Friday, February 27, 2015

Leonard Nimoy: 1931-2015

Leonard Nimoy's first close-up as Spock in "The Menagerie" (1964)
Frequent readers of this blog will know that I'm not usually at a loss for words, but on the subject of Leonard Nimoy's death, I am almost speechless. For as long as I can remember, Star Trek and Leonard Nimoy as Mr. Spock have been a part of my life. Now Nimoy is gone.

I had the pleasure of seeing Mr. Nimoy in person twice in my life  in the early 2000s, at a Seattle-area Star Trek convention alongside William Shatner, and more recently, at a Hammer Museum event where he spoke about his career as a photographer alongside fellow Star Trek (2009) actor Zachary Quinto. On both occasions, I was struck by the depth of the man's intelligence, the warmth of his sense of humor, and the genuine affection he showed for both his friends and his fans.

True to his character's now iconic salutation, Mr. Nimoy lived long and prospered, finding success as an actor, director, author, poet, singer, and photographer in a career that spanned seven decades. He may be most famous for portraying Mr. Spock on Star Trek (a role which garnered him three consecutive Emmy nominations), but Nimoy leaves behind a tremendous body of work far beyond this role. He'll be long remembered and deeply missed by many.

Goodbye, Mr. Nimoy.

Image Courtesy of Trek Core.

Friday, February 13, 2015

On Pickups and Lifts in 'The Man Trap'

Still from 'The Man Trap' (1966)
This one is in response to a question from blog reader Neil B., who writes, "In 'The Man Trap' chapter in These Are The Voyages — TOS: Season One, Marc Cushman and Susan Osborn say a shot of Nimoy in the command chair was postponed and done as a pick-up while shooting 'The Naked Time.' Isn't it possible that it's just a lift from 'The Naked Time' that was edited into 'The Man Trap' at a later date?"

Like many questions I get from readers, I didn't immediately know the answer, but I thought there was a good chance I could find out. For whatever reason, the production records for 'The Man Trap' are exceptionally intact in the Roddenberry and Justman collections available for public viewing at the University of California, Los Angeles. I traveled there a few weeks ago looking for answers.

For reference, this is what it says in the revised and expanded edition of These Are The Voyages:
Day 2, Thursday. The first full day of production was also spent on the bridge, with the camera rolling between 8 a.m. and 6:50 p.m. Daniels was one-quarter day behind when he took his last shot. Two scenes had been postponed and would be filmed during production of the next episode -- "The Naked Time." One was the brief shot in the teaser, of Spock in the command chair and the unusual placement of Lt. Uhura and Lt. Leslie at the helm -- the plot for "The Naked Time" explaining why. With the addition of the Captain's log entry that opens the episode -- not in the shooting script, but written and recorded later -- Roddenberry felt the audience needed to see Spock on the bridge when Kirk refers to him. He was right. 
--Marc Cushman with Susan Osborn, These Are The Voyages — TOS: Season One (Second Edition, December 2013), p.199.
This is identical to the way the passage reads in the first edition of the book, except for one sentence at the end that has been omitted:
The second scene -- Kirk's first visit to the bridge in this episode -- features Bruce Hyde (as Lt. Kevin Riley) at the helm, a character introduced in the next episode. 
--Marc Cushman with Susan Osborn, These Are The Voyages — TOS: Season One (First Edition, August 2013), p.173
Although clunky — the book now refers to a pair of postponed scenes, but identifies only one — Cushman and Osborn were wise to omit this sentence. As previously mentioned on this blog, Bruce Hyde isn't in "The Man Trap" at all.

Unfortunately, just about everything the authors have left intact in this passage is wrong, too. Cushman and Osborn claim that the second day of production on "The Man Trap" — Thursday, June 23, 1966 — was spent shooting on the bridge, but this is incorrect. Per the daily production report, this day was actually spent filming in the botany section, the transporter room, the corridor, and in McCoy's quarters. Scenes on the bridge were taken on the first and fourth days of filming (Wednesday, June 22, 1966 and Monday, June 27, 1966).

Moreover, although the June 23, 1966 shooting call was at 8 o'clock in the morning, the first shot wasn't taken until 8:15. George Takei, Garrison True, and three unidentified extras were not dismissed until 7 o'clock at night, not 6:50.

Regarding the supposed pick-ups done a week later for the teaser, the first place I looked was the shooting script — revised on June 17, 1966 — which reads as follows:





Rotates in space...



ESTABLISHING Planet M-113. The planet largely barren, some unusual low vegetation. The Crater campsite is a crumbling remains of what might once have been a weird sort of temple. There is considerable sign of archaeological digging around it. In the far distance, barely seen, are other crumbling remains of a civilization which must have existed here once. Also a shed, a heaping of tools, supplies and archaeological artifacts, statues, carvings, and so on, leading to a doorway in the temple, a room of which has obviously been converted to Crater's living quarters. (TRANSPORTER EFFECT) as CAPTAIN JAMES KIRK, DOCTOR McCOY, and a Crewman DARNELL SHIMMER into existence. They look about them, reacting to the surface of this new planet. As they move toward the stone door opening to the living quarters:

                                       Shall we stop to pick some
                                       flowers, Doctor? When a man
                                       visits an old girlfriend, she
                                       usually expects something like

Still from "The Man Trap" (1966)
As evident from this excerpt, no shots on the bridge were scripted for the opening scenes of "The Man Trap" —  or the rest of the teaser, for that matter — at least in the shooting script associate producer Bob Justman donated to UCLA, along with many other production files from the show.

