Archive for the ‘"Star Trek"’ Category

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Was A Trekkie

Monday, January 21st, 2013

(Reposted from MediaPost article by Archive Director Karen Herman with permission.)

As the nation celebrates Martin Luther King Day on Jan. 21, it’s a good time to remember how television can play a critical role in challenging and changing public opinion. As the journalist Howard K. Smith said of the television news coverage of the Civil Rights movement in his Archive of American Television interview, “I think even people who were biased on civil rights saw these pictures every night at the dinner hour — people beating up blacks, siccing dogs onto them — and they said, ‘This has got to stop! Something must be done.’ I think that television really was a decisive fact. That and the powerful will of Lyndon Johnson to be a success in legislation and the wonderful eloquence of Martin Luther King.”

Not only did TV news bring the country (and the world) face to face with the day-to-day reality of the struggle, but entertainment television also played a subtle, yet important, role. One of my favorite stories in our archive is one that Nichelle Nichols,  famous for her role as Chief Communications Officer Nyota Uhura on “Star Trek,” tells of her moving encounter with Dr. King. (See the full 12-minute interview excerpt here):

I was going to leave “Star Trek,” and [creator] Gene Roddenberry says, “You can’t do that. Don’t you understand what I’m trying to achieve? Take the weekend and think about it.” He took the resignation and stuck it in his desk drawer….

As fate would have it, I was to be a celebrity guest at, I believe, it was an NAACP fundraiser in Beverly Hills. I had just been taken to the dais, when the organizer came over and said, “Ms. Nichols, there’s someone here who said he is your biggest fan and he really wants to meet you.”

I stand up and turn and I’m looking for a young “Star Trek” fan. Instead, is this face the world knows. I remember thinking, “Whoever that fan is, is going to have to wait because Dr. Martin Luther King, my leader, is walking toward me, with a beautiful smile on his face.” Then this man says “Yes, Ms. Nichols, I am that fan. I am your best fan, your greatest fan, and my family are your greatest fans…. We admire you greatly ….And the manner in which you’ve created this role has dignity….”

I said “Dr. King, thank you so much. I really am going to miss my co-stars.” He said, dead serious, “What are you talking about?” I said, “I’m leaving Star Trek,” He said, “You cannot. You cannot!”

I was taken aback. He said, “Don’t you understand what this man has achieved? For the first time on television we will be seen as we should be seen every day – as intelligent, quality, beautiful people who can sing, dance, but who can also go into space, who can be lawyers, who can be teachers, who can be professors, and yet you don’t see it on television – until now….”

I could say nothing, I just stood there realizing every word that he was saying was the truth. He said, “Gene Roddenberry has opened a door for the world to see us. If you leave, that door can be closed because, you see, your role is not abBlack role, and it’s not a female role, he can fill it with anything, including an alien.”

At that moment, the world tilted for me. I knew then that I was something else and that the world was not the same. That’s all I could think of, everything that Dr. King had said:  The world sees us for the first time as we should be seen.

Come Monday morning, I went to Gene. He’s sitting behind that same dang desk. I told him what happened, and I said, “If you still want me to stay, I’ll stay. I have to.” He looked at me, and said, “God bless Dr. Martin Luther King, somebody knows where I am coming from.” I said, “That’s what he said.” And my life’s never been the same since, and I’ve never looked back. I never regretted it, because I understood the universe, that universal mind, had somehow put me there, and we have choices. Are we going to walk down this road or  the other? It was the right road for me.

As many programs have since shown (here’s a link to another of my other favorites  – Phylicia Rashad discussing how “The Cosby Show” broke barriers between Nelson Mandela and one of his guards on Robben Island ), television has the power to come into our homes and show people as they “should be seen every day.” A powerful and unforgettable message from perhaps the world’s most famous “trekkie.”

Mr. Spock bids farewell to Star Trek conventions

Wednesday, October 5th, 2011

On October 2nd, Leonard Nimoy, best known for playing “Mr Spock” in  Star Trek: The Original Series, attended what he said would be his last Star Trek convention. He bid fans farewell at Creation Entertainment’s Official 45th Anniversary Star Trek Convention in Rosemont, Illinois. (see the full article here). Now 80, Nimoy, a veteran over over 125 Star Trek convention appearances, stated that he’s not retiring from the limelight, and will continue his work in photography and writing. The Archive of American Television interviewed him about his life and entire career in 2000. Here are some excerpts from that interview:

On shooting the  Star Trek pilot by Gene Roddenberry – which he didn’t think would go anywhere at first:

