The most unappreciated faces we see on television are those of the extras and stand-ins. And for most shows, this is because they are utterly disposable-presuming you even get a good look at them. Part of this is because stand-ins are just that: they “stand in” for the cast when lighting and makeup are tested and put into place. But for a show like Star Trek where much of the show takes place in one location and in a setting that has a mostly static cast of characters while requiring everyone to be wearing expensive, custom-made clothing, those extras and stand-ins suddenly become a bit less disposable, and are instead utterly indispensable parts of the production.
For Star Trek, the most prominent and recognizable of these performers were all men: Eddie Paskey, William Blackburn, Frank da Vinci, and Roger Holloway. With the exception of “The Cage”, “The Cloud Minders” (technically-stock footage of Blackburn is used), and “All Our Yesterdays”, at least one of the four appears onscreen. So, even if you don’t recognize their names, you’ve seen their faces many times over on Star Trek (at least as much any one of the regular cast members, in fact). So, let’s discuss these men a bit, shall we:
First, and most prominent among the four is Eddie Paskey, who played Lt. Leslie (a character named by William Shatner in an ad-lib using the first name of his daughter) while also serving as William Shatner’s stand-in and serving as James Doohan’s hand double (so as to cover up Doohan’s missing finger; the most familiar footage being the close-up of Scotty’s hands as they operate the transporter, which was used in numerous episodes as stock footage). But the real reasons why Paskey is so well-known are twofold: in addition to being the only “generic” redshirt to die and then seemingly return from the dead, he was spotlighted in making-of publications as far back as the original, 1981 version of Allan Asherman’s Star Trek Compendium. Another reason why he’s so recognizable is that Leslie typically sits at the bridge engineering station on the right side of the turbolift door, which, since Paskey was well-liked by the camera and lighting crews, was typically lit so as to increase his visibility.
While not quite as recognized by fandom for years, William Blackburn, known as “Billy” on-set, has become almost as well known in fan circles as Eddie Paskey thanks to the release of several minutes of home movie footage he shot while working on Star Trek. In honesty, however, it’s surprising that Blackburn didn’t become well known sooner, since he was the most prolific of the stand-ins, appearing not only as DeForest Kelley’s stand-in and as Lieutenant Hadley, the most frequently appearing of the non-Chekov navigators, but as a unending parade of background aliens, the infamous White Rabbit from “Shore Leave”, and as one of the three men who played the Gorn in “Arena”. And whenever a dubbed-in character (such as Trelane’s parents in “The Squire of Gothos”) appeared, it was Blackburn’s voice that the actors heard on-set. However, his main character, Lieutenant Hadley, never spoke, so it’s easy to see why Blackburn was overlooked for so long.
Frank da Vinci, while nowhere near as prolific as Billy Blackburn at appearing as background aliens, managed to have not one, but two regularly occurring background roles: Lieutenant Brent, a medical technician and occasional navigator, and Vinci, a security guard and transporter chief. Since he was Leonard Nimoy’s stand-in, Lieutenant Brent was a far more common sight, usually appearing the the same science division blue shirt as Spock. However, despite his role on Star Trek and as Anthony Perkins’ stand-in in Psycho (it’s his shadow that is seen in the infamous shower scene), da Vinci is most known for having owned and operated, with his partner George B. Ellsworth, two gay night clubs in the LA area. Their contributions were such that Pepperdine (a conservative Christian University) established a scholarship for LGBT students in his and Ellsworth’s names after da Vinci’s death in 2013.
Lastly, Roger Holloway represents a bit of a mystery, as his two seasons on Star Trek represent his only known appearances in film and television. What we do know is that he joined in the second season as James Doohan’s stand-in (as part of a number of acknowledgements of Scotty’s increasing prominence on the series) and for the male guest stars before eventually becoming William Shatner’s stand-in in Season 3. However, he was most regularly seen as a security guard and member of Scotty’s engineering team as Mr. Lemli (the name, another Shatner ad-lib, is a combination of the names of William Shatner’s three daughters, Leslie, Melanie, and Lisabeth, and is a term he has used for certain personal ventures over the years). And due to an ad-lib by James Doohan, Lemli shared the same first name as his actor.
Next week (and hopefully back on schedule), we’ll be taking a brief return to the ’80s for our last “1984” post, and a little bit of Halloween in December.