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  William Lundigan
(1914–1975). American actor.

Acted in: Riders to the Stars (Richard CARLSON 1954); "A Christmas Carol" (host) (1954), episode of Shower of Stars; "Beyond" (1955), episode of Science Fiction Theatre; Men into Space (tv series) (1959-1960); The Underwater City (Frank McDonald 1962).
If you don't know who William Lundigan is, rest assured that you are not alone, since very few people today remember, or have even seen, the obscure films and television programs that he appeared in during his long and uncelebrated career. But if you haven't figured it out by now, this encyclopedia never limits itself to those contributors to science fiction cinema that everybody remembers. And Lundigan merits recognition as one of the hardest-working, and one of the best, of science fiction film's early astronauts.

Lundigan got into the movies through circumstances that would seem incredible to modern wannabes: while he was working as a radio announcer in New York, a film producer heard his resonant voice and ordered a subordinate to find this man and give him a screen test, which suggested that he had some promise as a screen actor. However, although he had an athletic appearance and was comfortable in front of the camera, it cannot be said that he was enormously successful, as anyone would recognize after assessing one's first two decades in film and concluding that the high point of your career was a supporting role in two Andy Hardy films. But soon, there emerged a new media called television in need of some handsome men with resonant voices, and by the 1950s  Lundigan was primarily supporting himself with steady work as a host and announcer for various television series.

But at this point, producer Ivan TORS was in need of a cheap leading man for his forthcoming science fiction film, Riders to the Stars, and either he or director Richard CARLSON decided, wisely, that Lundigan would be an ideal choice to play the ex-pilot and college professor recruited to fly into space in order to catch a meteor. The result was one of the rare performances in the spacesuit films of the 1950s when you actually find yourself caring about whether or not the hero survives his perilous journey into space; for Lundigan was able to perfectly anticipate the personality of the men who would later become America's astronauts—outwardly emotionless and professional at all times, but willing in private moments to open up and reluctantly acknowledge a touch of poetry in his soul.

But Riders to the Stars wasn't the sort of film that was going to make anyone a star, so Lundigan drifted back into television, including a similar role in the first episode of Science Fiction Theatre as a pilot who earnestly insists that he really did see a UFO.  But somebody in the television industry must have remembered Riders to the Stars, because five years later, Lundigan found himself back in the spaceship again as the protagonist of the CBS television series Men into Space, the stalwart Colonel Edward McCauley, and in thirty-eight episodes he again distinguished himself as America's archetypal astronaut—a fine husband and father while on Earth, a calm and competent professional during crises in space, always prepared to don his bulky spacesuit to repair a broken piece of equipment or search for a missing crewmate. But series writers also entrusted him with rare bits of dialogue that reflected his awareness of the "awesome and terrible beauty" of the Moon and outer space. Watching all thirty-eight episodes of the series, one sees McCauley growing as a character, and Lundigan capably settling into the role, helping to make this unheralded series surprisingly rewarding.

However, audiences of that era much preferred the earthbound whimsy of CBS's other 1959 venture into science fiction, Rod SERLING's The Twilight Zone,  leading to the cancellation of Men into Space after one season and effectively ending Lundigan's career in science fiction film. It is easy to imagine Lundigan then telling his agent, after enduring so many scenes of awkward spacesuit maneuvers, that he never wanted to play an astronaut again—and he never did. Still, his final contribution to the genre again required Lundigan to wear a special suit—but only a diving suit in The Underwater City. About a decade later, Lundigan died in his early sixties as a result of lung congestion, possibly due to all of those Lucky Strikes that he smoked in the commercials he made for Men into Space's main sponsor. We will never know what he thought when he watched America's real-life astronauts on television as they did their William Lundigan imitations in Earth orbit and on the Moon, but one hopes he understood that he qualified as one of their unacknowledged precursors. Now, at least in this encyclopedia, he is unacknowledged no more.

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