Mark Goddard’s nine students never saw their teacher strutting his stuff as Major Don West, the studly pilot on TV’s Lost in Space in the 1960s. But on subjects astronomical, they’re anything but lost—thanks to Goddard’s out-of-this-world lesson plans. This fall at the F.L. Chamberlain School, a nonprofit, private boarding school for youngsters with learning and emotional problems in Middleboro, Mass., “I told them they were all from the planet Randor, and their mission was to go to Earth,” explains Goddard, 62. Under the watchful eye of a cardboard cutout of Lost in Space’s Robot, the students, aged 12 through 15, plunged into their roles. “They each had to pick out space names for themselves and write their own coded language,” says Goddard. “They wrote a constitution for Randor, and in math they had to figure out travel distances as well as times.” The kids soaked up the lessons like so much Tang. “I’ll never get an Emmy, I’ll never get an Oscar,” says Goddard of the career he began at age 57, “but I get rewards.”
After three years of being wrapped like a baked potato in that shiny silver spacesuit, Goddard could use some satisfaction. Once Lost in Space splashed down in 1968, his acting career went into low-level orbit with a mid-’80s stint on General Hospital and guest turns on shows such as The Beverly Hillbillies. Inspired by a speech by then-New York governor Mario Cuomo on C-SPAN one day in 1989, Goddard decided to pull up stakes. “[Cuomo] was talking about making a difference,” says Goddard. “I thought I could make a little difference in some kid’s life.”
At Massachusetts’ Bridgewater State College, he earned an undergraduate degree in communications (he is now two credits shy of a master’s in special education). The twice-divorced Goddard also won the heart of English professor Evelyn Pezzulich. Now wed, they have a 7-year-old son, John. “I didn’t remember him from Lost in Space,” admits Evelyn, 51. “I watched Star Trek.” The trio share a colonial house near the 67-student Chamberlain School. “Mark is a great special-ed teacher,” says William Doherty, the school’s executive director. “The changes he makes in kids’ lives are wonderful—these kids go on and do well.”
Goddard, who played the general in last year’s Lost in Space movie, has developed a belated pride in the kiddie hit. “I’ve met astrophysicists, people in the computer industry, pilots who were in Vietnam who’ve said they were inspired by this silly little show,” he says.
Before the Scituate, Mass.-raised Goddard blasted off with the Robinson clan in 1965, he’d had supporting roles in the TV series Johnny Ringo and The Detectives. He and Lost’s Marta Kristen, who played Robinson daughter Judy, developed “a strong crush on each other,” he says. Both were married—Goddard since 1961 to Marcia Rogers, daughter of public relations magnate Henry Rogers. “We used to make out, but we never consummated it,” Goddard says. “We’d go to lunch and might neck in my car. It was exciting but silly.” (Kristen, 53 and an actress in L.A., admits she and Goddard “did indeed have a crush,” but “we kissed maybe once.”)
Goddard felt much the same about Lost in Space. At parties with megastars such as Rock Hudson, “I felt like a real nobody,” he says. Goddard and Marcia, who had two children (Melissa, now a film producer, in 1962, and Michael, a restaurant manager, in 1968), divorced soon after the show ended.
Goddard’s next marriage, to actress Susan Anspach, brought more bittersweet memories. When they wed in 1970, Anspach, mother to 2-year-old Catherine from a previous relationship, was eight months pregnant with a boy they named Caleb. When they split in 1977, Goddard says he learned Caleb, now 28 and a CNN senior producer in Hong Kong, was not his son—he is Jack Nicholson’s, according to Anspach. “When we said our vows, I thought Caleb was mine biologically, but I suspected she might have had an affair with Jack,” says Goddard. “I did what seemed like the right thing to do. I’m glad I did, because what I’ve gotten from Susan as a person and Caleb and Catherine as children—you can’t replace those things.” Anspach, 59, an acting teacher working on her autobiography, deems Goddard (who she claims “knew from the beginning” Caleb was not his son) “a really great dad—patient, loving, kind. I didn’t call him Mark, I called him Daddy. Sometimes it brings tears to the kids’ eyes when I still call him Daddy.”
Now busy raising John, whose favorite flicks include the new Lost in Space, Goddard doesn’t miss acting. “I thought, ‘Maybe there’s something I can do to give back some of the good life I’ve had,’ ” he says. “And that’s what I’m trying to do.”
Anne Driscoll in Middleboro