June Lockhart's lifelong space odyssey

November 12, 2013 01:30

By Mike Cavender, RTDNA Executive Director

She may be best known to the Baby Boomer generation as Lassie’s (and Timmy’s) “mom” from the 1960’s TV classic.  But it was a relatively short-running series which followed that provided June Lockhart with a lifelong love for NASA and space exploration. And along the way she never lost her other love for RTDNA and the news business!

She starred as another “mom”—this time of the Robinson family—in a series which portrayed her and her family as marooned in a faraway galaxy.   “Lost In Space”, which aired from 1965 to 1968, did relatively well in the ratings of the day, but never enjoyed quite the cult following that a similar show—Star Trek—would develop over the years.

Nevertheless, June used the show as a platform to become a much-beloved unofficial spokesperson and PR representative for NASA and its many programs.   In October, she was given the “highest honor of my life” (photo shown above) with NASA’s “Exceptional Public Achievement Medal” for “inspiring the public on space exploration.” At 88 and still active as an actress, June Lockhart can also spend hours regaling the many space launches, exploration programs and public events in which she’s participated on behalf of NASA.  All this while still maintaining a very active career as an actress and speaker.

So what does all this have to do with RTDNA and the news business? Well, many of our long-time members may recall June’s yearly appearances at our annual conventions for many years. Her involvement in news and news organizations like ours is almost as deep-seated as her interest in space!  Born to show biz parents, June’s connection with the news business developed at an early age. “At Sunday afternoon parties at our house, we would be surrounded by other friends who were actors, but there were also a lot of reporters and photographers who would attend, “she told me. “And I was absolutely fascinated by them.”

Thus began June’s lifelong interest in journalism. In the 50s, she was the first female panelist on TV current events programs like “It’s News To Me” and “Who Said That?”  And no matter where she was, she wanted to be nearby those covering the big stories.  A classic June Lockhart story involves her being cast in a production of “Steel Magnolias,” then playing the theatre circuit in DC. “When my agent called me about the part,” she recalled, “I didn’t ask about the salary and didn’t ask about the perks.”  “All I was concerned about was that I’d be nearby the White House and maybe I could get an invitation to the daily press briefing!”  And she did.

June currently serves on the Board of Directors of the RTNA—The Radio Television News Association of Southern California.  “We deal with the same things you do at national—courtroom access, police-media relations and news coverage issues.”

And her continuing work with NASA affords her the opportunity to witness—up close and personal— news events like mission launches and Mars landings.  She speaks regularly to groups at the Johnson Space Center and the Jet Propulsion laboratory about the importance of the U.S. space program. “Besides space exploration itself, the commercial product development that’s come out of NASA is amazing,” June points out. “Non-corrosive paint, the insulin infusion pump, water recycling and scratch-resistant eyeglasses were among those things developed as a result of NASA research.”  And despite budget cutbacks and mission reductions, June is optimistic about the future of the program. “And I’ll talk about it to anyone who will listen,” she declares.

That’s one of the the main reasons why NASA awarded her the Exceptional Public Achievement Medal.  “She’s been a really great rousing cheerleader for the agency and space exploration in general,” NASA multimedia liaison Bert Ulrich was quoted in the Santa Monica Daily Press, “We wanted to return our gratitude by giving her this award.”

And June displays her medal proudly.  In fact, when I called her for this interview, she said “I’m wearing it right now!”  But as important as NASA and space is to June Lockhart—her other great love is still the news business. “As an actress, what I do is pretend, but what you guys do is real,” she said. “And I like that!”