By the time the episode's shooting schedule had been prepared (June 20, 1966), the earliest scenes on the bridge planned to go before the cameras were numbered 32-34. These moments were described in the shooting schedule as, "Kirk [sic] & Uhura argue-announcement from Landing Party re: death stuns Uhura-she exits." They were far removed from the episode's teaser. After examining the daily production reports for both "The Man Trap" and "The Naked Time," I found no evidence that any shots from the former were delayed and picked up during the filming of the latter.

When, then, were these shots aboard the bridge added? Post-production. On August 1, 1966, (Cushman and Osborn incorrectly date this as August 10, 1966) Bob Justman wrote to Gene Roddenberry about the state of the episode's teaser:
After viewing "THE MAN TRAP" with Sandy Courage this afternoon, I am of the opinion that we need Narration for the opening of the TEASER. The TEASER starts out with a shot of the Enterprise orbiting about a planet and then we DISSOLVE FROM that to an ESTABLISHING SHOT of planet surface and then from that to a shot of Kirk and his companions materializing on the surface of the planet. These three shots take quite a bit of time on the screen.
And since this is liable to be our first or second show on the air, I think it would be wise to establish where we are and what we are doing, over these opening shots. Therefore, feel free to write a lengthy narration for Captain Kirk. It could run as much as half a minute, if you wished it. 
Roddenberry's hand-written response was simple, "Agree. Am writing it." Justman's memo makes one thing clear: as of August 1, the beginning of the episode's teaser still matched the shooting script, dissolving directly from an optical of the Enterprise to an establishing shot of the planet surface. On August 4, 1966, seven pages of editing notes were delivered, and the newly revised teaser was scripted for the first time:
Teaser voice over begins over SHOT of ship in orbit.
                                                        KIRK'S VOICE OVER
                                       Captain's log Star Date 1513.1. Our
                                       position...orbiting Planet M-113, the
                                       home of an ancient and long-dead
                                       civilization. On the Enterprise,
                                       Mister Spock temporarily in command
                                       while ship's surgeon McCoy and
                                       myself beam down to the planet
Voice over will carry through ESTABLISHING SHOT of Bridge, CLOSER ON MISTER SPOCK as he eyes the ship's viewing screen, ANGLE ON SHIP'S VIEWING SCREEN showing the planet slowly rotating there; then to ESTABLISHING SHOT of the planet surface which leads to materialization of the landing party.
These revisions were scripted at some point during the period of August 1-4, 1966. Marc Daniels simply couldn't have filmed the suggested pick-ups during "The Naked Time," which was shot from June 30-July 11, 1966. At that point, the revised teaser hadn't even been scripted.

When, then, were these pick-ups shot? As it turns out, they weren't pick-up shots at all, but editorial lifts from other episodes. The wide shot is from "The Naked Time," as Cushman and Osborn point out. The close-up, however, is from "What Are Little Girls Made Of?" (which was filmed from July 28 to August 9, 1966, with the bridge material already in the can by the time Roddenberry and Justman were tweaking "The Man Trap"). The camera framing in "The Man Trap" is a little different than in "What Are Little Girls Are Made Of?" — suggesting it's an outtake — but the lighting, the folds on Spock's shirt, and the position of his hands all strongly suggest it's the exact same set-up. Compare the shots for yourself below.

Still from "The Man Trap" (1966)
Still from "The Naked Time" (1966)
Still from "The Man Trap" (1966)
Still from "What Are Little Girls Made Of?" (1966)
Images courtesy of Trek Core.

Thanks to Neil B. for suggesting this post, and identifying the close-up of Spock in "What Are Little Girls Made Of?" His suggestions helped improve this piece; any errors that remain are entirely my own.


The Gene Roddenberry Star Trek Television Series Collection (1964-1969)

The Robert H. Justman Collection of Star Trek Television Series Scripts (1966-1968)

These Are The Voyages: TOS, Season One (Marc Cushman with Susan Osborn, August 2013)

These Are The Voyages: TOS, Season One [Revised and Expanded Edition] (Marc Cushman with Susan Osborn, December 2013)

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Fact Check: CBS Watch! Magazine (Star Trek Special Issue)

December 2014/January 2015 issue of CBS Watch! Magazine

If you've paid a visit to the supermarket this month, you may have seen the latest issue of CBS Watch! magazine, which is devoted to the original Star Trek television series. As I indicated last weekend, although the magazine is filled with beautiful and rare photographs taken during the production of the series, the text often leaves something to be desired. Rather than write a more traditional review, I've decided to do a fact-check of some of the magazine's more bizarre claims, in the order that they appear in the magazine. The text of each claim is quoted as it appears in the magazine, not paraphrased.

