Guardians of Forever: Fred Steiner

While it is now standard practice for TV shows to be scored entirely by one person (and that one person increasingly seems to be Bear McCreary), for years it was expected that shows would employ a variety of composers to provide the music. The primary benefit of this situation was that if an episode was a comedy or a romance or suspense, the producers could hire a specific composer who specialized in a specific style of music. On Star Trek, however, the production staff more often than not called one man for every occasion: Fred Steiner.

Born on February 24, 1923 in New York, Steiner was a bit of a prodigy, and by his early 20s had followed in his father’s footsteps and was playing in orchestras for radio shows, eventually orchestrating and then becoming the music director for This Is Your FBI before TV became a thing, at which point Steiner moved to Hollywood and began scoring for the medium and for feature films. By the time Star Trek came calling, Steiner was one of the top names in the business, or at least the most recognized, as he was responsible for contributing to two iconic TV shows:

For Perry Mason, Steiner only contributed the theme song, which is almost as famous as the series itself, but for The Bullwinkle Show, Steiner was tasked with re-imagining the series’ music after the show moved from ABC to NBC (shedding the show’s original name, Rocky and His Friends, in the process), when it was discovered that Frank Comstock, who had been the composer for the show up to that point, actually owned the music lock, stock, and barrel. So, with the exception Fractured Fairy Tales and Aesop and Son (for reasons that escape me), Steiner replaced every bit of music in the series. And while Peabody’s Improbable History fared poorly (to the point that Comstock’s music was returned for syndication), the rest of the music Steiner composed gained at least equal footing with that of Comstock’s. And with the rather wide range of themes, all played straight (one of the few things to be played as such on the series), it’s no shocker that Steiner excelled with a wide range of episode plots on Star Trek.

However, part of this was not merely Fred Steiner’s considerable talents, but one dictated by circumstance: after a few episodes, Alexander Courage was unavailable to the Star Trek staff, as he was working as an orchestrator for two films released in 1967-A Guide for the Married Man and Doctor Dolittle. The former is little-remembered (and rather ironically has both Majel Barrett and Jeffrey Hunter in its cast) while the latter was an utter disaster on every front, with major reshoots and plot restructuring complicating the scoring of the picture (which was a musical). Steiner became so essential in this period that he re-recorded the opening title music when it was decided that Courage’s version dominated by the electric violin wasn’t going to cut it.

Next time, we’ll round out our discussions of Star Trek‘s crew.

Assignment: 1966: The National Organization for Women

It’s June 30th, 1966. The top 3 songs in the country are, in order, “Paperback Writer” by the Beatles, “Strangers in the Night”, and “Paint It Black” (the rest of the Top 10’s a bit of a train wreck, however). The Mothers of Invention release Freak Out!, their debut album, on the 27th. The album is initially a bomb, but as the Mothers (and Frank Zappa especially) rise in popularity in the ’70s, it’ll be hailed as a classic. The Beatles, who are said to be influenced by Freak Out! (despite being referred to by Zappa as “only in it for the money”), begin an Asian tour in Tokyo at the Nippon Budokan, which will become not only a popular venue for rock acts, but for acts to record live albums in after Cheap Trick’s popularity exploded worldwide in the late ’70s in the wake of Cheap Trick at Budokan. In non-music news, Dr. Maurice Hilleman announced that a vaccine for mumps was successfully tested on Saturday the 25th. The Brooklyn Navy Yard in New York was decommissioned as a result of the increasingly huge ships being unable to pass under the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges. On the 26th, the “March Against Fear”, by now having over 16,000 marchers after being started by one man, James H. Meredith (who was shot and hospitalized after starting), ends at the Mississippi State Capitol in Jackson, Mississippi. In lighter news, J. J. Abrams is born the next day, and John Cusack and Mary Stuart Masterson the day after that. And throughout the week, there are some big sports stories: Dikembe Mutombo and Mike Tyson are born on the 25th and 30th, respectively, and Ron Santo of the Chicago Cubs is hit in the face by a wild pitch on the 26th, breaking his cheekbone. When he returns on Independence Day, Santo will begin wearing a helmet with an earflap, which eventually lead to them being made mandatory by baseball in 1983.

This is all secondary, however, to the formation of the National Organization for Women on the 30th. In the 50 years since, NOW has grown from 49 founding members to over half a million. While Betty Friedan’s book, The Feminine Mystique, is credited with touching off the “second wave” of feminism, it’s the formation of NOW that brought the movement kicking and screaming into the mainstream. More importantly, it forced the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to actually enforce Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in regards to women. The problem with this is, however, is that it means that NOW is pointed at (primarily by critics) as the embodiment of all feminism. This just isn’t the case.

