by Nick Thomas
It’s quite possibly the largest gathering of former child stars ever assembled. Some 50 actors and actresses who began their careers as children will appear at the Hollywood Museum on August 20 and 21 to sign autographs and pose for photos.
The charity event will support A Minor Consideration a non-profit organization that provides assistance to today’s youngest performers.
Long-time Santa Monica resident Marta Kristen is looking forward to helping the worthy cause and also visiting with old friends.
“Many of us worked in the same era and were sometimes up for the same roles,” said Kristen from her home. “So it will be interesting to compare careers.”
Kristen appeared in dozens of film and TV roles since 1960 and is best known for her role of Judy Robinson on “Lost in Space.”
Like many of the event guests, she will be loaning personal memorabilia to the Hollywood Museum’s new exhibit, Child Stars – Then and Now, opening the same weekend.
“I’ll have a Judy doll, photos, and posters, including an original from the movie ‘Beach Blanket Bingo’ where I played a mermaid,” she said.
Other items on display at the exhibit, which runs from August 19 through to December, include Judy Garland’s Ruby Slippers from “The Wizard of Oz” and Margaret O’Brien’s Oscar from “Meet Me in St Louis.”
Unlike some child actors who fell victim to addictions or financial exploitation from parents, Kristen says she fared well in her youthful profession.
“I had a good experience overall. There were a couple of famous Hollywood people who tried to take advantage of me – I’m not mentioning any names! I was around 16 and I knew it was wrong, so I stood up for myself.”
Blue-eyed, blonde, and beautiful, 14-year-old Marta arrived in California via Michigan in 1959, although her journey to Hollywood began in Oslo towards the end of World War II.
“My mother had been ordered to work for a German officer and she hid her pregnancy fearing she would be killed. She went to Norway with him and gave birth to me in her room. I was taken to a hospital and placed in an underground orphanage to avoid the Lebensborn program” (a Nazi project to raise ‘racially pure’ children.)
At the age of just 4, little Marta flew alone to New York City to be adopted by an American couple from Detroit (she would later discover she had nine siblings after locating and meeting her birth mother in Europe).
Her adoptive parents encouraged Marta’s interest in acting and she performed in stage productions throughout her school years. After moving to California, she was offered her debut TV role on an episode of “The Loretta Young Show.”
“I played the daughter of alcoholic parents and had a two-page monologue where I had to speak at an AA meeting. I wasn’t nervous at all because I think I understood that acting was just in my blood.”
When offered her first film role as the nymphet in MGM’s provocative “Lolita,” her protective parents wouldn’t allow it, the role going to Sue Lyon.
“I was very innocent so maybe I wouldn’t have been a good fit for the film. But it’s a great adaption of the book and I personally wish I had done it. James Harris, the producer, liked me and arranged representation with a top agent and that was the beginning of my career. I did all the great TV shows in the 60s and whenever they wanted an ingénue, they’d call me.”
The 1963 Disney production, “Savage Sam,” was Marta’s first movie, but that’s not the only reason it was memorable.
“My mother and I had lunch with Walt Disney prior to the film,” she recalled. “I was terribly excited but so nervous I choked on my bread and had a fit of coughing. There’s also an album cover from the movie in the Hollywood Museum exhibit.”
When the chance came for a regular part in the cast of “Lost in Space,” she eventually accepted, but found her role smaller than originally planned.
“I’d read a script and often had nothing to do,” she recalled. “The dynamics of the show changed after the first season when the focus was on Dr. Smith, Will and the Robot and it went from being science fiction adventure to fantasy with silly plots. But it was still a fun show and the premise of a family lost in space was a good one.”
So good, Netflix is planning to reboot the series for a 2018 online release.
“It sounds interesting and they’re making 10 episodes for the first season,” said Kristen. “I might be interested in a part of some sort but not necessarily as Judy Robinson. I hope fans of the old show won’t be disappointed. They have such great love for the original and are really part of the ‘Lost in Space’ family.”
Marta says she was touched by fan response to the passing of her husband of over 40 years in May.
“Kevin had stage four throat cancer but he recovered completely,” she said. “The irony is he died from a fall when he tripped backward at a charity event and hit his head on the cement. The fans have been so kind and supportive.”
One admirer of Marta’s husband was fellow “Lost in Space” astronaut, June Lockhart, also a long-time Santa Monica resident.
“She was devastated when Kevin passed away,” said Kristen. “They would see each other at conventions and he would send her flowers. He was a shining light in the life of so many.”
A lawyer who spent much of his career focusing on rights for nursing home residents, Marta says her husband had much in common with the ‘A Minor Consideration’ organization.
“Both have been devoted to serving others – my husband with the elderly and ‘A Minor Consideration’ at the other end helping children.”
For more information on the exhibition head to thehollywoodmuseum.com.