So, before we begin, let’s be clear: everyone here never made it to the actual series as a regular. Sorry if I spoiled the suspense.
Gene’s first choice to star as Christopher Pike, captain of the Enterprise, was Lloyd Bridges. Now, this seems strange, since Bridges is most remembered as a comedic actor, thanks in large part to Airplane! But, at the time, Bridges’ largest role was playing Mike Nelson on Sea Hunt, one of the most popular shows of early syndicated television (which is to say, the days before reruns of popular network shows became a staple of syndication). Bridges wanted no part of Star Trek, so Roddenberry and NBC ended up going back and forth, and the resulting actor cast was Jeffrey Hunter.
At the time, Hunter was very much a rising star: after a breakout performance in The Searchers, he had a string of successful second-billed performances before making a huge splash in the equally successful but highly controversial King of Kings. At the time, the Hollywood studios refused to show the face of Jesus Christ on camera. Jeff Hunter was the first to play the role fully on camera, and he did a great job, though a lot of the praise ended up being unfortunately posthumous. Most recently at this point, however, Hunter had experienced a rather crushing failure with a show named Temple Houston. The series’ pilot was deemed so high quality that it was screened in theatres as The Man From Galveston, but the series proper was rushed into production and failed after a season. Hunter needed a success to raise his theatrical stocks, and he hoped that Star Trek would be it.
For the role of Vina, the lead guest star of “The Cage”, Susan Oliver was tapped. A regular guest performer on TV, Oliver was looking to take a vacation after filming both Your Cheatin’ Heart and The Disorderly Orderly. However, Oscar Katz managed to convince her that the role would not be overly difficult, so she accepted.
The most contentious bit of casting was over the role of Dr. Philip Boyce. Roddenberry desperately wanted DeForest Kelley, a character actor then-known for playing on-screen villains, most frequently in westerns. Robert Butler wanted John Hoyt, an older actor who was also known for many supporting roles, often as villains. Perhaps most catastrophically for his health, however, was Hoyt’s participation in the infamous 1956 film The Conqueror, a flop movie funded by Howard Hughes that was shot in St. George, Utah, downwind of the Nevada Test Site when above ground nuclear tests were taking place. John Hoyt would live until 1991, far longer than many members of the cast and crew.
More successful was the casting of the Talosians. Excluding a couple of background stunt performers, all were performed by middle-aged female actresses, with Malachi Throne and Robert C. Johnson providing decidedly male voices for the aliens. The contrast is effective and unsettling. While Throne’s long career is most recognized by his association with Star Trek, Johnson, who was not an actor, is most known as the Control Voice on Mission: Impossible.
Rounding out the notable cast were Jon Lormer as Theodore Haskins, Laurel Goodwin as Yeoman Colt, and Peter Duryea as Lieutenant Tyler. Lormer was a character actor with a career dating back to the ’30s, while Goodwin was just beginning what would ultimately be a brief acting career. In 1964, she was most known for appearing as one of the female leads in Elvis Presley’s 1962 film, Girls! Girls! Girls! Duryea, the son of well-known character actor Dan Duryea, was chosen in part because he greatly resembled his father.
You may have noticed two names missing from the above discussion. Never fear, because next week, Star Trek Debriefed will be talking about the first of those two actors, and we’ll discuss just why their casting caused huge problems with NBC.