Deanna Lund: Tiny Beauty in the LAND OF THE GIANTS
In 1969, adolescent boys could be found sitting in front of the television on Sunday nights enthralled by the sci-fi series LAND OF THE GIANTS. Created by Irwin Allen, the show focused on seven people stranded on a planet identical to Earth except everything is twelve times bigger. Though the special effects were impressive, most boys were captivated by the antics of red-haired, mini-skirted actress Deanna Lund as intergalactic castaway Valerie Scott. During the course of the series, Deanna’s character is menaced by cats; imprisoned in a dollhouse; cloned; prodded by scientists; carried off by an ape; and even used as a human pawn on a giant’s chessboard. Of all the actresses who toiled in sixties sci-fi television Lund was arguably the only one who portrayed more than a one-dimensional character. She was able to bring real strength to her role, as Valerie evolved from selfish party gal to likeable team player. Lund made the transition beautifully, giving skilled performances. With a mane of red hair and clad in the shortest of mini-skirts, Lund was perhaps every young teenage boy’s first crush at that time—me included!
LAND OF THE GIANTS was the fourth series from Irwin Allen whose name became synonymous with TV fantasy and science fiction. After scoring on the big screen with such fantasy epics as THE LOST WORLD (1960) and VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA (1961), Allen turned his attention to the small screen. 20th Century-fox asked him to create a weekly series based on VOYAGE. Starring Richard Basehart and David Hedison, it premiered to mixed reviews and high ratings. Allen then went on to create LOST IN SPACE (sort of a Swiss Family Robinson in outer space) and TIME TUNNEL (a hit with the critics, but not the public) before LAND OF THE GIANTS, whose story idea supposedly came to him in a dream. After seeing Lund in an episode of BATMAN and the rushes of Frank Sinatra’s new movie TONY ROME, Allen offered the role of spoiled jet setter Valerie to a skeptical Deanna without even meeting her. “I just signed with a new agent named Maury Calder and didn’t believe him when he told me I had this part,” says Deanna. “Being in Hollywood for awhile, I knew you had to audition and screen test before you get a role. Maury said, ‘Deanna, I swear it’s true.’ I replied, ‘Don’t jive me, Maury!’ I finally believed him but everybody told me not to do television—especially science fiction. When I was offered the series I had to do it for financial reasons. I had two little children to raise.”
Co-starring with Deanna Lund on LAND OF THE GIANTS were Gary Conway (as Captain Steve Burton), Don Matheson (as tycoon Mark Wilson), Don Marshall (as co-pilot Dan Erickson), Heather Young (as stewardess Betty Hamilton), Stefan Arngrim (as orphan Barry Lockridge), and Kurt Kaszner (as resident schemer Col. Alexander Fitzhugh). Though the series premiered in the fall of 1969, the pilot was produced almost a year before. ABC was so impressed that instead of using it as a mid-season replacement, they decided to wait for the new fall season. The first episode titled “The Crash”, which premiered on 9/22/68, set the story of how three crew members and four passengers on a suborbital flight from New York to London in 1983 pass through an electrical storm and crash on a planet of giants. Amid the gargantuan flora and fauna, the “little people” (as they were referred to) are menaced by a cat, a giant spider, and a scientist who captures Steve and Valerie. The pilot received Emmy nominations for photography and special effects. It garnered huge ratings—especially among younger audiences. And at $250,000 per episode, LAND OF THE GIANTS was the most costly series on the air. Giant props such as a slice of bread made from foam rubber, a six-foot pencil, gigantic leaves, and a nine-foot revolver were expertly but expensively created.
“LAND OF THE GIANTS was not an actor’s show,” remarks Deanna. “We were always being upstaged by the visual effects. At the time I was embarrassed by the series because it wasn’t Chekov, it was LAND OF THE GIANTS! I thought then, ‘My God, is this what I studied acting for?’ But I recently have seen some episodes that I haven’t seen in thirty years. I’m impressed with how good they are. The effects are so well done. And imagine none of this is computer generated! It amazes me how fantastic the show is but I did wish that the character relationships were developed more fully.” The critics agreed. Variety commented that “the series’ strong suit is its special effects.” Newsday said, “Visually, this science fiction series is a gas.” And Cleveland Amory in TV Guide wrote, “If you’re under 11, you’re bound to enjoy this show.” And did they ever as a young audience (mostly boys) propelled the series into the top twenty-five. Soon there were LAND OF THE GIANTS lunchboxes, board games, model kits, and coloring forms (I still have mine,)
The premise of each episode of LAND OF THE GIANTS had the Earthlings trying in some way to find a way to return home while being hunted by the giants. It was reminiscent of the old Saturday morning serials. “LAND OF THE GIANTS was a sort of child-like fantasy—even working on it,” says Lund. “Not that it wasn’t hard work—it was long hours and it wasn’t all fun and games. It was actually pretty intense with a lot of stunt work and a lot of repeating the same thing. We would shoot some scenes three times and everything had to be exactly the same for each. Not only did I have to worry about learning the dialog but my costumes and hair had to match perfectly. Irwin Allen hated that we changed clothes. It was much more economical if we wore the same thing because he could intercut any of the shows if he was short screen time and not worry about matching up the wardrobe. Paul Zastupnevich was the costume designer and he was great! His costumes were a bit futuristic yet not too outlandish to be contemporary. He’d get these boots and paint them to match the plaid skirts we were wearing. Of course Paul couldn’t do just a few. He had to do tons of them because they were trashed so quickly.”
