Ib Melchior’s special effects expert, David Hewitt, wrote a script entitled The Wizard of Mars. At the suggestion of his financial backers, he met with Felix Feist, a television director. Feist worked with Irwin Allen on the television series Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and Lost in Space.
When Hewitt mentioned Melchior’s space project, Feist reacted with curiosity. In an interview for Shifres’ book Space Family Robinson: The True Story, Hewitt details the course of events.
“I told Felix Feist about my work on The Time Travelers and that Ib Melchior had written Space Family Robinson, and told him of my special effects for that project. He was surprised to hear this. He was working for Irwin Allen at the time and told me to come to the 20th Century Fox lot where he was directing a segment of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. He said I would be very surprised at what was on the walls of one of the buildings that Irwin Allen was in.
I went to 20th and again met Felix. He told me to go to a special building and told me if anybody asked me what I was doing there. I was to tell them I was looking for him. The walls in the hallway were covered with story boards and large color paintings—all of which were similar to Ib’s script.”
Shifres also notes, according to a “reliable yet unnamed source,” at least two crew members were aware of Melchior’s script. “One of them, an uncredited special effects man, claimed (off the record) that Irwin Allen personally handed him a copy of Melchior’s ‘Space Family Robinson’ to use as a guide for establishing costs for special effects.”
Further, four of the first five episodes expand on scenes from the unaired pilot with footage from the pilot. The first five episodes are: The Reluctant Stowaway, The Derelict, Island in the Sky, There Were Giants in the Earth, The Hungry Sea. Shifres surmises the parallels are evidence of Melchior’s treatment as a basis for Allen’s Lost in Space pilot.
“It is interesting to note that in the unaired pilot (this was the original pilot which sold the series), these four out of five episodes were essentially one complete story. The second episode of the series, The Derelict, was barely used in the unaired pilot, nor can it be found in the comparison breakdown between the Allen and Melchior versions. This means that Allen’s original unaired pilot was almost a carbon copy of Mr. Melchior’s screenplay. Melchior’s comparison list describes exact similarities to Allen’s ‘LIS’ episodes 1, 3, 4 and 5—precisely like the unaired pilot, which like Melchior’s screenplay, made no mention of “The Derelict” story.”
The comparison list to which Shifres refers is a list consisting of 42 similarities he found in comparing the Allen and Melchior properties. For example, both stories have a setting of 1997. However, some changes also occurred between the unaired pilot and the aired pilot, changes giving Lost in Space hallmarks unique from Melchior’s creation.
The Reluctant Stowaway introduced one of television’s all-time great antagonists, Zachary Smith (played by Jonathan Harris). Smith’s greed overshadows his goal, whatever that may be at the time. Another addition under Allen’s aegis was a robot providing a man vs. machine theme. Allen’s unaired pilot is entitled No Place to Hide. As in the aired pilot, the Robinson family and Don West launch into space on October 16, 1997 with a mission to explore an outer world for habitability because Earth suffers from over-population. No Place to Hide provides more detail on the background of the crew than the Stowaway pilot.
Dr. John Robinson (played by Guy Williams) is a Professor of Astrophysics at the University of Stellar Dynamics.
Dr. Maureen Robinson (played by June Lockhart) is a biochemist at the New Mexico College of Space Medicine and the first female astronaut in the International Space Administration.
Will Robinson (played by Billy Mumy), age 9, is a graduate of the Camdo Canyon School of Science, with the highest average in school history.
Judy Robinson (played by Marta Kristen), age 19, is a musical comedy actress.
Penny Robinson (played by Angela Cartwright), age 11, has a hobby of zoology and a genius IQ of 147.
Dr. Don West (played by Mark Goddard) is a graduate student at the Center for Radio Astronomy where he discovered the plausibility of habitability on other planets.
There are some minor changes in The Reluctant Stowaway: Don West is a Major in the United States Space Corps, the Robinsons’ mission has a cost of $30 billion, and the spaceship’s name is changed from Gemini 12 to Jupiter 2.