‘Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea’: David Hedison looks back on periscope days

Jan. 30, 2011 | 8:48 a.m.
voyage1 Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea: David Hedison looks back on periscope days

Richard Basehart, left, and David Hedison on “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.” (Fox Home Entertainment)

When you think of sci-fi stars on American television in the 1960s your thoughts naturally beam up to the Enterprise and the famous crew of  “Star Trek,” but the cast of “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea” actually logged more time aboard its ship — the ABC maritime adventure that ran from 1964 to 1968 ended up as the decade’s longest-running non-anthology sci-fi show.

The most famous faces of the “Voyage” cast were the late Richard Basehart , in the role of Admiral Harriman Nelson, and David Hedison as Commander Lee Crane. Hedison, now 83, was a reluctant star at first — he had very little interest in getting on board with the show’s creator and producer, Irwin Allen, when Allen was putting together the 1961 submarine feature film that would spawn the television series of the same title.

The reason? Hedison had worked with Allen on the 1960 sci-fi feature film “The Lost World” — and it was not a memorable experience for actor. “I made some excuse that there was something else I wanted to do, so I got out of that without being put on suspension at Fox,” Hedison said. “When the series came about, he asked me to do it. He just kept hounding me, but then he said that he had Richard Basehart as the admiral,  I thought, ‘My God, maybe between the two of us, we can really make something out of this.’ So I signed on immediately.”

hedison Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea: David Hedison looks back on periscope days

David Hedison in “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.” (Fox Home Entertainment)

Basehart, a film noir veteran and one of the stars of Federico Fellini’s 1954 masterpiece “La Strada,” did play Nelson, the designer and builder of the state-of-the-art Seaview sub. (The role had belonged to Walter Pidgeon in the feature film, which also starred Joan Fontaine, Barbara Eden, Peter Lorre and Frankie Avalon.) Although the Seaview was “officially” a vessel used for marine research, in truth its crew patroled the seven seas with an eye to defending the world from Cold War enemies and alien beasties.

The second volume of episodes from the fourth and final season has just hit DVD, and the Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment collection also includes the show’s pilot episode (and also an unaired pilot). The show clearly changed its course as its voyage contined; the pilot, which also stars Eddie Albert, had a strong Cold War theme; by the fourth season the adventures tended to be devoted to alien creatures such as “Lobster Man.”

david hedison Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea: David Hedison looks back on periscope days

David Hedison in “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.” (Fox Home Entertainment)

“It started very well the first couple of years,” Hedison said. “Then it went downhill, I think, in the third or fourth year. They made it more for kids. I think the saving grace was that some of the acting was so good and my relationship with Basehart was terrific. We had a great rapport.”

And they also had a great rapport off-screen. “He was wonderful,” Hedison says of the actor who died in 1984. “He was very much of an introvert. He sort of kept to himself between takes. He would go back to his trailer and read. I was much more of an extrovert. I think one of the reasons we got along was because I would kid him a lot and he would take it. We would get together many, many times.”

Even before the series began, Hedison met with Basehart at the actor’s house to make improvements in the series. Hedison said they discussed “how could we bring in some comedy, make the characters very believable and let them have a history.”

But he says Allen wasn’t interested. “He was a great salesman,” Hedison said. “He liked things done the way he wanted them done; everything was black and white, explosions, the Seaview getting swallowed by the whale.”

But his opinion of the series has softened. “For the time, I think it was OK. Looking back on it, I was always arguing about the scripts, but I saw one or two of them the other day and I thought, ‘This is the show I hated so much, but it seems to have worked.'”

The Rhode Island native began his career in  New York in the  acclaimed 1956 Broadway production of “A Month in the Country,” for which he won the Theatre World Award, using his first name Al. He was signed under contract to Fox in 1957 as Al Hedison and made his debut in the 1957 World War II thriller “The Enemy Below,”which starred Robert Mitchum and told the tale of an American destroyer’s captain in a deadly battle of wits with a wily German counterpart commanding a U-boat.

the fly Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea: David Hedison looks back on periscope days Then came a major career moment — the classic 1958 horror film, “The Fly.”

That was a good film,” he says of “The Fly.” “It was a good screenplay, and the minute I read it, I thought this was going to make a lot of money. I believed the situation and I believed the people. I really worked very hard on him.”

