Irwin Allen's wife played fantastic Lost in Space characters… and a familiar friend of The Waltons
Can you tell which of these three is not a space being?
Robert Hamner, creator of S.W.A.T., sharpened his television skills as a writer on Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and Lost in Space. He shared a particularly interesting insight into the life of Irwin Allen, the creator of those two sci-fi series.
"Irwin had no other life… Irwin's TV shows and everyone who worked on them were Irwin's family," Hamner said in Dennis Fischer's book Science Fiction Film Directors, 1895-1998 (2011). "He had no other family except for actress Sheila Matthews [sic]."
Allen and Mathews met in 1960. Two years later, she would already be making small appearances in the Allen adventure film Five Weeks in a Balloon. Mathews, billed as "Sheila Mathews," would continue to appear in Allen projects until his death — Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Lost in Space, Land of the Giants, City Beneath the Sea, The Poseidon Adventure, The Towering Inferno.
At last, in 1974, the year The Towering Inferno hit theaters, Irwin and Sheila married. Following the pioneering creator's death in 1991, Sheila Allen oversaw her husband's legacy, helming Irwin Allen Productions, spearheading and overseeing reboots and remakes of his properties.
But let's rewind to Lost to in Space. Sheila portrayed two out-of-this-world characters in "The Space Vikings" and "Princess of Space." Sitting astride a pegasus and sporting a winged helmet, Sheila portrayed Brynhilda (top right), one of the "Space Vikings." Wearing a pink wig like spun sugar, she shared scenes with Penny as Aunt Gamma (top left) in "Princess of Power."
Outside of the wonderfully weird world of Irwin Allen's imagination, Sheila is probably best known for dwelling in much more humble environments — Walton's mountain.
Once known officially as Sheila Allen, the actress landed a recurring role on The Waltons as Fanny Tatum, the switchboard operator (pictured in the top middle). Perhaps you remember how in "The Career Girl," Erin graduated from high school and went to work for her, patching phone calls.
Fanny Tatum appeared in five episodes throughout seasons five and six. In "The Best Christmas," Fanny suffers the misfortune of her car riding off the road into a freezing cold river. Fanny made her final appearance in "The Return," when Erin, alas, finds a better job than a switchboard underling.
Allen would make only a handful more TV appearances before focusing fully on Irwin Allen Productions.