Firstly, NOW under the leadership of Friedan gave no time for its lesbian membership, a sad situation that Friedan spent that last thirty-some years of her life walking back from. Furthermore, a key complaint about The Feminine Mystique was that it ignored the plight of women who weren’t middle-class and white (without having actually sat down to read the book and make my own assessment, it sounds suspiciously as if Betty Friedan is the first person who was ever told to check her privilege). Lastly, and on a personal level, there is no monolithic standard for feminism, even if the core goal (equality for women) is universal.

Maybe it’s because I’m a guy who’d like to see himself as a feminist, or at least an ally, I’m sensitive to these schisms. I don’t look down at porn or Power Girl’s notorious boob window (or most of the more debated female superheroine costumes), and I’ve definitely staked something of a claim towards being far more sympathetic to Xander over at the StoryWonk forums than most (I’m about the only person who didn’t bury “Go Fish”, for instance). A lot of this is because I’m trying to not be a total hypocrite, but also because I’ve been that guy over the past 38 years way too many times, and I know first hand how hard it is to be a better person when literally everything drummed into you culturally says that it’s OK to be sexist (for instance). That white male privilege thing is absolutely real, everybody. On the other hand, I’d like to think I’m pretty ahead of the curve when it comes to bisexuality……but I also recognize that how I came to that position can be construed as being less than pure (which is why The Great Willow Sexuality Rant took months of writing and over 20 revisions before I published it).

But with those largely personal caveats aside, NOW has done a lot of great things in the world, and as with everything, the organization is constantly growing and changing. Not all at once, and maybe not perfectly, but they’re fighting the good fight as best as they can.

Next time, we inch ever closer to actual episode reviews again (yay!) by introducing Robert H. Justman’s preferred Star Trek music composer.

Priority One Alert: The New Star Trek Fan Film Guidelines

If the internet is known for one thing, it’s porn.

Wait, that came out wrong. Let’s start over:

If the internet is known for anything (besides porn), it’s shopping.

For fuck’s sake! Let’s do this right this time, OK?

If the internet is known for anything (besides porn and shopping), it’s for giving people a way to share their love for (or hatred for) just about anything (including, ironically, shopping and porn). Fanfiction, message boards (hey, StoryWonk forums!), social media (hey, #OddWonks!), fan art, podcasts, websites……seriously, people put a lot of work into goofing off on the internet. And they certainly aren’t doing it all alone, either, which was highly difficult to do before the internet became a thing. And with this interaction comes bigger and better things. Websites (not this one, obviously) are looking more professional than official websites, fanfic collaborations are happening with greater frequency, and since the rise of YouTube, fan films have become a new and promising avenue of creativity.

The birth of the modern fan film can be traced to Troops, a rather genius parody of both Star Wars and Cops. While Troops was not a “fan” film in the strictest sense (Kevin Rubio, the driving force behind the project, was working for Fox Kids at the time, and recruited people he knew from working in the industry, including the film’s top-tier voice cast), it inspired and entertained Star Wars fans across the globe, so much that Lucasfilm eventually backed a fan film competition, The Official Star Wars Fan Film Awards (which is now known as The Star Wars Fan Movie Challenge). It was an unprecedented show of support by an IP holder, and has been rewarded with an engaged fanbase (even as the Prequel Trilogy has become increasingly criticized and reviled).

Contrast this with Paramount (and, as a result of the Viacom Split, CBS as well), who has had a bit of a contentious relationship with Star Trek pretty much from the very moment they purchased Desilu in 1967. The series was a big money-loser and Gene Roddenberry wasn’t easy to deal with at all, so Paramount happily helped NBC to kill the show in the third season (after which they proceeded to gut Desilu’s other TV series, Mission: Impossible). And when fandom (which was powerfully active from the moment that the series began to air) exploded in the ’70s, Paramount cracked down on fanfic, declaring that it couldn’t be included in fanzines that charged money (a necessary move to help offset the costs of publishing).

Naturally, this backfired, and soon pornographic fanzines (including ones with the first examples of “slash” fan fiction involving Kirk and Spock) spread like wildfire.

And if that wasn’t bad enough, once the internet became a thing in the ’90s, Paramount C&D’d (cease-and-desisted) a number of fan websites into oblivion. Granted, the late ’90s were the days when many websites were loaded with itty-bitty, low-res screen grabs and dialogue quotes, but this was an extremely fan-unfriendly move (and one echoed by 20th Century Fox, who produced three shows with heavy internet popularity: The X-FilesThe Simpsons, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer).

Now, however, Paramount and CBS have taken things to a new extreme: sparked in large part by their legal action against Alec Peters and the Axanar fan film, they have released a set of fan film “guidelines” which in essence shut down every single fan production. Stories can only be 30 minutes long, in two parts of 15 minutes, with no further episodes. No Star Trek veterans of any type can work on fan films. And any Kickstarter-type campaigns can only raise $50,000. Period.

