The Mass Firings – The Real Reasons
NBC really didn’t care that they were putting a lot of people – talented and untalented – out of work. They didn’t care one bit. All they cared about was the almighty dollar. So when 99 % of the cast from the first pilot were shown the door they couldn’t have care less. But they what they really wanted was for Gene Roddenberry to give the axe to two very specific characters – the characters known as Number 1, and Mr. Spock. Gene really wanted Leonard Nimoy to portray Mr. Spock. Gene felt so strongly about the Spock character that he had the first of many legendary meetings/fights with NBC. The kind of meetings where forced smiles, the gnashing of teeth, skyrocketing blood pressures abound, and death threats are either muttered or thought. At the end of the Spock – No Spock battle a compromise was reached. Spock could stay. But Gene was informed that he absolutely, positively, categorically, could not focus very much attention on him. Gene gladly agreed. He also planned to ignore this edict from on high.
Now came the thorny problem that quietly became known as “The Number 1 Problem”. Gene specifically wrote the character of Number 1 with his girlfriend/mistress Majel Barrett in mind. The fact men hated her, and women absolutely loathed her were far down the list of logical reasons to fire her. NBC hated her, and that was as good as any other reason. Majel described how she felt during an interview for the book Star Trek Memories. “Gene wrote the role for me and me alone. It was devastating to hear NBC wanted me out, and my efforts were not appreciated. Gene said over and over ‘We’ll work you into it. Somehow or another, you’ll be in the show’”.
Next came one of the more ridiculous reasons that would have to be addressed if there was to be a second pilot. In the first pilot there were a handful of scenes in which there were “green Orion slave girls”. The NBC censor who was always twenty or thirty years behind the times decreed “Cut out the dancing girls. No more bumping and grinding”. So shall it be written, and so on.
Jeff Hunter, who had been the captain in the first pilot, was also one of the few who survived the mass firing ordered by NBC. But he wasn’t in the second pilot. Jeff had been what is termed a “problem” actor. He demanded this and he demanded that. But the real headaches began when Jeff’s wife got into the act during the lull between the pilots. Upon viewing the first pilot she couldn’t say enough negative things about it. Then came the demands, and the counter demands, which were very quickly followed up with “Jeff wants this” and Jeff wants that”. After Robert Justman and Gene discussed the matter it quickly became apparent that no actor, male or female, was worth all these headaches. Very quickly Jeff’s wife talked her husband out a job. Now the USS Enterprise had no crew, no doctor, no engineer, and no captain.
Now a ship had to have a captain, and Gene had a list of twenty or so actors that could fit the bill. So Gene called his first choice…Jack Lord (Jack Lord of the original Hawaii Five-O). Only this was a few years before Hawaii Five-O. Jack had seen the first pilot and liked it. He also wanted a fifty percent share in the show, and there was no way on gods green earth Gene was going to let that happen, so he quickly hung up and dialed his second choice who was William Shatner. When Gene called Bill Shatner he (Shatner) didn’t have a clue who Gene was. The fact remained that Gene was talking to one of the best Canadian actors of the time. During the conversation Bill Shatner agreed to come down to the studio, and view the original pilot with Gene. After the viewing a conversation ensued about the pros and cons of the pilot, and Star Trek in general. At the end of the conversation Gene apparently said something to the effect “You’re him ! You’re my leading man !”. However, during the entire conversation Bill Shatner never once enquired about the name of his character. It is entirely possible that the characters name wasn’t discussed. It’s far more likely was that Gene simply hadn’t decided on the name for his main character. On May. 18, 1965 Gene dictated a memo he called a short list of potential last names for the character – January, Flagg, Drake, Christopher, Thorpe, Richard, Patrick, Raintree, Boone, Hudson, Timber, Hamilton, Hannibal, Neville, and Kirk. Another name was penciled in near the bottom. It was North.
By the summer of 1965 the services of the two guest stars were secured. Sally Kellerman would portray Dr. Elizabeth Dehner, and Gary Lockwood would portray Lt. Gary Mitchell. Their characters would suffer from some unknown from some unknown form of radiation, and mutate into gods. This sounds rather easy, but in fact it was it was anything but.
Their mutation involved having silver eyes. And the task of locating “silver eyes” fell to Robert “Bob” Justman. The effect Gene had envisioned for the guest stars was an effect most optical houses shied away from. The effect had the reputation of simply being uncomfortable, to heating up the surface of the eye, causing actual physical damage to the surface of the eye, and the side effect nobody wants –lawsuits. Hard contacts were the only kind of contacts available (remember…it’s 1965) so two lenses would be stuck together with a tiny piece of tin foil sandwiched between the two lenses. When Sally was fitted for her contacts there were no problems. However, Gary’s fitting took forever. And because the tiny pinhole he was supposed to see out of was slightly off center, he had to raise his head and look down his nose at you. He looked a bit unearthly, and the effect worked.
While this was going on new crew members were recruited. George Takei was offered the role of Lt. Sulu, and James Doohan became Chief engineer Scott.
On July. 21, 1965 filming began, and it went rather smoothly. Gone were the pigeons that lived near the rafters, and the rattling of the plumbing that had plagued the filming of the first pilot. Gene and Sam Peebles, who wrote “Where No Man Has Gone Before” made sure this pilot had everything the first lacked. Sally Kellerman oozed sex appeal, and when that wasn’t needed, there was plenty of action. Near the end of the pilot, and of shooting, there is a sequence when Shatner and Lockwood are really duking it out. They were having a great time showing NBC just what they could do, and what action really means. All was going well till Shatner tossed Lockwood aside, and Lockwood lands at Kellermans feet. When Lockwood landed at Kellermans feet his pants split wide open. And not just a little bit. The split was so large it exposed the fact Lockwood wasn’t wearing any underwear, and his manhood. Lockwood, not missing a beat, looks at Sally and says “Smile sunshine, you’ve just had your picture taken”. Sally is far from flustered by what has happened. With a wonderfully wicked expression she responds “With that little itty bitty Brownie ?”. Lockwood runs off the stage at near warp speed to recover any dignity he has left, as well as get his pants repaired. Filming has stopped, most of the crew are in stiches, and Shatner is killing himself laughing. Suddenly there is a buzzing sound. Large black wasps had made the roof area vacated by the pigeons their home. And the heat generated by the studio arc lights had driven them into a frenzy. With Sally and Shatner square in their sites they attacked. Big, burly, union men scatter, screaming like little girls. Sally is stung numerous times in her behind, and Shatner, soon to TV’s reigning stud, is felled by a series of stings in the area surrounding his his right eye. His face immediately inflates to the point where he looks like he just lost several prize fights. It’s Friday, no more filming can be done, and everybody is sent home. When filming resumes on Monday Shatner still looks as if he’s getting over a bad case of the mumps, or was the victim of an extremely thorough mugging. So the next chance you get to see “Where No Man Has Gone Before” take a close look at Shatners face. It’s still pretty plump.
Resources used in this post
Inside Star Trek The Real Story By Herbert F. Solow & Robert H. Justman
Star Trek Memories by William Shatner with Chris Kreski
TV Guide Official Collectors Edition Star Trek 30 Years later
The Art Of Star Trek by Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens
Memory – Alpha Star Trek Wiki http:// en.memory-alpha.org/