Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Great Phaser Caper

In the book Inside Star Trek: The Real Story, Bob Justman writes about an event which he calls 'the great phaser caper.' The exact details of this 'caper' have been the subject of some debate and confusion among Star Trek fans, which I hope I will clear up in this post. Before I get into that, however, let me start by quoting the passage in question:
One of the ideas for Star Trek that didn't pan out was the 'great phaser caper.' During preparation for the second pilot, a toy manufacturer had designed and built some phaser weapons 'on spec.' In return, if the series sold, the manufacturer wanted to merchandise toy replicas of these props. I was thrilled: something for nothing! But Gene finally nixed the design, and the deal fell through. Unfortunately, during the intervening period, NBC Publicity, unaware we had no rights to use the spec phasers, shot a photo session with Bill Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, and Grace Lee Whitney holding the 'illegal' weapons. NBC used the photos in its 'Sales Brochure.' The weapons were never used in the series; the toy manufacturer never found out. Or if he did, we never heard from him. 
--Bob Justman, Inside Star Trek: The Real Story (1996), p.118
Unfortunately, the sales brochure Justman describes hasn't been reproduced anywhere, and my efforts to locate an archival copy in the Star Trek television series collection at UCLA have been unsuccessful. There is a different sales brochure reproduced in Inside Star Trek: The Real Story, but it predates Grace Lee Whitney being cast and therefore couldn't be the document in question (you can view that sales brochure here). Lacking the clear answer the brochure would provide, some fans have been led to speculate that the 'spec phasers' Justman mentions are the props used in the publicity photo shown at the top of this post. However, my research has uncovered quite a bit of evidence which suggests that this isn't the case at all. Instead, I think it's much more likely Justman was referring to the phaser rifle, and simply misremembered the number of props ("one" versus "some").

Although I have yet to locate the sales brochure at the center of this account, many publicity images from the pre-series photo session with William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, and Grace Lee Whitney have found their way online.  For reference, I'm including several below, in addition to the image seen at the top of this post.

During pre-production on 'Where No Man Has Gone Before,' Gene Roddenberry contacted Norman Felton, the executive producer of The Man from U.N.C.L.E., who had worked in the same capacity on Roddenberry's previous series, The Lieutenant. Roddenberry wanted to know who designed The Man from U.N.C.L.E.'s famous gun prop, because he was looking for a similar prop for use in the second Star Trek pilot.  The man he was looking for turned out to be a toy and game designer named Reuben Klamer, who was well-known for creating 'The Game of Life' in 1960. With only a little more than three weeks before the episode was scheduled to go before the cameras, Klamer agreed to have his Toy Development Center, Inc. company design and build the phaser rifle. Klamer did this at no cost, both in exchange for certain merchandising rights and to get his foot in the door if the program went to series. This chain of events is confirmed by this excerpt from a July 2, 1967 memo from Gene Roddenberry to Ed Perlstein:
Pursuant to our recent conversation, I have informed Reuben Klamer of Toy Development Center, Inc. that he is to proceed with development and fabrication of one (and if possible two) STAR TREK Phaser rifle for use in episode #2. His firm will plan and execute it at no charge to us in return for certain rights in the product as discussed between you and him at this week’s meeting in my office. This particular arrangement applies to this Phaser rifle only.
I also indicated to Mr. Klamer that I am interested in his overall proposal for development of STAR TREK devices with merchandising appeal and am recommending strongly to Desilu that the professional reputation of himself and his firm as well as the advantages of an overall deal be carefully investigated by Desilu. I see considerable advantage of offering creative and design assistance to this production office which is not currently available to us here at this studio. If we can get this kind of help at no loss in anticipated revenue, and even at some possible gain in overall net revenue, it seems to me the advantages override any other arrangements which have grown up over the years through friendship or tradition here.
Toy Development Center, Inc. design sketches for the phaser rifle
According to an interview with Klamer (and confirmed by Roddenberry's memo, which says Klamer's firm would 'design and execute' the prop), the Toy Development Center, Inc. came up with a series of sketches for the phaser rifle prop. The development process was swift, and by June 28, 1965 Gene Roddenberry had signed off on the final design, and Klamer and his team went to work. According to Klamer, 'It took a lot of hard work, at least three men on it at all times, to put it together, day and night.' Klamer delivered the prop in time, and it can be seen at various times in the finished episode.