Without further ado...

Selections from Roddenberry's RIT lecture can be found on Inside Star Trek (1976)
Claim: At a lecture at the Rochester Institute of Technology in 1976, Roddenberry joked about the original failure of his dream. "The first pilot was rejected on the basis of being too intellectual for all you slobs out in the television audience," he said. "It did go on to win the international Hugo award, but I suppose many things turned down by networks would win awards." (Page 12)

Verdict: False. Although it incorporates much of the footage from the first pilot, "The Menagerie, Parts I and II" was awarded the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation in 1967, not Roddenberry's original pilot. Star Trek's only two-parter beat out "The Corbomite Maneuver" and "The Naked Time," which were also nominated, along with Francois Truffaut's adaptation of Fahrenheit 451 and Richard Fleischer's film, Fantastic Voyage.

The impressive bridge set built for "The Menagerie" (1964)
Claim: "We spent more on those sets [for the first pilot] than any studio in television had ever spent before in building a comparable thing. I think probably we spent more than even any motion picture had spent," Gene Roddenberry later said in Star Trek: The Making of the TV Series, which he co-wrote with Stephen E. Whitfield. (Page 14)

Verdict: Partly true. Although the first pilot was enormously expensive for television -- the final budget came in at $615,781.56 -- this number simply doesn't compare to the money being spent on contemporary A-pictures. Consider the costs of films like 1963's Cleopatra ($32 million), 1962's Mutiny on the Bounty ($19 million), and 1959's Ben-Hur ($15 million), the cost of producing television sets (even for an expensive show like Star Trek) just doesn't compare.

Ricardo Montalban in "Space Seed" (1967)
Claim: "I don't think Gene had ever written science fiction before," [Samuel] Peeples told author Joel Engel for the biography Gene Roddenberry: The Myth and the Man Behind Star Trek. (Page 16)

Verdict: False. Roddenberry's familiarity with science fiction before Star Trek is debatable, but he had written science fiction at least once prior to Star Trek. Roddenberry's script for “The Secret Weapon of 117,″ part of the anthology program Stage 7, first aired on March 6, 1956. Although the episode is not currently available for public viewing, it reportedly stars Ricardo Montalban "as one of a pair of aliens trying to assess whether or not Earth has the technology to retaliate against infiltration and invasion by their species" and was definitely science fiction.

Leonard Nimoy as Spock in "The Menagerie" (1964)
Claim: Nimoy's Spock was one of the few crossovers from the original pilot to the later incarnation of Star Trek: The Original Series.

Verdict: Partly true. Although a few performers from the first pilot (Edward Madden, Jon Lormer, Robert Johnson, Majel Barrett, Janos Prohaska, and Malachi Throne) later appeared as different characters in subsequent episodes, Nimoy was the only actor to reprise his role from the first pilot in a subsequent episode. Although the character of Christopher Pike appears in "The Menagerie, Parts I and II," he's played in those episodes by Sean Kenney, not Jeffrey Hunter.

Still from "Arena" (1967)
Claim: "Arena," most memorable for its battle sequence, was adapted by scriptwriter Gene L. Coon from a short story by popular science fiction writer Fredric Brown. (Page 18)

Verdict: Partly true. Although Brown gets screen credit, Coon wrote "Arena" as an original teleplay. Credit was awarded to Brown only after de Forest Research pointed out numerous similarities to Brown's short story that could result in litigation against Desilu. Chalk it up to a case of cryptomnesia on Coon's part.

Jeffrey Hunter in "The Menagerie" (1964)
Claim: After his role as Christopher Pike, Hunter returned to feature film acting. While filming a movie in Spain in 1969, Hunter was severely injured, and he died during surgery on May 27, just a week before the airing of Star Trek's finale. (Page 21)

Verdict: Partly true. Although the story goes that Hunter turned down the second Star Trek pilot to focus on feature film roles, he continued to work in television thereafter, even going as far to star in another pilot (Journey into Fear) in 1965. Hunter was seriously injured during the filming of ¡Viva América! (1969), but his death actually happened several months later, when he fell at his home in Van Nuys and hit his head on a banister.
Gene Roddenberry's original Star Trek pitch document (1964)
Claim: Roddenberry's pitch even included some eerily familiar ideas for future episodes, including "The Day Charlie Became God," which saw one of the Enterprise crew members given incredible powers, much like the second Star Trek pilot, "Where No Man Has Gone Before." (Page 22)

Verdict: True. Roddenberry's original pitch document, available here, includes six one sentence story concepts and nineteen longer story ideas, a number of which became the basis of later episodes. "The Day Charlie Became God" was later developed into a teleplay by D.C. Fontana called "Charlie's Law," and produced as the first season episode "Charlie X."

