Saturday, September 28, 2013

Review: These Are The Voyages, TOS, Season One

These Are The Voyages, TOS, Season One is the first book about the making of Star Trek to extensively use the show's production files currently housed at the University of California, Los Angeles. Written over the course of six years and researched over the course of three decades, it is without a doubt the most detailed account of the making of Star Trek's first season that has ever been published. Including snippets of hundreds of production documents and interviews, These Are The Voyages offers Star Trek fans a wealth of new behind-the-scenes information. Unfortunately, despite the author's years of diligent research, These Are The Voyages is a disappointing book, which is badly edited, clumsily written, and at times ethically dubious.

It is immediately evident that the book has not been proofread. There are hundreds of typos ("sweat kiss," "run the gambit," "Kahn," "Roddemberry," etc.) and a comparable number of small factual errors. For example, Robert H. Justman is repeatedly described as the associate producer of various programs prior to his involvement on Star Trek. This is simply false; in fact, Justman's ascension from assistant director to associate producer on 'Where No Man Has Gone Before' (Byron Haskin had the job on the first pilot) was an important step in his career. Although IMDb says Justman was an (uncredited) associate producer on The Adventures of Superman, a fact which These Are The Voyages repeats, he wasn't. In another passage, Cushman describes Roddenberry's Hollywood career as meteoric, going from a nobody to arriving at "the biggest studio in Hollywood" in just nine years. Although Roddenberry's career profile certainly grew dramatically, when he arrived at MGM in late 1962, the studio was far from its glory days of the 1940s, when it could bill itself as having "more stars than there are in heaven." In fact, the studio was actually in the midst of a decline and hardly "the biggest motion picture studio in Hollywood." In yet another example, Cushman identifies the non-professional fan films Star Trek: New Voyages and Star Trek: Of Gods and Men as a television series and a videogame, respectively, probably the result of relying on (and misreading) Grace Lee Whitney's IMDb page. These examples only scratch the surface when it comes to small factual errors that would have been caught by a proofreader.

A more significant problem than the book's lack of proofreading, however, is that is has been poorly edited. Although three editors are credited, I suspect they had little influence on the structure and content of the book. First of all, the book is simply bloated with excess material. Nearly every chapter begins with one and half pages of filler (a plot summary, quotations of dialogue, and the author's assessment) which amount to over fifty pages of material that any serious editor would have asked the author to cut. The plot summaries and quotations repeat material that will be familiar to everyone reading this book. Cushman's assessments, on the other hand, are too short to offer any substance, and often overly praiseworthy. In one, he writes, "Gone with the Wind... Casablanca... Love Story... Somewhere in Time... and 'The City on the Edge of Forever.'" Hyperboles like these betray Cushman's lack of knowledge about film and television history beyond his favorite subjects, and seem particularly egregious in light of the author's insistence that the book is so long it must be sold in three separate volumes.

The book's lack of editorial input leads to another major problem: all too frequently, Cushman seems to print conjecture as if it were fact. This is most glaring in the chapter on 'The Alternative Factor,' although it is apparent in other places as well. In that chapter, Cushman writes:
With only a few days left before the start of production, Gene Coon began receiving off the record phone calls suggesting that either Janet MacLachlan be replaced with a white actress or that the script be changed to remove the last of the scenes that depicted sexual or romantic interest between Lazarus #1 and Charlene Masters. (p.414)
This is a damning accusation to be levied against both NBC and Desilu. It is not the first time someone has speculated that the casting of a black actress led the role of Charlene Masters to be drastically reduced, but it is the first time that this has been asserted as fact. Unfortunately, Cushman doesn't bother to present any evidence to back up this claim. It is not supported by an author interview, a production document, or a secondary source. (It's also a bit odd that, in all his years of tilting at windmills about the network's alleged racism, Gene Roddenberry never once brought up the event.) Without evidence, it must be speculation, even if it is not so framed. This isn't the only time Cushman prints his own speculation as if it were fact in the chapter, either. Earlier, he quotes from a Roddenberry memo:
In both 'Space Seed' and this story, we have a crew woman madly in love with a brawny guest star and flipping our whole gang into a real mess because she is in they have to do [this] in two of our scripts? (p.413)
"Roddenberry wasn't suggesting 'The Alternative Factor,' first to film, be altered," writes Cushman. "His criticism had more to do with 'Space Seed' using the same plot device." Again, this is fine speculation, even plausible, but there is nothing in Roddenberry's memo which actually points to the executive producer's preference in rewriting one episode versus another.