Still from 'Where No Man Has Gone Before'
After Star Trek sold, Roddenberry wrote a letter to Klamer on March 16, 1966, advising the toy manufacturer of the situation and reminding Klamer of his earlier proposal to develop props for the series on an ongoing basis, similar to the deal eventually made with model kit developer AMT. Although this letter appears in the Roddenberry files at UCLA, it can also be seen online at the Julien's Auctions site
Living up to my promise to notify you of changes in the STAR TREK situation, be advised that the series has sold as a one-hour color show to NBC to go on the air this fall. We plan to begin actual photography some time late in May. Mr. Bernard Weitzman, Vice-President of Desilu, should be in touch with you shortly to see what kind of a deal is possible or interesting to us.
Let me remind you again that a great deal of my immediate interest in any such arrangement would be in how much your craftsmen and shops can help the STAR TREK production unit in creation of items we may need, and even more specifically in design and fabrication of items which our writers have built into their scripts. Am sure you are aware of television’s tight scheduling needs and of the fact that any arrangement must contemplate your facilities adjusting themselves to our pressing production dates, sometimes on very short notice.
Hope to be talking to you soon.
The details of what happened over the course of the next month are unclear. The Toy Development Center, Inc. was sent outlines for at least five early episodes ('The Naked Time,' 'Miri,' 'The Corbomite Maneuver,' 'The Galileo Seven,' and 'What Are Little Girls Made Of?'), but by April 21, 1966 Roddenberry found their preliminary efforts to be unsatisfactory and recommended blowing the whole deal in a memo to Ed Perlstein:
I am sure Robert J. has told you this, but I am very much in favor of blowing the Klamer deal. In fact, let me be more definite about it -- I feel if we have this much trouble at this point, it would be most unwise to continue since they seem exactly the kind of people who will hang us up a few days before shooting and we would be in great trouble. We are proceeding with Matt Jefferies and a model maker based on a design which I gave Matt yesterday, a design which very much sets our thematic needs and still has considerable toy implication.
The next day, as indicated by a memo from Perlstein to Roddenberry, it was official: Klamer and his company were no longer involved with Star Trek:
I received your memo of April 21st re the above-mentioned matter and just wanted to point out to you that, officially, as of yesterday morning I told Reuben Klamer’s attorney, Billy Hunt, that we weren't interested in pursuing any research and development or any other type of deal in connection with any of the merchandising of the STAR TREK requirements for items for merchandising. As of this moment the entire matter is dead. If Klamer wants to work with us on any particular item he will first have to submit it to us and then after deliberation, we will determine whether or not we will proceed with him. Please rest assured that Klamer is not involved in the phaser rifle, phaser pistol, transicator [the early designation for the communicator] or any other item.
At some point after that date, but before 'The Corbomite Maneuver' began principal photography on May 24, 1966, Shatner, Nimoy, and Whitney were brought in for the aforementioned publicity shoot. Among the props they were given was Klamer's phaser rifle, which NBC's publicity department was unaware the series no longer had the right to use. Grace Lee Whitney described the occasion in her memoir:
The cast and creators of Star Trek were plunged into a flurry of activity long before we shot a single frame of film. We were all brought together and introduced to each other. Our real costumes and phaser weapons hadn't even been designed yet, so they put Flash Gordon costumes on us and shoved flashlights with colored lenses in our hands. 'Pretend they're gizmotronic space blasters,' they told us. Then they snapped dozens of pre-production publicity stills of us. In those early shots, I didn't look like Yeoman Rand--I looked more like Ann Francis in Forbidden Planet.
--Grace Lee Whitney with Jim Denney, The Longest Trek: My Tour of the Galaxy (1998), p.76-77.  
Of course, Whitney would have had no idea what had been discarded after the second pilot and what the photographer had brought to the shoot, but it seems very unlikely that the Star Trek production made deals with two separate toy manufacturers to build phaser props 'on spec' for the second pilot, only to abandon both results after the series had been ordered. The fact that the flashlight props were used in the publicity shoot is hardly indicative of any intent to use on the series, since a decidedly contemporary globe and flask also show up in the pictures. It makes much more sense to me that Justman simply misremembered the number of phaser rifles delivered (not a big mistake, since the production had initially asked Klamer if it were possible to build two phaser rifle props before filming the second pilot).

Thanks to TrekBBS user Maurice for his encouragement and input on this topic.

Update (7/31/2013): Star Trek History contributor and TrekBBS user alchemist has a copy of the sales brochure in question.  He informs me that it was used to promote the show's second season, and features a publicity photo of William Shatner holding the phaser rifle, along with a behind-the-scenes photograph taken during the production of 'Catspaw.'

Many of the images used in this post are courtesy of Trek Core.


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

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

The Longest Trek: My Tour of the Galaxy (Grace Lee Whitney with Jim Denney, 1998)

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