On developing Spock and making him different and “fascinating”:

On the Vulcan salute:

On Mr. Spock’s background and character traits:

On the downside of fame:

About the interview: (view at

Leonard Nimoy expresses how he felt at being Emmy-nominated: “I cried.  I thought, whoa. Wow. What a thrill.  Particularly because the nominations are done by your fellow actors, and I thought: they’re getting it, they can see what I’m doing…. it just really moved me deeply.”  Leonard Nimoy received an Emmy nomination for each season of Star Trek, playing now-iconic “Mr. Spock,” and is also known for hosting the documentary series In Search Of… and as a director of series TV and films (including two Star Trek features). In his Archive interview, Nimoy reminisces about growing up in the inner city of Boston: the mix of nationalities in his neighborhood and his stage debut at the age of eight at a community theater. He discusses his acting ambitions and his move to Hollywood, making television appearances on such series as The Pinky Lee Show and Matinee Theater. He chronicles his life as a struggling actor, commenting on his regularity in playing ethnic roles and heavies while working on western series such as Wagon Train and Gunsmoke and on several series produced by syndication giant Ziv Television Programs, among them West Point, Sea Hunt, and Highway Patrol. He recounts auditioning for The Lieutenant, a series produced by Gene Roddenberry, which led to his casting on Star Trek. Backtracking to his ’50s experiences, he notes his time in the Army (assigned to mount Army-produced shows) and describes his role (and meager pay) for his first starring feature film Kid Monk Baroni, as well as his first work in a sci-fi role in the serial Zombies of the Startosphere.  He also talks about his work as an acting teacher. For Star Trek, he speaks in great detail about his character “Mr. Spock” and gives the origin of such Vulcanisms as the Vulcan salute and nerve pinch (both of which he invented); describes a typical workweek on the series; eludes to the restrictive budget and strict adherence to schedule; describes Gene Roddenberry’s vision for the series; gives his impressions of his fellow cast mates; and looks back on several notable episodes. On creating the “Mr. Spock” character, Nimoy reveals: “[During a scene once] Spock had one word to say, and the word was ‘fascinating.’ And we’re looking at this thing on the screen, and I got caught up in that energy and I said, “facinating!”  And the director gave me a brilliant note which said: be different. Be the scientist. Be detached. See it as something that’s a curiosity rather than a threat. I said, ‘ fascinating.’ Well, a big chunk of the character was born right there.”  Nimoy then speaks frankly about his work as a series regular on Mission:Impossible, which he ultimately found unfulfilling. He discuses later career highlights including his work as narrator/host of In Search of...and star of such television movies as A Woman Called Golda and Never Forget. He notes his second career as a director, initially with an episode of Rod Serling’s Night Gallery and his graduation to such popular feature films as Star Trek III and IVand Three Men and a Baby.  Leonard Nimoy was interviewed in Beverly Hills, CA on November 2, 2000; Karen Herman conducted the four-hour interview.

Celebrating Gene Roddenberry’s Legacy on his 90th Birthday

Friday, August 19th, 2011

Today marks what would have been  Gene Roddenberry’s 90th birthday. Best-known as the creator and executive producer of Star Trek, Roddenberry was born in El Paso, Texas on August 19, 1921 and grew up in Los Angeles. He became a Los Angeles police officer, but quickly transitioned to TV as a technical advisor to Frederick Ziv on Mr. District Attorney (1954) and later became a headwriter for Ziv on The West Point Story (CBS, 1956-57 and ABC, 1957-58). He eventually created his first original series The Lieutenant (NBC, 1963-64) which examined social questions of the day in a military setting. Coincidentally, the show featured guest performances by actors who later played a large role in Star TrekNichelle Nichols, Leonard Nimoy, and Majel Barrett (who later became his wife). He first pitched Star Trek in 1964, and finally found support from Desilu Studios. The series premiered on September 8, 1966 and has been part of American pop culture ever since.

