Oh what careers this man is having. If you need a word to describe this guitar wailing space-seeking actor-singer-writer-father-composer then “prolific” might be your best choice. It would take two mortal men just to keep up with this workaholic father of two. And it must be in the genes. His father was a highly successful rancher, his mother had a showbiz background and his grandfather was Boris Karloff’s agent who helped him land his iconic role as Frankenstein’s monster in the 1932 classic film. If that is not enough, Bill’s son Seth had three feature films under his belt by the age of 9 and is the singer-songwriter-guitarist in a band called The Flew, and his daughter, Liliana is already a seasoned actor with more than twenty-five movie and TV appearances to credit; both taking to music and the screen as ably as their dear dad.
Yet, the family still pales in comparison to the workload and output during Bill’s career, which began back in 1959 aged five. Many people across the globe will remember Bill's memorable portrayal of Will Robinson in the 60s classic, Lost in Space, as well as from many movies. Others will remember Bill for his role as Lennier in arguably the most original sci fi series of them all, Babylon 5. You might think that more than 400 TV episodes and twenty plus films would keep a person busy, but it’s merely the tip of the iceberg.
Bill’s career includes playing in the six piece rock band The Jenerators with long time friend, Miguel Ferrer, of Crossing Jordan fame. Live sets include toe-tapping standards like Pussy-Whipped. Bill’s also recorded nine albums as one half of the novelty rock duo, Barnes & Barnes, best known for the demented song and feature-length video, Fish Heads, which was once posted #57 video of all time by Rolling Stone magazine. Bill has performed and composed with Gerry Beckley & Dewey Bunnell of America fame, written songs for people as diverse as Rosemary Clooney (Miguel’s mom) and Shaun and David Cassidy. Add to this a thirty year collaboration with Broadway composer, Paul Gordon. Bill’s film and TV compositions number in the hundreds and his work for Adventures in Wonderland for Disney earned Bill an Emmy nomination in 1992. (He composed and recorded over 100 songs for that series). Toss in a few children’s albums and an extensive resume of voice-over work including narrating over 50 of the A&E: Biographies, Ren & Stimpy, Scooby Doo, Batman, Buzz Lightyear and you’re starting to get what I mean about the word prolific!!!
And if you’re not exhausted yet, let me also quietly mention that Bill is also a comic book maniac. Not only has he always read them voraciously, but that he has written dozens of them. He's co-created titles like Comet Man and Dreamwalker for Marvel Comics, and scripted many others including the Hulk, Spider Man, Aquaman and The Spectre to name a few. In between times he wrote and epic length modernized LIS comic and has penned stories for DC Comics including Star Trek.
Are we there yet? No, we are not. Bill also writes short stories and screenplays. And as his way with most projects he works very well with other people. Over the years he has written a fantasy novel with beautiful LIS costar, Angela Cartwright, as well as stories with Peter David. A number of their works have also been published in foreign translations. This partnership with Peter David extends to creating and writing the television series, Space Cases which aired in the late 90's for two seasons in over 70 countries.
And, music being Mumy's greatest love, he fronts his own solo band and has released on various indi labels no less than seven solo cd's over the last ten years. His lastest effort, released July 17, 2007 from GRAgroup out of San Francisco, is titled, "The Landlord or the Guest". Mumy wrote and performed the 14 song album all on his own playing every instrument himself.
So let’s take a breath and reflect on Bill Mumy’s career thus far by having a chat with the great man himself, and remember you can catch up with all the latest news, photos, autographs, music, stories and general mayhem at Bill’s epic website, www.billmumy.com which I am sure everyone will enjoy. Also check out the 1964 article by legendary gossip columnist, Hedda Hopper which says a lot about Bill, even at the tender age of ten. You gotta like a kid who’s in a band and says, “he’s on the skins” or jealous that he’s kissed the gorgeous Brigitte Bardot!!! Man, what a waste…better stick to those skins…
David: Do you recall where and when you signed your first autograph and how you felt at the time?
Bill: I wish I had some funny or dramatic story to share with you here regarding that, but the truth is, I started being asked for autographs when I was barely six years old, and I honestly don't remember the first time it happened. It seems like it's just something I've always been doing. I was taught by my parents to treat fans graciously and to make a little time for them when they approached me, so... I've tried my best to keep that attitude going.
