Monday, November 13, 2017

The Most Interesting Article In The World

Still from "The Corbomite Maneuver" (1966)
If you follow William Shatner on Twitter, you may have seen this tweet last month:
Tweet by @WilliamShatner (screenshot taken October 8, 2017)
In the age of social media and pop culture-related clickbait, this story has been shared and retold many times; Mr. Shatner's tweet is only the most recent example. Lauren Davis offered this variation of the tale for io9 in 2012:
It sounds like a bit from the Dos Equis commercials, but in this case, it appears to be true. Jonathan Goldsmith, who plays the beer company's Most Interesting Man in the World, appeared in the second episode of the original Star Trek series, "The Corbomite Maneuver." He only appears on screen for a moment, but he also doesn't get a death scene.1
“The Corbomite Maneuver” was the third episode of Star Trek to be filmed and the tenth to air, not the show's “second episode.” However, is it possible that the rest of the account is true? Today, Jonathan Goldsmith is a famous pitchman (better known as The Most Interesting Man in the World), but in 1966, he was a working actor, mostly appearing on episodic television. Perhaps he once had a small part on Star Trek?

Not if Jonathan Goldsmith has anything to say about it.

During a 2013 Reddit AMA, Goldsmith offered a cheeky denial that he had ever appeared on the series:
Jonathan Goldsmith: Let me set the record straight... I have never appeared on Star Trek, if I remember correctly that is, which is always dubious.2
In a later interview with the Television Academy, Mr. Goldsmith dismissed the story again, this time with less ambiguity:
David M. Gutiérrez: It's fitting you're being sent to Mars, considering you're credited as being a "Redshirt" in the original Star Trek. 
Jonathan Goldsmith: No, I wasn't. I've never done that show. I can't convince the fans of that. They keep sending me pictures of a guy in a red shirt, but it ain't me.3
Since the actor himself has twice issued a denial, it begs the question — how did the rumor get started in the first place?

The answer to that question begins not on the web, where the story has become a popular meme, but in the pages of the 1995 edition of The Star Trek Concordance (this information is not present in previous editions of the book). In that book, the following names are included as part of the cast list for "The Corbomite Maneuver":
Crewmen: Bruce Mars, John Gabriel, Jonathan Lippe, Stewart Moss, George Bochmane4
There are two things of note about these five names. First, Lippe was the surname of Jonathan Goldsmith's stepfather, and the name Goldsmith used professionally until 1975.Second, none of the actors listed actually appear in "The Corbomite Maneuver." Bruce Mars and Stewart Moss appeared in other episodes, while John Gabriel and Jonathan Lippe/Goldsmith didn't appear on Star Trek at all. "Bochmane" is probably a misspelling of George Backman, who had a brief acting career in the late 1960s, but never appeared on Star Trek.

Where did Bjo Trimble, author of The Star Trek Concordance, come to believe that these five men appeared in "The Corbomite Maneuver?" The following portion of the author's note (emphasis added) pointed me in the right direction:
For this new edition, I used video- and audiotapes, shooting and editing scripts, the UCLA Special Collections Library collections, private files and notes, interviews, letters from fans, books, help from people inside Paramount Studios, and computer bulletin board postings...to edit, expand, add to, and rewrite the original handful of notes into this book. 
-Bjo Trimble, The Star Trek Concordance (1995), p.vii
When I sent him the following in a batch of documents to Dave T., one of the minds behind the terrific Star Trek History website, he realized the importance of the following memo almost immediately — it has all five of the names listed as crewmen in The Star Trek Concordance, including one Jonathan Lippe.
"The Corbomite Maneuver" casting schedule (May 1966)6
It turns out that Bruce Mars, John Gabriel, Joanthan Lippe, Stuart Moss, and George Backman (here, spelled "George Bochman") all auditioned for the role (Lieutenant Dave Bailey) that eventually went to the second actor on the above list — Anthony Call. Bjo Trimble must have seen this document and assumed that all of the actors listed actually appeared in "The Corbomite Maneuver."

