous commercials for the International House of Pancakes.
He was the voice and drama coach of Chuck Norris. He "taught him how to speak", by putting his fingers in Norris's mouth, and stretching the mouth wide open. Chuck names him as the only man in the world who could get away with doing that to him... a fact of which he was always proud.
His father, Sam, got struck by a car and was found dead in 1977.
He had 12 hobbies: watching movies, playing piano, dancing, listening to opera, gardening, knitting, cooking, traveling, magic, painting, reading, and spending time with children.
Graduated from James Monroe High School in The Bronx, New York, in 1931.
Harris and the rest of the cast of "Lost in Space" (1965), were very disappointed by its cancellation in 1968, attributed to the series' high cost.
While attending James Monroe High School, he didn't fit in well with his peers, with the exception of his future wife, Gertrude Bregman, who was his best friend.
Before he was an actor, he worked at many drugstores in New York City.
Of Russian and Polish descent.
Best remembered by the public for his special guest starring role as Dr. Zachary Smith on "Lost in Space" (1965).
He changed his named from Charasuchin to Harris because his classmates from school were making fun of him.
He holds the world record for a guest-starring role in a single series, having been in all of the "Lost in Space" episodes except the original pilot.
Was encouraged to listen to opera by his father at age 12.
Died just three days before he would have had his 88th birthday. That same day, his family and friends attended his funeral.
His only son, Richard, who was 16 at the time, visited the set of "The Third Man" (1959), where the relationship between father and son was reconnected.
Prior to co-starring with Gilbert Roland and Dina Merrill in a movie that was never released, he almost died, while traveling to Cuba. At that time, Fidel Castro was on the verge of staging the coup. His crew were bombed at the airport. By the time filming was completed, Castro was in power as the new dictator, therefore the film was seized.
Swapped his New York City accent for a more sophisticated baritone voice, after he watched B-movies.
Came up with a list of alliterative insults that eventually worked their way into popular speech on "Lost in Space" (1965).
When he was attending high school, Jonathan was interested in archeology, Latin, romantic poetry and Shakespeare.
Was very good friends with: Phyllis Diller, June Lockhart, Lorne Greene, Pernell Roberts, Adam West, Leonard Nimoy, Don Adams, Shirley Temple, Elizabeth Montgomery, Allan Melvin, John Lasseter, William Winckler, Arthur Hiller, Irwin Allen, Bill Dana, Dick Tufeld, Liam Sullivan, Charles Nelson Reilly and Burt Reynolds.
An avid opera buff.
Until his death, he received 500 letters each month. Having been grateful for the character he played on "Lost in Space" (1965), he answered each and every letter.
Was a Democrat.
When he wanted to be an actor, he refused to tell his parents about his name change.
His widow, Gertrude Bergman, died on August 28, 2007, at age 93, just 5 years after his death.
He was survived by two grandchildren.
Was a very close friend and mentor to writer/producer/director William Winckler. The two often had three hour luncheons twice a month for many years.
Acting mentor and friend of Bill Mumy.
I'm not British, just affected.
[on the cancellation of "Lost in Space"]: When the curtain comes down, you're disappointed. Always, the curtain comes down. I've done so much work, and then, the curtain comes down and you go on to something else.
[on trying his hand on being a leading man of the 1940s]: I thought I was Cary Grant. Oh, I looked into the mirror, and said, 'Yes, Yes. It's Cary Grant.' And then, I pulled myself together and said, 'Are you kidding? You're a character man'.
[When his father finally arrived at the theatre to see his son]: He came to the dressing room, gave me a hug and a kiss; and said, 'You belong here.' I never forget it.
[on asking Irwin Allen for a Special Guest Star credit on every episode of "Lost in Space" (1965)]: Well, the screaming, the hollering. I never heard of such a thing. On. . . about 20 minutes. Finally, he ran out of breath, and said, 'Okay,' I got it!
I spoke straight New Yorkese, I was much too poor to go to acting school, so I learned to speak by going to the movies. I watched over 200 British films. I found that the way to get rid of my accent was to superimpose another.
We all agreed that our original name was all but unpronounceable.
[Who stayed up nights drawing up lists of alliterations for his Dr. Smith character to spout to the Robot, which soon became the catalyst of the show]: Fans have shown me lots of lists over the years, but none of them were complete. I know, because I've still got the original one.
[Of Bill Mumy]: What a darling actor he was, how lovely. Well you see, again, I study the territory, I've been in this business for 1,000 years, at least; and I study the territory. I realized early on that he was very, very important to me, and I was to him, so that we we're marvelous together. I thought very chemically suited.
