Viewers never saw him, but Dick Tufeld created two of TV's most enduring pop-culture catchphrases: "Danger, Will Robinson, danger!" and "That does not compute." Yep, the longtime announcer was the voice of Robot on the '60s sci-fi series Lost in Space. Tufeld still does voice-overs today, though he once suffered from a paralyzed vocal chord that kept him from speaking above a whisper. That is, until a rare operation restored his fond, familiar voice. Here, he happily chats away with TV Guide Online about his metallic alter ego.
TV Guide Online: It's nice to talk to someone who gave so many generations so much pleasure.
You know there was a guy inside the tin can — Bob May. He had to be in there eight hours a day on the set. He moved the arms and legs and memorized all the lines and spoke them. They put me into post-production and I dubbed Robot's voice in.
TVGO: Did you know you were creating a legend?
I had worked with Milton Berle, Julie Andrews and on various awards shows, so I did not regard the voice of the Robot as very creatively distinguished work. I actually discovered that back in 1978, when I was a guest lecturer at Syracuse University for a class of about 300. The class sat there impassively when the professor said I had done the Grammy Awards, Emmy Awards, commercials and lots of prestigious things. The last thing he mentioned was that I was the voice of the Robot on Lost in Space. They all stood up and applauded! That was when I became aware that the Robot had some special niche in people's television psyche.
TVGO: Lost in Space has been rerunning for years.
The show has been in syndication for 35 years and it's running somewhere in the world as we speak. Love for the show is alive and thriving, and I'm still a little baffled by it.
TVGO: There's still a market for Lost in Space products, right?
They just came out with an extremely well done series of LIS trading cards. This September, they're coming out with Season 2 on DVD, and then in 2005, Season 3. And the WB did a [remake], though it didn't get picked up, at least not for this fall. I was the voice of the Robot!
TVGO: What was your favorite episode?
"Something of the Species." I fell in love with a lady robot who turned out to be evil and I had to zap her at the end.
TVGO: Ah, true love. How'd you get this gig in the first place?
I was the narrator on the show. The Robot was not in the pilot. When they decided to put him in, my agent told me that [producer] Irwin Allen wanted to hear me do the voice. I walked in and said, "I assume you want a mechanical, robotian kind of sound." He shook his head, saying, "That's precisely what I don't want." I did it again and again and he finally said, "I'm not hearing what I want; I'll look elsewhere." I said, "May I try one more thing for you?" And in my best mechanical, robotian kind of sound, I said, "That does not compute." He said, "That's what I wanted! What the hell took you so long!" I had to turn my back, because I was hysterical.
TVGO: How did you synchronize your lines to the Robot?
As Bob spoke the Robot's lines on the set, he pressed the buttons in the arms and hands. When he did, the lights on his chest flashed in synchronization with his syllables as he spoke. So I had to be in sync with the lights flashing on the Robot's chest.
TVGO: You've done very well by the Robot over the years.
Oh, sure. Guys who build robots want me to do the robot voice with personalized lines. There's no question that when my time comes, that's what I'll be known for. The voice of the Robot on Lost in Space!