John Hoyt as Dr. Philip Boyce in "The Menagerie" (1964)
Claim: Dr. Phillip "Bones" Boyce, played by John Hoyt, whose nickname would carry over to DeForest Kelley's Leonard McCoy... (Page 24)

Verdict: True. Although Boyce isn't identified by his nickname in any final dialogue, Roddenberry's aforementioned original pitch document from early 1964 identifies the doctor as, "Captain April's only real confidant, 'Bones' Boyce considers himself the only realist aboard, measures each new landing in terms of the annoyances it will personally create for him."

Still from "The Menagerie" (1964)
Claim: For the production of "The Cage," the southern California desert became the planet Talos IV--known as Clesik to its native inhabitants. (Page 27)

Verdict: False. Behind the scenes photos (which can be seen on birdofthegalaxy's fabulous flickr page, here and here) show that the exterior of Talos IV was actually built on a soundstage with a painted backdrop, which is pretty obvious in the episode itself. Pages 6-10 of Bob Justman's shooting schedule (available here) confirm these "exteriors" were actually shot on stage 16 at Culver Studios.

Leonard Nimoy and Peter Duryea in "The Menagerie" (1964)
Claim: Leonard Nimoy's Spock looks on as Peter Duryea's Lt. José Tyler fires his phaser... (Page 28)

Verdict: False. Dedicated fans know that the term "phaser" wasn't coined until after the first pilot was completed. Captain Pike and company carry "Laser pistols" according to the revised teleplay dated November 20, 1964, and dialogue in the complete episode refers to "hand lasers." The same caption also refers to Number One leading an "away team," a term which wouldn't be used until Star Trek: The Next Generation; Star Trek instead referred to "landing parties."

Majel Barrett in "The Menagerie" (1964)
Claim: Her [Number One's] presence was one element of the pilot that caused NBC to pass on it, asserting that it wasn't "believable for a woman to be in charge." (Page 32)

Verdict: Probably false. Roddenberry often repeated this claim, which can be found in print in The Making of Star Trek (1968) and heard on Inside Star Trek (1976), but Herb Solow vehemently denied it in Inside Star Trek: The Real Story (1996) and elsewhere. Recalling NBC's response after the first pilot, Solow says the network told the production, "We support the concept of a woman in a strong, leading role, but we have serious doubts as to Majel Barrett's abilities to 'carry' the show as its costar" (Inside Star Trek: The Real Story, page 60).

Still from "The Savage Curtain" (1969)
Claim: In July 2014, former Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue cover girl Bar Rafaeli [sic] made a bit of a blunder when she posted a quote attributed to President Lincoln to her Instagram feed. not realizing that the words were Gene Roddenberry's from "The Savage Curtain" script, not really Lincoln's. (Page 39)

Verdict: Partly true; partly unknown. Bar Refaeli did quote from the script to "The Savage Curtain" in a July 16, 2014 Twitter post, mistaking it for a genuine Abraham Lincoln quote. However, the teleplay to "The Savage Curtain" was written by Gene Roddenberry and Arthur Heinemann; without examining the various script drafts of the episode, it's hard to say if the quoted words were Roddenberry's alone, as the magazine claims.

Lucille Ball
Claim: Lucille Ball, the comedy legend and star of I Love Lucy, was a producer on Star Trek because of her position at the studio and, because she was a big believer in the show, was instrumental in helping Roddenberry keep it alive. Using her pull as a studio head -- a rare amount of power for a female in the 19960s -- Ball was able to convince the higher ups to give Star Trek a second chance. (Page 46)

Verdict: False. Ball was the head of Desilu, and in that position, instrumental in getting Star Trek made, but she was not in any useful sense of the word a "producer" on Star Trek. Also, according to Herb Solow, Ball had little to do with convincing NBC to order a second pilot. In Inside Star Trek: The Real Story, Solow recounts a meeting with Mort Werner, held soon after the NBC schedule was announced for the fall of 1965 (and Star Trek wasn't on it):
Mort, Grant [Tinker], and Jerry [Stanley] were still taken by what we'd accomplished. And Mort had a complaint: 'Herb, you guys gave us a problem.'
'Sorry, Mort, we tried our best.'
'That's the problem. I didn't think Desilu was capable of making Star Trek, so when we looked over the pilot stories you gave us, we chose the most complicated and most difficult of the bunch. We recognize now it wasn't necessarily a story that properly showcased Star Trek's series potential. So the reason the pilot didn't sell was my fault, not yours. You guys just did your job too well. And I screwed up.'
I shook my head in awe. No, no, this wasn't a network executive talking to me. This was the Good Witch of the East come to lay gold at our feet. I conjured up all my good thoughts. 'So let's do another pilot.'
'That's exactly why we're here. We'll agree on some mutual story and script approval, and then, if the scripts are good, we'll give you some more money for another pilot.'
-Herbert F. Solow, Inside Star Trek: The Real Story (1996), page 60
It appears that this myth about Lucille Ball first originated in an online piece by Will Stape in 2007, and has been repeated in several other places online since, including this piece from blastr in 2013.

