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The Pleasures and Perils of Growing Up a Child Star

Bill Mumy is an actor, musician, voice-over artist, and comic book writer who is best-known for playing Will Robinson in the 1960s television show Lost in Space. We spoke at his home in the Hollywood Hills.

Q. What’s going on in your life?

A. I’m channeling the muse and I’m very grateful for that. I’m writing constantly.  I have a really nice studio upstairs.  I have a new album out and Barnes and Barnes made our first album in 18 years, in 2009. I’ve been very lucky to keep working in the voice over industry. That’s been my gig since Babylon 5 wrapped, pretty much.  I did that show for five seasons in the ‘90s and that was a really busy time for me. I had co-created and co-wrote two seasons of a family sci-fi show called Space Cases, the band was gigging, and the kids were really little.  So that was a really knuckle-down, make your money kind of time and I paid off the house and I don’t owe anybody any money which is a great feeling. I’ve got to say, if anybody’s fortunate enough to be in a position where they don’t owe anybody any money and they own what they have, it really affects decisions in a big way.

Q. How does being financially comfortable affect your decisions?

A. Playing an alien on a television show for five years and gluing foam rubber to your head at 5 in the morning for 14 hours a day is certainly not the same as being in the trenches of a war or having to work in the fields all day picking grapes or whatever, but it was like, “Wow.  I’m burnt.”  I was really grateful to segue into a good amount of voice-over work.  As much as I like about on camera work, and I do like to work on camera and I think I’m pretty good at it, the process of getting a job as an actor over the age of 40-something is pretty heinous. I just got to a point where it was, like, thank God I was saying “Farmer’s Insurance gets you back where you belong” for 11 years or narrating Biography, or whatever.  Doing that stuff, the checks continued to come in.

Q. You sound pretty turned off to the film and television industries.

A. My observation of the way things have changed in the industry, the entertainment industry, is that it hasn’t changed for the better. The deals, the contracts for actors, the union, everything has been whittled away.  We’re not really getting a better deal than we used to get.  We’re getting a much worse deal.  If someone were to come along and offer me a good part in even a low-budget film, sure, I’d get on a plane. I’d deal with what I had to deal with if it were creatively satisfying to me, but it’s much more creatively satisfying to me to write an album’s worth of tunes and see them through with an uncompromising perspective, thank you.  An actor is a chess piece, a director’s chess piece, and the director is a producer’s chess piece. In the long run an actor is very low on the level of having much creative input into a television show.


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Janeane Garofalo in Seattle

Janeane Garofalo Stares Into the Gaping Maw

Comedian, actor, writer, and political activist Janeane Garofalo called from a Los Angeles hotel, where she was staying while filming the CBS police drama “Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior.”

Q: Do you remember what your earliest professional dream was?

A: To be George Carlin. Just to be George Carlin. And also to meet and marry Bill Murray. That was an early one.

Q: Well, I would say you’ve failed.

A: Yeah, I never did marry Bill Murray. I did get to meet him, which was a delight, and he’s a very nice man. But you know what it was? I thought it was a safeguard against an unhappy life. To tell you the truth, I didn’t understand that, fully, that people that were in comedy are just like anyone else. And it’s not like I had a miserable childhood, I didn’t. It was just very garden-variety. I guess the main thing is nothing happened. A whole lot of nothing happened. And I also was, and still am in a lot of ways, frightened of life.

Q: That answers my follow-up question, which is what happened when you found out that it wasn’t the safeguard you had fantasized it would be?

A: Well, nothing, because there is no plan B. So that’s that. But it has safeguarded me. I always knew I never wanted to be married, have children, live in the suburbs, own a home, because I also thought not doing those things would be a safeguard against some of the pitfalls of family life. And again, I did not have a terrible childhood, I am not saying poor me, but there were definitely elements to it I would not want to repeat. So, in my child’s mind I thought, “Here’s what you do so you don’t have to do that. Don’t ever be married, don’t ever own a home. Don’t have a yard.” All these things I thought would be a safeguard against a repetition of certain aspects of my past, which were not very happy. And then I thought, “And you surround yourself with comedy people.” That’s the answer. I know that seems terribly ridiculous.

Q: I can see how to a young mind that it might make certain sense.

A: It just seemed like that’s the only way to break a pattern. And in some ways that’s got to be true. I don’t own a home, I’m not married, I don’t have children, so that has allowed me to avoid certain things I was afraid of repeating. But then that brings it to a whole other thing where you go, “What if? What should I have?” All that kind of stuff. But I think I’m fairly certain that was absolutely the right decision for me not to ever marry and have children. I mean, I live with my boyfriend of 12 years, so I guess we’re common-law married. But both of us have never wanted to have children or be married.


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