David: What has been the funniest thing to happen to you working on a film or TV set?
Bill: Funny? Hmmm... Well, I ate 14 apple pies in one day on the set when filming a Disney feature film back in 1968 called, Rascal. My stomach didn't think it was too funny. I actually couldn't even eat apple pie for like 20 years after that! But, I think the funniest thing that ever happened to me on a set was also on that film. We were working at the Disney Ranch out here in the valley, and there was a scene pretty early on in the film, where my character, "Sterling", and his father, played wonderfully by Steve Forrest, rescue a raccoon pup. I decide to raise it since it's lost its family and wouldn't be able to survive in the wild on its own... So, in the film, I hold this baby raccoon up to my face, I mean right up and into my face for a big closeup and say, "I'm gonna call you, "Rascal"!" Well... in one of the takes, (and I would LOVE to find the outtake to this, if it still exists!) I brought the cute little raccoon up to my face for the close up, and... it shit all over my face! And it's timing was perfect! I swear that when it happened, and it was definitely caught on film, I said, "I'm gonna call you.... SHIT!! ARRRRGHHH!!!" Man, I'd love to see that! It was a really cute little raccoon pup. It was a bit like mustard... very gross, but a great and completely true story.
David: Over the years, you have now probably racked up more awards for your musical compositions and CD releases, including an Emmy nomination in 1992, than for your film appearances. However, what do you think is your best film or TV work has been, and what has been your favourite musical moment?
Bill: That's too tough, David. I can't be objective about that kind of thing, and honestly, when it comes to things I've written, like literally hundreds and hundreds of recorded songs, it's almost impossible to have them compete with each other in your own mind... they're all like my children to me... It's also really difficult to sit in "judgement" of your own work when you're comparing the acting of a child to that of a teenager/young adult and that of an adult, and since I've worked as an actor on film in six decades that's what I'd be doing... But, what the hell, I'll give it go! I loved the 3 Twilight Zones I worked on as a kid, and because of the quality of that entire series and the fact that they've aired constantly and I've seen them a lot those hold up to me very well. I'm proud of those. There are scores of old TV shows I worked on that were good and I feel comfortable with my performances, but I haven't seen them in so long, they're out of my memory right now. I very much enjoyed the two episodes of Bewitched that I did. I had a huge crush on Elizabeth Montgomery! I absolutely loved working on Lost in Space, who wouldn't have liked playing "Will Robinson"?! I do think the first season of that series, or most of it anyway, is good stuff. Return to Earth is probably my favorite episode. I think Bless the Beasts and Children was a pretty good film. Looks dated now, though. Babylon 5 was a very impressive and well done series and I think some of my performances were heartfelt, but you know, what can I say about that? I looked like a damn eggplant! Musically, I'm proud of my solo cd's, especially the current one, With Big Ideas that Russ Kunkel co-produced and played all the drums and percussion on and Gerry Beckley sang all the harmony and played keyboards on. I have a new one coming out this summer called The Landlord or the Guest. But, a few of my "favorite" musical moments...
The very first professional "gig" I ever played was at the Hollywood Bowl! 1965. It was packed with Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Cub Scouts and Brownies. All kids. I walked out alone in my silver Lost in Space spacesuit with an acoustic guitar, and sang an old Kingston Trio folk song about getting drunk and thrown in jail in Mexico called "Tijuana Jail"! That still cracks me up. And I must admit that when Barnes and Barnes, (my novelty rock duo with Robert Haimer) first started hearing our song Fish Heads on the radio all the time and it became a bit of a hit, that was very exciting. Fish Heads has been very good to me! Also, when I toured with my pal Shaun Cassidy as guitarist in his band in 1978 when he was a teen idol selling millions and millions of records, that was really fun. Man, I can remember the very first gig we played... The late great Carlos Vega plays the drum intro to Eric Carmen's, That's Rock n Roll, which was a number one hit for Shaun at the time, and then I come in on my '73 tobacco burst Gibson Les Paul, and... this literal wave of energy from 15,000 screaming fans, 90% of them kids, came rushing up at the stage and it was palpable, you know? It just hit me! Stunned me, actually. Blew me away. It was amazing. What fun that tour was!
