Put Wally Cleaver, Bud Anderson and that kid from "Lost in Space" together in a movie and what do you get? Apparently not what you'd think.
Says Billy Mumy (aka that kid from "Lost in Space"): "When you look at this group of baby boomers' dream cast ... you think, 'Oh, it's going to be 'The Love Boat.' Or it's 'Lost in Space' or it's something kind of cute -- 'Love American Style'-ish. But it's very dark and it's pretty hard-hitting in its tone and non-compromising."
What it is is "Overload," an in-the-works indie sci-fi flick that aims to shoot several former child stars into the nether reaches of the galaxy, including Tony Dow (Wally Cleaver of "Leave It to Beaver" fame), Billy Gray (Bud Anderson of "Father Knows Best") and Billy Mumy, who, if we must be detailed about it, played astroboy Will Robinson on TV's "Lost in Space."
Also on board: Angela Cartwright (Linda Williams on "Make Room for Daddy" and Mumy's TV sibling Penny on "Lost in Space"), Johnny ("The Rifleman") Crawford, Don Grady (middle son Robbie on "My Three Sons"), who'll also handle scoring duties, and -- for good measure -- Melissa ("Little House on the Prairie") Gilbert. Er, make that the voice of Melissa ("Little House on the Prairie") Gilbert. (She's the computer.)
Add up all the names and you've got quite an assemblage of ex-TV kids from the 1950s and 1960s. But given the tabloid rep of said ex-TV kids, you (or some other wise acre) might ask is it lawfully safe for them all to work together on one project at the same time?
Don't worry about it.
Billy Mumy "None of these people have been living depressing, compromised lives," Mumy tells Hollywood.com. "They're all happy pursuing the lives they've pursued."
So, bosh the former child star "curse." "Overload" was not borne of a work-release program or a probation condition. It was borne of a ping-pong game.
The way Mumy, now 46, tells it, the saga began on the set of "Babylon 5," the 1994-98 sci-fi TV series. On "Babylon 5," Mumy, who grew up to be a musician ("Fish Heads"), writer ("Space Cases") and sometime actor, played a latex-covered alien while Dow, now 55, played the director. (Actually, Dow was the director -- one of them anyway. Other helmer credits include "Coach" and "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.")
Anyway, Mumy started bugging Dow (and the other powers that be on the show) to cast Billy Gray. Now, Mumy didn't know Gray. Had never worked with him. He just thought he was cool.
"When I was a teenager, I used to watch reruns of 'Father Knows Best,' and I used to think Bud Anderson was the coolest," Mumy says. "'Cause he was human, you know. He was just so great. The way he listened, his comedic timing, just the reality within him. ... And [then] he disappeared [from the screen]. No one's seen him for 20 years. I [thought] it'd be so cool. And, of course, they never listened to me and never tried to bring him in [for 'Babylon 5']."
But Mumy didn't give up on Billy Gray. So Dow, a friend of Gray, finally brought the two together. And they all played ping pong.
During the course of a tournament at Dow's house, Mumy asked Gray, whose once-promising film career ("The Day the Earth Stood Still," "On Moonlight Bay," etc.) was stunted by his TV success and whose TV success was stunted by his show's 1960 cancellation and a subsequent headline-making bust for pot possession ("a handful of seeds and stems") in 1962, if he wanted to act again.
Gray, now 62, has gone on to a comfortable existence racing motorcycles and inventing gadgets since bidding his screen career farewell after bits in the likes of "Porklips Now" and "The Vampire Wars." Did he still possess the desire to perform?
Says Gray: "I've always wanted to act. It's just that I never figured out a way to [get] any work. ... If acting was the only thing I enjoyed doing, I suppose I could have, but I've done a little bit of theater and it's not all that fun."
But Mumy's idea sounded fun, and "Overload" -- about seven space explorers in the near future (circa 2069) trapped on a dying vessel (dare we say, lost in space?) -- was hatched.
Mumy and writing partner Peter David cranked out a script for what was then to be a 30-40 minute short, with Mumy as executive producer, Dow as director and Gray as a cast member in good standing.
Along the way, Crawford, Grady, Cartwright and Gilbert joined the project, with "Star Trek" Lt. Sulu George Takei and "Babylon 5"'s Claudia Christian lending added sci-fi cred. Also along the way, "Overload" morphed from a self-financed short to a feature for Galaxy Pictures (www.galaxyonline.com).
If you think "Overload" got attention (and money) because of the former child star angle, the "Overload" team would agree -- to a point.
"What we wanted to do was use it [the former child star thing] as a sort of hook and then turn it around and say, 'Well, wait a second, this is not exactly what we would expect,'" Dow says. "'Cause it isn't an exploitive kind of thing."
Gray agrees "Overload" will be no one-trick pony: "I think that notwithstanding a bunch of kid actors getting together, just that subject matter is something that hasn't been tackled very often."
By way of the Cliffs Notes summary, Mumy describes "Overload" as "'Steambath' [an Off-Broadway play turned 1972 TV movie about a godly towel attendant] meets 'Lifeboat' in 'The Twilight Zone.'" (Translation: Expect a lot of meaning of life stuff mixed in with your special effects.)
After shooting demo footage in the spring, Galaxy says cameras should roll on the entire flick in the fall. Dow, Gray, Mumy and the others will be ready. And this time, Mumy promises, the erst while Will Robinson will have more to do than "lurching left and right and watching out for explosions."
First, an apology. Because "Fail Safe" was presented "live" last Sunday, and because the ending was a closely kept secret, and because we never bothered to actually see the original movie on which it was based, we just had no idea. If this column was responsible in any way for your sitting through an hour and a half of nail-biting suspense, only to get to the part where the president of the United States decides that dropping an atomic bomb on New York City would be a good idea (as opposed to the goofiest plot point ever), we apologize. We would also like to apologize on behalf of the 1960s, a time when, apparently, this ending made sense.
