THE FANTASTIC JOURNEY - getTV Interview With Ike Eisenmann
For anyone who grew up in the 1970s and 1980s, you knew Ike Eisenmann. He was such a talented young actor that everyone wanted to work with him. He starred in hugely successful Disney movies like Escape To Witch Mountain (1975) and TV specials like The Amazing Cosmic Awareness Of Duffy Moon (1976). He appeared as a guest in multiple popular televsion series, such as Gunsmoke, Little House On The Prairie, and Wonder Woman. He's also something of science fiction royalty considering his role in the movie Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan (1982) and the TV series The Fantastic Journey (1977). The latter has actually become a cult classic and getTV is proud to present all 10 episodes of this rare show. You can binge watch the final 5 episodes this Sunday, March 18 starting at 12 am ET.
We recently sat down with Ike - who plays Scott in the series - to talk with him about The Fantastic Journey, his incredible career, and what Roddy McDowall meant to him.
We're so excited to be showing The Fantastic Journey. Also, on a personal level, I happen to love Escape To Witch Mountain. Thank you for joining me today!
I appreciate that! I always like hearing that. I’m happy to do this interview, and I’m thrilled that getTV has given The Fantastic Journey another run!
Do you know of times it’s been shown before?
Its initial run was very short and then there was this little re-run thing. I think it kind of caught on an odd way as a little bit of a cult show in England. And I don’t know how this really times out with the chronology of the Syfy channel, but I know when the Syfy channel started, they licensed probably like every unseen sci-fi show that had been on the air that no one else owned. Fantastic Journey was one of them, so it got played to death for 2 or 3 years when [the Syfy channel] started. So it was just constant, constant, constant. All of us die-hard sci-fi fans were trying to give the channel a chance, but I think we all got sick of watching ourselves and stuff we’d already rehashed so many times until it took off. But I think that started at least reminding people that the show is part of the 70s sci-fi lexicon - for a little while anyway.
Absolutely. I’m a huge sci-fi nerd – and I say that in the best possible way – as well as a child of the late 70s/early 80s, but Fantastic Journey was something that I was not that familiar with. It’s exciting that it’s on getTV for people like myself that may not know the show.
Well, it was definitely off-beat at the time, but you kind of look at it in the context of other shows - some of sci-fi television in the 70s included Space 1999, The Six Million Dollar Man, Fantastic Journey, Man From Atlantis, Core, The Bionic Woman, Doctor Who, and Logan’s Run. I knew about Logan’s Run at the time, of course I watched Six Million Dollar Man, I watched Space 1999 – I’m a sci-fi geek, too. I had the privilege of seeing 2001: A Space Odyssey at the Cinerama Dome when it was released in 1968 – very young, highly impressionable age. I actually saw it 4 or 5 more times before it had done its run. It’s such an important film to me that it kind of set a certain standard in my young brain.
You know, all these shows had come along and had impacted tremendously, and I was swept up in that as an audience member when I was very, very young. So the chance to work on anything science fiction throughout my young childhood career as a working actor was just – I couldn’t wait. So Fantastic Journey very much came up as NBC’s answer to plugging in some other kind of science fiction content into that lineup there. They just chose to go the Bermuda Triangle route - it is funny now, but at the time it was a really big deal. There were more documentaries about Big Foot and the Loch Ness Monster and the Bermuda Triangle than anything I remember at the time.
Yes, I was 5 at the time and remember all of that.
I never wanted to go on a Caribbean cruise because I thought I never wanted to end up like all of them. [laughing]
Or like your character in the series. [laughing] You play a 13-year-old in the show – were you that old at the time?
Yes… I was probably 14, I was about age appropriate for the character. I tended to look a lot younger than my actual age so I tended to play younger, which is always a plus. But yeah, I was about that age.
How did the opportunity come about for this role?
You know the life of a working actor is a lot of auditioning and you get a job once in a while, but you’re really out there pounding the pavement all the time. I was ready for a [different kind of] break – I had worked on Escape To Witch Mountain and other Disney projects, so that gave me a good length of time that I didn’t have to audition. So when I did audition and I actually booked the pilot for Fantastic Journey, I was thrilled.
Were there any challenges in that process?
Well, it started shooting the same week of another show that I had also booked, so I had a conflict. As it turns out, one of the producers of Fantastic Journey was Leonard Katzman, who was a producer of the original Gunsmoke series. The producer of the other show that I had conflict with was named John Mantley. He was also a producer on Gunsmoke, and I had done 3 episodes of the show with them. They called each other, one let me out of the other deal and I got to do the pilot for Fantastic Journey. Then I got to do the series when [the pilot] was picked up, so I was pretty excited.
When you started the show – as a science fiction fan, what did you think of the making of it and the process of it?