David: Do you collect movie or autograph memorabilia? If you do, what are some of your all time favourites?
Bill: Man, I'm a collecting fool! I collect signatures, pez dispensers, comic books, some artwork and guitars. I've tried to cut down in recent years. I know it's all just "material stuff" and stuff isn't important in life, but I sure do enjoy it. I have about 70 guitars and of course I don't need that many, but I don't have any I don't record with or gig with and I truly appreciate them as beautifully crafted works of art with individual tones that I dig. My comic book collection brings me a lot of pleasure. It's a deep collection. I've been into super hero comic books since I was really little. I have some amazing autographs. Several books of personal ones to me from most of the great actors and directors I worked with as a kid which I treasure. Really nice things said to me from people like Jimmy Stewart, Lucille Ball, Alfred Hitchcock, etc... I used to go around the sets when I finished up a show and get autographs. And, I have some historical signatures like Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, John Kennedy, The Apollo 11 astronauts; Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins, a few other Presidents... I have a gorgeous Marilyn Monroe that was signed to my dad... My rock autographs are very cool. Buddy Holly and the Crickets, The Beatles, (two of the whole group, a solo John Lennon with a sketch of himself and a lovely personalized George to me), Stones, Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Elvis, Rick Nelson, The Kingston Trio, Pete Seeger, Muddy Waters, Little Richard, Brian Wilson, The Byrds... there are more... great stuff. My favorite is probably my personalized Bob Dylan. "To Bill Mumy, lost in space! Best wishes, Bob Dylan" I traded him for one of the Lost in Space cast I signed that said, "To Bob, your music helped me survive being lost in space! Thanks, Bill Mumy". I love that one.
David: Taking the last question a step further, if anyone in history could sign their photo for you, which person would you choose, and what would you like them to say in their dedication?
Bill: Oh man, I don't know... millions of "regular people" in the future saying "liked your music" would be nice. How about the late great Dave Guard, who was the original leader of the Kingston Trio, he moved to Australia you know in the early 1960's and hosted a television show there for several years. He was a huge influence on me becoming a musician. I guess I'd like a pic from him saying "Well done, Bill". That would be nice. I do have his signature, though. Oh, I know! Robert Johnson. That would be it. You know, something like, "Stay away from the crossroads, Bill, Robert Johnson" Yeah, that would probably be the one.
David: You have made films with some absolute legends of the big screen, including a cameo scene with Brigitte Bardot in the 1965 film, Dear Brigitte, which starred Jimmy Stewart. You struck up a close friendship with Jimmy, which lasted until his death in 1997. Are there any funny or unusual stories, you can recount from the time you spent with this legendary gentleman of the screen?
Bill: Mr. Stewart was great. His wife Gloria was great. She was my Sunday School teacher when I was really little. Working with him was a lot of fun and it went the way things are supposed to go. He was professional and friendly and treated everyone with respect and warmth. We had good acting chemistry together and we tossed the baseball around a lot in between takes. I enjoyed the three months we spent together on that film. Brigitte Bardot did indeed do a cameo in the film, it wasn't really a cameo though as the film wouldn't have worked if she hadn't been in it! The entire crew flew to France to shoot her scenes. She was really nice and she sent me a lovely note just last year. We signed a very limited number of photographs, the two of us, from "Dear Brigite" and all sales go to her Fondation Brigitte Bardot" which benefits animals. I think there's still a few of those available through my website. I'd like to help her with that cause. But, I must say that although I continued to exchange Christmas cards and a few phone calls over the years with the Stewarts, I can't claim that we were close friends.
David: Which other actors bring back special memories?
Bill: Dude... I've got 48 years of memories full of actors...
David: You are one of the few people to star in both versions of the Twilight Zone. In the recent series, you worked with your daughter, Liliana. Now aged thirteen, Liliana could almost be classes a veteran actor. What was is like working with your daughter? And do you plan to appear onscreen with Liliana and your son, (and fellow rocker) Seth one day?