The most troubling aspect of These Are The Voyages, however, has nothing to do with its editing, or even the text at all. Rather, it has to do with the photographs used to illustrate the book, many of which were furnished to the author by a Star Trek fan I will only identify as 'The Collector.' Although the book is filled with a variety of images attributed to many sources (in one particularly lazy case, a still from The Andy Griffith Show is simply attributed to the TrekBBS) most give credit to The Collector, who is also prominently featured on the Jacobs Brown Press webpage and credited (along with Marc Cushman and co-author Susan Osborn) for the book's "interior design." Unfortunately, many of the images in the book attributed to The Collector actually originated from Star Trek History and birdofthegalaxy (both sources, of course, have contributed information and images to this blog). To my knowledge, neither the author or the publisher ever asked either of these sources for permission to use their images (which they painstakingly restored) in a for-profit work. When presented with this information (on both Facebook and Amazon) the publisher could only make excuses, none of which stand up to much scrutiny. Adding insult to injury, the images in the book are small, low resolution, black and white, and rarely factor in the text. Their main function, it seems, is to make reading the book easier on the eyes.

To be fair, These Are The Voyages offers a great deal of material that will be exciting for fans of the original series, especially those who will never have the opportunity to explore the archival collections at UCLA (although those collections are open to the public as long as you make an appointment). Nonetheless, in the final analysis, These Are The Voyages is too problematic to earn my endorsement. Not only is it profiting off the labor of other fans without their permission, but it is amateurish and error-ridden. A much needed second edition has already been rumored. Hopefully, it will address the first edition's many problems. My advice would be to wait for it.

Author's Note: Cushman's ratings thesis has made some waves online. Essentially, he argues that the series was a hit, but NBC concealed this fact so that they could blame Star Trek's cancellation on low ratings. I don't think his argument is entirely sound, but it is certainly worth discussing on this blog in much greater detail at some point in the future. Additionally, for those who plan on using this book to support their own research, bear in mind that although the book is generally organized chronologically, it has no index. Lastly, in the interest of full disclosure, I emailed the publisher about interviewing Cushman and requested a review copy of the book using their website. The publisher never replied to my request for an interview, and I never received a review copy of the book. The publisher did, however, revise some advertising copy when I informed them in an email that the UCLA files were publicly accessible and that Marc Cushman's access could hardly be called "exclusive."

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

A (Temporary) Hiatus

William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy pose for a second season promotional photo (1967)
Readers who follow me on the Trek BBS will know that I'm moving back to Los Angeles next week. Unless I get very, very lucky, I expect to be spending the next several weeks (at least) in the Golden State looking for work. Until I find stable employment again, it is necessary for me to place Star Trek Fact Check on hiatus.

The good news is that I've written content that will sustain this blog for the next several weeks. On this Saturday, September 28, 2013, I will finally run my review of Marc Cushman's These Are The Voyages, TOS, Season One. One week later, on Saturday, October 5, 2013, I will be begin a serialized post about the writing of 'A Private Little War,' which will continue for several weeks.

In the meantime, if readers would like to pose their research questions in the comments field of this post, I'd be happy to answer them once Star Trek Fact Check is up and running again. Thanks for reading!

