Dr. Fred Eichelman: Deanna Lund, an Actress Who Fought Giants in Fiction and the Real World

Deanna Lund in Land of the Giants

Deanna Lund is one actress who didn’t start out as a star struck little girl with a yen for Hollywood. That was the farthest thing from her mind as a child. Deanna was born in Riverside, Illinois outside of Chicago. The youngest of three girls, her father Arnold Lund was a successful attorney and columnist. Too successful as far as the corrupt Daley Machine was concerned. Being a staunch Republican, his life as well as his family’s were threatened. So the family was transplanted to Daytona, Florida.

As a child in Florida, her only screen idol was Roy Rogers. That was primarily because she was riding in rodeos at the age of ten. She was interested in Country-Western music and wrote her own songs which would make her more a candidate for Nashville than the film capital. Her popularity in rodeos and horse shows was such, that her first modeling was done on her horse “Dynamite,” for covers on programs. Dynamite was named for her dad whose editorial column in Chicago was titled Dynamite Lund.

Her love of horses almost caused a crippling accident. “When a kid, I was kicked in the spine by a horse. Not his fault, it was an accident. I think it is why I am shorter than my sisters and my parents, all of whom are tall.” She still went on to be an outstanding equestrian. Deanna was active for a bit in the political arena helping her father run for office. Arnold was narrowly defeated in his run for Congress in a contested and controversial election. Deanna’s mother Phyllis once told us, “Even popular president Dwight D. Eisenhower wasn’t able to help this rising Republican star to overturn the results.”

Sadly the popular Eisenhower and his party didn’t get involved until after the election when they saw how close the results were. The national Republican Party tried to talk Arnold into running for governor. He said “unequivocally no.” Deanna was told by her father after a trip to Washington, D.C., “there are no honest politicians in Washington.”

Arnold Lund really didn’t need political office as he was in real estate and ran a successful motel on the beach, The Surf and Sand where the family lived.

Later Deanna would ask “How did a clean cut kid like me wind up on the wicked stage”? Some journalists have assumed that because of Deanna’s athletic ability, looks and sunny disposition, the road to stardom was strewn with roses. It wasn’t and she admits, “I had to pay my dues.”

In high school, Deanna first went on stage because her father thought it would help her get over her shyness. She became hooked, though acting as a career didn’t seem to be in the cards. He father was opposed to the idea, especially the idea of motion pictures. However, after school she entered into a marriage that didn’t work and found herself forced into a wide range of occupations. With two babies to support, Kim and Randy, she moved to Miami where she had a variety of jobs including a car rental agency, running a modeling school, TV weather, news and sports casting, and appearing in commercials.

Before this marriage and while in college, Deanna did win a role in a Robert Taylor-Chad Everett film, Johnny Tiger, along with appearances in a couple other films. A talent scout, Max Arno, tried to recruit her and met with her in the Roanoke Valley, near this writer’s home. He was unsuccessful due to her parents’ disapproval. A few years later and after her dad had died, she reconsidered. With her mother’s and sisters’, Barbi and Sandy, approval she packed up her children and headed for Hollywood. As providence would have it, she crossed paths with Max Arno, who helped her chart her new career.

Her first films were learning experiences. Deanna took any bit role she could find. “I went bicycling from studio-to-studio to work as an extra. or to take a small part. This generally wasn’t approved by the studios, however many of us did this to make a living.”

Some of her small roles were well reviewed such as Our of Sight, and she had the opportunity of working twice with Elvis Presley. The Presley films, Hawaiian Paradise and Spinout, gave her an opportunity to meet “the king”.

“Elvis didn’t seem interested in me as I had my babies on the set and he probably felt, ‘Mama, you need to be home washing diapers.’ If only I could have afforded to do just that,” she said. Her children were always first with her and to the day she went to be with the Lord along with her grandchildren, this was still the case.

The roles she won were unfortunately not the kind of roles that would feed a family. She also had to work in time for drama classes. This was far from the image Hollywood had with instant stardom awaiting the newcomer. Deanna was beset with every problem faced by a single mother from inept baby-sitters to life threatening illness. Something within her told her she needed to return to Florida. “It was like God talking to me.”

She was so anxious to get back home to Florida, she had her agent get her a role in Frank Sinatra’s Tony Rome being shot in Miami. This looked like an easy ticket to end her film career. Back in the Sunshine State, she made up her mind that there would be no going back to Hollywood without a guarantee of a major role. Her one scene in Tony Rome impressed Sinatra and afterward they dated for a short while until she found him “too controlling”.

At that time one of the new breed of producers, Irwin Allen, was making his mark with special effect science fiction TV series and movies. Deanna Lund was already known on TV due to appearances on BatmanBob Hope Chrysler Theatre and numerous other TV shows. In the works for 20th Century Fox was Allen’s Land of the Giants. Tony Rome was a Fox film and Allen saw the dailies which made her a cinch for a part without even an audition. Deanna had a hard time believing it was true when her agent called her and nearly hung up on him. She was still skeptical when she arrived in Hollywood to meet Allen for the first time.

