Guardians of Forever: The Breakdown(s) of Darrell Anderson and Eddie Milkis

Here on Star Trek Debriefed (Chronically Behind Edition), it’s July 14th, 1966. The series is set to premiere in less than two months, and the cast and crew are in the middle of filming “Charlie X”, the sixth regular episode of the season, and multiple episodes had assembly edits ready for the special effects to be edited in. The show was operating at a relatively healthy surplus and though there were some problems with the writing and the directors, things seemed to be going well.

This, however, was a complete and utter fiction.

The reason can be summed up in a memo that Gene Roddenberry wrote to Darrell Anderson of the Howard A. Anderson Company:

“The purpose of this note is a friendly reminder that you and I have agreed that every basic stage and component of optical work will be shown to us for comment and approval. As such, if we should turn down a fully composited optical on which I have not had the opportunity to see the component parts, I would regretfully be placed in the position of having to refuse payment for the cost of making it.”

This was not the first memo Roddenberry had sent to Anderson. And at this point, the Andersons were three episodes behind the schedule devised by Desilu’s Head of Post Production, Bill Heath.

NBC had already made it clear that these three episodes, “The Corbomite Maneuver”, “Mudd’s Women”, and “The Enemy Within”, would not be the first episode to air.

And with not a single frame of space footage turned in, not even for the intro, things were coming to a head. And for reasons lost to history, Bill Heath seemed to be completely unconcerned. After sending Bob Justman to check things out, Roddemberry had an idea of how bad things were going. And they were bad.

Motion control photography was in its experimental stages, and therefore unavailable to the Andersons. This was certainly a challenge, but the real problem was lighting: between the lit model and the hot studio lights. The studio lights would heat up the model, forcing production to stop at fairly regular intervals until the model cooled down. Part of this is because the model was a huge, 11 foot behemoth, and part of it was because the Andersons’ work space was so small. And the lighting inside the model (which was not part of the original build, and had also been increased after production of “Where No Man Has Gone Before”, with the most noticeable new element being the lit nacelle domes) certainly complicated matters.

Regardless, things fell behind, forcing Fred Steiner and Alexander Courage to score the first few episodes of the series (and for Courage, the theme song) half-blind, Roddenberry to write the title narration without any visual aids, and ultimately resulting in “The Corbomite Maneuver” to have its airing delayed until November. Finally, at the end of August, Gene’s temper gave out, and Herb Solow hastily arranged for a screening that was attended by Roddenberry, Bob Justman, and Darrell Anderson. (Bill Heath, who was invited, was not present.)

It lasted a whole two minutes.

Worse yet, as Justman later related in Inside Star Trek, there were maybe a half-dozen “good” shots, and a few more “passable” ones. With the direness of Star Trek‘s predicament laid bare, Anderson stood up, shouted that the show would miss its premiere, and ran from the room. Justman followed after Anderson, and had to console the weeping, broken man. Later on, he would discover that Darrell Anderson’s breakdown was his third. The other two were following the production of “The Cage” and “Where No Man Has Gone Before”. Star Trek had literally broken him.

That night, Roddenberry and Justman cobbled together the opening credits with the footage they had, and chose the shots needed to get “The Man Trap” ready to air on September 8th. (They used footage from both pilots.) And after that, Roddenberry hired a man to actually perform Bill Heath’s job.

Eddie Milkis was born on July 16th, 1931 in Los Angeles, got into show business as an assistant editor in the late ’50s on movies like North by Northwest. He served as an editor on The Lieutenant, turning down offers to work on Star Trek‘s pilots in favor of working in real estate. And other than a couple of artists’ renderings, that’s literally all that’s know about his pre-Trek life, as Milkis gave two interviews (one of which was with William Shatner for his autobiography) during his life. And here he was, taking the role of post-production supervisor (and receiving a vague credit as Assistant to the Producer), doing his best to get the show’s visual effects produced. It was a horrifically difficult job, and ultimately, Milkis arranged for a total of three additional studios to work with the Andersons. And he excelled. So much so that Shatner dedicated a chapter of his book to Milkis, Justman heaped praise on him in Inside Star Trek, and most famously with fans, was declared as the “star” of the series in a humorous voiceover in Star Trek‘s second season blooper reel.

