by John Javna
How “Star Trek” began
Gene Roddenberry, the head writer for a popular western called Have Gun, Will Travel, was also a science fiction buff. He saw a lot of similarities between space exploration and the experiences of the American pioneers, so he conceived of a TV space fantasy that would be similar to a western series, complete with continuing characters (which hadn’t ever been done). He based his idea on a popular show named “Wagon Train.” He called his idea a “wagon train to the stars.” A star trek.
In 1964, while producing an MGM series called “The Lieutenant,” Roddenberry created a workable format for his space show. MGM turned it down, but Desilu bought it and sold the idea to NBC. The network financed the pilot, called “The Cage.” This was filmed in November and December. It cost $630,000, an outrageous amount at the time, and featured only two members of the final cast – Majel Barret and Leonard Nimoy. The captain’s name wasn’t Kirk, it was Pike. He was played by Jeffrey Hunter.
The pilot was submitted to NBC in February 1965. They rejected it. But the project wasn’t canned; NBC stil lsaw promise in the series and authorized an unprecedented second pilot, including an almost entirely new cast. The new pilot was entitled “Where No Man Has Gone Before.” It featured William Shatner as Kirk, Nimoy as Science Officer Spock, James Doohan as Scotty, and George Takei as Physicist Sulu. For the record, the doctor’s name was Mark Piper. He was played by Paul Fix.
The second pilot was submitted in January 1966. A month later, NBC accepted it for their coming fall schedule.
Easier Than Landing. The Enterprise’s “transporter” was developed as a cost-cutting measure. It provided an inexpensive means to transport characters from the ship to the next set (landings are expensive). The “glittering” effect (as the transporter dissolved and relocated the passengers’ atoms) was provided by aluminum dust.
The Starship Enterprise. Three models of the Enterprise were used in filming: a 4-inch miniature, a 3-foot model, and a 14-foot plastic model that now hangs in the Smithsonian.
Those Ears. Spock’s pointed ears were originally included as a throw-in when Roddenberry contracted with a special effects house to produce three monster heads.
- The first pair were “gruesome,” according to Nimoy. “They were rough and porous, like alligator skin.” But two days before shooting, they were finally modified to everyone’s satisfaction.
- Nimoy objected to wearing the ears, but Roddenberry offered a compromise, wear them for a while, and if they didn’t work out, Spock could have “plastic surgery” and have them altered. Nimoy agreed.
- A pair of ears usually lasted from three to five days.
On The Air. Believe it or not, the highest that “Star Trek” ever ranked in a year’s primetime rating was #52.
Logical Thinking. One of Leonard Nimoy’s contributions to the show was the Vulcan nerve pinch. In one scene, he was supposed to sneak up behind a character and whack him on the head with a gun. He objected that Vulcans wouldn’t be so crude. As a substitute, he made up the legendary maneuver on the spot.
The Source. Incipient Trekkies who want a first-hand look at the inspiration for many of “Star Trek’s” distinctive features should view the 1956 film Forbidden Planet, which starred Walter Pidgeon, Anne Francis, and Leslie Neilsen. Some of the “similarities” are amazing.
Fat City. Alert fans can tell in what part of the season an episode was filmed just by observing William Shatner’s stomach. Always in top shape before shooting began, Shatner appeared trim and fit in early-season episodes. But as the season wore on, time to exercise became harder to find, and his waistline expanded.