Though normally ash blonde, she was a red head in Tony Rome, and had been in a few other films made shortly before the Sinatra movieShe was starting to let her hair go back to its natural color, but when she met Allen he said, “I bought a red head, I expect a red head.” As Deanna explained it “The contract was signed and one did not contradict Irwin Allen. He was brilliant, but also autocratic.” Thus Deanna Lund became red headed Valerie Ames Scott in Giants.

Land of the Giants had the task of making viewers suspend their disbelief long enough to watch seven castaways survive on a world of hostile giants. Deanna’s task was to flesh out and give substance to the role of a shallow rich girl. During the two years the show was on air, her character was viewed by many as the most evolved and interesting. “I was kind of a bad girl turned good girl and this was not deliberately done on my part or the writers. It was just something inside me that came out.”

Despite week after week of enduring such perils as hanging by a rope over flames, several times having an ape carry her off, being taped to a table and dropped into a specimen jar, she managed to pull it off. By the end of the series, Deanna Lund was one of the most popular actresses on television and she was more than just a screaming victim. She was now an accomplished and recognized performer. She additionally became a popular guest on Charades due to her talent to pantomimeAfter the Giants series was cancelled, she married co-star Don Matheson. Their daughter, Michele Matheson, is an accomplished actress and author herself today.

With Giants behind her, Deanna made a number of appearances in shows such as The Waltons and The Incredible Hulkas well as movies made for television. Her greatest impact for the next few years was starring in the soap operas,General Hospital and One Life to Live.

There were problems ahead, not the least of which was a terrible mugging that nearly took her life. The attack nearly destroyed her emotionally and it was only her strong faith in God that helped her survive. “God put people in my life that got me through it” she explains. She could have been mentally scarred for life and the fight to restore herself was an event that truly would be considered an inspiration. “I was even told by one well known actor/director that I was through in Hollywood as I couldn’t do a scene with a man who was a mirror image of the one who mugged me.”

Deanna’s film career took off again in the eighties with a most notable female lead in the Jerry Lewis classic Hardly Working. It was a film Lewis needed badly for a comeback and it was Deanna’s long time friend, Beverly McDermott, a casting director who secured her the job. She also made films with independent producers. In the nineties, this led to more films on TV with the most noted being her role as a police woman in Red Wind.

Another change for her came in the mid eighties when she was a guest at her first science fiction and fantasy convention, RoVaCon (Roanoke Valley fan Convention). Deanna was amazed at what a fan following she had and soon there was a support group formed. Titled Friends of Deanna Lund, it had the largest membership of any non studio or agent-run fan club in America. She resisted calling it a “fan club” and its chief charity was Victims of Violence No More. The membership ran from Germany to Australia and from Canada to Brazil. Within RoVaCon she helped establish a new Drama Scholarship and introduced the idea of conventions holding Drama Workshops. Later she became a co-founder of a strictly designed media convention she herself named, Rising Star. Both the latter and RoVaCon were head quartered in the Roanoke Valley of Virginia..

In addition to her workshops she was also active in church  programs conducting music presentations. The latter led her back to song writing and she  performed in several churches in Florida.

Deanna Lund also found another outlet for herself, writing. The writing instinct was inspired by there still being so many fans of Land of the Giants years after the show left ABC-TV. It has been continually on cable stations both in the United States and over seas. The Irwin Allen News Network became the most prominent champion of Irwin Allen TV shows and films in the Western world. Run by Jeanette Georgala of England, Deanna and other cast members have been invited to conventions across the nation and overseas largely due to the network.

It was this interest in the old series that inspired Deanna to write a novel published by Galactic Press titled Valerie in Giantland. The book takes up ten years after the end of the series and was co-written with this writer, It is still available on the net and through various science fiction outlets. The book was “designed to have a spiritual element without hitting the reader over the head.”

Dr. Fred Eichelman interviewing Deanna Lund (Photo property of Dr. Fred Eichelman)

Deanna backed the idea of a Christian media program such as we have with Point North † Outreach and helped convert the media show programming into a series of Christian Media Conventions. She served as the first one of the directors for my newsletter, Point North † Outreach.

Deanna continued her political work during her last years and was a worker in LA for the Trump campaign in 2016, not a popular activity for an actress she found.

Deanna continued her own “outreach” work and last year, despite severe pain and an operation due to that old accident with a horse as a child, joined her friend Connie Stevens to work with the victims of hurricanes.  “Just when I think I can’t do something, that I don’t have the strength for, God says ‘You go gal!’ It’s an offer I can’t refuse.”

Cancer finally caused God to call her to continue her work in Heaven two years ago. She is greatly missed.

Dr. Fred Eichelman

Dr. Fred Eichelman is a retired teacher and a director for Point North Outreach, a Christian media organization. He recently had a book published, Faith, Family, Film-A Teacher's Trek. Fred is a former local Republican Committee chairman and has attended hundreds of conventions from political to science fiction. He sees the two as compatible. Fred also tells us he values very much a title we gave him since he could not be a PolitiChick. PolitiDude.

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