Leonard Nimoy in an early Star Trek publicity photo (1964)
Claim: Nimoy used these small parts as stepping stones to bigger television roles, including a memorable guest spot on Gene Roddenberry's The Lieutenant in 1964, where the writer and producer was already starting to cast the nascent Star Trek. (Pages 57-58)

Verdict: False. Nimoy's guest appearance on The Lieutenant, in an episode titled "In the Highest Tradition," first aired on February 29, 1964, and probably was filmed in late 1963. Roddenberry's written pitch for Star Trek wasn't completed until March 11, 1964, and he didn't have a meeting (or sign a deal) with Herb Solow at Desilu until April of 1964. Whenever Roddenberry began considering Nimoy for the part, he certainly wasn't starting to actually cast the series when Nimoy guest starred on The Lieutenant. Moreover, actor Gary Lockwood claims he's the one who suggested Nimoy for the part to Roddenberry, but only after The Lieutenant was off the air (the last episode of the series aired on April 18, 1964).

Gene Roddenberry, DeForest Kelley, and Jake Ehrlich, Sr. (1960)
Claim: [DeForest Kelley] worked steadily in TV and film until 1960, when he auditioned for a Gene Roddenberry-directed pilot called "Sam Benedict." The role ultimately did not go to Kelley, but Roddenberry kept him in mind for future roles and invited him to the premiere of "The Cage." (Page 63)

Verdict: False. Gene Roddenberry never worked as a director in film or television, and he never wrote a pilot called Sam Benedict. Roddenberry did write a pilot in 1960 called 333 Montgomery, based on a book about famous lawyer Jake Ehrlich, which starred DeForest Kelley. Ehrlich's life later became the inspiration for the short-lived series Sam Benedict, which aired during the 1962-63 season, but that show didn't involve Roddenberry or Kelley. 333 Montgomery is currently available on YouTube in three parts: here, here, and here.

Walter Koenig as Chekov in "Catspaw" (1967)
Claim: In 1965, the Soviet media had criticized the "utopian" Star Trek's marked absence of Russians. Agreeing that the other space power of the day should be represented on the U.S.S. Enterprise, Roddenberry began the search for a suitably Slavic ensign. (Page 67)

Verdict: Contested. Roddenberry did write a letter to the editor of Pravda on October 10, 1967 in which he said, "about ten months ago one of the stars of our television show, STAR TREK, informed us he had heard that the youth edition of your newspaper had published an article regarding STAR TREK to the effect that the only nationality we were missing aboard our USS Enterprise was a Russian." Whether or not the editorial in the alleged youth-edition of Pravda actually existed remains an open question, but Roddenberry's letter suggests the story was more than a publicity stunt. More can be read about the issue at Snopes.

Still from "Plato's Stepchildren" (1968)
Claim: [Recalling "Plato's Stepchildren," Nichelle Nichols says,] "That is how the first interracial kiss happened on TV." (Page 68)

Verdict: False. This myth was pretty thoroughly debunked by The Agony Booth last month, and I offered some additional comments regarding the scene here.

Still from "The Trouble with Tribbles" (1967)
Claim: It wasn't until the first episode of the second season, "The Trouble with Tribbles," that the [Klingon] race began to emerge as the perfect foil to Kirk and Co. (Page 76)

Verdict: False. The Klingons, established in season one's "Errand of Mercy," first re-appeared in season two's "Friday's Child," the third episode produced for the second season and the eleventh to air. The Klingons actually make their third appearance on Star Trek in "The Trouble with Tribbles," which was the fifteenth episode aired during season two, and the thirteenth produced. As for the first episode of the second season, "Amok Time" was the first episode to be aired in season two, and "Catspaw" was the first produced.

Lawrence Montaigne in "Amok Time" (1967)
Claim: [Lawrence] Montaigne, who was originally considered for the role of Spock before Leonard Nimoy decided to leave Mission: Impossible for Star Trek, played the Vulcan Stonn in "Amok Time" as well as the Romulan Decius in "Balance of Terror." (Page 98)

Verdict: False. Although Desilu did have Montaigne at the ready in early 1967, in case contract negotiations with Nimoy for the second season fell through, there's no evidence that Montaigne was in the running for the role of Spock in 1964 and Nimoy never left Mission: Impossible for Star Trek. Indeed, Nimoy didn't appear on Mission: Impossible until after Star Trek was cancelled, when the actor joined the cast as Paris for two seasons from 1969 to 1971.

Special thanks to blog reader Neil B. for loaning me his copy of the magazine for review, and suggesting this article in the first place.

Select images courtesy of Trek Core.


The Gene Roddenberry Star Trek Television Series Collection (1964-1969)

The Making of Star Trek (Stephen Whitfield and Gene Roddenberry, 1968)

Inside Star Trek : The Real Story (Herbert F. Solow and Robert H. Justman, 1996)

CBS Watch! Magazine (December/January 2015)

Friday, December 19, 2014

Recommendations: Space Doubt and Return to Tomorrow

Still from "Assignment: Earth" (1968)
I haven't been writing much lately -- I've been rather busy with real life, although I do have a few pieces in the works -- but I wanted to take a moment and recommend a couple of Star Trek related items that should be of interest to readers of this blog.