Image courtesy Trek Core.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Casting Ideas for Star Trek's First Pilot

Gene Roddenberry and Peter Duryea on the set of 'The Menagerie' (1964)
The casting process on Star Trek's first pilot -- 'The Menagerie' -- took several weeks, with at least a dozen inter-office memos circulating hundreds of potential names for the regular and guest cast of the episode. In this post, I have reproduced just one of those memos and hyperlinked all but one of the names to their respective IMDB pages (the identity of an actress named Jennifer Stuart, considered for the role of Yeoman Colt, eludes me). The names in bold indicate people who eventually did work on Star Trek in some capacity over the course of the show's three seasons. Many more names than that on the list eventually appeared on Mission: Impossible or Mannix, the two other dramas made by Desilu during this period. Astute readers will notice that many of the names in the memo are misspelled. Those mistakes are straight from Roddenberry's original.

To: Kerwin Coughlin
From: Gene Roddenberry
CC: Herb Solow
Date: October 14, 1964

Here are some of the names which have been considered or suggested by anyone for the various STAR TREK roles:

ROBERT APRIL: Paul Mantee, Tom Tryon, Robert Webber, Robert Wright, Rod Taylore, Jack Lord, Richard Egan, James Coburn, Leslie Nielson, Robert Horton, Earl Holliman, Robert Loggia, James Donald, Sterling Hayden, Larry Blyden, Steve Forrest, Jason Evers, John Russell, Patrick O’Neal, Liam Sullivan, Jeff Hunter, Howard Duff, Mike Forrest, Warren Stevens, Skip Hemier, Rhodes Reason.

MISTER SPOCK: Leonard Nimoy, Rex Holman, DeForest Kelly, Michael Dunn.

JOSE TYLER: Joby Baker, Marc Cavell, Victor Arnold, Robert Brown, Joe Bova, Ross Martin, Richard Jaeckel, Bruce Dern.

DOCTOR BOYCE: Martin Gabel, Paul Stewart, Edward Binns, Jim Gergory.

NUMBER ONE: Magel Barrett, Lee Meriweather, Jeanne Bal, Sarah Shane.

COLT: Jennifer Stuart, Shary Marshall, Joyce Meadows, Jill Ireland, Audrey Dalton, Fay Spain, Joan Huntington.

Image courtesy of Trek Core.


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

Saturday, September 14, 2013

The Slim Jim Problem

William Shatner as Captain James T. Kirk
Like any television production, the creative team behind Star Trek found themselves facing a variety of unanticipated challenges during the course of the series. The topic of this week's post is one of those problems: William Shatner's fluctuating weight.

This might seem like a trivial matter, but for an action-adventure series like Star Trek, an overweight leading man had the potential to quickly become a major problem. After all, Shatner had to be fit enough for Captain Kirk's frequent fisticuffs to be credible -- or at least credible for television of the period. The series couldn't afford to abandon these elements (since NBC demanded them), and a lack of believability had the potential to undermine the entire program.