As often happens with inaccurate information, these erroneous cast listings later ended up in other publications. When Michael and Denise Okuda updated The Star Trek Encyclopedia with a second edition in 1997, for example, they included the following in their cast list for "The Corbomite Maneuver":
Bruce Mars, John Gabriel, Jonathan Lippe, Stewart Moss, George Bochman, Crewmen. 
- Michael and Denise Okuda, The Star Trek Encyclopedia: A Reference Guide to the Future (Updated and Expanded Edition, 1997), p.88
The book's acknowledgments confirm that this information, which is not present in the first edition of The Star Trek Encyclopedia, most likely came from Trimble:
We would like to thank Bjo Trimble for permission to use some of her cast list research from the original Star Trek series that was incorporated into our cast appendix.
- Michael and Denise Okuda, The Star Trek Encyclopedia: A Reference Guide to the Future (Updated and Expanded Edition, 1997), p.v
Eventually, the claim that Jonathan Goldsmith appeared on Star Trek would make its way to IMDb (as early as 2010, though this listing has since been removed), as well as many other online sources. It was in one of those online sources that this myth would take on a new dimension.
Popular meme about the Jonathan Goldsmith Star Trek rumor (circa 2012)
That source? An October 8, 2012 blog post by Joey deVilla, which identified a specific extra from "The Corbomite Maneuver" as Jonathan Goldsmith. Previous sources, like the Concordance and the Encyclopedia, claimed that Goldsmith played an unnamed crewman in the episode, but did not identify him with an actor on screen. Mr. deVilla, however, claimed that the extra in question was a red-shirted Enterprise crewman who only briefly appears (and I do mean briefly — the man in question, who has no lines and receives no screen credit, is on screen for less than five seconds).

Mr. deVilla's claim quickly caught on. Not only did it form the basis of a popular meme (pictured above), but it was subsequently reported — without much scrutiny, and often without attribution — by these other online news outlets:
  • October 13, 2012: I Don't Always Play a Red Shirt on Star Trek. But When I Do, I Survive The Whole Episode (Neatorama)
  • October 14, 2012: The Most Interesting Man in the World played a red shirt on Star Trek—and survived (io9)
  • October 14, 2012: I Don’t Always Play a Red Shirt on Star Trek… (Patheos)
  • September 17, 2013: Image Of The Day: The Most Interesting Star Trek Redshirt In The World (SyFyWire)
  • March 9, 2014: Did You Know ‘The Most Interesting Man In the World’ Was On ‘Star Trek’? (KEKB-FM)
  • March 2, 2016: 31 Actors And Celebrities You Didn’t Know Appeared In ‘Star Trek’ (UPROXX)
  • April 5, 2016: 12 CELEBRITIES YOU MIGHT HAVE FORGOTTEN WERE ON 'STAR TREK' (MeTV)
  • June 23, 2016: Dos Equis' 'Most Interesting Man In The World' Has a Most Interesting Link to 'Star Trek' (Mic)
  • June 23, 2016: Dos Equis' 'Most Interesting Man In The World' Has a Most Interesting Link to 'Star Trek' (Yahoo Music)
  • June 24, 2016: 'Most Interesting Man' Worked as an Extra on 'Star Trek' (Project Casting)
Unfortunately, I don't have access to the documentation necessary to identify this extra. Star Trek's daily production reports identified most speaking parts and stunt performers, but they never provided the names of any background performers. Only the total number of extras who appeared on any given day, their pay rates, and their hours worked would be listed.
Daily Production Report for "The Corbomite Maneuver" (June 2, 1966)7
Thus, the daily production reports for "The Corbomite Maneuver" do not help to clear up this rumor. The relevant section above, marked "ATMOSPHERE, WELFARE WORKERS, AND SIDELINE MUSICIANS," does not identify any of the background performers who worked on June 2, 1966, when the shot identified by Mr. deVilla was taken.

However, even though archival documentation cannot be used to debunk this rumor, there are other reasons — beyond the actor's firm denial — that make it highly unlikely Mr. Goldsmith appeared on Star Trek in a background role.

In 1966, Jonathan Goldsmith appeared on at least five different TV programs in eight different roles (and received screen credit). These were speaking roles, and Goldsmith was in the Screen Actors Guild (SAG). Extras received considerably less than SAG actors (both upfront and on the back end; extras did not receive any residuals if a show was rebroadcast, while SAG actors would receive payments for the first few reruns). Moreover, until 1990, background performers were represented by their own guild (SEG, the Screen Extras Guild) and crossover by SAG actors into background work was rare.

The reverse, however, was more common. On Star Trek, for example, Eddie Paskey was a background actor who appeared in 58 episodes, but he ended up with lines in five of those and screen credit in two. Jonathan Goldsmith himself says he received his first speaking role — on The Doctors, a soap opera — when the producers gave him a line of dialogue while he was working as an extra.By 1966, however, there's no evidence that Goldsmith was pursuing work as an extra, and no evidence that he appeared on Star Trek.

From reading Jonathan Goldsmith's memoir, however, it turns out that he's not without a few Star Trek connections. When he first moved to Hollywood (after acting in New York), Goldsmith stayed with a young actor named Walter Koenig ("His role on Star Trek and his success were much deserved and truly could not have happened to a nicer guy," says Goldsmith).Marc Daniels directed him in a 1966 television episode — not Star Trek, but Gunsmoke. And he shared the screen with both William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy — with the former on three episodes of T.J. Hooker and the latter on an episode of Mission: Impossible.

