“Sleestak” on Stage: The Land of the Lost Reunion

The Sunday edition of The Land of the Lost reunion, moderated by Kevin Eldridge, streamed live from Hyatt Centennial II-III bright and early at 10AM. Kathleen Coleman (Holly) and Wesley Eure (Will) spent the hour reminiscing about the program and their many adventures.

Photo by Greg Mooney

Land of the Lost was a Saturday morning TV series on NBC that ran for 43 episodes between 1974–1976. The series had many connections to Star Trek, and Eure began by discussing some of those. David Gerrold, who wrote the Star Trek episode “Trouble with Tribbles,” was pivotal to the development of Land of the Lost. He served not only as head writer but also as a conduit between the production and his old Star Trek colleagues. Walter Koenig wrote the episode that introduced Enik, and D.C. Fontana also contributed writing to the series. Under Gerrold’s leadership the writing team expanded to include a number of great science fiction writers including Larry Niven and Ben Bova. This took the show much deeper into the realm of science fiction.

The design of one of the program’s hallmark characters, the lizard-like creature known as the Sleestak, also bears the mark of a Star Trek connection. Michael Westmore, the Academy Award–winning make-up artist from Star Trek, worked on Land of the Lost and created the Sleestak costume. According to Eure, Westmore had some difficulty with the design until he settled on using a wet suit. He visited a local surf shop that specialized in custom built suits. They created a wetsuit that fit the tallest actor who would perform in the role. He then took the suit to his garage and glued scales (one at a time) to the suit.

Photo by Greg Mooney

The show’s opening credits capture the Marshall family’s journey to the Land of the Lost when Rick Marshall and his two children, Holly and Will, get caught in a current while rafting that draws them over a waterfall and into this strange new land. Coleman recounted the story of shooting that scene. One day she entered the studio for work and noticed that in the middle of the stage the production crew had assembled four huge springs. On top of those springs they attached a yellow raft. When she returned from her classes (she was 12 at the time) the director told her to join her castmates in the raft, move to the front, and hold on. When filming began, the crew started shaking the springs, and that’s how the opening sequence was born.

Beyond the premise of the program, one of the defining hallmarks of Land of the Lost is what Eldridge described as the family feel of the show. Coleman offered her explanation of it as simply “magic.” The fact the show worked in the way it did doesn’t lend itself to explanation. It was simply a moment in which the casting worked. It was, in the words of Eldridge, “lightning in a bottle.”

Eure noted that key to all this was the Kroft brothers, who, in the early 1970s, were at the top of their game. The Krofts envisioned Land of the Lost in the tradition of Swiss Family Robinson. Their position in the business was so strong that they didn’t develop a pilot script to use as a pitch. Instead, they went through magazines, clipping photos and gluing them onto paper which they then used to promote the concept.

Land of the Lost has enjoyed a global audience spanning decades. A full appreciation of the impact of that came to Coleman and Eure years later when fans at conventions began coming to them and speaking of the influence the program had on their lives. Watching the show fostered their love of science, which then led to careers across a variety of fields and disciplines. For both our guests, to realize and appreciate that their work shaped so many lives has been amazing and fulfilling. With yet another remake in the works (Sid Kroft is going strong), and its ongoing digital media presence, perhaps soon another generation of children will get to experience the wonderful world of the Land of the Lost.

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