Man, Veronica Cartwright has two people’s worth of qualifying performance for a fantasy/sci-fi month, huh? She basically has two careers, one as a child and one as an adult, and either one would qualify. Sure, it’s her sister Angela who was Penny Robinson on Lost in Space (and Brigitta in The Sound of Music), but Veronica has been a staple of the genre since her Alfred Hitchcock days in the early ’60s. (Two episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Birds.) She’s still going, too.
Probably the first thing I ever saw her in myself is the underrated Flight of the Navigator, wherein she plays the mother of an abductee—a twelve-year-old who is gone for eight years and returns as a twelve-year-old. She conveys the exact sort of agony you’d expect from a woman in her situation, especially after shadowy agents basically abduct her kid all over again. And then I saw her as an abductee in The X-Files. Which, again, she was amazing at.
I feel as though you can be a fan of pretty much anything and recognize her. Not into sci-fi? Okay. How about The Right Stuff, where she’s Betty Grissom or Kinsey, where she’s Sara Kinsey? History not your speed? How about Leave It To Beaver, where she gave the Beav his first kiss? More into Westerns? She was Jemima Boone on 37 episodes of Daniel Boone. If you’re into classic film, there’s The Birds, of course, but also The Children’s Hour. Feminist psychodrama? The Yellow Wallpaper. Jack Nicholson fan? The Witches of Eastwick, where she’s Felicia Alden. And, of course, she’s Lambert in Alien!
And yet for all that, she’s definitely someone you have to dig around until you find one of those roles for people. Her career is long and impressive, but she’s never been a leading lady. She’s been around forever, but I’m not sure I know of a movie where you’d stay it stars Veronica Cartwright. I’ve never seen a less than professional performance from her (I honestly don’t know if I’ve seen her Leave It to Beaver episodes, to be fair), but it kind of feels as though she never got the chance to show her ability in a single role, more sort of just compiled over more than fifty years.
Still, you know, more than fifty years of memorable performances is definitely something. More than most people get, but also more than some considerably more famous people are ever going to have. I feel as though you can look at some of these people and say, “I can’t promise I’ll remember you in five years.” I don’t feel as though anyone can say that about Veronica Cartwright, even if they can’t remember her name for five minutes at a go.
I remembered her name for days in the lead-up to writing this; celebrate by contributing to my Patreon!