Although Roddenberry passed away in 1991, before the Archive was established, many of his colleagues spoke about him in their own interviews. Here are some excerpts:

Robert Justman (Producer)

Working with Gene Roddenberry, very often it was a lot of fun. He had great intellect.  This was someone who came from a very poor background and made himself what he was.  He was driven, but he had an enormously pleasing personality. Everyone liked him, and yet they knew he was the boss.  Which he was. His door was, was usually open to me, it was always open to me in the beginning.  But then eventually, because he was rewriting himself, and in those days, it was slow going, he had a buzzer placed in the rug, so that I couldn’t walk in on him, and the door would remain closed. One afternoon while the secretary went to lunch, I took a look around  and discovered the button that she pushes to do the buzzer to open the door. I then pressed the buzzer and waltzed into Gene’s office which was a very, very long office, it was made out of two offices and it was quite long and it had the door where you came in, in the front, and there was an escape hatch in the rear where you could exit onto the studio street.   I entered the room when I wasn’t supposed to, and Gene was writing away with a No. 2 pencil on some legal pad in haste to correct everything.  I walked in and I walked past him not really looking at him, and I walked to the end of the room, opened the escape hatch and left. [he laughs] Just to show him that he couldn’t shut me out!

Dorothy C. (DC) Fontana (Writer)

Star Trek lives. I don’t know why people keep coming back to it, but I have had so many people, whether they’re in my business, or whether they are outside, civilians if you will, coming in to say, “you know, Star Trek still talks to me.  But I like the original series.”  They always come back to the original series.  That’s the one that Gene was the most hand- on with.  He had hands on it for the first two seasons of Star Trek, which are the episodes that people remember most.  I just think that we were talking to an audience that was listening.  We weren’t just there for eye-candy.  We were there to entertain, but we weren’t just there to entertain.  We were trying to talk to them.  We were trying to tell intelligent stories with good actors and good messages and I think we succeeded.  The goal on any show is to tell the best stories you can.  I think we succeeded admirably, especially in the first two seasons of Star Trek.

George Takei (Actor) reminisces about working with Roddenberry and his vision for the series in this video clip:

For more “Star Trek” stories, visit

Composer Fred Steiner, best known for the “Perry Mason” theme, has died

Tuesday, June 28th, 2011

Legendary composer Fred Steiner passed away on June 23rd at the age of 88. The prolific composer (and musicologist) worked on many series including Playhouse 90, The Twilight Zone, Perry Mason, Star Trek, The Bullwinkle Show, and Gunsmoke. He also received an Oscar nomination for his work on The Color Purple. Fred was interviewed by the Archive of American Television in 2003. Here are some excerpts from his 4+ hour interview:

On composing the theme for Perry Mason.

CBS Music Director Lud Gluskin assigned me to it…. I have found some old sketches for the Perry Mason theme, some old pencil sketches, and they have no resemblance to what I finally came up with it. So it’s a complete mystery to me.  But apparently he liked it.  The original title was “Park Avenue Beat.”  And the reason for that was that I conceived of Perry Mason as this very sophisticated lawyer — eats at the best restaurants, tailor-made suits, and so on — and yet at the same time he’s mixed in with these underworld bad guys, murder and crime.  So the  underlying beat is R&B, rhythm and blues. And for the crazy reason that in those days, even to this day, jazz or R&B, whatever, is always associated with crime.  You look at those old film noir pictures they’ve always got jazz going for some reason or other. So it’s kind of a piece of symphonic R&B.  But since then, it’s been known as the Perry Mason theme.

On the opening of Gunsmoke.

I came up with the logo where you see him with the low angle shot of Matt Dillon. Well, first you see him from behind with the legs, it’s a face-off with the villain, the bad guy.  I wrote that.  And it ends up with the two gunshots, [HUMMING], bang, bang.  I wrote that. Now it seems like an obvious thing to do, set up the gunshot.

On writing the second theme for The Bullwinkle Show.

The first theme was written by Frank Comstock. Frank had kept the copyright to that music, and it was probably some lawyer, excuse the expression, who advised [creator/producer] Jay Ward, “hey, you’re losing money by not keeping the copyright to the music.” That’s when I got called in, and I got assigned to write, not only a new theme, but also about an hour’s worth of incidental music, and that’s what he used in various segments. The music editor was Skip Craig, who was very good…. The only thing Jay Ward told me that he wanted what he called a show biz theme.  But I wrote several themes for it.  I wrote the first one that you hear with Rocky flying around, he’s going back and forth.  Then you got the other one with Bullwinkle and the top hot strutting.  But he told me he wanted a show biz theme.  Jay was a marvelous guy.

On composing for Star Trek.