Next time:

Guardians of Forever: Gregg Peters, Irving Feinberg, and Jim Rugg

As with all TV shows, it takes a veritable army to produce a series. And as with any army, there are always new people joining the production, especially at the start of a season. This time, we’ll discuss three lesser known but vital members of Star Trek‘s crew.

With Bob Justman now officially installed as Associate Producer, Star Trek needed an Assistant Director. Thankfully, Gregg Peters had been the unofficial AD for “Where No Man Has Gone Before”, and he happily joined the crew as the series started up. Born on August 2nd, 1925, Peters served in the Air Force as soon as he was eligible, and was discharged at the end of World War II. Following that, he enrolled at UCLA and graduated in 1950 with as B.A. in Business Administration with a Theater Arts minor. And after breaking into television by working on various shows on NBC, Peters took his first AD job, on the film Gypsy for Warner Bros. Like so many others, Peters had worked on The Outer Limits before catching on at Desilu. Suffice to say, Star Trek had a top-notch Assistant Director, and an instantly recognizable one, too: with his bald head, Gregg Peters became quickly known on set as “Mr. Clean”, after the cleaning mascot.

While Matt Jefferies and Wah Chang were still working on Star Trek (the latter was constructing the now-familiar tricorders and hand phasers while the former was involved with the construction of the show’s permanent sets on Desilu Stages 9 and 10), there was still a need for a Property Master to not only help build and acquire the more mundane objects used on the show, but to make sure that the props are not lost, stolen, or broken during the making of an episode. This is one of the hardest jobs in film and television, and it requires a talented, tenacious, and smart person. And with the possible exception of Mystery Science Theater 3000 (who had two such individuals, “Toolmaster” Jef Maynard and “Prop Diva” Beez McKeever, over its long run), Star Trek had the best luck anyone ever has with their Property Master.

Irving Feinberg was part of Desilu’s existing staff, having worked on The Untouchables in addition to other shows in an uncredited fashion. But none of those shows were anything like Star Trek. It didn’t matter in the end, though, because Feinberg’s props fit in with the others perfectly, so much that the cast and crew started calling the props “Feinbergers” in his honor. And as to his role as protector of the various props, Feinberg was even more notorious. As soon as the director yelled, “Cut!” he would snatch up the props without fail. So protective was he that Feinberg was known for slapping the hands of the cast, writer David Gerrold, and even a young girl visiting the set. But given Star Trek‘s great fame (and great budget problems), this behavior was completely and utterly justified.

To handle the special effects, another highly experienced and capable man was hired: Jim Rugg. Born on January 29th, 1919 in Lidgerwood, North Dakota, Rugg and his family moved to Los Angeles when he was five, and attended UCLA and Pepperdine while becoming a ham radio operator in the late ’30s. With the advent of World War II, Rugg joined the Army and became a radio operator. Following the war, he moved into television and began a long career designing special effects for shows like Perry Mason and feature films such as Mary Poppins. On Star Trek, Rugg’s role was, to quote William Shatner in his memoir Star Trek Memories, very straightforward: “If it blinked, beeped, moved, lit up or even exploded, it was rigged by Jim Rugg.”

Or, at least, that job description was straightforward. The reality was far more complicated.

One of Rugg’s first tasks was to rig the newly relocated bridge set, which included separate wiring for each and every panel. Even today, this is a rather large task, but in 1966? This was a massive undertaking-and that’s just for one part of two rather decent-sized sets! The hard work did pay off, though, as this setup allowed for some pretty elaborate pyrotechnics. And if there’s anything that Jim Rugg was good at, it was at making things go boom. And boy did they go boom (which we’ll discuss eventually). If NBC wanted excitement, Jim Rugg was certainly going to be a big part of it.

Next time, we’re going to discuss the crisis that nearly got Star Trek cancelled before it even began.