The thing is, every one of the major fan productions (AxanarStar Trek: New VoyagesStar Trek Continues, and Star Trek: Renegades) has enlisted multiple alumni, with Renegades featuring Tim Russ (Tuvok from Star Trek: Voyager) as director. Additionally, all of these projects have raised far more than $50,000, with the sets alone costing far more than that (James Cawley, the primary mastermind behind New Voyages, has sunk at least quadruple that of his own money on sets alone over the years). So, quite frankly, this shatters all further plans, including multiple episodes in various states of completion (as none of the crews want to be sued like Alec Peters).

Worse, fandom has blamed Peters because he demanded that Paramount and CBS provide firm guidelines right as he was sued, as well as him taking a salary so he could devote all of his time to the project. Granted, that last part is rather dubious under the previous “non-profit” rule, but there is precedent (the heads of non-profit organizations in the real world do take salaries). There seems to be some accusations that Peters is trying to use Axanar to “go pro” (i.e., use this production as the basis for a professional, for-profit operation). This is where I cry foul, because let’s face it: fan films are posted to IMDb. So for the amateurs involved in these productions, these films have been a way towards building a legitimate career in film and television. (And for a number of actors in the fan productions, it has led to work on the franchise.) While Peters’ methods appear questionable, they aren’t so far removed from the norm, as there are people involved with these fan productions who do get paid. Peters was just open about it, and is the first showrunner to do so. While he’s not innocent, Peters is not the only guilty party here: Paramount and CBS went above and beyond by suing him, and have behaved even worse by invoking these new guidelines.

As a final postscript to this entire awful mess, Paramount and CBS have officially licensed James Cawley to offer tours of his version of the Enterprise TV sets. So, Star Trek: New Voyages, in some perverse fashion, gets officially sanctioned, but at the cost of multiple episodes (across the various fan productions) never getting finished, and likely never seeing the light of day. While it’s good that Cawley will eventually recoup the costs he incurred over the years, it was never about the money: it was about the love of Star Trek.

Next time, we discuss a milestone of women’s rights.

Assignment: 1966: Miranda v. Arizona

It’s June 13th, 1966. “Paint It Black” is the #1 song in the country, having displaced “When a Man Loves a Woman”, which fell to #4. Also in the Top 10: “Strangers In The Night” by Frank Sinatra and “Monday, Monday”. In further music news, Janis Joplin made her debut with Big Brother and the Holding Company on the 10th at the Avalon Ballroom in San Francisco. The same day, members of the KKK’s Mississippi White Knights brutally murder sharecropper Ben Chester White as part of a scheme to lure Martin Luther King to the area in order to mount an assassination attempt. On the 11th, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? made its premiere after Jack Valenti gave the picture special dispensation to be released in theatres, though with a warning that only adults could be admitted. However, the big news comes from the Supreme Court, who rules in Miranda v. Arizona that Miranda’s confession was inadmissible because he had not been notified of his Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights (and therefore had not legally waived those rights).

The effect of this was massive. Suddenly, there was a check on coercive interrogations, which could be notoriously harsh (read: violent) depending on the municipality and the race of the suspect. But, for the average American, this decision was felt in one extremely visible way: TV cop shows (and cop movies, for that matter) suddenly featured a scene where the bad guy (or the hero, if need be) was told that he had the right to remain silent, and that anything they said could be used against them in a court of law. An important protection was not only confirmed, but it became an ingrained part of American culture (which, thanks to the exportation of our films and TV shows, is also well-known abroad). It was a landmark decision not only for the legal ramifications, but because of the widespread cultural effect.

But it’s not that simple. Miranda was actually convicted on retrial, because their were actual eyewitness accounts. This meant that the Phoenix Police Department was also guilty of laziness, which is about as damning a criticism as you can have of a police force. But, on a greater scale, this ties into the notorious racial politics of Arizona. This was the home of Barry Goldwater, whose 1964 Presidential campaign was the birth of the modern conservative movement, which in case you haven’t noticed, is notoriously extremist and racist. (Moreover, Ronald Reagan and Phyllis Schlaffly got involved in politics as a result of Goldwater’s Presidential run). And in 1990, Arizona voters notoriously rejected making Martin Luther King, Jr. Day a state holiday, costing Phoenix (and Sun Devil Stadium, which was an ungodly dump of a football stadium at the time) Super Bowl XXVII. Furthermore, Phoenix is in Maricopa County, home the infamous Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office and Joe Arpaio, whose policies are so mindblusteringly racist as to defy belief. So, yeah, institutional racism? Kind of a factor here.

And, of course, there’s Berghuis v. Thompkins, the 2010 Supreme Court decision that ruled that an “ambiguous or equivocal” statement (or no statement at all) did not mean that the police could halt an interrogation. This, of course, totally gutted Miranda, a rather standard state of affairs for the more recent, conservative, iterations of the Supreme Court.

Next time on Star Trek Debriefed (Catch Up Edition), it’s time to pause and discuss a certain notorious new edict from Star Trek‘s rights holders.