There's no evidence, however, that he ever appeared on an episode of Star Trek.

Endnotes:

1 Lauren Davis, "The Most Interesting Man in the World played a red shirt on Star Trek—and survived," io9, October 14, 2012

2 Jonathan Goldsmith, "I don't always post to Reddit, but when I do, I do it from Central Vietnam's former DMZ. I am Jonathan Goldsmith, I play the Most Interesting Man in the World. Ask Me Anything," Reddit, August 1, 2013.

3 David M. Gutiérrez, "A Most Interesting Interview with a Most Interesting Man," Emmys, June 17, 2016

4 Bjo Trimble, The Star Trek Concordance: The A-To-Z Guide to the Classic Original Television Series and Films (1995), p.14

5 Jonathan Goldsmith, Stay Interesting: I Don't Always Tell Stories About My Life, but When I Do They're True and Amazing (2017), p.50

6 Casting Schedule for "The Corbomite Maneuver," Joe Sargent, May 1966, Gene Roddenberry Star Trek Television Series Collection, Box 3, Folder 9

7 Daily Production Report for "The Corbomite Maneuver," June 2, 1966, Gene Roddenberry Star Trek Television Series Collection, Box 3, Folder 9

8 Jonathan Goldsmith, Stay Interesting: I Don't Always Tell Stories About My Life, but When I Do They're True and Amazing (2017), p.50

9 Jonathan Goldsmith, Stay Interesting: I Don't Always Tell Stories About My Life, but When I Do They're True and Amazing (2017), p.121-125

Sources:

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

The Star Trek Concordance (Bjo Trimble, 1995)

The Star Trek Encyclopedia: A Reference Guide to the Future (Michael and Denise Okuda, 1997)

4 comments:

  1. Production reports for episodic television never indicate the names of the background performers, also known as extras. This is something that has never changed from the start of the business to the current day. Call Sheets usually don't indicate the names of people, although sometimes specific selected individuals will be named, to make sure the extras casting company does not forget to call them.

    Jonathan Goldsmith was certainly working regularly as an actor in the 1960s (and 1970s and 1980s) under the name Jonathan Lippe. From the paperwork shown here, he certainly auditioned once for a part, but didn't get it. I expect he auditioned for many, many, many parts he didn't get - and those would go in one ear and out the other. I strongly doubt he remembers anything about a 30 minute audition that didn't go anywhere in 1966, particularly when he was busy working on other shows at the time. What he clearly does remember is that he never actually worked the Star Trek set at Desilu.

    BTW it is also true that on every long-running series, there is usually a small core of extras who regularly appear in the "squadroom" of the show. In the Star Trek TNG era series in the 1990s and early 2000s, you'd have certain people who would regularly appear on the bridge or in engineering. When I worked on JAG, we had a core group that always appeared in JAG headquarters. When I worked on Private Practice, we had a few nurses who regularly appeared in our clinic set. The idea is to have recognizable but not unusual faces who are always the other cops at the other desks, or the other nurses in the background, or the other teachers or students in the classroom. By having familiar faces in the room, the place becomes familiar to the audience and everyone relaxes and focuses on the story at hand. If the faces all changed every week, that would become distracting. By keeping the squadroom the same every week, it becomes a familiar environment. And paradoxically, the extras on the set become less visible.

    Kevin K

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    1. Interestingly enough, having a group of recurring extras was an idea explicitly suggested after the completion of the first pilot, in this postmortem from April 6, 1965: "Suggest building up a pool of extras who look as though they legitimately could be part of the Enterprise crew. This way the audience will be able to spot familiar faces week in and week out. Also, by bringing back the same extras whenever possible, we can expect much more understanding of format and more of a performance than normally obtained from an extra. This was proven successful during the filming of THE LIEUTENANT."

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    2. That memo is a textbook description of why we regularly recall the squadroom group on an episodic television series. We always want a group of people who look believable for either a Navy lawyer headquarters or a Santa Monica general medicine clinic or a West Covina office, etc. And it's a huge plus to have people who already know the show and don't need to be briefed on it - both what the story of the show is and what the rules of the set are. I usually refer to this group as "people we know and love". And that includes the fact that we have familiar faces, which goes a long way to selling that this is a consistent environment the audience will recognize each week.

      Kevin K

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  2. Correct-- he never was. I have a friend who offered the CMa frame clip above for him to sign, during a private charity-auction lunch she'd won with Jonathan, and he signed it "That's not me!" I have a scan copy of that.

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