After making “The Son of Robin Hood” — “Avoid it at all costs,” the actor warned — NBC wanted Hedison for the 1959 spy series “Five Fingers.”

“They said they wanted me with the stipulation that Fox change my name,” says Hedison. “They hated Al. They said, ‘We can’t make him a star with the name of Al.’ It was absolutely ridiculous. So they said, ‘How about John Hedison?’ I said, ‘If we are going to change it, use my middle name, which is David.’ So I became David Hedison. Some of my oldest friends still call me Al now.”

Hedison has no problem speaking his mind about the past — that makes him a bit of firebrand on the sci-fi and retro-TV convention circuit — and he is candid about the present as well. “I was supposed to do a film with Bill Shatner called ‘Free Enterprise 2,”’ he says. “They were calling me into wardrobe and they said they are holding off for a while. Then the next thing I knew … either the money dropped out or the producer ran off with the money. I think it’s the second story that’s true.”

— Susan King


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36 Responses to ‘Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea’: David Hedison looks back on periscope days

  1. Arye Michael Bender says:

    "Voyage" was unintentional camp even when it originally aired. Truly dreadful, despite the presence of its two leads. Irwin Allen was more schlockmeister than director. Even his most well-known works look bloated and over-hyped.

    Though I did hear that he was a snappy dresser.

  2. Mike says:

    VOYAGE was not unintentional camp even when it originally aired , the first season , there were first season stories that could make the younger crowed bored by the adult theme and drama ( Doomsday ) , the tension ( Fear Makers , Submarine sunk here ) men taken one by one to a firing squad ( Mist of Silence ) husband and wife arguing about the death of their son and husband belts wife ( Ghost of Moby Dick ) , the second season too had its share of good episodes however when you get to the third season and fourth season things do change partly due to the time slot and network demands and also Allen had three series on at this point . If you want to point to an episode with unitentional camp third season The Fossil Men or fourth season Blackbeard but in the third and fourth seasons you still find good episodes that include non monster or alien and good stories with supernatural and aliens and monsters etc.

  3. mike says:

    Where the schlockmeister comes in i have no clue as to how you could apply that unless you refer to reused sets and costumes from one series to the other and that has nothing to do with schlock and more to do with time and trying to do what you can with the budget especialy when it is cut down not from Allen but by the networks , so think of it as a business , you make profit or break even , if you start losing then problems start so you figure ways around it , plus in those days they shot each episode in a 5 to sometimes 7 day period each week so you had to keep a schedule and all this leads to limited time.


  4. George says:

    Michael Bender would benefit from watching the first two seasons before making his comment. I agree the second half of the four year run did indeed become camp at times, the first two years has many excellent episodes that stand the test of time.

  5. Susan Kite says:

    Mike is exactly right, Voyage at its inception was straight forward adventure/spy/sci fi. Nothing campy about it. Saboteur, Human Computer, The Enemies and many others that first season were taut, well scripted and pretty darned good stories. Second season may have had some less than believable stories, but with great stuff like And Five were Left, the two Phantom episodes, Left Handed Man, Death Ship, there were still some great stories. Even the third season had some strong episodes. Day of Evil was eye popping, and Werewolf was played straight and it came off as a thoughtful and superior story. Toward the end, there was a great deal more of the ridiculous, but all in all, the show was inventive and innovative. Sure can't say that about today's clones, remakes and just plain dull programming. Anything out there that isn't copied?

  6. EagleDriver999 says:

    I used to drive by the Fox lot in Century City and you could still see the tank set where they filmed the Seaview in port (they used the same set for Our Man Flint and many other films). I enjoyed the show very much as a teenager and I've always enjoyed David Hedison's work. He was particularly good in The Fly which was one of the best of the 1950s creature features. Irwin Allen did like to camp things up and I think he did for Voyage what he would later do for Lost in Space. Both series started on far more serious notes and later became "Monster of the Week" shows.

  7. peter sullivan says:

    Mr. Bender and others on this thread use the term 'unintentional camp'- not realizing that's oxymoronic and reveals a common confusion between 'kitsch' and 'camp'- the latter being a deliberate form of performance designed to satirize any supposed seriousness within a given piece.
    Bender calls Irwin Allen a 'schlockmeister' not realizing the irony of his comment. Allen, as is now recognized by media scholars and historians, was a very successful tv and film producer who gave grateful audiences solid 'pulp' entertainment- nothing more , nothing less. His recent inclusion in the PBS series 'Pioneers Of Television' amply reaffirms this well deserved reputation.
    Those persons adverse to 'schlock' would be well advised to tune into other programs.