[on his career as a stage actor]: I got thrown out of that office every day. Finally the secretary took pity on me and I got to meet Mr. Miller. He cast me as a Polish flier in the show The Heart of a City. He asked me if I could do a Polish accent, so of course I said yes, even though I hadn't a clue. I went to the Polish Consulate to find out how they spoke, but everyone there had a different accent so I went home and tried to make one up. At the first rehearsal I was shaking like a leaf, worrying that I'd get fired, when the director pointed at me. 'You there, where did you get that accent' he bellowed. So I lied and told him my parents were Polish immigrants and this is how they spoke. Convinced, the director leaned over to the writer and said, 'You owe me five bucks. I told you he was a real one.' I've used that accent many times since, whenever they need something foreign. I've even used it for Chinese!
[In 1993]: My parents were absolutely aristocratic pessence in Russia, but they look very nice. My mother had wonderful, fly away eyebrows and an aquiline nose. She was a very handsome lady and very domineering, as a matter of fact and my father was Mr. Adorable, really he was.
[on his father's, Sam's death]: My father was a wonderful man, who was 93 years old, when he was killed by a car in New York City, because I adored him, because he was the sweetest, good-est and my fan. He used to stop people on the street and say, 'Guess who's my son?,' and he was wonderful, he was a darling man.
What this project means, not just to the people of West Hartford, but to the entire capital region, cannot be put into words. This will make the greater Hartford region stronger and more vibrant and will provide countless opportunities for future generations.
This is something like we have never seen before in the history of the industry.
[on receiving a guest-starring role for every episode of "Lost in Space" (1965)]: That was the first time ever in history that anybody got Special Guest Star. I started that whole nonsense.
I wish you well and I hope it will be a huge hit, because that would be very good for me. And if, God forbid, it's a terrible flop, well that would be very good for me.
We used to like camping out.
[In 1967]: I developed the accent by attending English movies.
[In 1997]: Did you know that I hang in the Smithsonian Institution? Yes, I do! In the science-fiction hall there are three pictures of me with the robot!
[In 1966]: I am deliciously wicked. I am selfish, self-pitying, pompous, pretentious, peremptory, conniving, unctuous, scornful, greedy, unscrupulous, cruel, cowardly, egotistical and absolutely delightful. The boy [Billy Mumy as young Will Robinson] loves me, but I would gladly sacrifice him to achieve my ends.
[In 1998]: I realized that the original concept of Smith was a deep-dyed, snarling villain, and he bored me to death. There's no longevity in a part like that. They'd have to kill me off in five episodes, and I'd be out of a job, unemployed again, right? So I began to sneak in the things for which I am -- at the risk of seeming immodest -- justly famous. Comedic villainy.
[In 2002]: It was the most fun in the whole world. I loved creating ... that dreadful, wonderful man.
I was born in New York City, and you know something interesting? My original speech was 'Listen to me! I was born on Teddy Teddy Street and Teddy Avenue, and that's the way it is, see! Want a little coffee? Let's go and have coffee, right?' I could not play a part like that, I'd fall apart laughing on the floor. It's been so long, I'd gotten away with that.
It doesn't get any better than that, you can go on forever.
[on his popularity while playing the fifty-something Dr. Zachary Smith on Lost in Space]: I play it with my tongue so far in my cheek it hurts. How could anyone take it seriously.
[Of his lack of romantic leading roles]: I never got the girl, because I had already killed her. I believed that an actor should look in the mirror and see what he had to see and then go out and sell it better than anyone else.
[In 1965]: I'm stage struck. I love the word actor. I still get nervous, isn't that wonderful! It's standing in the wings waiting to go on an opening night with a death wish and then going on and giving the best performance of your life. I still get that feeling, even in TV.
[In 1969]: I've been there. You won't like it.
[on his Dr. Zachary Smith character]: Dr. Smith is really nutty. He is friendly only with the robot, treating the machine as the only true, real person aboard the spacecraft. I'm a little afraid of the robot because he's as wicked as I am. But he's my superior, my wedge.
[In 1990]: ... I said 'This is not going to be palatable every week. It can't be. He's just bad.' So, I started, subliminally, to introduce comedic villainy, which is palatable. That you can live with ... and the rest, as they say, is history.
[Who remembered his character on his very first "Lost in Space" (1965) appearance, a quarter of a century ago]: In the beginning of the show, Dr. Smith was a 'murderer and a deep-dyed villain, and he bored me to death. There is no longevity in that kind of villainy on a weekly series. People would've hated me and wanted the character dead.
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