HER SWINGIN' '60s CREDENTIALS: This statuesque Nordic beauty came to Hollywood as a teen and soon hit the beach as the sexy mermaid in the Frankie-and-Annette classic Beach Blanket Bingo, followed by a role as one of the galaxy-wandering Robinsons in the great "Lost in Space" TV series.
CATEGORIES OF SWINGIN' CHICK: TV Star and Movie Star
BIRTH: She was born on February 26, 1945, making her a fine fourteen as the '60s began and a tantalizing twenty for the Jupiter 2 flight. Her exotic birthplace: Oslo, Norway. Her moniker at birth: Birgit Annalisa Rusanen, but after she was adopted she was renamed Martha to honor the women who had helped with the complex international adoption; she later changed it to the European equivalent, Marta, at the start of her acting career, which is when she also changed her last name.
IMPACT ON THE '60s: Visually Marta had quite an impact on any '60s production she was in. She's best-remembered for her role as the mermaid who's romanced by Bonehead (Jody McRea) in Beach Blanket Bingo in '64, and for Irwin Allen's epic "Lost in Space" from '65 to '68. This three-season TV show cast Marta as svelte Judy Robinson, eldest daughter in the Space Family Robinson. Angela Cartwright, of course, played the younger daughter, Penny, with ex-Zorro-star Guy Williams as Dr. John Robinson, Mark Goddard as Major Don West, Billy Mumy as young Will Robinson, June Lockhart as loving, patient Maureen Robinson, and Jonathan Harris as the cowardly Dr. Zachary Smith. Unfortunately, of everyone on the show Marta was given the least to do; even Penny had more episodes built around her. One of the show's biggest mistakes was not pursuing a romance between young and beautiful Judy Robinson and the young and handsome Don West. Their pairing would've been natural, and they seemed to be on board just for the possible relationship developments that could've ensued, but regrettably weren't. They represented the only romantic potential in the entire galaxy away from Earth, and could've started a whole new spin-off family; thus, though Marta was indeed in a classic beach movie and a landmark TV show, she didn't really have much impact on them, which was more the fault of the creators than her.
CAREER IN THE '60s: Marta's '60s began when the lovely fifteen-year-old actress was on "The Loretta Young Show" and "My Three Sons," in fact from '60-'64 she was on that latter show three times, each time playing a different character -- first Peggy Meredith, then Linda Francis, and finally Lorraine Pendleton. Early in the decade she also did a "Leave It to Beaver" episode, two segments of "Alfred Hitchcock Presents," and a "Man from U.N.C.L.E." Her big-screen debut came in Disney's delightful Savage Sam, a '63 sequel to the legendary Old Yeller of '57. In Savage Sam Marta is one of a group of frontier kids who are kidnapped by Indians, with a dog helping to rescue them. Tommie Kirk, Kevin Corcoran, and Jeff York reprised their Old Yeller roles, while Marta took on the part of Lisbeth Searcy, which had been played by Beverly Washburn in '57. Next up was Beach Blanket Bingo in '64, with Marta as the tempting mermaid Lorelei. In her scenes she's romanced by the minor supporting hillbilly named Bonehead, played by 31-year-old Jody McRea. When "Lost in Space" blasted off for Planet Syndication in '68, Marta had no major screen credits until the early '70s.
