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Beloved TV mom June Lockhart honored by NASA

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Beloved TV mom June Lockhart honored by NASA Beloved TV mom June Lockhart honored by NASA

With two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, a Tony Award, career mementos on display at the Smithsonian Institution and a plethora of plaques and trophies, you might assume that June Lockhart is unflappable in the honors department. 'They sent a card notifying me that I had been selected,' she told me in a phone call last week from her home in Los Angeles. 'Nothing means as much to me as this.'   

The award for 'Exceptional Public Achievement' was bestowed upon June Lockhart by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration for her decades-long association with the space agency and for continuously inspiring public interest in space exploration. The prestigious award has been issued to only three other people, and Lockhart is the first woman to receive it.  

'About a month before I received it, they sent a card notifying me that I had been selected. I was so blown away, I carried that card as I did errands that day. I had it on the seat beside me in the car. At every red light, I picked it up and read it again. I simply could not believe it.'  

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June Lockhart began her alliance with NASA on Jan. 1, 1970, by hosting the CBS broadcast of 'The Rose Parade.' 'I interviewed Charles Conrad, Dick Gordon and Alan Bean - the astronauts of Apollo 12. They had just returned from the second lunar mission,' she said.  

Since then, Lockhart says she has often been asked to speak to NASA employees at Vandenberg Air Force Base and has been invited to witness 19 shuttle launches. 'I was being interviewed at LAX when Endeavor landed. I looked over and said, Look at the whole passel of astronauts!' I was surrounded by five of them and they were so warm and embracing of me hugs all around.'   

As the character of Maureen, matriarch of the space family Robinson on the science fiction TV series 'Lost in Space' (1965-1968), June Lockhart had no idea that she may have been inspiring young viewers to pursue space exploration as their life's mission. 'Isn't that extraordinary?' she asked. 'I look at that show now it's on at midnight out here on Saturday nights. The show was so giddy (laughs) and I'm amazed that people decided on a career while watching that.' 

June Lockhart is also remembered by generations of viewers for her role as Ruth Martin, 'Timmy's mom' on the long-running series 'Lassie.' 'I had turned it down twice but when they asked a third time, I tested and was approved,' she said. 'I say approved' because the Campbell's Soup Company (sponsor of the show) took a couple of months to check me out to make sure I had no communist tendencies. This was 1957, and the McCarthy committee was in full swing.'  

Six years on 'Lassie' led directly to her role on 'Lost In Space,' three years on 'Petticoat Junction' and dozens of film roles and guest spots on TV series including 'Gunsmoke,' 'Perry Mason,' 'Bewitched,' 'Roseanne,' 'Beverly Hills 90210,' 'Quincy,' 'Ren & Stimpy' and 'The Drew Carey Show.'  

In the '80s and '90s, Lockhart was seen regularly as sweet-natured Maria Ramirez on 'General Hospital' and is pleased to know that her character is - according to a fan - still doing well. 'I was just told that my character is down on her ranch in San Antonio. I said, Oh, that's interesting!' You know, they can kill you off or they can bring you back.'  

This month, Lockhart is celebrating 80 years as an entertainment professional a career that began in at the age of 8 in a New York stage production of 'Peter Ibbetson.' In 1938, she appeared with her actor parents, Gene and Kathleen Lockhart, in Edwin Marin's film version of 'A Christmas Carol,' a story Lockhart says her family had been performing for friends at Christmas dinner for years. 'The man who played Scrooge in our family version was Leo G. Carroll, who went on to play Marley's ghost in the movie,' she recalled.    

In addition to acting, Gene Lockhart was a singer, playwright and lyricist his most famous composition, 'The World Is Waiting for the Sunrise,' has been recorded more than 100 times by a variety of artists including Duke Ellington, Les Paul, The Beatles (a crudely recorded home version in 1960), Willie Nelson, Carl Perkins and Thomas Edison.

'Edison recorded the song at least three times,' Lockhart said. 'By the way, Thomas Edison is the man who introduced my mother and father to each other. You might say that I am the product of one of his best ideas!' 

In October 1992, Lockhart was at Mission Control in Houston when her father's song was played to awaken the astronauts aboard the Space Shuttle 'Columbia.' 'It was a good tune to play for them as a wake up song because, from their perspective orbiting the Earth, there was a new sunrise every 90 minutes.'     

Lockhart laughs as she recalls Mission Control informing the astronauts of her presence. 'There was a pause and then a return message from space: Mission Control, this is Columbia. A bunch of us are wondering what Lassie's mom is doing at Mission Control at 2:10 in the morning!''  

At the moment, June Lockhart says she has no plans to retire. 'Oh my goodness, no. Things are still happening, although I turn down more than I accept these days,' she admitted.  

At the time of writing, Lockhart was scheduled to appear on Jan. 28 with stars including Betty White and Florence Henderson at a concert by the Los Angeles Lawyers Philharmonic for a 100th birthday celebration for the city of Beverly Hills and its composers of which her father was one. 'The World is Waiting for the Sunrise' was one of the selections scheduled for performance.   

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Last modified on Wednesday, 29 January 2014 17:08

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