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 1960s -- 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.