Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (SCCtM) is generally considered one of the worst movies ever made, but some people consider it a “cult classic,” and they would no more consider their holiday season complete without rewatching it than they would a December without A Charlie Brown Christmas. Made in 1964, the same year as Rankin-Bass premiered Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, the movie is famous for three things: being one of the worst SF movies in Hollywood history, being one of the worst holiday movies ever made, and launching Pia Zadora’s career.
The Martians are worried about their children, who neither study nor play, and only watch Earth television all day. To cure this problem, they decide to kidnap Santa Claus and bring him to Mars. Unable to distinguish between all the department store Santas, they first abduct two Earthling children to help them find the real Santa Claus. Like all Earthling children, Betty and Billy know that the only place to find the real Santa Claus is at the North Pole.
This movie marked singer/actress Pia Zadora’s Hollywood debut. Despite her rocky career as an actress, ending with an appearance in Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult as herself, she was one of the lucky ones. For most of her castmates, the film seems to have been the final nail in the coffin of their acting careers.
Santa Claus Conquers the Martians bears the strange distinction of being the first Christmas movie ever to show Mrs. Claus as an on-screen character. However, Doris Rich, who played Mrs. Claus, blazed a path for Angela Lansbury, Betty White, and Robie Lester, only had one acting role after SCCtM: Mrs. Blue in the TV show Hawk.
John Call played her husband, Santa Claus himself. Though he had a 30 year career on Broadway spanning 19 productions, he was in only one movie after SCCtM, The Anderson Tapes, starring Sean Connery Call passed away in 1973.
Leonard Hicks, also known for his role in the 1966 TV series Route 66, played Kimar (King Martian), but he never did another movie after this one. He died in 1971.
Leila Martin played Momar (Mom Martian), Kimar’s wife, and later co-starred in the TV show The Doctors. She starred in God Told Me To and Who Killed Mary What’sername.
Vincent Beck played the villain Voldar. After SCCtM, he mostly played mostly villains and mobsters, often in heavy makeup. He played the blue-faced alien hunter Megazor in Hunter’s Moon, a third season episode of Lost in Space. He appeared on The Monkees three times, once on Time Tunnel, and twice on The Man from U.N.C.LE. As with Pia Zadora, SCCtM launched his theatrical career, but he moved on to guest starring in the David McCallum version of The Invisible Man, Bonanza, and Gilligan’s Island. He passed away in 1984 at age 59, a victim of cancer.
The Martian children, Girmar (Girl Martian) and Bomar (Boy Martian) were played by Pia Zadora and Chris Month. Pia Zadora became an actress/singer. Chris Month went on to appear on the TV show The Doctors and the Nurses. William Shatner also guest starred on The Doctors and the Nurses, a year before Month did.
Victor Stiles (played Billy, the Earth boy) never made another movie, but starred in Oliver! on Broadway. At the time he was hired for SCCtM, he was in Oliver! as one of Fagin’s pickpockets, he returned to the show when the movie finished filming, and eventually took on the role of Oliver Twist.
Donna Conforti (Betty, the other Earthling) like Stiles came from and returned to Broadway. When she was cast in SCCtM, she was already in a Christmas show, Here’s Love, a musical adaptation of Miracle on 34th Street. She played the little Dutch refugee whom Kris Kringle speaks to in her own language. She was also a student in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie on Broadway. She appeared in Annie Get Your Gun with Ethel Merman as one of the Oakley siblings.
Ned Wertimer (who played Andy Henderson) and Bill McCutcheon (who played Dropo) were among the few whose careers flourished after SCCtM. Wertimer went on to guest star in countless TV shows: Love American Style, Get Smart, Hogan’s Heroes, Mork and Mindy, and two Disney movies, The Strongest Man in the World and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End. McCutcheon went on to become Uncle Wally on Sesame Street and star in Mr. Destiny and Steel Magnolias. Wertimer died at the age of 89 due to complications from a fall he suffered in his own home, and McCutcheon died of natural causes at the age of 77.
Since the movie was made 54 years ago, many of the cast have passed on. This is a natural result of the passage of time and not a curse on the movie, although some movie fans might say that SCCtM cursed their careers. The movie frequently marked the the last hurrah for many of the actors.
What’s your opinion? Is Santa Claus Conquers the Martians one of the worst movies ever made or an underappreciated, disrespected cult classic? Did SCCtM kill these actors’ careers or is it pure coincidence that most of them didn’t act again after this movie? Let’s talk about this. Use the comments section below.
Susan Macdonald is the author of the children’s book “R is for Renaissance Faire”, as well as 26 short stories, mostly fantasy in “Alternative Truths”, “Swords and Sorceress #30”, Swords &Sorceries Vols. 1, 2, & 5, “Cat Tails” “Under Western Stars”, and “Knee-High Drummond and the Durango Kid”. Her articles have appeared on SCIFI.radio’s web site, in The Inquisitr, and in The Millington Star. She enjoys Renaissance Faires (see book above), science fiction conventions, Highland Games, and Native American pow-wows.