I was twelve when Star Trek first appeared. But because of Boy Scout meetings on Wednesday nights, it would be a little while before I would get hooked. (Boy Scouts were also responsible for my not seeing Lost In Space until it went into syndication. Not that that qualifies as much of a loss.) Thanks to a troop member whose father worked for Sony, I got to see my first episode on an open reel video tape recorder, a device I was to lust over for the next ten years. (The episode was Balance of Terror, one of the better efforts of that first season.)
My Trek obsession reached full flower during my college years. This was the early to middle 70s, a period when even Paramount was beginning to realize the value of the franchise they held. Classmates and I would make pilgrimages to New York City to attend Trek conventions and meet actors, writers and many equally obsessed fans who could discuss minute plot points as if they really mattered. My first interview for a college paper I helped found was with Gene Roddenberry, on campus to record a lecture for an album called Inside Star Trek. Meeting and writing about Gene only intensified my identification with the series and its optimistic outlook.
(That original article is available here, with all of its youthful optimism and hero worship intact. A few typos have been corrected, and a few new ones probably added.)
Star Trek became a touchstone for many of the future hacker nerds who grew up in the 60s and 70s. Our parents could never figure out what to make of this particular obsession. But then, isn't that what parenthood is all about?
One of the joys of attending those early conventions was meeting the
members of the cast. They all fell neatly into one of three
categories: the guest stars, most of whom were polite, friendly and
not a little bit bemused at all the attention they got for one brief
appearance almost ten years earlier; regulars like Nichelle Nichols
and Jimmy Doohan,
who were equally friendly but by then more accustomed to the hero
worship; and the big three, who were less willing to get too close,
whether out of fear of being mobbed (DeForest Kelly) or an excess of
self-importance and contempt for the fans (Shatner). To be fair to
Shatner, anyone who would pay good money for
one of his records is clearly worthy of contempt.
Stanley Adams was a memorable one-shot as Cyrano Jones, tribble
salesman and general nuisance (a two-shot if you count his voice work
on a tribble-related episode of the animated series). Clearly, the
role wasn't much of a stretch. Adams was every bit as warm and goofy
in person as the part he played. I was surprised to discover that he
had one other credit on the series, having cowritten an episode called
The Mark Of Gideon.
Susan Oliver, who played Vina in the original Jeffrey Hunter pilot,
was all over the television dial in the 60s and 70s, appearing on just
about every major dramatic series at one time or another. (Yes,
televisions really had dials back then. And so did telephones, which
is why we talk about dialing a number. Now stop asking silly
questions and pay attention; there'll be a test later.) I think I was
more impressed meeting her than most of the other actors, having seen
her play so many parts over the years. Oliver was around thirty
when The Cage was made and an incredibly beautiful 44 when this
picture was taken. She died in 1990, a far-too-young 58.
Having Isaac Asimov at a Star Trek convention might seem odd. After
all, Asimov may have been one of the grand old men of SF but he had no
connection to the series at all. (He acted as a technical advisor to
Space: 1999 around this time, which to True Believers was another
strike against him.) On the other hand, he was local, he was
willing and he was a hero to those of us who had discovered science
fiction (and nonfiction) long before the Enterprise ever left dry
dock. Best of all Asimov was one of the nicest people I've ever met,
the kind of person who'd sit and sign autographs and trade jokes with
the fans for hours on end. He was like that lovable uncle you always
wanted but few of us get. (Apologies in advance to my uncles should
they ever read this comment. You're wonderful and all but you're no
Harlan Ellison was once the angry young man of SF, the writer who had
the nerve to write a script about drug dealing on the Enterprise
called The City On The Edge Of Forever. Ellison had a reputation,
probably deserved, of being touchy and unapproachable at conventions.
Which is funny, because the few times I've met him I have found him
exactly the opposite. He even agreed to pose with a friend of mine
for a picture, which sadly didn't turn out. And whatever else you
think about him, the man can surely write.
|A case can surely be made that Trekkers of that era had far too much time on their hands. The number of homemade costumes and props, many of them of better quality than those used on the series, speak of a remarkable combination of talent, devotion and hard work. And then there's this little bit of obsession: a full sized model of the Enterprise bridge that some fans had built and shlepped around the country to show off at conventions. The detail was amazing and true to the cheesy original. This was truly a labor of love, especially when you don't have the props department of a major studio behind you.
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Comments to: Hank Shiffman, Mountain View, California