The "Voyage" of
Derrik Lewis
A short memoir.
(Born June 5, 1941,
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)

© 2006, Mike's VTTBOTS Zone

Henry Kulky, Derrik Lewis and Richard Basehart from the color pilot, Eleven Days to Zero
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.

Submarine Seaview, the black and white episodes.        I made my professional Musical Theatre debut at the Sacramento Music Circus in shows like Wildcat and West Side Story in 1963.   That was the same year we shot the pilot for Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.

       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!

Twentieth Century Fox logo.
Universal Studios logo
Warner Bros. Studios logo

       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.

      Well, almost.  They hurried me into the Wardrobe Department to put me in crew clothes.  Would-you-believe: nothing fit!  Then someone brought over an OFFICER”S UNIFORM, which fit like a glove.  The point being: when I filmed the pilot later that day I was established as an "officer" on the submarine Seaview!  Flash forward a few months.  The trades were full of which pilots were being picked up and which were not.  
Irwin Allen discusses the upcoming take as a technician works foreground left and  script girl checks script.  Henry Kulk, Derrik Lewis and Richard Basehart seated.
Technician, Irwin Allen, Henry Kulky, Derrik Lewis,
Basehart, script coordinator.

      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!

Irwin Allen gives directions during shooting of the pilot.
Henry Kulky, Irwin Allen, Richard Basehart, Derrik Lewis.
         I loved my time on the submarine Seaview.   I had many scenes with David Hedison and a few with Richard Basehart, which was thrilling.  Richard was an amazing actor.   In later years I remember trying to copy his voice quality and style at auditions!! David was a natural and could either be VERY serious or show his wonderful sense of humor.  I worked a lot with Robert Dowdell, because our characters were usually left behind on the Sub when the leads were off on land having an adventure.

      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
often had few lines, we were constantly called upon to ACT, to react, to pay serious attention to the reality we were creating.  All the actors I worked with were terrific. There were many fine guest directors as well—Leonard Horn comes to mind---but you could be sure Irwin Allen would visit the set daily and give us a lot of Hands On instructions.  I very clearly remember him, banging on the can, teaching us the Seaview Rock & Roll…..we’d throw ourselves from one side of the set to the other….it was actually the camera that turned, of course.  Except for the flickering lights and occasional smoke, water and  
Bang on that bucket...rock right, rock left!
Irwin Allen with bucket leading Seaview rock & roll.
explosions, we never saw many of the special effects until the shows were on the air.   I do remember being shown one of our shows that had been dubbed in Japanese! Now THAT was funny! I'm sure as time goes by and I re-watch the segments, I'll remember more and more.

      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.

David Hedison and Derrik Lewis in key scene from Submarine Sunk Here.
David Hedison and Derrik Lewis...
  Collapsed Lieutenant O'Brien aided by Captain Crane
       It will be interesting and fun to watch the first season on DVD as I haven’t seen some of those episodes in over 40 years. They usually only re-ran the color segments and most of my work was in glorious black and white. (While this was true in some syndication markets in the late 60s 70s and 80s, Sci Fi Channel’s more recent runs of Voyage always included the black and white season one shows, actually run in their proper order—Mike.)  I am quite proud of those early segments of Voyage, since I believe they held some of the best stories, writing and acting. (My personal favorite was: “Submarine Sunk Here”, where I collapse,
gasping for breath!  .)

   Sadly, I heard the move toward monsters and aliens (although exciting to the younger TV audience) had a detrimental effect on our star.     Richard was, after all, one of our finest actors and should have had a much more brilliant career.   See him in La Strada!  Not to say he “sold out” or anything, but I think I did hear that he was making at least $25,000 a segment, which was a lot in 1964!   He was truly a wonderful man and one of the best actors I’ve ever had the honor to work with.  I mean, he took those fantastical scripts and lines and made them sound like Shakespeare!

Richard Basehart as Nelson contemplates life and death on the ocean floor.
Richard Basehart in Submarine Sunk Here.

     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.

Derrik Lewis, unknown cast member, Del Monroe and Ray Didsbury.
Derrik Lewis,  (?,) Del Monroe and Ray Didsbury--
Submarine Sunk Here.
       Eventually Ray Didsbury and I both ended up in Palm Springs where I now produce a popular local concert series: “Musical Chairs”.  Sadly, Ray passed away recently.  It would be fun to be in contact with others: Del Monroe and Pat Culliton, for instance.   I ran into David at a theatre in New York City many years later.  Mark Slade and I worked together again at Paramount on The High Chaparral and I even ran into Irwin Allen at a restaurant in West LA where my trio was playing.  He stopped at the piano and said: “Oh….my….God.  It’s Lieutenant O’Brien!” His wife was sometimes on the set, by the way, and I believe she was responsible for filming those “home movies” you’ll find on the DVD-extras.

      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”.

      I left, by the way, because I felt I was “an ACTOR!” and got tired of saying: “Blow main ballast!!” (I left to join the TV series “HANK” at WB, which tanked after one season).  Irwin must have been angry that I left, because he never invited me back.  I went on to appear in motion pictures and on many classic TV shows like The Twilight Zone, Route 66, The Monkees and My Three Sons, but there was no experience quite like VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA!

----Derrik Lewis     
                                                           Derrik Lewis today, a publicity shot. 
  Publicity shot of Derrik Lewis, recent vintage.

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

"Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea" ® is a registered trademark of Irwin Allen Properties, LLC.  © Irwin Allen Properties, LLC and Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All rights reserved.