Well, let’s see. By the time I was 14, I had been working in the industry for 6 solid years. Of course Escape To Witch Mountain was under my belt and done enough TV shows that involve special effects in some way, so that was my thing. Special effects, I thought, were amazing in science fiction movies before I knew how to make them, so that attracted me to doing them. The whole fantasy/sci-fi aspect of course was fun, and I loved being a part of the special effects. It was just a big deal for me, other than just playing or whatever else we were doing.
That’s very exciting.
It was for me and my career. It was just something else I had auditioned for like many other things, but I had a good feeling about it as an idea. I had a feeling that it was going to make it to series, so when it did I wasn’t disappointed. But it definitely struggled. The show struggled from day one.
Yes, sounds like there was a bit of a rush to get it written and put together, is that right?
There was a rush to get it together, very much so. The whole idea I think for where the series was going to go – the original concept was “Bermuda Triangle time zones”. Time zones go backward and forward, so the pilot involved going to where our group was stuck as castaways on this strange island and we got split up. Some people ended up in the past like in medieval times, and some of us went into the future into different places. By the time they were done with the pilot, it was expensive. I think the part that cost the most was all the historic stuff, so they decided "Let’s just cut the historic stuff and make it futuristic." So from that point forward the only time zones we went into were the future or some alternate reality so it could be more science fiction and not be quite so expensive. I thought, “Alright, well that’s fine with me.”
But that’s kind of how this disjointed pilot and the kind of haphazard way our cast went from a large group to kind of disappearing by the third episode of the show. It’s kind of funny and explained very quickly. We accepted it and moved on – I mean, that’s the way TV was and hey it still is in many ways. It struggled in the beginning, we were all excited to do it, we had a great team together. But something just happened.
And what was that “something”? Or was it a few different things?
Maybe the network just didn’t think it was going to do very well, we weren’t sure. But the 3rd episode was preempted because of a major sporting event. So that meant our 3rd episode didn’t come on till the following week, then it came on, we had 2 weeks in 1 time slot, and they decided to move us to a different time slot. So over the course of the episodes – we were contracted for 12 or 13, they only produced 10 because by the end everyone knew it was not going to happen. [The network] just kept bouncing us around, and they finally said, “This is our last episode. Thank you guys very much,” And that was the end of it.
But yeah, it didn’t really have a chance, and I don’t know if it had a chance if it would’ve had another season. But we had a blast doing it, I gotta tell you.
It must have been so frustrating – because it really had multiple things going for it. It had the science fiction element, which was hugely popular with all the movies and television shows swirling around at that time. And then like you said, the public’s fascination with the Bermuda Triangle-Big Foot-Loch Ness Monster type things. Those were happening at that time, too. The show seemed to be perfectly positioned.
Yes, I agree!
Also, it’s incredible to me that the story editor was involved with the original Star Trek series. So you really had quality people working on this show.
Yes, Dorothy (D.C.) Fontana. She also wrote a couple of our scripts. And the other kind of parallels were that a lot of members of our crew actually worked on the original Star Trek. So there was this strange tactile quality about the props and the sets and the way stuff was lit - I was looking at it going “Gosh, it kind of does look the way Star Trek looked.” So those things kind of spilled over and D.C. Fontana – she was there to guide it and obviously give it that direction. There were some real crossovers, which was fun.
So talk about today – do fans still approach you about The Fantastic Journey? Are you doing sci-fi conventions?
Yes, for a couple years I did celebrity autograph conventions, and I love how fans come up to me usually because of my little triumvirate - there is Escape To Witch Mountain, Star Trek 2: The Wrath Of Khan, and The Fantastic Journey. People gotta be real die hard sci-fi fans to come up to me and say “Scott!” [Ike’s character on Fantastic Journey] They just look at me and say, “Scott!” and grin, and then I grin, and they know I get it. They’ll be standing around other people who know my other work, and those people have no idea what the show is. It’s fun that way. So I have people who know everything [I’ve done], people who are compartmentalized with my work with Disney, people who are compartmentalized with Star Trek, and then the other ones that kind of cover the rest of my career.
I still get approached by people who remember [The Fantastic Journey] and it always tickles me. You know, I think we all are clearly experiencing this massive expanse of the ability to consume media, new media, and old media, and I’m so happy that these old shows are having – you know - they still have some traction out there for people.
It’s so true. And it’s crazy because on the one hand there’s the opportunity for those of us who grew up during that time to have that nostalgia. Then, on the other hand, there’s this whole new audience for the shows, too.
Ok, being a fellow classic film fan, I have to ask – Roddy McDowall. What an incredibly talented actor. What was it like working with him?