  8. peter sullivan says:

    why was my use of the word 'reputation' 'starred out'?

  9. peter sullivan says:

    To respond to the comments of 'Eagle Driver'- 'Voyage' was always consistently a seriously done show- and there were monsters even in the first season. One can legitimately complain that the 'monster/alien' aspect devolved into a very simplistic rote formula in in its last two seasons at the expense of more adult type character driven drama.
    'Lost In Space' did first start as a serious straight forward action adventure show then did become something of parody at times. The consistency would vary.
    Media historians generally speculate that some of this was due to network pressure to more effectively reach a perceived exclusively juvenile audience and ,especially in the case of 'Lost In Space', this was also due to it's direct time slot competition in the form of the truly campy ABC 'Batman' series.

  10. jamey moore says:

    I thought Voyage was ok when it premiered in 1964. I was 13. I had seen the movie at my local theatre a few years before and remembered a lot of the footage from the film had been reused in the tv show which I thought cheaped the show.

    When it moved to color in 65 I thought it was great and fell iin love with the show. In 1965 there were few color programs on the air which made Voyage even more special. The first two years the photography and effects were outstanding although occassionally some tinted B&W footage would show up in the color episodes.

    You could tell the budget had been cut the third and fourth year. Obviously ABC had spent more money on the show when it went to color, new sets, additional cast etc. They had to if it was going up against Disney. The last two years they were saving money where they could no on location filming, fewer guest stars and no women (one third season episode the Mermaid).

    When the show was good it was good but when it was bad….it was bad.

    Jamey moore
    Gadsden, Al

  11. Paul Schilling says:

    It was 1963 on the ABC Sunday Night Movie that I first saw the U.S.O.S (at that time) Seaview perform that fantastic breach surface. Then that fall a fantastic "VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA." Whether it was fighting Cold War missions against the "People's Republic", Giant Octopi and other sea monsters, or silver suited Aliens. Richard Baseheart and David Hedison headed up a cast and crew that no one else could possible get say other then the "Batman" series or maybe "Bonanza". Psuedo serious Science Fiction along with guest stars like Robert Duval, June Lockheart, Michael Ansera, Werner Klemperer, John Banner and Vincent Price help make that show still one of the biggest cult classics today. So keep in mind "Seaviews job is never finished."

  12. Mike Kellner says:

    I just rewatched the first and second season. I still liked it, better than most shows today in my opinion. I would like to know more of its models since I believe I own the ghost German sub used for the surface shot. I understand it was David Hedison's favorite episode. Does anyone have any ideas on how to go about proving it? Mike Kellner

  13. Anne.cheffings says:

    Dont care what other people think at the time VOYAGE was the best thing on TV David Hedison was and still is adoranne.

  14. ScottW says:

    I loved this show as a kid, the sound the radar as they descended into the depths stand out in my mind. Some shows and movies that I enjoyed as a kid…The Little Rascals, Looney Tunes(Where did they go?)Rocket Robin Hood, Spider Man(The 1960's version) The Hobbit(Rankin Bass)Starskey and Hutch, Quincy, The Pink Panther Strikes Again and The Rockford Files. The 1970's we not perfect, but we had freedoms and a sense of community that have been fading fast since Reagan and the neo conservatives began their counter revolution to bring us back to the fascade world of the 1950's, the economic policies of the Robber Baron era of the late 19th century and the racial attitudes of the Confederacy.

  15. Matt says:

    Actually, as a diehard fan, I liked the third and fourth seasons the best, because of the increasingly improved acting and how the characters interacted. "Man of Many Faces," "Sealed Orders," and many other monster-less episodes of merit appeared in these seasons. Even the Vincent Price episode, with puppets who came to life to replace the crew, was gripping to the end. The last episode of the last season was somewhat ironic because everybody except Admiral Nelson and crewman Patterson died (although, owing to a time-travel glitch, the event was re-played wherein they all survived), whereas in real life, the actors who played these two characters were the first of the post-season-one cast to die.

