Category: Entertainment

Star Trek

by John Javna

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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.

Inside Facts

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.


The Three Stooges

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There was a vaudevillian named Ted Healy, a boyhood friend of Moe and Shemp Horwitz.  One night in 1922, some acrobats working for him walked out just before a show.  Desperate, he asked Moe to fill in temporarily, as a favor.

Moe, in turn, got his brother Shemp out of the audience, and the three of them did an impromptu reoutine that had the audience in stitches.  Moe and Shemp loved the stage, so they changed their name from Horwitz to Howard and hit the road with their friend as “Ted Healy and the Gang” (or “Ted Healy and His Stooges,” depending on who is telling the story).

In 1925, the trio was on the lookout for another member and spotted Larry Fine (real name – Louis Feinberg) playing violin with an act called the “Haney Sisters and Fine.”  Why they thought he’d be a good Stooge isn’t clear, since he’d never done comedy before.  But he joined as the third Stooge, anyway.

They traveled the vaudeville circuit for years under a variety of names, including Ted Healy and His Racketeers. . .His Southern Gentlemen. . .His Stooges, etc.  Then they wound up in a Broadway revue in 1929, which led to a movie contract.

In 1931, Shemp quit and was replaced by his younger brother, Jerry.  Jerry had a full head of hair and a handsome mustache, but Healy insisted he shave them both off. . .hence the name “Curly.”  Three years later, after a bitter dispute, the boys broke up with Healy.  They quickly got a Columbia film contract on their own, and the Three Stooges were born.

Over the next 23 years, they made 190 short films, but no features.  For some reason, Harry Cohn, head of Columbia Pictures, wouldn’t allow it (despite the Stooges’ popularity and the fact that they were once nominated for an Oscar).

From the ‘30s to the ‘50s, the Stooges had four personnel changes:  In 1946, Curly suffered a stroke and retired; Shemp then returned to the Stooges until his death in 1955; he, in turn, was replaced by Joe Besser (Joe) and Joe DeRita (Curly Joe).

Inside Facts —

Two-Fingered Poker  One day backstage in the ‘30s, Larry, Shemp, and Moe were playing cards.  Shemp accused Larry of cheating.  After a heated argument, Shemp reached over and stuck his fingers in Larry’s eyes.  Moe, watching, thought it was hilarious. . .and that’s how the famous poke-in-your-eyes routine was born.

Profitable Experience  By the mid-‘50s, the average budget for a Three Stooges’ episode, including the stars’ salaries, was about $16,000.  Depending on the time slot, Columbia Pictures can now earn more than that with one showing of the same film. . .in one city.

So What if He’s Dead  The last four episodes featuring Shemp were filmed after he died.  The films’ producer, Jules White, brought in a Shemp double who was only seen from behind.

The Stooges’ Resurrection  By the mid-50s the demand for short films had petered out.  So, in 1957, Columbia unceremoniously announced they weren’t renewing the Stooges’ contracts.  Moe and Larry were devastated.  After 23 years, what else would they do?  Moe was rich from real estate investments, but Larry was broke, which made it even harder.  They decided to get a third Stooge (Curly and Shemp were dead) and go on tour.  Joe DeRita, “Curly Joe,” was selected.  They started making appearances in third-rate clubs, just to have work.

Meanwhile, Columbia, hoping to get a few bucks out of its old Stooge films, released them to TV at bargain prices.  They had no expectations, so everyone (particularly Moe and Larry) was shocked when, in 1959, the Stooges emerged as the hottest kids’ program in America.  Suddenly the Stooges had offers to make big-time personal appearances and new films.. And they have been American cult heroes ever since.