CAREER OUTSIDE THE '60s: Marta's got quite a story behind her. Born to an unwed Finnish mother and a Nazi soldier who was killed at the tail end of World War II, Marta was only two months old when she was left in an orphanage. Four years later a professor and his wife in Detroit, Michigan adopted her. Marta made the flight from Europe to America by herself, and couldn't speak English. A pretty girl "with a pixie grin," according to TV Guide, she soon learned the language and by the time she was ten years old she'd written and performed an original comedy with her friends. As a young teen, she was a singer, dancer, and actress who performed in summer stock. When she was fifteen the family went to L.A. and Marta attended Santa Monica High for a year, graduating at sixteen from Hollywood Professional School with other budding actors and actresses. Her official bio says she was discovered "while eating a hamburger with a boyfriend at a drive-in restaurant in Santa Monica," which led to her getting an agent and her first professional role as a featured player on "The Loretta Young Show," which was followed by her '60s successes. After the '60s, Marta made over three-dozen commercials while raising her family. She also got guest-starring roles on "Mannix," "Remington Steele," and "Murphy Brown." She's still active in theatre, and she's done films such as Harvest of Fire with Patty Duke. Along with Angela Cartwright and June Lockhart, Marta had a cameo role as a reporter in the '98 remake of Lost in Space, and she and her TV-sister Angela still occasionally go to fan conventions. Her most interesting career move came in '74 when she costarred in the film A Gemini Affair, which was billed as "a different love story." Different is right -- in it Marta plays a young actress who comes to Hollywood and hooks up with a pill-popping pal from childhood, played by Kathy Kersh. Soon the two take a nude dip in the pool and then engage in steamy lesbian sex scenes, all handled sensitively and tastefully but without question erotically. Though the movie tries to show how Hollywood discards beauty, all that anybody writes about when they sell this movie at ebay is how the sex scenes are the highlights, though the appeal may be simply that one of the actresses was on "Lost in Space." The director, by the way, was Matt Cimber, who was briefly married to Jayne Mansfield in the mid-'60s, he also directed one of Jayne's last movies, Single Room Furnished, plus Butterfly in '81, which had Pia Zadora, Orson Welles, Ed McMahon, and June Lockhart!
TALENT: In a November '65 issue of TV Guide she said she had "the good luck to be an adaptable extrovert." The magazine said she had an "irrepressible sparkle," even at a young age. Unfortunately, on most shows she was asked to do nothing but look beautiful, which she did well but didn't reveal any other serious acting talent.
HER SWINGIN' '60s LOOK: In that November '65 TV Guide mentioned above, Marta was called "a slim, wide-eyed, flaxen-haired girl who looks like a combination of Mia Farrow and Tuesday Weld." Not a bad combo, and not a bad look for a young actress trying to make it in sunny Hollywood in the '60s. Her strong jaw, high cheekbones, and blonde hair made her a welcome presence in any show or movie. Sexy enough to wear a bikini in a great '60s beach movie, Marta had a curvy figure that still looked athletic and trim. Of everyone on "Lost in Space," she was the only space traveler who made the aluminum-foil costumes look good. In '63's Movie Life Yearbook her stats were given as 5' 4" and 107 pounds, 32-22-34.
LIFESTYLE: In '63 she was a nineteen-year-old cutie at the beach and met a surfer/grad student, whom she married six months later. In Mark Cotta Vaz's book Lost in Lost in Space she explains why she married young: "I think one of the reasons I married very young was I was just looking for a family." Pregnant with her first child, she traveled alone through Europe in '69 looking for her long-lost relatives, she delivered her daughter Laura in America in '69, then she left her husband in '73. In '74 she met another man, an attorney, to whom she is still married. They now live in California. But the real question "Lost in Space" fans want answered is what went on with Mark Goddard, who played Don West on the show. The Don West and Judy Robinson characters were good-looking, about the same age, and basically the only choices in town once the Jupiter 2 left Earth. There was some slight flirtation visible in the episodes, but Marta herself squelched any rumored romances in a 1999 interview when she was asked if anything ever transpired between Judy and Don West: "No, but we did have a crush on each other at the time," adding that Mark Goddard often made the cast laugh and that all of the actors felt like they were part of a family.
EXTRAS: Not until '69 was Marta able to revisit her real mother in Finland, and when she went back she met her older sister for the first time, whom she didn't know even existed ... in '97 Marta discovered that she had a younger brother in Australia and another sister in Finland whom she didn't know about ... like Hayley Mills, Marta was considered for, but ultimately rejected, the lead in Stanley Kubrick's Lolita, which was finally played by Sue Lyon ... also in the cast of Beach Blanket Bingo with Marta were Annette Funicello, Deborah Walley, and Donna Loren ... Marta is an avid traveler and claims in her bio to love treks to the Himalayas ... in '83 Marta joined with others from her "Lost in Space" family (Angela, June Lockhart, Guy Williams, and Bob May, who played the Robot) to take on members of the cast of "Batman" (Adam West, Burt Ward, Yvonne Craig, Lee Meriwether, and Vincent Price) on the "Family Feud" ... the two teams played two matches, with each side winning one ... in the '98 big-screen Lost in Space with William Hurt, sexy Heather Graham played the Judy Robinson part, with her title upgraded to Dr.