Star Trek–The Show You Never Saw–Part 2

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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.

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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/

 

Star Trek–The Show You Never Saw-Part 1

I watched Star Trek: Discovery last night, and came away thinking “This isn’t the Star Trek I grew up with”. I was really disappointed with the show. I’m not a trekkie, or trekker, or whatever those people are called. You know, the folks who watch every single episode, can quote dialog from memory, can tell you the stardate for every episode, and can talk about the show for hours. This series is supposed to take place ten years before Kirk and Spock came on the scene. I’ve seen every episode hoping it will get better. It’s not. The enemy doesn’t even look remotely similar to anything I’ve seen in the past. What I came away with was the feeling that Star Trek: Discovery is not for me.


Portions of the following post appeared as part of the Summer of MeTV Blogathon that was hosted by the Classic TV Blog Association. I’ve re-written some segments, polished it a bit more, and brought it more up to date. It first appeared on my first blog The Old Movie House.


4.blog logoThe brown envelope sat in the middle of the desk. Two grown men stared at it. “You open it Bob. I haven’t got the guts. Besides I already know what it says” said Gene. Robert H. Justman had been with Gene since the beginning of the show. Bob was the co-producer of the show, and wanted to know the contents too. “That’s what I was going to say to you Gene” said Bob. Gene Roddenberry was a large husky fellow, and also the creator of Star Trek. He was known for his courage. But at times he was also a coward. And this one one of those times. Bob reached forward, picked up the envelope, opened it and read the contents. All of a sudden Bob went white as a ghost. “Let me guess. NBC hated it”said Gene. “Let me sit down to read this” said Bob. He then looked at Gene and said “NBC thinks Star Trek is too cerebral”

“We’re WHAT ?” roared Gene.

“Look right here”. Bob pointed to a single word. “Cerebral. Apparently the network was extremely impressed with the creative and technical aspects of the pilot. They simply felt that no normal human being would want to watch the idiot box, and think at the same time.”

Or so the story goes. It’s probably been embellished so much it now qualifies as an old “war story”. Regardless of who said what to whom, NBC had painted itself into a corner. They made a deal with Desilu Studios to produce a quality “pilot” film, and they fully expected Desilu to fail in a semi-spectacular manner. Only that didn’t happen. Desilu had produced something that people just might watch – with the proper changes. Mort Werner, who in 1964 was the head of programming for NBC, had to make a rather unusual telephone call to Herb Solow, who at that time was the Executive In Charge of Production for Star Trek. If one was to describe the call it would most likely would called a call of apology with a side order of crow.

“I must tell you something Herb. I’ve seen many science fiction, outer space films. You name it. But I’ve never felt I was aboard a spacecraft. I never believed the crew was a real crew. But somehow you guys gave me the feeling of total belief. I loved it”.

That wasn’t all that was said, but you get the gist. But beyond all the praise, the handshakes, the backslaps, and some of the things that undoubtedly took place but can’t be repeated on-line, one fact that loomed uncomfortably close to Gene and Bob, was that Star Trek was not scheduled by NBC as a weekly series. They were concerned about the so-called “eroticism” of the pilot*, and what that could mean should Star Trek ever become an honest to god series. But most of their concerns were leveled at “the guy with the ears”**. NBC executives felt he might offend some station owners in “the Bible Belt”, and that he looked “too satanic”.

* they were referring to green Orion slave girls. ** the character called Spock.


After the fall schedule was firmly established Mort Werner and Herb Solow had a face to face meeting.

“Herb, you really gave us a problem”. Herb apologized for any headaches or ulcers the pilot may have caused. “I really didn’t think Desilu was capable of making Star Trek, so when we looked over the three pilot stories you gave us (NBC was supplied with three different scripts to choose from) we chose the most complicated and the most difficult one of the bunch. We recognize now that 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. So let’s do another pilot. We’ll agree on some mutual story with script approval of course, and then, if the scripts are good (NBC wanted another three scripts to choose from) we’ll give you more money for another pilot”. Kindly remember that last sentence.

The first pilot was budgeted at $451, 503.00 dollars. It went way over that, and ended up costing $615,751.00. The second pilot, which was completely unprecedented in the sixties, was budgeted at $215,644.00 actually cost $354,974.00. Remember that sentence “we’ll give you more money”?. The second pilot was expected to fail. Most NBC executives thought the spark they saw in the first pilot was something that would never happen again.  And again Desilu was being asked to pull a rabbit out of its hat. To do a lot more with a lot less.

Let’s take a closer look at the conditions NBC put on Star Trek and Desilu. NBC insisted they utilize already existing sets left over from the first pilot. That included props too. Nothing new could be used. And if production costs went over what was budgeted, the studio, in this case Desilu, would pay the remainder. Next, almost the entire cast from the first pilot were to be given pink slips. Fired. The reasoning behind this, it was thought, that fresh blood would breath new life into the show.

See part 2 for the real reasons behind the mass firings. Check “Like” below, and don’t forget to leave a comment just below the “Like” section.