Pillow Talking’s Interview with actor, producer, singer, songwriter, musician, author BILL MUMY
Someday Productions LLC and Pillow Talking are proud to present this interview with BILL MUMY
Bill is a true Renaissance man. He is an actor, producer, singer, songwriter, musician, voice over artist, and comic book author. Probably best known for his role as Will Robinson in the television series Lost In Space, he is a prolific singer/songwriter who has produced many singles and albums, including the cult classic “Fish Heads.” As a musician, Bill plays guitar, bass, keyboards, banjo, mandolin, harmonica, and percussion. He is a talented voice over artist that has narrated many of A&E’s Biography shows and countless other projects including documentaries, specials, and commercials. His even has written comic books for Marvel Comics, Dark Horse Comics, DC Comics, and Pocket Books. (For a more detailed bio see below.)
Danger! Danger! Renaissance man approaching. Buckle your seat belts!
Bill, thank you for granting us this interview. Like many of our interview subjects, you have been through this process countless times and we’re sure, have been asked many similar questions over and over again. We will try not to do the same. We also may throw one or two curve balls.
PT: You started acting professionally at age six. Was it your idea to do it? Did you enjoy it?
BM: I started at five, actually. Yes, it was my idea. I’d broken my leg at the age of 4 and had to stay in for a few months cuz I was in a heavy cast. Watching Zorro and Superman made me want to get inside the TV and be like them. I bugged my parents and…you can’t escape your destiny. And yes, I have enjoyed most all of it.
PT: As a child, it seemed as if you were acting non-stop. Did you ever take professional lessons in between gigs?
PT: Your father was a cattle rancher. What did your family think of you becoming an actor and not going into the family business?
BM: They were proud of me and happy I did what I did as a kid because I was very successful at it and I was doing something I enjoyed. I would never have raised cattle to be slaughtered for food. I haven’t eaten any red meat in almost 40 years.
PT: We will never forget you as Erasmus, the math genius who could pick horse races in Dear Brigitte, a film you starred in with legendary actors Jimmy Stewart and Brigette Bardot. What was it like working with them at the time? Stewart and Bardot are a true part of cinematic history. Do you ever look back today and say, ‘Wow, I can’t believe I actually worked with them?”
BM: Jimmy Stewart was the best of the best and he showed me how a true gentlemen, professional actor at the top of his field should behave. I have tried to follow his example in terms of being prepared, friendly and respectful of everyone on the crew and cast. We got along great. We tossed baseballs back and forth together for a couple months. We truly had a good time making Dear Brigitte together. He gave me an incredible compliment in an interview with TV Guide many many years later. He said, “The only kid actor I ever worked with who was worth a damn, was Billy Mumy”…It was very close to those words if they’re not exact…
Brigitte Bardot was an iconic international superstar and we flew the entire production to Paris to film her scenes. They duplicated her home to perfection for the set. She was very sweet to me. Gorgeous, of course…there was a bit of a language barrier…She and I reconnected about a decade ago…we both signed 35 photographs of the two of us from Dear Brigitte, and all the money from the sales of those went to her animal foundation. She sent me a very nice note. She’s cool.
I was never intimidated by them, or nervous about working with them. I think the only person I was a little nervous about meeting and working for was Walt Disney because he was…Walt Disney!! But he was super nice to me.
PT: Morgan Brittany is credited with saying the following: “Most child actors go through that. Unless you can transition into an adult star, your career is over.” We know that it is very hard for some child actors to do this. We interviewed Paul Petersen who founded A Minor Consideration, an organization to help child actors who are struggling in their transition to adulthood. You appear to have nicely transitioned into an adult actor as well as succeeding in many other capacities (singing, recording, etc.). What is your secret?
BM: No secret. Just continued. Paused here and there to do other things…I’m driven to do creative things and I’ve been fortunate to work in many different arenas of entertainment over the decades.
PT: What advice would you give to young actors today?
BM: Run away. Or act in plays and self made videos, because you love to and “have” to, but not because you want to make it in “show business.”
PT: First curve…ready? What are your five most favorite films of all time?
BM: Hmmmm…. For today, I’ll say: The Graduate, A Hard Day’s Night, The Day the Earth Stood Still (original), The Santa Clause 2 because my daughter Liliana stars in it, and Three Wishes because my son Seth stars in it.
PT: You’ve been asked about Lost in Space countless times in myriad interviews, but it is so much a part of the history of television and the science fiction community that we have to touch upon it. How did you get the part of Will Robinson?
BM: I didn’t audition for it. It was offered to me. I quickly said “yes” because it was exactly what I wanted to do. Will Robinson was a super hero. I loved playing him.
