Jonathan Harris: His Greatest Creation Was Himself

Those who exclusively associate Jonathan Harris (1914-2002) with his most beloved and reviled creation, the cowardly, conniving, alliterative villain Dr. Smith on Lost in Space, will be surprised to know that in his day he was well known and loved for two similar regular roles on tv series that preceded it: The Third Man (1959-1965) in which he played Michael Rennie’s cowardly assistant:

and The Bill Dana Show (1963-1965), in which he played a pompous hotel manager, employer of bellboy Jose Jiminez.

The most delightful thing about him, however is that his greatest theatrical creation was himself. For Harris’ real last name was Charasuchin — he was a Jew from the Bronx. He worked damned hard to become that florid, affected, seemingly Anglo thespian. If you think about it, it’s one of the best examples on record of a white-face act.  For such a Shakespearean blowhard, he did surprisingly little live stage work, and that was mostly at the beginning of his career in the 1940s (he was once in a play with Marlon Brando — oh, to have been in the audience for that!) The great bulk of his career was spent in television, not only the three series we have mentioned, but guest spots in all the major tv series of the day. (See here for my little write-up I did on a version of The House of the Seven Gables he was in).

But in his final years, he mostly dined out on Dr. Smith:

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