  16. Howard Johnston says:

    I loved this show as a kid. It was shown in the UK in the mid-to-late 60s (not sure how far behind the US dates). I loved the music and also (as somebody else noted) remember that sonar beeping that somehow characterised the show.

    I’ve been watching it again recently having got seasons 1 & 2 on DVD. I guess it is actually the first time I saw the first series because I didn’t remember any of them. I was thinking where is the flying sub? Anyway, I persevered through the whole lot but honestly, a lot of the stories are just boring and slow – and crucially have little or nothing to do with ‘voyaging to the bottom of the sea’. The Seaview seems merely to be a oceanic bus dropping spies off here, there and everywhere!

    The second season is better in some respects. The colour helps, as does the appearance of the Flying Sub – but eventually that becomes overused (in virtually every episode). In fact, although it is always referred to as FS-1; there must have been more of them because I count at least 2 possibly 3 episodes where the flying sub is destroyed.

    The problem with VTTBOTS is the same as with all Irwin Allen shows. He had great ideas but that was it. The special effects were always laughable (check out Time Tunnel for explosions at every possible opportunity) compared to things like Star Trek; there was absolutely no character development (the actors must have been bored to tears); the plots were action-driven at the expense of logic and believability; there was no consistency or explanations as to things disappearing and then reappearing; and there was no continuity – you would see both old and new versions of the Seaview in the same episode!!! Add to that the total impossibility of that deep hangar which the flying sub occupied somehow sitting beneath the lower of the Seaview’s two decks etc…

    But despite all of that – it did have something – and I still like it. But a lot of that must be down to nostalgia.

    Returning to things as a middle-aged adult is never going to be the same as watching them when you were five years old! However, VTTBOTS stands up better than the total nonsense that was Lost In Space; a frankly very disappointing The Time Tunnel (serious historians beware!); and a patchy at best Land Of The Giants. VTTBOTS must have been on Roddenberry’s mind when he did Star Trek – although the latter was so superior to everything else in 60’s US sci-fi TV.

  17. Bob Dottery says:

    Thanks to nostagic TV networks I’m able to the old Voyage episodes. I was in high school and mostly saw season 3 & 4. I saw some of the early season 1 shows in the 80’s. I never knew about the movie until long after the series was long gone.

    We’re not talking Tolking, or even Stephen King but I’m enjoying the early shows now. I’m 60, raised on super heros & love the early episodes of Voyage.

  18. joserizal says:

    I'm very like film Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea."

  19. Sergio says:

    I bought 2nd season during my vacation on US and now it´s one of my best dvds from my collection. Thanks Fox and Irwin for this remarkable and memorable tv series of all times! I was a kid when saw this show on tv.
    Sergio Kokitsu, from Brazil

  20. gloria says:

    Lamentablemente no hablo ingles solo quiero comentar que para mi viaje al fondo del mar es y sera uno de mis programas preferidos. Gracias Irwin por realizar esta aventura que ha perdurado al paso de los años.

  21. Jose says:

    Estoy de acuerdo contigo, Gloria: Viaje Al Fondo del Mar (Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea) fue una de las mejores series de TV de Ciencia-Ficcion y suspenso de la decada de los 60 y la relacion entre los personajes de Nelson y Crane como Mentor y Discipulo / Padre e Hijo nos hace pensar en lo que debria ser una relacion ideal de companeros de trabajo o familiares. Aunque todavia me impresionan muchos de sus efectos especiales (un amigo mio pensaba que el SEAVIEW si existia), es la figura paternal del almirante en contraste con el impetuoso y (relativamente) juvenil comandante (y el resto de tripulacion) que nos recuerda los tiempos en que los abuelos y padres eran una influencia positiva en nuestra vida.

  22. Larry says:

    Voyage to

  23. Glenn Hubbard says:

    I love the old shows because you can watch them without worrying about some guy announcing he is a homosexual or some effete actor with no knowledge of the real world mouthing off about the President. The actors were patriotic and loyal and were real men and women. Seen the bitches on The Bachelorette lately? I’m referring to the “males”, of course. Yet, I have little doubt that computer technology will one day be able to insert Sam Champion of GMA into Father Knows Best and other shows so he can add a homosexual presence to the household there. Gunsmoke? Marshal Dillon, meet your gay deputy, Neil Patrick Harris! Yay! I promise, they will do it one day.