First up is a series of blog posts that I've been enjoying this week over at Space Ghost. That blog's author, who calls himself "Sham Mountebank," has been doing research into a mostly undocumented portion of Star Trek history: the show's initial and subsequent transmissions on the BBC. These began in 1969, not long after the show was cancelled by NBC, and continued throughout much of the 1970s. Star Trek's initial run on the BBC wasn't without a little controversy, as it turns out.

Mountebank has written five pieces on Star Trek so far, covering the show's transmission on the BBC in 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, and 1974-76.

A painting by Roger Stine, which adorns the cover of Return to Tomorrow (2014) 
Secondly, I'm recommending the new book from Creature Features publishing, Return to Tomorrow, which isn't just a great book about the making of Star Trek--The Motion Picture, but is a remarkable piece of nonfiction, period. The author, Preston Neal Jones, does an superb job of juxtaposing interviews with countless members of the cast and crew into a compelling and rich narrative, and he does it with a minimum of editorializing. Better yet, these interviews were all conducted during the film's lengthy post-production process, leaving the memories of all involved fresh and detailed.

Love or hate the film (and, to be honest, I've always been a bit indifferent, although the movie has grown on me), Star Trek fans won't want to miss out on this remarkable book, which is limited to 1,000 copies.

Hopefully, by the end of this weekend, I'll be able to finish my piece fact-checking some of the claims made in the newest issue of CBS Watch, which is dedicated to the original Star Trek. Suffice it to say, many of the images inside are beautiful and well-worth the $9.99 list price of the magazine, but some of the claims in the text leave this fact-checker scratching his head.

Update (12/27/2014): According to Creature Features, the first edition of Return to Tomorrow has sold out, but they "are now taking orders for an upcoming second edition, projected for arrival in February/March."

Images courtesy of Trek Core.

Friday, November 28, 2014

TV's First Interracial Kiss?

Still from "Plato's Stepchildren" (1968)
Last weekend, The Agony Booth posted an article which examined the familiar claim that William Shatner and Nichelle Nichols' kiss in the Star Trek episode "Plato's Stepchildren" was the first interracial kiss on television. There is a lot of worthwhile research to be found in the article, which I encourage you to read in full, but the author ultimately reaches this conclusion about the infamous scene between the Enterprise's captain and communication officer:
...short of watching hundreds of hours of TV programming produced prior to 1968, much of which isn't currently available to watch in any form, there’s no way to conclusively state that any of these kisses were truly 'the first.' But simply going by the list above, were Kirk and Uhura really TV’s first interracial kiss? Heck, no; it’s Emergency — Ward 10 all the way. I think even that episode of Sea Hunt is far more deserving of the title than Star Trek.
Unfortunately for Star Trek fans, Shatner and Nichols may have to settle for the qualified title of 'first black/white kiss on a scripted American TV drama,' which doesn't quite roll off the tongue. But this may be our answer for why the kiss, as brave and daring as it was, went almost completely unnoticed by the public for years: there were so many noteworthy kisses that came before it that by the time Star Trek shattered that particular taboo, it wasn't much of a taboo anymore. And I think recognizing that fact is far more important than bestowing a questionable accolade upon a TV show decades later.
In general, I find the author's argument here to be well-supported, and I think it's especially valuable to point out the difficulty of making claims about television firsts when so much of television history is unavailable. However, I do think it's worth pointing out a couple of Star Trek-related details that the author gets wrong. At one point, for example, they make the following claim:
As it turns out, the first references to Star Trek having 'TV’s first interracial kiss' don’t show up until the 1980s, and the mainstream media didn't take notice until the early 1990s, which was not-so-coincidentally about the same time Shatner and Nichols were putting out memoirs that talked about filming the episode.
This is actually a revised version of the passage, which originally stated, "the first references to Star Trek having 'TV’s first interracial kiss' don’t show up until the early 1990s." Eagle eyed readers at the TrekBBS* quickly pointed out that Alan Asherman's Star Trek Compendium (first published in January of 1981) described the scene as "the first interracial kiss on network television." Not long after those comments were made, the passage in question was updated.

However, even the updated version isn't entirely accurate. A brief search of newspapers from 1968 to the present (utilizing ProQuest) brings up a number of references to Star Trek depicting the first interracial kiss on TV in the mainstream media, the first of which predates Asherman's book by more than two years. The three pictured articles below are the oldest publications to show up in ProQuest when searching for "Star Trek" and "interracial kiss."
No Title (The Chicago Tribune, January 4, 1987)
"Nichelle Nichols zooms thru space on Star Trek II" (New Amsterdam News, June 19, 1982)
"A Visit to Star Trek's Movie Launch" (Boston Globe, December 10, 1978)
ProQuest also locates a dozen other articles from several mainstream publications from 1990-1992, which describe the moment as "television's first interracial kiss." All of these articles were printed at least a year before the publication of the relevant memoirs by William Shatner and Nichelle Nichols (Shatner's Star Trek Memories was published in October 1993; Nichols' Beyond Uhura was published in October 1994), which makes it hard to buy the claim that the mainstream media didn't take notice of the kiss and its alleged relevance until those memoirs came out.

