Ib Melchior, Screenwriter on 'Robinson Crusoe on Mars,' Dies at 97

Courtesy of Everett Collection

He claimed TV's 'Lost in Space' and 'Star Trek' were stolen from him by Irwin Allen and Gene Roddenberry, respectively.

Ib Melchior, the screenwriter and director who took two classics of literature and set them in the future for the 1960s sci-fi films Robinson Crusoe on Mars and The Time Travelers, has died. He was 97.

Melchior, who claimed he was the one who came up with the ideas for TV's Lost in Space and Star Trek, died Saturday of natural causes at his home in West Hollywood, his son, Leif, told The Hollywood Reporter.

A native of Copenhagen, Melchior co-wrote the screenplay for Robinson Crusoe on Mars (1964), based on Daniel Dufoe's 18th century adventure tale. Directed by Byron Haskin, it starred Paul Mantee, Victor Lundin, Adam West and a monkey named Mona.

Melchior quickly followed with The Time Travelers (1964), an adaptation of H.G. Wells' 1895 novel The Time Machine that takes the characters to a barren Earth in the year 2071. He directed that film, which starred Preston Foster, Philip Carey and Merry Anders as well.

Melchior also wrote and directed The Angry Red Planet (1959), about survivors from a Martian expedition, and penned the scripts for Reptilicus (1961), Journey to the Seventh Planet (1962) and the war movie Ambush Bay (1966).

His short story The Racer led to the 1975 Roger Corman film Death Race 2000, starring David Carradine and Sylvester Stallone, and the 2008 Paul W.S. Anderson prequel Death Race, toplined by Jason Statham.

Another of Melchior’s ideas was called Space Family Robinson, based on Johann David Wyss' The Swiss Family Robinson. He pitched the concept of a family marooned away from Earth to several producers as well as CBS; a short while later, CBS and producer Irwin Allen unveiled a new series they called Lost in Space.

In Tom Weaver’s 2010 book A Sci-Fi Swarm and Horror Horde: Interviews With 62 Filmmakers, Melchior said he was robbed and consulted with lawyers.

“They all agreed that of course Allen had stolen my material … and they all advised me to let it go,” he says in the book. “I was still relatively new in Hollywood, and I was told that if I made waves I would never work in town. I would be blackballed.”

Melchior was paid as a consultant on New Line’s Lost in Space 1998 remake but sued after being denied a percentage of the movie’s profits he said he was promised.

He also claimed to have created a TV series about “a starship roaming deep space in search of new civilizations,” one featuring “a stalwart captain with an alien first officer,” and brought it to a producer. To his surprise, he said, a show based on his idea was soon announced: Star Trek, created by Gene Roddenberry, the producer he says he pitched.

Melchoir, who served in counter-intelligence for the U.S. during World War II, was the son of famed opera singer Lauritz Melchior. Survivors also include his grandson, Torben.

Twitter: @mikebarnes4

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