  24. Susan says:

    I am a fan of Voyage, not because of some the stories that were absurb, but because of the great acting of Richard Basehart and David Hedison. Even though they were not allowed to do back stories of the characters, the viewer could tell that the relationship between the Admiral and Lee Crane was special. Their friendship was seldom expressed, but I knew that the Admiral served as a mentor, and, perhaps, a father figure to Lee. I think both actors made an effort to rise about the material. Its a pity that Irwin Allen didn’t know what he had with these two actors.

  25. megcarruthers says:

    I agree most with Susan's comment The characters were great & I wish we got more back story. That's why we have fan fiction stories I guess. My favorites were the espionage ones that dealt witth brainwashing etc..

  26. monk johanan says:

    “voyage to the bottom of the sea” was the sixties’ imaginative precursor to “star trek” in many ways. an artistically beautiful and super-capable sci-fi craft, launched into the great underwater frontier of our great oceanic world, still unappreciated in imagination as well as reality. yes, to be a kid at these times was an incredible blessing, and the series came on as really tremnedously welcome relief to all the, well, too-many episodes of gun smoke and andy griffith. it was much better to see the nuclear powered “Seaview” launched and ready to tango with anything the enemy couold come up with, either alien or under-water monster. yes, the dramatic rapport between admiral nelcon and captain crane was special, much like the descendant admiral picard and “number one.” nostalgia – hope netflix puts it on, or i can find the dvd set around these parts of western canada.

  27. Ray says:

    Glenn, chill out. I am gay, and I could care less about the issue. I watch Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea for the great entertainment it provides. Women and minorities are lacking in this era of television also, but nobody is suggesting inserting them. But when we do go to the stars, I hope we go as “Earthlings”, not as stereotypical white, western, straight, men only.

  28. Ilona says:

    I loved every one of them it was great to watch

  29. Well what a treat. The year is now 2015 And us baby boomers look back to voyage with great nostalgic warmth. Seeing Irwin Allens fantastic sci fi submarine action adventure was a thrill and great escapism for a young impressionable young 10 year old. Newly released on Dvd the whole 4 seasons can now be seen at your leisure. Like a lot of people had nnever seen serious season 1 in B/W. So this was a treat. Loved the appearence of the mini sub in season 2. David Hendison allied up with Richard Basehart made it for me. Back then it was pure joyious escapism. Now for us and new generation’s its a fun nostalgia trip down memory lane. Highly recommended.

  30. Its great to see David Henderson now 83, not looking his age.And still doing the rounds for his adoring fans at events lke comicom and bond reunions. Him thrown to sharks ! Boy that was shocker. Currently up to season 2 with mini sub included , of the 4 now out in aussieland.

  31. No doubt about it seaview was great family entertainment.5 full stars.

  32. J says:

    This was a wonderful show. Campy? Of course it was! That’s the great part!!! Base heart and hedison were very good – no others were unfortunately.

  33. Dedra T. says:

    Just watched Seasons 1-4 on Hulu and Youtube. Best episodes by far with some few exceptions were those in Seasons 1 and 2. Best acting: "Human Computer" – acting to an empty set and portraying thoughts, feelings and emotions takes talent!; "The Mist of Silence", "Saboteur" for scripts and Mr. Hedison's acute portrayal of conflicted feelings (he proves to be excellent at that!). Best script: "The Silent Saboteurs" – for best straight drama. The chemistry among the cast, especially Mr. Hedison and Mr. Baseheart is very apparent. Also liked the main supporting characters of Skip Morton, Chief Sharky, Kowalski (who played the same character in the original "Voyage" movie) and Patterson. Would like to find out who played "Ron" in the mostly non-speaking supporting cast. He was in almost every episode in the last couple of seasons, especially season four. Brought back lots of good memories from the 60's. Also just watched "The Enemy Below" and Mr. Hedison does an excellent job as the Executive Officer, Mr. Ware.

  34. Dedra T says:

    Received my complete set of "Voyage" dvd's and watched the first season unaired pilot of "Eleven Days To Zero" — in color! What a difference! Really brought it to life. Also watched Irwin Allen's home movie of the filming of this episode. Fascinating look behind the scenes. Some might feel it takes away from the "real" feeling of the show since it does give a real look at the sound stage sets.

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