8 deep truths about 'Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea'
Step behind the scenes on Irwin Allen's first sci-fi show and learn about its white sneakers, recycled sets and broken bones.
We so often look up in wonder at the stars, we forget to appreciate the amazing world lying beneath our oceans. Of all the sci-fi shows on 1960s television, the underwater adventure Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea is perhaps the most underrated. Not only was it the first TV endeavor of legendary action producer Irwin Allen, who would later create Lost in Space, it was his longest running. With four seasons to its name, it even outlasted Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek, which managed a mere three.
On the air (and, well, in the seas) in the heart of the 1960s, the series quickly evolved with the times. At first a black and white thriller rich with Cold War spy themes, Voyage eventually exploded with color and fantasy plots, bringing in werewolves, aliens, time travel, kaiju monsters and more. If it's a tried-and-true sci-fi concept, odds are it happens in an episode of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.
Currently, the show runs as part of our Super Sci-Fi Saturday Night. Half a century later, it still packs a ton of fun in its ballast tanks. It's also quite fascinating behind the scenes, too.
1. It was set in the 1970s and 1980s
The mid-'60s series looked all the way forward to the far… well, just a decade or two into the future. The first two seasons take place in the 1970s, while the wilder third and fourth years jump into the 1980s. Alas, we're now at the year 2016 and we still do not have flying submarines!
2. Art director and sub designer William Creber also built the Statue of Liberty for 'Planet of the Apes'
Between the first and second seasons, the Seaview was redesigned, going from eight front windows to just four, and accomodating the nifty yellow nuclear mini-sub. Creber would go on to work on Planet of the Apes, and he built the half-scale Statue of Liberty seen in the twist ending. In order to film that iconic scene, the camera had to be placed high on a 70-foot rigging. The director of photography and assistant director were too scared to scale the scaffolding, so Creber himself filmed that historic shot.
3. The episode "The Sky is on Fire" is a rehash of the feature film.
As we will get into in more depth below (pun intended), Irwin Allen cleverly reused footage, props and sets to shrink his budget. The 1961 feature film version of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea was cut up and repurposed as the season two episode "The Sky's on Fire." The fantastic early episode with Yvonne Craig, "Turn Back the Clock," sourced costumes and stock footage from Allen's early film The Lost World.
4. In fact, the show was big on recycling.
As much as Allen used existing film and props for Voyage, he paid it forward was well. The Seaview bridge set was fashioned into an underground base for the Lost in Space episode "The Lost Civilization." The Flying Sub returns in Allen's 1971 City Beneath the Sea, set in the far future. One of the eight-foot models of the Seaview was chopped up and modified for The Return of Captain Nemo. Additionally, Voyage DNA carried over into other MeTV Super Sci-Fi Saturday Night franchises. Parts of the sub set were used in the 1966 Batman movie and the Seaview would even turn up in an episode of Wonder Woman, according to the book Irwin Allen Television Productions, 1964-1970. Sadly, this means many of the models do not survive today. One of them for a very unlikely reason…
5. Sci-fi writer Harlan Ellison reportedly broke a man's pelvis with the Seaview model
One particular model met a cruel fate during production. Brilliant author Harlan Ellison was working as a writer on the series when he got into a scuffle with an ABC censor. He later wrote of the incident: "...I saw blood red… I didn't want to have to go around anything, so I just took the straightest route, which was right down the middle of the table. ...I tagged him a good one right in the pudding trough and zappo! over he went… windmilling backwards, and fell down, hit the wall and Irwin had this big, six-foot long model of the Seaview, which I guess they had used as a miniature on the series, and it came off its brackets and dropped on top of him and just busted this dude's pelvis." Ouch. When dissatisfied with an episode, Ellison would use the alias Cordwainer Bird in the credits, as on "The Price of Doom" (pictured).
6. The crew members on the Seaview all wore Keds sneakers
They were white, though after scuffing around the deck of the Seaview, they could turn gray.
7. Star Richard Basehart became an in-demand narrator
Basehart, pictured left, had a rich, commanding voice, which helped him land the role of Admiral Harriman Nelson. In 1964, he would also narrate a documentary about the Kennedy assassination, Four Days in November. He continued his voice work up until his death in 1984. Basehart is the voice you hear in the opening credits of Knight Rider — not to mention the man who played billionaire Wilton Knight in the pilot — and he narrated the closing ceremonies of the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles.
8. David Hedison turned down the role of Captain Crane in the feature film
Hedison starred in The Lost World, yet was seemingly reluctant to jump back on a set with Allen a year later for the Voyage motion picture. He said no to playing Cpt. Crane on the big screen. Three years later, however, he stepped into the uniform. James Bond junkies will recognize him as CIA buddy Felix Leiter in both Live and Let Die (1973) and License to Kill (1989).