PT: We know you were especially close to the late Jonathan Harris who played Dr. Smith on the show. What was it about Jonathan that had such a profound effect on you personally and professionally?
BM: He was a one of a kind. We had great TV chemistry together. He loved me and I loved him. He gave me a lot of good advice over the years.
PT: Shooting television in the 60s was quite different than it is today. Back then, networks commissioned 26 to 30 shows a season with 24/7 type of schedules. So different from today when a studio or network may try out a series with just six episodes. What was a typical week like for you on the set of Lost in Space?
BM: I enjoyed every day on the series. I basically worked from nine to six Monday through Friday. Our three seasons would equate to more than six seasons today.
PT: Irwin Allen built a dynasty of sci-fi shows including Lost in Space, Land of the Giants, The Time Tunnel and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. How was it like working with the “Master of Disaster”?
BM: Irwin was a character. He did a great job creating those shows and forging the templates for them. I wish he’d directed more than just the pilot of Lost in Space. He did a great job. He was old school Hollywood.
PT: What did you think of the 1998 film version of Lost in Space?
BM: No comment on that one.
PT: You also worked for another visionary and Master of sci-fi – Steven Spielberg.
BM: I worked on the 1983 Twilight Zone feature film…Spielberg was the executive producer on that. He came to the set and we had a very nice brief chat. He told me I’d been an inspiration to him when he was a kid. He was carrying a puppy.
PT: How did you maintain your childhood (or did you?) while working primarily with adults.
BM: I grew up with a bunch of kids that would never have let me get a big head or act fabulous just because I worked as an actor. They didn’t care and neither did I. I didn’t miss out on anything. As far as working with adults, it was just something I did all my childhood. Felt normal to me.
PT: Was there ever a role you REALLY wanted, but didn’t get?
BM: Yes, The Music Man. Ronny Howard got that one. I really wanted that one.
PT: You also are an incredible musician and play guitar, bass, keyboards, banjo, mandolin, harmonica, and percussion (have we left anything out?) How did you ever find the time to learn music?
BM: I started taking guitar lessons when I was ten. Studied weekly for three years. Practiced all the time. I got pretty good pretty fast. Music has always been the biggest passion of my life. I picked up the other instruments on my own.
PT: You once said you watched Guy Williams (your father in Lost in Space) when he played Zorro on television and you were inspired to become an actor. Who inspired you to become a musician?
BM: The Kingston Trio.
PT: Second curve – what is your best work to date?
BM: My children. And trust me, that’s WORK! I’m proud of my acting catalogue, my music catalogue, my writing catalogue. I can’t be objective about what’s better or worse.
PT: You are a recording artist and have composed, sung and produced singles, music videos and albums. At various points in your musical career, you’ve been a solo artist and involved with various bands. Which is harder – being an actor or a recording artist? What do you enjoy more?
BM: “Harder” is a strange word. It’s “easier” to write and record a song than it is to go on an audition or three, go to wardrobe fittings, memorize scripts, drive to a studio or fly to a location and work for days, weeks or months. But the acting gig might prove to be a lot more financially rewarding than the song. When the camera is actually rolling and you’re actually filming a scene, that’s great…but it takes a lot of hours to get to that point. I prefer making music. It’s nice when your work resonates with an audience.
PT: Tell us about your alter-ego, Art Barnes.
BM: Barnes & Barnes is my novelty musical group. We’ve made ten albums and are best known for “Fish Heads”… Robert Haimer and I created characters “Art” and “Artie” so we could be absurd without it reflecting on our true identities. It’s exactly like filming a comedy. Steve Martin can be a wild and crazy guy when he’s playing a character, in reality, he’s not a wild and crazy guy. Although we’ve always taken the music very seriously. The lyrics come from a comedy writing perspective. Mostly.
PT: The “Fish Heads” music video is considered a cult classic. Can you tell us about how it all came about, including Bill Paxton’s involvement with it? (Incidentally, Stephanie was a big fan of The Dr. Demento Show and your song; and since watching it the other evening, Wayne has had quite an irrepressible earworm!)
BM: “Fish Heads” came about after we ate a Chinese dinner and were served a fish with the head on staring at us. Robert wrote the chorus, the hook, and I wrote the verses. Billy Paxton was a good friend and very ambitious. We had a blast making the “Fish Heads” film with Billy and Rocky Schenk. We shot it on a hand cranked 16mm Bolex camera, plus some real cheapo cheapo Super 8 mm. Billy took it to Saturday Night Live and it was on the air the next week. He was very passionate and persuasive. Bill’s a real good guy.
