Don Marshall, 80; made casting history in ‘Land of the Giants’

NEW YORK — Don Marshall, one of the first black actors to have a starring role on a US network television series, as a spaceship’s efficient, levelheaded first officer stranded on a mysterious planet on “Land of the Giants,” died Sunday in Los Angeles. He was 80.

The death was confirmed by actress BarBara Luna on a Facebook post.

“Land of the Giants,” which ran from 1968 to 1970 on ABC, was a science-fiction adventure about the passengers and crew of a small suborbital aircraft that crash-lands on a planet inhabited by humanoids 70 feet tall and house cats the size of King Kong. Mr. Marshall starred alongside Gary Conway, who played the pilot.


The producer was Irwin Allen, the man behind “Lost in Space” and other 1960s science-fiction shows and later the mastermind of blockbuster disaster movies, including “The Towering Inferno” and “The Poseidon Adventure.”

“It was a very pleasant set, most of the time,” Mr. Marshall recalled in an interview with a fan website years later, “especially when Irwin Allen wasn’t there.”

At the time, just past the height of the civil rights movement, the only African-American stars on prime-time network series were Bill Cosby on “I Spy” (which began in 1965) and Greg Morris on “Mission: Impossible” (starting in 1966).

Diahann Carroll joined their ranks when “Julia,” a sitcom on which she starred as a widowed nurse and single mother, had its premiere in 1968. Mr. Marshall appeared on four episodes of that series, as the title character’s love interest.

Over three decades, Mr. Marshall appeared in more than two dozen television series as well as television movies and feature films. He was often cast as an authority figure: an FBI agent on “Good Times,” a senator on “Capitol,” and a police officer on “Mission: Impossible” and “The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.”


He was particularly proud, he said, of his role as a 19th-century doctor facing frontier bigotry in a 1981 episode of “Little House on the Prairie.”

In his screen debut, the 1962 film “The Interns,” he was a physician in training. In “Uptown Saturday Night” (1974), starring Sidney Poitier and Cosby, Mr. Marshall played a henchman. In “The Thing With Two Heads” (1972), the cult science-fiction hit about a doctor who brings Ray Milland and Roosevelt Grier together with a transplant, he was the surgeon.

Donald James Marshall was born in 1936, in San Diego, where he lived with his mother, Alma Marshall; his maternal grandmother, Leola Williams; two older sisters; and a twin brother, Douglas. He served in the Army and studied theater at Los Angeles City College, where he was also on the track-and-field team as a pole vaulter and runner. He later said that his sports background had helped him sometimes execute his own stunts as an actor.

After he retired from acting, he founded DJR Productions, which specialized in television commercials and other video projects.

Mr. Marshall established his place in “Star Trek” history in a 1967 episode of the original series. As Lieutenant Boma, part of a small shuttlecraft landing party under attack by furry monsters with spears, he was impatient with the half-Vulcan character Spock’s reliance on logic, making that clear with cynical comments like “You? Err? Impossible.”

Two members of the landing party perished, but, going against all “Star Trek” conventional wisdom, Mr. Marshall’s character was not one of them.