Bill: Filming It's Still A Good Life with Liliana and Cloris Leachman was a genuine high point in my life. Liliana is a gifted actress and Cloris is simply amazing. To return to the character of Anthony Fremont, 40 years later! That was almost unprecedented. I had lots of input into the story and direction of that project and they treated us wonderfully. It really stands as a high point to me. I think it's a good little bit of television. I'd love to work with Liliana again. I do work with Seth musically. He's helped a lot with my last two albums and I help him. Our bands played a gig together out here too. Seth is an interesting songwriter and I'm proud of the stuff he's coming up with. When he was really little he wanted to be made up as an alien and be on Babylon 5 and he did. There's an episode where he's in it. Can't remember which one, though. He's not really into acting anymore. But he did star in a very nice feature film with Patrick Swayzee called, Three Wishes when he was only 5 years old. He did some more acting after that, but it wasn't his "thing".
David: Many people are aware of your work as an actor and a muso, but you are also a highly talented writer. This talent extends from books and scripts to radio and comics. Often your writing is highly collaborative in much the same way as your band works as a group effort. In all your many fields of endeavour, you appear to build a very strong and tight knit group of creative people, and I wondered if this was something that came about from your childhood working on various film and TV sets.
Bill: Hmmm. I never thought of it that way. Could be. TV is a very collaborative medium and that's what I cut my teeth doing. But, I like bouncing ideas off other people and I enjoy harmony sounds. And of course, it's always nice to work with your friends. Sometimes when writing projects like scripts or comic books it's easy to "tag team" with someone else... especially if you created the characters together like Peter David and I when we were scripting our "Space Cases" TV series. Sometimes Peter and I would be working on several scripts at once and we'd literally exchange scripts midway... "Here, I'm stuck in Act Two... take it for awhile!" I enjoy collaboration and I also enjoy working alone. In recent years I've done a lot of voice over work, where it's usually a solo recording project.
David: Did your parents really knock back the part of Eddie Munster due to too much makeup?
Bill: It just didn't seem like the right project for me as I recall. Could have been the makeup, that's so long ago who can remember? I was probably only 9 or 10 when that deal went down. But, I certainly never regreted that decision at all. I know The Munsters is a gigantic cult hit, and I'm glad I was a part of it playing "Googie" in "Come Back, Little Googie", but... I'm fine with not being Eddie Munster. That's Butch Patrick's thing.
David: Did you miss any other film or TV shows due to unusual or unfortunate circumstances?
Bill: Well, there were certainly some films, I just didn't get cast in that I wanted. I remember that I really wanted to get The Music Man. But Ron Howard got that one. Heh... that's showbiz. No unusual or unfortunate circumstances spring to mind, though.
David: What has the most dangerous moment or injury, you have ever encountered while working on a studio set?
Bill: There have actually been quite a few that I've been around for. One, back in 1969... filming an episode of a Western TV show called Lancer. I was the guest star in an episode called "The Kid". I was 15. We were setting up for a scene where my character steals a horse and rides away on it, then the star of the show, played by Jim Stacy, whistles and the horse rears up and the kid falls off the horse. Well, my father was a cattle rancher and I grew up with horses and I was a good rider in those days and they kind of wanted me to do the stunt myself and they had assured me and the welfare worker that it was a very easy stunt. But I didn't feel comfortable about falling off a horse and I remembered something that Jonathan Harris had said to me back on Lost in Space, when he never ever did any of his own stunts whether they were really minor or not, he said: "Never deny a stuntman a check." And he's right. So, I said I didn't want to do it, and they had a stuntman do it, and... he broke his neck doing it. He eventually was okay, I believe. But, that was certainly an unsettling moment.
David: What does the future hold for Bill Mumy?
Bill: Man, if I knew that I'd be buying lottery tickets. I don't know. I hope more of the same. I can only hope for good health and happiness for my family and the blessings of continuing to live a creative life in a comfortable way.
David: Is there an incident or story from your life that would best sum up the person you are today?
Bill: Not really. If I think of one, I'll let you know! I've been very lucky. For the most part, I've spent my life doing things I've enjoyed doing and not doing things, I didn't want to do. I've been able to work in many different creative arenas and for that I'm grateful.
Article (c) David Priol 2008
Photos Copyright to their various owners and used here as autograph exemplers.