As for Irwin Allen, who was known for being a taskmaster, Deanna says, “Irwin was a larger than life character. He directed the pilot and was very meticulous with details. Later he kept a very close tab on all the show’s directors. I respected that. LAND OF THE GIANTS was his baby. He created it. I think any kind of a good manager is going to see the ship is running his way. I didn’t find fault with it—I didn’t always like it—but as an actress and a professional I had to respect his input and caring. I’d rather have someone who cares than didn’t care but sometimes it was a pain in the butt. I’m a natural blonde and every time we had a hiatus I would add a little blonde streak to my hair. I would casually go back to work and Irwin would nail me every time. He’d yell, ‘I bought Rita Hayworth red and Rita Hayworth red you’re going to be!’”
During the run of the show, the Earthlings found themselves in some bizarre situations. Deanna was featured prominently in a number of them. Unlike his former series LOST IN SPACE, which became the Will and Dr. Smith show, Irwin wanted the cast of LAND OF THE GIANTS to be featured evenly throughout. In “Deadly Pawn” Lund is a human pawn on a giant’s chessboard. She is fancily dressed and placed in a giant music box in “Collector’s Item” and is duplicated and sent back to the spaceship to capture the others in “The Clones.” “I was exhausted doing this episode because I had to run around this drain so many times chasing the other Valerie,” says Deanna with a laugh. “I lost so much weight doing this.” In “Chamber of Fear” Deanna and co-star Don Matheson were almost seriously hurt when Deanna got stuck in the gears of this giant robot. When Matheson fell trying to free her, Lund wasn’t able to reach the lever to stop the grinding gears. When the crew realized they weren’t acting but in trouble, they came to their rescue.
As the series progressed, Deanna’s haughty rich girl softened much to her chagrin “because it was more interesting if I stayed kind of witchy. But Irwin wanted me more likable. Heather Young’s character of Betty was gone a lot because Heather was pregnant a lot.” Despite Lund’s disappointment, the writers were able to make the progression of her character believable, which was no doubt helped by the acting skills of Lund. And her character was constantly tempted by the rascal Fitzhugh to join him in his duplicitous schemes. “Kurt Kaszner and I had a great rapport, on screen and off,” says Deanna. “We really liked each other. He was so hilarious. The funniest stuff was never on camera. We’d just be laughing hysterically. In “The Graveyard of Fools” episode our characters were trapped in quicksand and Kurt was goosing me under this guck we were in. I remember yelling, ‘Who do you have to fuck to get out of this show?!!’ The two of us would tease the rest of the cast unmercifully. They were good sports and fun to work with.’
Regarding her other co-stars, Deanna comments, “Gary Conway was a perfectionist. He would always stand up to Irwin Allen if he felt something wasn’t being done right. Don Marshall was very solemn and intense. He was one of the first black actors to be a regular on a primetime series and took his position seriously. Heather Young was wonderful and we are still in contact to this day. And Don Matheson was a good friend to me on the show. Everybody adored him. He was just so nice to everyone. We became romantically involved and were married after the series was cancelled.” What is interesting to note is that though a number of well-known actors (including Warren Oates, Jack Albertson, Yvonne Craig, Bruce Dern, Diane McBain, Francine York, etc.) guest starred as giants, the regular cast never got to work with them. Usually when the little people interacted with them they would be talking up to the klieg lights while the actors portraying giants would be talking down to some object on a table or the floor. The scenes were then edited together. “The actors playing giants usually worked on different days and on a different sound stage,” recalls Deanna. “But I do remember some of the ones that played little people. Zalman King [from “The Lost Ones”] was very interesting. He played a juvenile delinquent and was a very dynamic actor. It doesn’t surprise me that he is so successful as a director and producer. And Celeste Yarnall was very pretty and seemed to be very effective in the episode “The Golden Cage.” [Celeste plays a Lorelei-like girl who has been brainwashed by the giants to entrap the Earthlings.] I thought it was an intriguing situation and it would have been interesting if they would have added her to the cast. Instead you never hear of her again.”
After the end of the second season, Deanna and Don Matheson announced their engagement. Ever the publicity mongrel, Irwin wanted their characters to be married on the show as well. “He said if we agreed he’d pay for our honeymoon anywhere we wanted to go,” remembers Deanna. “So we said, ‘Hmmm!’ But we were cancelled because the show was too expensive to mount. It was too bad because I think another season would have been really fun and interesting. If our characters had a relationship it would have been a first for an Irwin Allen series. It might have taken it into a whole different direction and brought in more of an audience. I probably would have also fought to make my character go the other way some more and be witchier.”
With LAND OF THE GIANTS being my favorite TV show as a kid I was devastated when it got cancelled. Deanna Lund was my favorite back then of course (though now I favor me some Gary Conway) so I would scour the TV Guide to see if she was going to be on any other shows. She was a regular on the syndicated TV celebrity game show STUMP THE STARS and remember catching her on LOVE, AMERICAN STYLE. Thankfully, the entire series was released a 2 years ago in a great box set. Mine is proudly sitting in my livingroom.