That said, I think the author is absolutely right in their judgment that "TV's first interracial kiss" was a retroactive label applied to "Plato's Stepchildren," not one used at the time of the episode's first broadcast. Although a few ProQuest searches are far from definitive, the fact that the first two instances I've found where Star Trek is lauded for depicting the first interracial kiss on television appear in pieces promoting Star Trek--The Motion Picture and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan leads me to wonder if this chestnut was generated by Paramount's publicity machine? Decades after the fact, it may be impossible to locate its origin (although I welcome comments below if somebody can find earlier instances of the claim, or knows more than I do).

Another claim made in the article is something I've addressed before, but it is worth briefly tackling again. The author writes:
There’s a long, documented history of skittish network executives and censors meddling in the creative affairs of TV shows, and pretty famously in the case of Star Trek, too.
For one obvious example, season one’s “The Alternative Factor” cast a black actress as a Starfleet officer who was originally supposed to have a romance with the episode’s white villain Lazarus. That aspect of the plot was mysteriously jettisoned at the last minute, leaving huge holes in the plot and lots of downtime to be filled by pointless shots of Lazarus wandering around a planet’s surface (and now you know the real reason why “The Alternative Factor” ended up so incoherent).
There actually isn't any evidence to support the theory that an NBC executive or a censor in standards and practices had the script to "The Alternative Factor" gutted at the last minute to eliminate a potential black/white romance. It's plausible, and others have suggested it before -- Alan Asherman speculated this may have happened in 1981's Star Trek Compendium, and Dave Eversole similarly speculated as such in an article about the script currently available at Orion Press -- but I've been looking for a memo or an interview actually confirming that speculation for years now, and have yet to locate one. Indeed, the closest piece of evidence I've found thus far, a Roddenberry story memo, suggests the romance was dropped because of similarities to "Space Seed," not because of any network or studio interference (and, again, I'm happy to be proven wrong here; if somebody has been able to turn up something that I haven't, I'd love to hear about it in the comments below).

*Author's note: I currently post on the Trek BBS under the username Harvey. Thanks to Trek BBS users Indysolo (for pointing out the passage from Alan Asherman's book, and sending me scans of the pages in question) and Ssosmcin (for noting that this language first appeared in the original, 1981 edition of the book).

Top image courtesy of Trek Core.


The Gene Roddenberry Star Trek Television Series Collection (1964-1969)

Star Trek Memories (William Shatner with Chris Kreski, 1993)

Beyond Uhura (Nichelle Nichols, 1994)

Monday, October 13, 2014

Read Bob Justman's Resignation Letter from Star Trek (and Gene Roddenberry's Reply)

Gene Roddenberry and Bob Justman (1989)
The third season of Star Trek was not a pleasant time for Bob Justman. Although he had been bumped up from associate producer to co-producer, he felt slighted that Fred Freiberger had been named the show's producer instead of him. Likewise, his friends and collaborators were mostly gone. Gene Roddenberry, Gene Coon, D.C. Fontana, and John Meredyth Lucas all contributed scripts to the third season, but they were no longer a part of the day-to-day process of making the show. Nearly three decades later, Justman would write:
I despaired about the show's loss of quality. By the time episodes were filmed, whatever excitement existed in the original stories and scripts had been diluted by a rewriting process that was no longer overseen by Gene Roddenberry; it was now strictly budget-driven. There were no highs and no lows—just a boring in-between. My never-ending battle to cut costs without compromising quality had failed. The Star Trek I knew, and was proud to be a part of, was no more.
By the midpoint of the production season, I dreaded coming to work every day. It felt like being in prison—and I wanted out.
-Bob Justman, Inside Star Trek: The Real Story (1966), p.407
Nowhere is Justman's disappointment more clearly reflected than in his memos for Star Trek's third season. During the first and second seasons of the series, his nearly daily ritual of lengthy memo writing was as notable for its wry sense of humor as it was for its attention to detail. By the time the third season rolled around, however, many of Justman's memos were short* and humorless. As Justman would later say, "the thrill was gone."

Ultimately, as filming wrapped on 'That Which Survives,' the fourteenth episode of the season, Justman decided to walk away from Star Trek. It would be eighteen years before he was allowed to walk on the Paramount lot again, to help develop Star Trek: The Next Generation. As he was leaving, Justman took the time to write a letter of resignation to Gene Roddenberry, who had offered Justman the job of associate producer in 1964, and finally got him to take the job in 1965:
Mr. Robert Justman
[Address redacted]
Los Angeles 24, California
October 3, 1968
Mr. Gene Roddenberry
National General Corp.
6330 San Vicente
Los Angeles, California 90038
Dear Gene:
Evidently one of the eggs that the Great Bird Of The Galaxy laid a couple of years ago has finally hatched and the fledgling is ready to fly away.
You know that a young bird is always eager to try its wings because it feels it can soar like an eagle.
And yet, this young bird feels its heart wrenching at the thought of leaving the nest. It wants to stay with Poppa Bird and relive all the good and bad times they lived together. It’s funny how bad times either seem never to have existed, or else seem to have been transformed into the very best of times.
However, birds are like human beings. They can’t live their lives over again and the tenderness of their formative years can never really be recaptured. They'll have tender years later on, but they won’t be the same tender years and with the same tender people.
Remember what we said a few years ago? “... To explore strange new worlds. To seek out new life and new civilizations. To boldly go where no man has gone before.”
You taught me how to fly. I have to go where I've never gone before.

