Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Happy Birthday, Guy Williams!

Guy Williams was born Armand Joseph Catalano on January 14, 1924. He grew up in the Bronx, but instead of wanting to be an insurance broker like his father, he dreamt of being an actor.

After WWII he made his first trip to Hollywood. In 1946 he signed with MGM and changed his name to "Guy Williams." He worked mostly in commercials. When he signed another contract a few years later with Universal-International, he began appearing in supporting roles in several films, most famously as a police officer in I Was A Teen-Aged Werewolf (1957) with Michael Landon.

1957 was also the year Guy answered an open audition for Walt Disney Productions. They were producing a new television series, ZORRO, based on the swashbuckler who had appeared in two motion pictures starring Douglas Fairbanks and Tyrone Power. Guy got the part, not only because of his tall, dark, and handsome looks but also because he had fencing experience. Do you know or remember ZORRO? He's the guy dressed all in black who roams the border between California and Mexico fighting injustice, cutting his initial "Z" into various places around the villages he protects. You may have seen the more recent Antonio Banderas films.
I have to say I have never seen any of the Guy Williams' ZORRO episodes or specials. Because they are owned by Disney, they were never really sold to syndication when I was growing up. They aren't at my local library, and I'm not going to pay $100 to get a complete season. They do LOOK fun, though.

After the series ended in 1961 Guy made a few films in Europe. Then in 1964 he thought he had gotten another big break, as he signed to co-star on one of the most popular television series of the time, BONANZA. Co-star Pernell Roberts had made his intention to leave clear, so the producers signed Guy to be the new "fourth lead." (The other leads were main star Lorne Greene, Dan Blocker, and Guy's former co-star, Michael Landon.) After Guy had appeared a few times, however, Roberts decided to stay on, forcing the producers to let Guy go.

At the time that probably bothered him greatly. However, because he was not tied to BONANZA Guy was able to film a pilot for producer/director Irwin Allen. This series became LOST IN SPACE, which ran from 1965-1968. Guy played the patriarch, Professor John Robinson, co-starring with June Lockhart as his wife, Dr. Maureen Robinson.
LOST IN SPACE is a silly series, but not because of the acting, which is top-notch across the board. Guy did the best he could with episodes about Space Hippies and Space Hill-billies. Even when he is giving water to an evil space carrot, you believe *he* believes in what he is doing.

After LOST IN SPACE ended Guy Williams retired from show business. During a visit to Argentina in 1973, Guy felt a strong attraction to the people and the culture. He moved there soon after, although he did make two final LOST IN SPACE inspired appearances in the US in 1983. One was on a celebrity episode of FAMILY FEUD and one was on an episode of GOOD MORNING AMERICA.

Guy Williams died the last week of April in 1989 of a brain aneurism. He was only 65 years old.

Happy Birthday, Guy Williams!
from the opening credits of BONANZA
in the first season costume for LOST IN SPACE
(with June Lockhart)

in the second season costume
in a third season PR shot, with June Lockhart and Jonathan Harris

from their FAMILY FEUD appearance in 1983:
Bob May (the Robot), Marta Kristen, Angela Cartwright, Guy, and June


Here's a preview to one of the best John Robinson-centric episodes of LOST IN SPACE,
"Hunter's Moon" from 1968. 

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