-- The Discovery Channel presents three hours worth of some pretty rare footage of dinosaurs in their natural habitat. Actually, "Walking with Dinosaurs" (7 p.m. PDT, today) co-produced by the BBC, gets its spectacular images from a combination of exotic location shots and state-of-the-art "Jurassic Park"-style digital effects. What’s different and clever here is that the show is presented as a standard nature documentary. And as such, it features a lot of the day in a dino life events that kids will particularly enjoy (like dino pee and dino poop). It’s also maybe a full hour too long. If you’ve got kids, ask them to show you how to work your VCR so you can tape it for them.
-- And speaking of long - Heston’s back! And this time it’s personal! ABC keeps the annual holiday tradition going with the four-hour epic "The Ten Commandments" (7 p.m. PDT, today) starring Charlton Heston, Yul Brynner and, sadly, not William Shatner. But he would have been perfect in it. Somewhere along the line, probably because it is so beloved, this film started appearing in movie guides as rating four stars. The truth is, it ain’t "Citizen Kane." But there is definitely something about it. If you grew up with this movie, you’ll probably watch at least part of it again (this columnist checks in for at least the Edward G. Robinson scenes every year). If you’ve never seen it before, you might enjoy watching your kids watch this movie. Even if they can’t last through the whole thing, they would still probably love to try. Watch for a cameo appearance by God about three hours in.
-- For those out there with more sophisticated viewing tastes, "Masterpiece Theatre’s" presentation of "David Copperfield" (9 p.m. PDT, PBS, today and Monday) is a keeper. Maggie Smith and Ian McKellen continue their streak of being in every single British-produced film. And they, along with Bob Hoskins, are as engaging as ever, playing these astonishingly captivating characters. Nobody can break your heart while choking you with laughter like Charles Dickens, and this performance does his work justice.
-- "Trapped in a Purple Haze" (8 p.m. PDT, ABC, Monday) is a change of pace from the made-for-TV Monday night movies we’ve been getting. This one trades in the camp appeal of "Satan’s School for Girls" for a much grittier realism, as a teen athlete (Jonathan Jackson, "General Hospital") messes up his life in a hurry with a new girlfriend ("Popular’s" Carly Pope) and her best buddy, heroin. Don’t expect "A Tale of Two Bunnies." This one is unusually serious, and unusually well done.
-- Despite what NBC says you "must see," Fox offers up the show of the night Thursday with the surprising hit British movie "The Full Monty." This film starts off with a quaintly funny premise (unemployed and decidedly unbuff steelworkers form an all-male exotic dance troupe to make ends meet) and then goes on to turn into something pretty special. Great characters portrayed by the likes of Robert Carlyle and Mark Addy and great heart made this an unexpected theatrical hit in 1997.
"The Green Mile" premiere Monday night was accompanied by all of the fantastical effects, glitz and star power a possible Oscar contender deserves.
Director Frank Darabont returns after five years ("Shawshank Redemption") to bring Stephen King's 1996 best-selling serialized novel to the big screen.
"This is really exciting," said Darabont. "It took me this long to make another movie. I was waiting to fall in love with a story again, enough so I would go through the anguish of directing a movie. Thankfully, Stephen King gave me exactly that story."
Set on death row in a Southern prison in 1935, Tom Hanks stars as Paul Edgecomb. In flashbacks, Edgecomb recounts his tour of duty watching over a series of convicted killers awaiting execution in the electric chair.
"Stephen King wrote something that is quite in the realm of fanciful there in 1935," said Hanks. "If anybody is looking for a hard, grim, edgy, realistic look at what it's like to be on death row in a prison, I don't think they should come to 'Green Mile.'"
What audiences should look forward to are the scene-stealing performances by larger-than-life actor Michael Clarke Duncan ("Armageddon").
In his first starring role, Duncan plays John Coffey, a 7-foot inmate convicted of murdering two young girls. Beyond Coffey's massive appearance and simple nature, he possesses a prodigious and mystical gift that alters the life of anyone he touches.
On the red carpet, Duncan was responsible for also stealing most of the red carpet dazzle and Oscar buzz.
"It's amazing that people would equate Oscar talk with Michael Clarke Duncan," said Duncan. "Six years ago, I was digging ditches for the gas company. To hear Oscar talk is like a dream come true. This is just wonderful. I feel like a 6'5" 325lb. Cinderella," he said.
At the premiere in Westwood, Tom Hanks arrived arm-in-arm with wife Rita Wilson ("The Story of Us."). Hanks sported a burly beard, and Wilson looked hotter than ever in leather and crushed velvet.
"Green Mile" co-star Bonnie Hunt, who plays Hanks' wife in the film, discussed some of the challenges posed by her saucy love scenes with Hanks.
"It's the easiest job I've ever had," said Hunt. "She's (Wilson) very jealous of me, by the way. Actually, Rita requested I play the part so he would look forward to going home to her," she quipped.
Despite the premiere never turning into a Jerry Springer episode, celebrities such as Holly Robinson ("For Your Love"), Rick Fox (Los Angeles Lakers) and director Quentin Tarantino ("Jackie Brown") walked the red carpet in praise of the Oscar-caliber cast and writer King.
"He's (King) a terrific writer," said Tarantino. "He writes great characters, characters that actors want to play, and he's got a great imagination."
The film's all-star cast also includes James Cromwell ("Babe"), Michael Jeter ("Patch Adams"), Graham Green ("Dances with Wolves"), Harry Dean Stanton ("The Man Who Cried") and David Morse ("Crazy in Alabama"). Audiences can walk "The Green Mile" starting today.