PT: How do you believe the proliferation of media outlets (Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, etc.) has affected the business?
BM: Well, it kinda screws the vintage talent while making the studios more money. I don’t see a penny from any of my old shows running on any of those outlets. I really don’t think about that at all. I don’t watch any of those things.
PT: We did this with Robby Benson and our readers really enjoyed it. Instead of playing “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon,” let’s play “Six Degrees of Bill Mumy.” You’ve worked with everybody – legends, icons, award-winning actors, and up-and-coming actors. Let’s play the lightning round. Out of everybody with whom you’ve worked, off the top of your head, answer the following:
- Most inspiring
- Most intimidating
- Most giving
- Most laid back
- Most demanding
- Most concientious
- Most artistic
- Most charismatic
- Most inspiring: Jimmy Stewart
- Most intimidating: Alfred Hitchcock
- Most giving: Jonathan Harris
- Most laid back: Jack Benny
- Most demanding: Crispin Glover
- Most conscientious: Mira Furlan
- Most artistic: Brian Wilson
- Most charismatic: Brigitte Bardot
PT: Third curve – What book(s) do you presently have on your nightstand?
BM: The Complete Peanuts by Charles M. Schulz…Reckless: My Life As a Pretender by Chrissie Hynde…Hotter Than A Match Head: My Life on the Run with The Lovin’ Spoonful by Steve Boone…The Third Reich in History and Memory by Richard J. Evans…The Presidents and UFOs: A Secret History from FDR to Obama by Larry Holcombe…and Polonio Pass by Doc Krinberg.
PT: You have been married to your wife, Eileen, since 1986 and have two children, Seth and Liliana. Can you tell us a little bit about your family?
BM: They’re all swell.
PT: You have done countless voice overs for cartoons, commercials, television programs, etc. What attracted you to voice over work? Do you have a favorite character you’ve voiced?
BM: I love doing voice over work and I’ve done it since I was six. I’ve worked in animation, narration and commercials. I like it all. I narrated 55 of A&E’s Biography episodes. I was the “voice” of Farmer’s Insurance for eleven years. That was probably my favorite voice over gig.
PT: How do you approach a typical voice over?
BM: Instinct and listen to the director.
PT: If you had a time machine and could go back in time, what, if anything would you change?
BM: Not gonna go there as I don’t have a time machine and it’s too frustrating to think about.
PT: You also are a comic book creator and have written for Marvel, Dark Horse, DC, etc. How did this all come about?
BM: I’ve always been a comic book guy. Been collecting since I was four or five. Drew and wrote my own comic books as a kid. I guess my “celebrity” opened the door at Marvel for me when Jim Shooter was editor-in-chief and then my ideas and writing kept that door open at Marvel and then all the other publishers. I’ve been lucky.
PT: If you could be any superhero, who would you be and why?
BM: Hmmmm. For right this moment, I’ll say the original Captain Marvel. Because Billy Batson was just a kid who could turn into an adult who was the Worlds Mightiest Mortal. He had a bunch of great powers, a combination of the Gods, but he saw things with a child’s eye. Tomorrow I might want to be Green Lantern…who knows?
PT: (Since we follow you on FB, we know the answer to this, but we will ask it for our readers.) With whom do you regularly stay in touch from your acting days?
BM: Lots of people! Mike McGreevey from the old Disney Days…of course Angela Cartwright, Mark Goddard, Marta Kristen and June Lockhart from Lost in Space…Angela and I have a BRAND NEW BOOK OUT RIGHT NOW…Lost (and found) in Space. I stay in touch with Mira Furlan, Peter Jurasik, Claudia Christian, and Pat Tallman from Babylon 5…Tony Dow, Barry Livingston… it’s a long list.
PT: You have done and accomplished so much in your life. What’s left on your bucket list?
BM: Keep on making music, writing, acting when the opportunity presents itself and makes sense. I’m working on a new video this week for a song from my current album, “TEN DAYS”… (iTunes, Amazon, CD Baby, etc)…I just wrote a song for the sci-fi film I co-starred in this year that’s in pre-production now, Space Command…and I’m in the process of completing a group album of original songs with me, John Cowsill and Vicki Peterson that’s scheduled for release next year. I don’t have a bucket list. I just keep going.
PT: Last question and last curve – If you could sum up your life in only one word, what would it be?
BM: Swell. But two words would be better: they would be “Real Good”. (a nudge-nudge-wink-wink to my “It’s a Good Life” Twilight Zone episode…)
For more information on Bill Mumy, see his Official Site