Recognized widely as Captain Lee Crane in Irwin Allen’s 1960’s sci-fi adventure TV series “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea,” David Hedison, 92, died on July 18. Hedison’s acting credits extended back long before and lasted well after his underwater voyages, and he shared some stories from this Hollywood career in 2016.
In just his second film, “The Fly,” a big sci-fi/horror hit from the 50s, Hedison received first billing playing scientist Andre Delambre who is transformed into a creepy human-fly hybrid.
“I was under contract to Twentieth Century Fox when another contract player, Rick Jason, turned down the role and I was next in line,” Hedison told me. “The Studio gave me that ‘star’ treatment, so I was given top billing above Vincent Price and Herbert Marshall. Very embarrassing!”
Unlike some sci-fi films of the period that lacked script development, the screenplay by James Clavell was well written.
“I knew if we could get that script onto film, it would go through the roof and that’s exactly what happened,” Hedison recalled. “We made it in 18 shooting days. ‘The Fly’ and ‘Peyton Place’ were the top money-making films for Fox in 1958.”
Hedison’s face was hidden behind the insect makeup for part of the film, but that didn’t bruise the young up-and-coming actor’s ego. “In fact it made me better, because I had to act with my whole body to get Andre’s distress across.”
Two years after “The Fly,” Hedison had his first encounter with Irwin Allen in the dinosaur drama, “The Lost World,” but was not impressed with that production.
“The script was quite bad,” he said. “None of the characters had any kind of development and were only there to react to the special effects.”
But it did provide an opportunity to co-star with Hollywood legend Claude Rains, in one of his final screen appearances.
“He was a lovely man, very soft-spoken,” recalled Hedison. “He told the most wonderful stories. I would sit in his dressing room and continually pester him to tell me about working with all those wonderful old movie people. To this day, I don’t know why Rains didn’t kick me out!”
Joined by Richard Basehart as Admiral Nelson, Hedison reunited with Allen in 1964 for “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea,” which would win four prime-time Emmys for technical achievements (e.g. Editing, Special Effects) during its four-season run. But unlike Allen’s other big 60s TV hit “Lost in Space,” the director/producer wouldn’t permit the cast to inject any humor into the scripts.
“Irwin would yell at us every time we tried, so we quit trying,” Hedison recalled. “He even made us re-shoot scenes if they were too light-hearted. Irwin decreed ‘Voyage’ would be grim.”
Nevertheless, the stories, special effects, and cast made the show a success and it remains popular today.
After “Voyage,” Hedison appeared in many film and TV roles. He was a regular on the CBS soap “The Young and the Restless,” and cast as American agent Felix Leiter in two James Bond films 16 years apart, “Live and Let Die” and “Licence to Kill.”
“Live and Let Die” reunited Hedison with Roger Moore, the two having worked together earlier on Moore’s TV series “The Saint” with Hedison recalling that Moore had the “ability to lighten up any set, and the actors and crews loved him.”
“I had fun working on those grand old movie sets,” he wrote in the Forward to Diane Kachmar’s 2015 book on Hedison’s short-lived TV series “Five Fingers.” “My idols were James Cagney, Claude Rains and Cary Grant. I wanted to be suave, sophisticated, like they were.”
Whether leading man or supporting actor, David Hedison proved he could be all of that and more throughout his long Hollywood voyage.
Nick Thomas teaches at Auburn University at Montgomery, Ala., and has written features, columns, and interviews for over 750 magazines and newspapers. See tinseltowntalks.com.