I had a conference with [series creator] Gene Roddenberry, and he said I don’t want any “boops and beep stuff,” like I guess they were having on some of the other science fiction shows.  He wanted, I think the term he used was “Captain Blood in space.”  And oddly enough, that was exactly the kind of thing that I had thought of.  They had shown me the pilot film, which Alexander Courage had scored, and he was of the same mind, although he had a little bit of kind of strange sounding stuff in there.  So the first one I scored, wow, it was a weird assignment as I recall. But I got assigned to, instead of scoring a whole episode, because Star Trek was very heavily scored with library, Bob Justman, who was the line producer, associate producer, line producer, whatever you want –  had things rigged so they’d use mostly library in a sequence.  But whenever there was a certain new character on the screen, or some new twist of a story that would demand new music.  So my first assignment there was writing special music for three — three different episodes in one session.  That was quite a way to break in.

Watch his full Archive interview here.

Link to his New York Times Obituary.

Noted Cinematographer Gerald Perry Finnerman has Died

Friday, April 8th, 2011

Sad news, legendary director of photography Gerald Perry Finnerman ASC passed away on April 6th at the age of 79. Best known for his cinematography on Star Trek and Moonlighting, Finnerman also worked on many television movies as well as episodes for The Bold Ones, Rod Serling’s Night Gallery, Planet of the Apes, Emergency, and The New Mike Hammer. He was interviewed by the Archive on October 8, 2002.

Embeddable video clip:  Gerald Perry Finnerman on filming the classic 1985 Moonlighting episode “The Dream Sequence Always Rings Twice”

Here are a few more selections from his 5-hour Archive of American Television interview:

On his contribution to the Star Trek “transporter” effect

“Jim Rugg was our special effects man, and he’s brilliant, he’d come up with innovations….Although I did come up with some innovations in the transporter room, where they always get transported. They would go up there and stand there and then they would dissolve.  So when I got on the show, I had them cut holes in the ground, top and bottom.  I put fixtures in the bottom and fixtures in the top and they would stand on them.  Then I would have somebody on a dimmer work the visual, the special effect of light going on and off and then they would zap them. It really looked good.”

On the start of filming on Moonlighting

“They were good sports.  When the show first started, we shooting in Monrovia on the top of a roof, it’s 32 degrees.  And they’re in their underwear, skimpy stuff.  They’re supposed to jump off into a pool, and we’re freezing.  I have a coat on and I’m really cold.  And Bruce Willis said, ‘I don’t know about you guys, but I’m happy to be here.  Six months ago I was a bartender.”  That’s what he said.  And you know, I thought, ‘this kid is pretty good.’  Good sports.  Cybill was a good sport, too.”

On how he would like to be remembered

“I’d like to be remembered not so much as a great cinematographer, but a nice guy.  That’s important.  If people say ‘he’s a nice guy,’ I’d just be happy that way.  If he’s a gentleman.  I mean, I know what I’ve done. It speaks for itself.  But it’s more than making films. It’s having intimate relationships with your peers.  That was, the most wonderful experience I’ve had, working with the guys. They may be a little crazy, but they were always wonderful.”

See the full interview at

Leonard Nimoy is 80 tomorrow!

Friday, March 25th, 2011

Star Trek’s “Mr. Spock” is  80 on March 26!

“The camera can capture thought in a away that’s quite surprising and shocking.  You can become very simple and minimal in your work and communicate a lot with just a finger or an eyebrow, or a look, or a glance.”

Watch the Star Trek actor’s Archive interview from 2000 here

Nichelle Nichols Interview now Online!

Thursday, March 10th, 2011

Interview Description:
In her Archive interview, Nichelle Nichols talks about her work as a cast member on the original Star Trek (NBC, 1966-69) playing “Lieutenant Uhura.” Nichols discusses how this role broke many barriers, including portraying the first African-American woman as a high-ranking official and the first interracial kiss on television (with “Captain Kirk’s” William Shatner). She reveals how Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. influenced her decision to remain on the show. She talks about the show’s creator, Gene Roddenberry, and his vision for Star Trek. She details her early career, highlighting her roles in theater and film, and touring as a singer with Duke Ellington. She also discussed her roles on The Lieutenant ,(NBC, 1963-64), another Roddenberry production. She discussed more recent roles, such as “Nana Dawson” on Heroes (NBC, 2006-10). Nichelle Nichols was interviewed in North Hollywood, CA on October 13, 2010; Stephen J. Abramson conducted the nearly three-and-a-half-hour interview.  View the entire interview with Nichols here.

10 things you may not know about “Star Trek”

Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011

The Archive of American Television has interviewed many actors, visual effects artists, directors, stuntmen, writers, and others involved in the production of NBC’s Star Trek (1966-1969) as well as its spin-offs. Below are a few gems from the archive’s collection featuring stories you may not have heard before about the series and its cast. From Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) to Lt. La Forge (LeVar Burton), check out the full interviews with each of these TV legends in the videos and links below.

For Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, the characters were all metaphors for a larger vision

George Takei explains how “Sulu” got his name.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. convinced “Uhura” to stay on Star Trek!

Nichelle Nichols (“Uhura”) was about to quit the series, when a chance encounter with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. opened her eyes to the important role that she had in representing African-Americans on television.

Leonard Nimoy created Mr. Spock’s “Vulcan salute”

Leonard Nimoy (“Mr. Spock”) explains where the famed “Vulcan salute” came from.

William Shatner almost missed out on being “Captain Kirk”

William Shatner was cast as “Alexander the Great” but thankfully, the project failed and he took the role of “Captain Kirk” by default.

Joan Collins’ daughter convinced her to appear on Star Trek

Actress Joan Collins appeared on one of Star Trek’s most beloved episodes and even attended a convention!

The Enterprise’s “whoosh” in Star Trek’s opening was voiced by the theme’s composer

Composer  Alexander Courage describes how he came up with the theme song for Star Trek.

A wig saved Next Generation’s Captain Picard!

Star Trek: Next Generation producer Rick Berman explains how Patrick Stewart almost wasn’t cast as “Captain Picard.”

“Khan” left Mr. Roarke in the dust

Ricardo Montalban was worried audiences would identify him with Fantasy Island’s “Mr. Roarke” when he reprised the role of “Khan” on Star Trek, but he was able to find the character’s true voice by watching the original 1967 episode “Space Seed” where he first played “Khan.

Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Geordi could see all, but the actor playing him saw almost nothing!

LeVar Burton “Geordi La Forge” actually could not see behind his character’s visor.

The secret to the transporter effect was fireworks

Director Joseph Wilcots reveals how the shimmery effect was created.

For more about Star Trek, visit the Archive’s curated show page.

Leonard Nimoy in the 1950s & early ’60s

Monday, April 5th, 2010

Leonard Nimoy was living hand-to-mouth in the 1950s and early 60s, as a struggling actor in TV and movies, before his stardom on Star Trek and Mission: Impossible. He landed the leading role in the feature film Kid Monk Baroni (1952) (photo, left), but spent most of his early career in TV in small roles, in such series as Dragnet (photo, center) and The Twilight Zone (photo, right).

“The work that I was useful for when I was hired– which was rare in those days– were always offbeat nasty guys. Ethnic characters of one kind or another. Guys who beat up people and that sort of thing. They were always in trouble. The good guys were guys that looked like Tab Hunter. The look at that time was a look that wasn’t me. They say, you have small eyes, or you have a crooked nose, or, you know, ‘No, no, no, no, no! Next. Next.’”

Several of Nimoy’s early parts are now viewable on his Archive of American Television Interview page (see Featured Content)— watch these early roles and hear Leonard Nimoy discuss his early career here.

Trailblazing Cinematographer Joseph M. Wilcots Has Died

Wednesday, January 6th, 2010

The first African American to join the International Cinematographers Guild, Joseph Wilcots was nominated for an Emmy for his work on Roots. The Archive of American Television interviewed Wilcots on December 5, 2007; his over three-hour Archive interview is now online.

Link to his L.A. Times obituary.

Interview description:
Joseph M. Wilcots was interviewed for three hours plus in Los Angeles, CA. Wilcots spoke about his early interest in photography as a teenager and his filmmaking experiences while serving in the Navy. He described his work, following the service, at the Westheimer Optical House, in particular the creative work being done for the special effects on the original Star Trek series. He related how he became the first African-American member of the camera operators union and identified the slow shift in adding other African-American members into the union over the years. He talked about his work in independent filmmaking and reminisced about some of the people he worked with including director Gordon Parks and cinematographer Robert Surtees. He spoke in great detail about the two projects for which he is most associated, the miniseries: Roots and Roots: The Next Generations in which he served as Directory of Photography. He talked about his approach to the Roots shows (“I wanted to make the audience smell the dirt”), meeting and working with Alex Haley (“Everything he wrote was shootable”), and working with actor Marlon Brando (he says he took 200 pounds off him using a fireplace as the key light). He noted the impact of Roots and what working on the miniseries meant to him. He acknowledged his work on the Alex Haley/Norman Lear series Palmerstown U.S.A. Lastly, he gave his impressions of three individuals for whom he worked for extensively: actor/director George Stanford Brown, Bill Cosby, and Michael Jackson. The interview was conducted by Gary Rutkowski on December 5, 2007.