IF YOU ever run into Ray Walston, do him a big favor: don't ask him about "My Favorite Martian." It's a subject that may alienate him.
Walston, the actor who originated the role of the devil in the Broadway and movie versions of "Damn Yankees," is probably most widely remembered as the diminutive Uncle Martin in the 1963 television series. And he doesn't like that one bit. In fact, he refers to the series as "that Martian thing."
"Doing that show hurt my career, no question about it," says Walston, 65, from his Beverly Hills home. "I was grounded from the moment I hit the ground in that spaceship."
"It was an unpleasant experience," continues Walston, although he says he enjoyed working with costar Bill Bixby. "No rehearsals. We had to do shows in three days, 35 of them a year. And the special effects didn't always work. The levitation, the invisible stunts, we had to do them over and over. In the beginning, we were working with a lot of animals, dogs, cats, squirrels, whatever. Those idiotic people had the Martian talking to these animals.
"They brought a special-effects man over from Italy, an eccentric individual. Very secretive about his appliances," says Walston, describing the secret of his retractable antennae in the days before E.T. "There would be his two assistants kneeling in front of me out of camera, and this guy would be in back of me. Nobody was allowed behind him to see what he was doing, not even me. All I can tell you is I felt something pressing against my shoulder blades. When all of this was done and the antennae were up, they would stop the camera and put on my head a small toupee with antennae. And that's how they fooled the public."
According to Walston, the show's fantastic premise disintegrated quickly. "The original concept was this man from Mars coming down here because of spaceship trouble and becoming friendly with this young reporter. This Martian had all these wonderful powers: He could levitate things, become invisible, move things by pointing at them. And it all went right out the window because of money and politics. It just became another silly sitcom."
Telepictures Corp. is resyndicating the 107 episodes nationally, beginning this month. A Washington market has not yet been found. Although he is not fond of the show, Walston says he's glad it's coming back, because unlike many stars of rerun series, he refused to sell his residual rights.
Walston began his acting career with Houston's Community Players, working as a linotype operator by day, actor by night. "I wanted to get it out of my system once and for all," Walston says, but soon he was on his way to New York, where he made his Broadway debut in "The G.I. Hamlet." After his splash in "Damn Yankees," Walston was offered several movies, including "The Apartment" and "Tall Story."
Following "the Martian thing," Walston was offered a series called "Uncle Helen," sort of a "Tootsie" precursor. "I was a vaudevillian, and the court wants to take this kid away from me, so I tell the judge he had an aunt to take care of him. So whenever someone came over to the house, I had to dress up as a woman. It was cute, but it never got off the ground," Walston says.
"Then everything just stopped," he says. "Dinner theater kept me alive. I'm not bitter about it, but on the other hand, what can I do to change things? I'm not getting the roles I want now. Tough detective roles. I guess I'm past that now. You know, all those things Burgess Meredith gets--he shouldn't get all of those. I should be getting half of them!"
Walston says he just finished a movie called "Private Schools," and will appear in a San Diego revival of Cole Porter's "Anything Goes," although, as he says, "I can't sing or dance a two-step.
"The only thing that has kept me alive is, prior to the Martian show, I had a very versatile career," Walston says. "So I'm still regarded as a good actor, despite all that Martian baloney."