The book Inside Star Trek: The Real Story brings up this issue in respect to the show's third season, when executive producer Gene Roddenberry handed over most of the creative reins to new producer Fred Freiberger. It quotes from a May 8, 1968 memo from Bob Justman to Gene Roddenberry titled 'Relationships,' which was sent a few weeks prior to the commencement of principal photography for the third season:
I think it is extremely important that you find a way to get Bill Shatner together with Fred Freiberger, you and me at least a week prior to production. I think that Bill should understand how you intend for us to work this coming season. He should understand that you are still 'The Great Bird Of The Galaxy' and that Freddie and I intend to follow through in all areas for you. 
Bill is as rapacious an animal as any other leading man in a series and I think it would help Freddie enormously in his relationships with Bill if you let Bill understand how much confidence you have in Fred and how much respect that you, Gene Roddenberry, have for Freddie’s creative talents and executive abilities. 
It also might be a good way to get a fairly close look at Bill and see what sort of physical shape he is in at the present time. Come to think of it, perhaps it would be a good idea to have this get together before the end of this week, so that if Bill is on the pudgy side, it can be suggested that he start slimming down right away.
The book doesn't indicate if the proposed meeting ever took place, but it does quote from a memo which indicates that Shatner had put on weight during the hiatus, and Roddenberry decided to pursue the issue, in a memo sent to Ed Milkis a few weeks later, on May 21, 1968. Titled 'Bill Shatner's Weight' and inscribed as 'CONFIDENTIAL,' Roddenberry wrote:
Please coordinate this with Fred and Bob, but I think we must bring Shatner’s weight problem and the result of it on film to Shatner’s attention. You will remember we once talked about finding some unflattering film clips where belly, face, etc., made the angle unusable or almost unusable. We discussed having an inexpensive print made of three or four such angles, sending it to him from the producer or myself with a friendly note, even at the risk of shaking him up a bit.
Many who saw the Emmy Awards commented that he appeared very heavy. Even though he has taken off a little poundage since the end of last season, if he follows his usual pattern of putting it on again we are likely to have him heavier than ever before long.
If Bob and Fred like the idea of proceeding in this direction, we’d better get it done fast 
--Herb Solow and Bob Justman, Inside Star Trek: The Real Story (1996), p.395
According to the book, Roddenberry's scheme was ultimately unnecessary. The following day, on May 22, 1968, Shatner was invited to the rushes from the first day of photography on 'Spectre of the Gun.' 'He saw himself on screen and that was all he needed,' wrote Justman. 'Bill immediately went on a crash diet.' 

Justman and Roddenberry were certainly familiar with Shatner's weight struggle.  A year earlier, during the hiatus between seasons one and two, the issue had also concerned the production staff, leading Roddenberry to contact both Shatner and Shatner's agent, Joel Briskin. Roddenberry's letter to Shatner, after praising his acting in the latter half of the first season, wrote, in part:
In fact, you were so good that the audience may miss in this Episode the fact that you have been in these last Episodes of the year showing your weight a little too much. The face seems to have tightened up and looks extremely good in Medium Close and Close Shots, but we find ourselves having to stay away from Longer Shots wherever possible, as the simple plain lines of our basic costume render most unflattering any extra poundage around the waste [sic].
In contrast, Roddenberry's letter to Briskin, sent on March 23, 1967, didn't waste any time buttering up its recipient. It said, in full:
Attached a copy of a letter recently sent to Bill. The important part of it concerns his weight. I didn't hit him hard about it, as I have learned from long experience with Bill that when he is working it is not fair to make him self-conscious about this fact. We are going to have to lean on him, however, from several directions and get him to do something about it because he has in many films in the last half of the season looked actually fat and at least ten years older than he looks when he is trim and slim.
I know you agree with me that this is most important, particularly when a fine actor like Bill is playing an action-adventure-hero role. He is very, very good and getting better every week as Captain Kirk. But we're all going to lose something if he doesn't slim down. 
Author's note: while putting the finishing touches on this post, I discovered a similar article drawing on the same archival resources at Splice Today. The author of that article, C.T May, discovered one document at UCLA that I didn't, a May 25, 1966 memo from Herb Solow to Roddenberry which says:
As you know, Morris [Chapnick, Herb Solow's assistant at the time] has been concentrating on setting up some sort of gymnasium for Bill Shatner to use. The thought he had was to set up the equipment in one part of the double dressing room that we were using as a men’s lounge.
This memo was sent during the second day of principal photography on 'The Corbomite Maneuver,' the first episode to be shot following the second pilot. This makes it clear that the production felt that keeping Shatner fit was an important concern from the very beginning.

Image 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)

Battle over the Bulge (C.T. May, June 28, 2011)

Friday, September 6, 2013

That Darned Brain!