You’re reading my mind – I knew it was going to come up obviously, but I was literally just going to shift into my Roddy McDowall story because Roddy and I hit it off immediately. Of course I knew who Roddy was. Being a fan - Planet Of The Apes was a big deal to me, I saw How Green Was My Valley many times when I was a kid, I saw [My Friend] Flicka - he was just part of my life. I’ve had the honor of working with some of the greatest movie stars from movie history that I could ever imagine, and the one person who was the most 3-dimensional, was the warmest, most professional, was absolutely a mentor for me simply by example… was Roddy McDowall. He was incredible, he understood me as a young performer. He knew what I was struggling with, which was simply being a kid in a grown up world. I prospered very much working with adults, I was never a fish out of water. I always had a great time. Roddy and I got along extremely well and became quite close. It became a warm and connected friendship for many many years after the show.
I love hearing that.
Where I was going was to contextualize Roddy in this whole media consumption phenomenon we’re going through.
Ok, tell me.
Well, every Monday morning, Roddy and I would sit next to each other in these chairs. I had whatever my school work I was doing and my diluted cup of coffee. He’d sit down in his chair next to me and he had the TV Guide. This was probably before highlighters - I think he just had a ball point pen. He would go through the entire TV Guide and underline every single old movie that came on, no matter what channel it was. He had a ton of video tapes at home, and he would hand the TV Guide to his assistant who would tape everything for him. And he watched everything. So he was kind of the forerunner of the DVR in a way that blew my mind. Even though my family was big consumers of television because we were a show business family, I looked over at someone who had it way on us. I just couldn’t believe it – I would look over and ask, “Are you really going to watch all of that?” And he said, “Well, of course! Why wouldn’t I?”
Amazing. Now that’s a fan!
Yes! What I loved about Roddy is he was just in love with movies and television as I was in love with movies and television. We also had this similar upbringing, this similar professional experience. I think the one overriding thing that I can say meant the most to me about him was he never treated me anything other than just a contemporary – someone who was an equal professional working right alongside him. We’d even sometimes talk about scenes before we’d do them – we’d rehearse them, and he’d ask me what I thought, and I’d say, “Can we try it like this?” Or we’d just play around. We just had an enormously great time and it was a privilege, a true privilege, to work with him.
In addition to Roddy, you had other actors from classic cinema on The Fantastic Journey – from Lew Ayres to Joan Collins. And then someone like Cheryl Ladd who was early in her career.
Like I said, I was an old movie buff myself. What I liked about the show is they tried to give it the best chance so they got as many and varied guest stars to come on the show to help with the ratings. And Cheryl – if I’m not mistaken, I believe it was her first acting job in the business.
Yes, it was before she got Charlie’s Angels.
Yes, she was just one more actress who had come onto the show. But I can honestly say any time I met a performer before they became a star, there was no doubt in my mind that they were going to be a star. And she was one of those people. It was just obvious – no one knew who she was, but she worked the set and she was dynamic and fun to work with. The other performers - I just enjoyed the class of those professionals who had been around for decades. There was a class - that was the word everyone used. Joan Collins had class. It’s not that other great big celebrities or well-known people of any kind don’t necessarily exude class, but it’s just not the word you use. So it may be a dated word, but they had a sensibility about them that was extraordinary, and I loved being around that. It was always a great lesson to me. Even at the height of frustrating things happening - because you have frustrating things go on all the time [in Hollywood] - and it was the way these professionals handled it. I learned from that and got a lot out of them. They always treated me very well, so it was just extraordinary to be an equal part of all that.
You're so fortunate to have had that experience. What are you working on now?
I have been working on a memoir. It started out being about my days at Disney and working on my Disney projects, but it’s expanded into much broader autobiography about growing up – a working child actor in the business. It will include a large section about Escape To Witch Mountain, Return From Witch Mountain, and my Disney films. I’m a big “making of” fan myself, I’ve always loved those things, so I’m kind of approaching this whole memoir as the “making of” a child actor. That’s really what it’s about. I’m very excited about that and being able to share that.
I’m excited just hearing about it. Does it have a working title?
My working title is My Wonderful World Of Disney: My Life As A Child Actor. That’s just for me, whether it will end up being a publishable title, we shall see. But it really encapsulates what I think is really the wonder and awe that I got to experience in this business. Disney was my goal when I got into it, I wanted to do that, I achieved it, and I had some of the greatest experiences of my life working for that studio and doing those projects.
It sounds wonderful. And insightful. I'm sure everyone will get a lot from it, especially those aspiring to be in the entertainment industry. Well, in the meantime I’m really excited to be able to see you again on television in The Fantastic Journey.
I’m excited to see it, too. You know, as a matter of fact, all of my copies of Fantastic Journey are on Betamax with the original vintage commercials in place. I haven’t seen a clean copy of the show since the network airing, so it’ll be a treat for me to see it on getTV.
Betamax – my goodness! I remember that. [laughing] Well thank you again for talking with us – it’s been fun.
Well, thank you. It was a pleasure speaking with you. I will post things about getTV and The Fantastic Journey on my Facebook page for my fans to go check out. I appreciate this!
Read all about The Fantastic Journey series on the getTV blog.