A Year: Day to Day Men: 6th of November, Solar Year 2018
Standing on the Edge of the World
November 6, 1914 was the birthdate of character actor Jonathan Harris.
Born in the Bronx section of New York City, Jonathan Harris was the son of a Russian-Jewish family. He attended Fordham University, New York, to study medicine, earning a degree in 1936. Harris transformed himself into the American idea of an Englishman by replacing his Bronx accent with the lightly modulated vocal tone he heard on British films.
After joining the Millpond Playhouse repertory company, on Long Island in 1939, Harris appeared in more than 100 regional theaters, before his debute on Broadway in 1942. He appeared in the 1946 play “A Flag is Born” opposite Quentin Reynolds and Marlon Brando. His first television work came in 1949 with The Chevrolet Tele-Theatre’s “His Name Is Jason”, followed by roles in many other series: “Bonanza”, “The Twilight Zone”, “Zorro” and others.
Jonathan Harris was in a co-star role opposite Michael Rennie, who played Harry Lime, in the television series “The Third Man”, playing sidekick Bradford Webster for seventy-two episodes. From 1963-1965, Harris co-starred in the sitcom “The Bill Dana Show”. He played Mister Phillips, the pompous manager of a posh hotel who is constantly at odds with Bill Dana’s character José Jiménez.
Jonathan Harris was cast over two other actors for the role of Dr. Zachary Smith, the evil and conniving double agent on “Lost in Space”. The series was already in production when Harris joined the cast, and the starring/co-starring billing had already been contractually assigned. Harris successfully negotiated to receive “Special Guest Star” billing on every episode.
The series was successful upon its debut, and midway through the first season, Harris began to rewrite his own dialogue. Due to Harris’s popularity on the show, creator and producer Irwin Allen approved his changes and gave him carte blanche as a writer. Harris subsequently stole the show, mainly via a seemingly never-ended series of alliterative insults directed toward The Robot, which soon worked their way into popular culture.
Jonathan Harris spent much of his later career as a voice actor, heard in television commercials as well as cartoons such as “Darkwing Duck”, “A Bug’s Life”, the series “Buzz Lightyear of Star Command”, and “Toy Story 2”. In 2001, a year prior to his death, he recorded voice work for the animated theatrical short “The bolt Who Screwed Christmas”. This film, Harris’s last work, was released posthumously in 2009.