Popular culture can be a funny thing. A man can spend his life heard prominently announcing awards telecasts, commercials for big-name products, at least one incarnation of Walt Disney’s Sunday night show, but then become known for three words—“Danger Will Robinson.”
Will Robinson, known in real life as Bill Mumy, has passed on word on Facebook that Dick Tufeld, the voice of the robot on ‘Lost in Space,’ has passed away.
There was actually a time you could see Tufeld instead of hear him. He was a noon-hour newscaster at KABC in 1955 (soon moved to the 11 p.m. slot where he also did commentary) and hosted ‘Dick Tufeld’s Sports Page’ and ‘Focus on Los Angeles,’ a public affairs show. But his rich, smooth voice could have sold Barack Obama to Newt Gingrich. So, he went into commercial and announcing work. Disney hired him. So did Warner Bros. for the original ‘Bugs Bunny Show.’ Hanna-Barbera brought him in to say things like “The Jetsons. Brought to you by...” He was the announcer on ‘The Hollywood Palace.’ And the Oscars. And the Grammys. And the People’s Choice Awards. He told us Rice-A-Roni was the San Francisco Treat. He voiced obscure stuff, too. Jerry Fairbanks had him do an insert for the Bell Telephone industrial film ‘21st Century Calling’ set at the Seattle World’s Fair. The list goes on and on.
But he achieved fame amongst a certain segment of the population as part of the most unlikely TV comedy duo for his monotone comebacks to the increasingly campy Dr. Zachary Smith on ‘Lost in Space.’ Fan sites have Tufeld interviews on them, but here’s one I thought I’d pass on from the New York Daily News syndicate. It’s dated December 24, 1997.
Lost in Space voice gets heard again in the toy aisle
By David Bianculli
New York Daily News
WARNING! WARNING! Danger, Will Robinson! That does not compute!
Ask most people younger than 45 or so to identify the source of those phrases, and, because of their familiarity with either the original CBS series or its endless syndicated reruns, the answer is simple: The Robot from the 1965-68 sci-fi series Lost in Space, which airs daily on the Space channel.
However, ask them to identify the owner of that voice, and it’s a much trickier question. The answer is Dick Tufeld — and all of a sudden, just in time for Christmas, Tufeld’s voice is all over the place again.
He provides the Robot's voice in a new line of merchandising of classic Lost in Space stuff: talking mini-Robot key chains, for example, and even an ultra-cool, 11-inch Robot replica with a motorized base, moving arms and bubble head, and a voice chip that has Tufeld saying either “Danger, Will Robinson!” or “My sensors indicate an intruder is present!”
Well, my sensors indicate a hot holiday toy is present — and, indeed, the Trendmasters Lost in Space Robots have been selling fast and furiously. Tufeld, whose voice also introduced Zorro and, for years, Wonderful World of Disney, is understandably amused that the series is remembered that fondly — or even at all.
“This was not the strongest show anybody ever saw,” Tufeld said. But he knew, by speaking at colleges as early as the mid-70s and watching how college kids perked up when learning he had the Robot among his credits, just how resonant Lost in Space really was.
It was only a fluke, though, that made him the voice of the Robot. Tufeld had been hired as the show’s narrator by series creator Irwin Allen, but failed in his initial attempt to audition for the vocal role of the Robot.
Tufeld went in presuming Allen wanted a stiff-sounding, mechanical voice, but recalls Allen telling him, “My dear boy, that is exactly what I am not looking for! This is a highly advanced culture in the year 1997!” That, of course, was the year the show’s Jupiter 2 spaceship was launched.
After failing to please Allen with several low-key readings, Tufeld prepared to leave, then stopped and asked to try one more time.
“In my best mechanical, stiff, robot-ian kind of sound, I say, WARNING! DANGER! THAT DOES NOT COMPUTE!”
Allen’s eyes lit up, and Tufeld got the job.
Go figure. And if you want to please someone this year, go buy a Robot gift.
Tufeld was Irwin Allen’s announcer of choice and heard on a bunch of Allen’s shows of the ‘60s.
He had studied drama at Northwestern University. His friendly, resonant voice was perfect for radio. That’s where Tufeld resided prior to his television announcing career, which took off when “Space Patrol” debuted on KECA, ABC’s West Coast flagship, on March 9, 1950 (it became a radio show as well a few months later). My favourite radio work of his is with the future Fred Flintstone, Alan Reed, on “Falstaff Fables” (1950), featuring the Falstaff Openshaw character Reed did on Fred Allen’s show. Listen to one episode by clicking on the arrow. Try to resist going out to buy a Milky Way bar.
If you read commercials on the air for a living, you can only hope to sound as good as Dick Tufeld. Here’s one of his countless TV spots.
Late note: One of Dick’s grandchildren has pointed out in the comment section this full-length trailer for the Disney movie kids begged their parents to let them see again and again: “Mary Poppins.”
A mid-‘60s issue of Screen Actors magazine notes Tufeld was an active SAG member, part of joint talks between AFRTA and the Guild with commercial producers and ad agencies (on the committee with him were former radio actors Daws Butler, Vic Perrin, Ed Prentiss and Bud Hiestand).
Richard Norton Tufeld was born in Los Angeles on December 11, 1926 to Bentley J. and Margaret Tillie “Peggy” (Simons) Tufeld. His father, born in Russia as Bentzion Tuchfeld, came to the U.S. in 1913 and founded Western Office Furniture Company. His mother was Canadian according to Census figures but Russian (and named Tanya) according to naturalisation records. The two married in 1920. Tufeld grew up in Altadena and was, by all accounts, a thoughtful and likeable man. And 45 years after the fact, it’s evident to fans around the world no one could have been better at putting that duplicitous coward Dr. Smith in his place than the voice of Bill Mumy’s mechanical friend.