The "Voyage" of
Henry Kulky, Derrik Lewis, Richard Basehart
| The 1950’s & ‘60’s were truly the
Golden Years of Television. TV was just going from black and white to
color, for Pete’s sake! I’d been performing since I was six.
I became a professional working actor on live-TV in 1957 and made my film
debut on The Loretta Young Show in 1959 right
after I graduated from San Fernando High School. Soon I had all my
union cards: SAG (Screen Actors Guild), AFTRA (American Federation of
Radio and Television Artists), and the one I was the most proud of: AEA
(Actors Equity Association.) I still consider myself a “stage
actor”, having gotten my start in a San Fernando Valley Shakespeare stock
company at 15. I studied privately and in the excellent theatre
departments of the Valley and LA City Colleges. By the time I was
19, I had appeared professionally as a model, on radio, TV & films (my
first movie was Love in A Goldfish Bowl with
Tommy Sands and Fabian!), the stage, in commercials and as a
singer/pianist. Yes! I even had a Musician’s Union card! I
worked in films & TV throughout the 1960’s--- and sporadically after
that through the mid-1980’s. I spent ten years on the cruise ships,
began producing and have continued my stage career.|
Voyage was not my first “pilot”. It was my fourth -- the one in which I had the LEAST to do -- and the only one to sell to the networks. In 1967 I was in an original musical headed for Broadway, but closed out of town after 16 weeks on the road. This was when I realized that no matter how talented you are, LUCK plays the final hand. But at least I was good enough to get up to bat a few times. I continue to have a very satisfying and versatile theatrical career and I’ve never had a “day job” in my life!
20thCentury-Fox was a wonderful studio to call “home” for a while, even though I eventually came to know Universal and Warner Bros. for longer periods of time, due to the number of TV episodes filmed at those studios. Through my agent, my friend Daniel Truhitte won the role of Rolf in “The Sound of Music”. Also, my sub-agent was the wife of one of the casting directors. We were IN GOOD at Fox!
They had already begun shooting the pilot for Voyage when my agent called. As luck would have it, they needed someone to fill a role THAT DAY! I was to be just a crew member with a few lines. They had already cast the role of “Lieutenant O’Brien”-- the role I would eventually inherit. The casting director rushed me onto the set to meet Irwin Allen. He was in the middle of directing a scene and was….how do I put this….very intimidating. I was 21 years old and scared to death. “Here he is, Mr. Allen”, the casting director said, and literally pushed me forward. Irwin paused, looked me up and down like he was buying a car, then turned abruptly and said, “Oh, all right”. And that was that.
The Voyage pilot had sold to ABC-TV, and I was pleased, thinking I might work again one day. Then I heard they were filming and no one had called so I almost forgot about it. Heck, I had just made my musical-theatre debut and I thought I’d be singing show tunes the rest of my life.
One day I had nothing to do so I called a friend at Fox and asked if I could come over for lunch at the studio. Irwin Allen was there, of course and they were filming one of the first two segments on the back lot near the pool and I could stand on a little hill and watch. I had been standing there for about ten minutes when I saw Irwin stop everything and look over at….ME. He excused himself from the set-up and charged up the hill in my direction. I thought I’d die. I couldn’t move! He put his face right in mine and said: “Where the hell have you been? We’ve been looking for you!” To make a short story long, he had seen me a few nights before on a TV show (“Arrest & Trial”) and since the original actor who played Lieutenant O’Brien (Gordon Gilbert) was not doing the series, he wanted….ME. Why he couldn’t find me, I’ll never know, but I truly believe that if I hadn’t wanted to have lunch that day, I probably wouldn’t have worked on Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea!
Bob was a truly fun person with a dry sense of humor and never seemed to take himself, or any of it, all that seriously. I am only 5’9” but wore heels that brought me up an inch or so. When I worked with Richard I felt great: tall and thin and very officer-like. When I worked next to David I felt like porky pig. David was THIN! My favorite friends on the set were Ray Didsbury, who was Richard’s stand-in and a crew member and Pat Culliton who was in and out as a radar operator. I can remember a lot of terrific guest artists, like the very funny Edgar Bergen. He was always cracking jokes like: “Let’s go up on the Look Deck and take a Poop!”
Regarding the casting by Irwin Allen: I’ve always felt he was very, very smart to cast the smaller, recurring roles with excellent young actors and not just glorified extras. Even though we
You can find me the first season in “Eleven Days to Zero”, “The Fear-Makers”, “Submarine Sunk Here”, “Turn Back the Clock”, “Cradle of the Deep”, “The Enemies” and “The Saboteurs” and you can see me shooting the pilot with Richard, David and Henry Kulky in those extra “home movies” in another VHS release entitled The Fantasy Worlds of Irwin Allen.
Years later I attended a talk by philosopher J. Krishnamurti in Santa Monica. Richard was there and he remembered me fondly. I also heard that not that long ago, many friends and cast members were on hand to open the Richard Basehart Playhouse in the San Fernando Valley, but by then I was living in Santa Fe.
While we were a wonderful adventure series, with special effects that made Irwin Allen the great producer/director he was, I think Voyage was probably blown out of the water (pardon the pun) by the phenomenal success of Star Trek. (Walter “Chekhov” Koenig originally auditioned for a role on Voyage!) However, we are fondly remembered and still enjoy an amazing cult following. Even though I had only a first season/recurring role and was “unbilled” a lot, I got a lot of mileage out of my time as “Lieutenant O’Brien”.
|Imagine my surprise, when after contacting Derrik, I received the above reflections unsolicited. I knew almost immediately that his message was a fun read as it stood. The addition of some photos, many provided by Voyage and Richard Basehart fan Stephanie Kellerman, made things complete. More to come from Derrik in the future, to whom I say, many thanks. ---Michael Bailey|