To his credit, Roddenberry showed no bitterness in his reply to Justman's resignation:

October 8, 1968
Mr. Robert Justman
780 North Gower Street
Hollywood, California 90038
Dear Bob:
I suppose everyone has a secret dream that he might someday do something important enough to justify a feature biographer rummaging through his papers. Your lovely letter is the kind of thing that he would hope he found there.
Just to keep the record straight, however, I learned a great deal from you during the years you mention. Star Trek could never have been made without your considerable talent and knowledge. Most important of all, I had your friendship.
Go boldly!

Special thanks to TrekBBS user and TOSGRAPHICS.COM proprietor feek61 for passing along the Bob Justman Profiles in History auction catalog from 2002, which includes a legible photograph of Roddenberry's reply to Justman's letter.

*When Bob Justman sold most of his original Star Trek files as part of a Profile in History auction in 2002, according to averages derived from figures in the auction catalog, he wrote 12.2 pages per episode in season one, 15.5 pages per episode in season two, and 5.9 pages per episode in season three (counting only the episodes that credit Justman as co-producer). Those aren't precise figures, since they only reflect what Mr. Justman put up for auction in 2002, but if the materials he donated to UCLA are any indication, his collection was remarkably intact at that time.

Image courtesy of Trek Core.


The Paramount Collection, UCLA

The Gene Roddenberry Star Trek Television Series Collection (1964-1969)

Inside Star Trek : The Real Story (Herbert F. Solow and Robert H. Justman, 1996)

Monday, October 6, 2014

Read Gene Roddenberry's Letter to Gene Coon about 'Spectre of the Gun'

Still from "Spectre of the Gun" (1968)

In early July of 1968, Gene Roddenberry was mostly absent from the Star Trek offices on the Paramount lot. Instead, he was at National General Pictures, writing a treatment for a Tarzan feature that ultimately went unproduced. He must have felt the irony. Just the year before, he had been complaining to NBC that Star Trek was being hurt by a poor lead-in. The show in question? None other than Tarzan (1966-68), produced by Banner Productions, a division of National General.

Roddenberry wasn't entirely absent from Star Trek, however. As the show's executive producer, he had certain duties to meet. One of those duties included watching the final cut of each episode as it was completed, and delivering his comments to producer Fred Freiberger and co-producer Bob Justman. After screening 'Spectre of the Gun,' the first episode of the third season to go before the cameras, Roddenberry sent a short letter of appreciation to the episode's writer, former Star Trek producer Gene Coon:

National General Corporation
One Carthay Plaza, Los Angeles California 90048
[phone number redacted]
July 11, 1968
Mr. Gene Coon
4421 Huesta Court
Encino, California 91316
Dear Gene:
Just wanted you to know I saw a final cut on a rather bizarre type of western, written by a mutual friend of ours, and it looked very good indeed!
Just finished up the Tarzan screen treatment and am appalled to see that it runs over a hundred pages in total. Well, I guess it’s better to write more than I need than less -- easier to take out than to add, I hope.
How are things going? In case you want to get in touch with me and I’m not at Paramount, the National General number is: [phone number redacted] – Ext. 451 or 452.
Give my regards to all of yours.
Gene Roddenberry

Recently, it has been suggested that Coon and Roddenberry had a professional falling out partway through Star Trek's second season. Given the tenor of this letter, and the fact that the two writers collaborated on the script to The Questor Tapes (1974) just a few years later, I tend to view these claims with a healthy dose of skepticism, but I cannot comment on them definitively.

I can definitively comment, however, on the claim that "the episode is stamped with Gene Coon’s pseudonym, Lee Cronin, a moniker he slapped on all his show’s after leaving the series in the second year, when they were re-written." In actuality, there's no evidence that a writer other than Gene Coon wrote 'Spectre of the Gun' (the collections at UCLA include two story outlines and a teleplay for the episode -- all by Coon). According to Bob Justman:
'The Last Gunfight' was one of the stories that [Gene Coon] was developing at the time he left Star Trek. But now, Coon was working elsewhere on an exclusive contract, and legally he could write only for Universal Television, his new employer. Intending to honor that contract, Coon explained that he would not be able to write the teleplay for 'Gunfight.' Being a man of his word, however, Gene Coon arranged for 'Lee Cronin' to complete the assignment. It was filmed and retitled 'Spectre of the Gun.'
-Bob Justman, Inside Star Trek: The Real Story (1996), p.402 
Image courtesy of Trek Core.


The Paramount Collection, UCLA

The Gene Roddenberry Star Trek Television Series Collection (1964-1969)

Inside Star Trek : The Real Story (Herbert F. Solow and Robert H. Justman, 1996)