Leonard Nimoy strikes a pose during the filming of 'Spock's Brain' (1968)
For years, a rumor has been circulated among Star Trek fans that the infamous third season premiere 'Spock's Brain' was originally crafted as a comedy in the vein of 'The Trouble with Tribbles,' 'I, Mudd,' and 'A Piece of the Action,' only to be gutted when Fred Freiberger arrived as the show's new producer, believing that the series should be played straight. Over the years, this rumor has been brought up in public discussion groups, online reviews of the episode, and been the topic of conversation at various Star Trek conventions (I first learned of the story during a Scott Mantz slide show at a convention in Portland, Oregon in the late 1990s).
'Spock's Brain' parodied on The Wonder Years (1989)
Given the beleaguered reputation of the episode -- in 1989 it was the source of parody on an episode of The Wonder Years and in 2004 a word-for-word adaptation of the script became a successful live comedy show -- it's unsurprising that Star Trek fans have been clinging to a behind-the-scenes rumor as a way of explaining the dramatic failings of the episode. Unfortunately, the Star Trek television series collection at UCLA make one thing abundantly clear: the long-standing rumor just isn't true. However the episode has been perceived since it first aired, it was never written with the intention of it being a comedy.

A February 1, 1968 letter from Gene Roddenberry to NBC Vice President Herbert Schlosser is the earliest document I've found to mention 'Spock's Brain,' which is listed as a story idea for a potential third season.  Roddenberry writes:
SPOCK'S BRAIN. -- Another promotable, topical item spinning off Sr. Christian Bernard's [sic] heart surgery and the intense public interest generated. This is a tale of Spock's brain being stolen to run a vast, complex planet computer. The bulk of our tale, and action search for Spock’s brain with the usual jeopardies, suspense, and mystery. The climax -- the effort by Dr. McCoy to replace the brain in Spock’s body.
Roddenberry's description of "the usual jeopardies, suspense, and mystery" sound far from comedic. However, this short description predates the delivery of Gene Coon's earliest story outline for the episode, which arrived a month later. Perhaps that's when the story became the basis for a comedy?

Although not an impossibility -- the writers report for the week of March 29, 1968 indicates Coon turned in a first draft story outline on March 12, 1968, a draft which is not present in the UCLA files -- I find this scenario unlikely. As described by Roddenberry's letter, the episode was meant to be played straight, and by the time Coon revised the outline (delivered on April 22, 1968) the tone of 'Spock's Brain' was deadly serious. Consider the brief, dramatic teaser of that revised outline:

Except for a comedic scene between Kirk, Spock, and McCoy at the very end, the rest of this outline for 'Spock's Brain' remains as serious as the above teaser.

When Stanley Robertson, NBC's program manager for Star Trek, was sent this outline, he made several suggestions. In an April 25, 1968 letter sent to Fred Freiberger, Robertson asked the producer to "give further consideration to the addition of more personal jeopardy to our regular cast of heroes than is intimated here." Notably absent from this two page letter is any hint that the episode was intended as a comedy.

Given the consistently serious tone of each of these behind-the-scenes documents, and the completed episode itself, there's little doubt in my mind that 'Spock's Brain' was conceived from start to finish as a dramatic episode, not a comedy.

There's one other issue worth addressing here. I've seen it suggested in at least one review that Gene Coon used the pseudonym of Lee Cronin on this episode because he was unhappy with changes made to his script. That's simply not true. According to Bob Justman in Inside Star Trek: The Real Story, Gene Coon left Star Trek late in the second season for a more lucrative (and exclusive) contract with Universal Television. As a condition of being let out of his Star Trek contract, however, Coon agreed "to complete work on a number of his story premises if Star Trek was renewed for a third season." Since Coon had an exclusive contract with Universal Television, however, he couldn't use his real name. Therefore, all of Coon's third season efforts for Star Trek are credited to Lee Cronin, and he is even referred to as such in all behind-the-scenes documents for the third season.

'Spock's Brain' gag image courtesy of birdofthegalaxy.

Thanks to TrekBBS user Sir Rhosis for suggesting this topic and providing the 'Spock's Brain' outline excerpts. His script reviews for the original series at Orion Press continue to be an invaluable resource and come highly recommended. 

If you have have a research question about Star Trek you'd like me to tackle, feel free to ask it in the comments field below. Time and resources permitting, it is my goal to answer as many reader questions as I can.