Guardians of Forever: Roger C. Carmel and The Westheimer Company

With the breakdown of Darrell Anderson and the delays with the special effects for “The Corbomite Maneuver”, Star Trek had no other choice but to hire additional firms to get the show ready to make its September 8th premiere date. The first of these was The Westheimer Company, named after and run by Joseph Westheimer. Westheimer, who had started working in the film industry at 15 for Warner Bros. (first as a messenger and then later on in the prop department), joined the visual effects department after getting his degree in electrical engineering for Caltech (California Institute of Technology). Working under Byron Haskin, Westheimer worked on various films (including various World War II propaganda films) until striking out on his own in 1955.

As I mentioned very early in this blog series, records of who worked on what are hard to come by in visual effects, but one project in certain in Wesheimer’s CV: The Twilight Zone. That series featured a variety of special effects, many of them utilizing space footage that was certainly shot by The Westheimer Company. So, with that history alone, they were certain to be able to help Star Trek get back on track. But there was something else that Westheimer had: two up-and-coming employees, Joseph M. Wilcots and Richard Edlund. The former had an Emmy nomination and an impressive career as a cinematographer (mostly outside the realm of special effects), and the latter has since become a living legend in the world of visual effects, with multiple Oscars, Emmys, Saturn Awards, and BAFTAs to his credit (among many, many others). And they working on Star Trek, with no time and on a shoestring ’60s TV budget.

For an actor in television, job stability is the whitest of whales for an actor. Instead of auditioning for dozens of roles to get one guest starring role, you’re able to make a steady wage working long, hard hours. Worse, if you aren’t known for something, you need to look, speak, or act uniquely enough so that casting directors will take a chance on you. Luckily for Roger C. Carmel, he possessed all of these qualities. Born in Brooklyn on September 27th, 1932, Carmel broke into acting in Hollywood in 1958, and by the ’60s was a regular face on television. With his distinctive voice and handlebar mustache, Carmel was instantly recognizable, often playing rogues and villains (and, in a sign of how backwards Hollywood was at the time, those characters were frequently “ethnic”). But with Star Trek, Carmel received his first taste of lasting notoriety. Harry Mudd would be the only non-Starfleet character to appear more than once, and Carmel would be one of the few guest actors to return to voice his character on the Filmation series. Furthermore, Harry Mudd has appeared repeatedly in various spin-off media, and was even considered for a return appearance in Star Trek IV. Much of this great success rests squarely on the shoulders of Roger C. Carmel.

But for me, as a child of the ’80s, Harry Mudd is far from the only thing Roger C. Carmel appeared in that I grew up with. He made a memorable appearance during Batman‘s second season as Colonel Gumm, the villain for the crossover episodes with The Green Hornet. (Carmel’s role is perhaps best known now as being one of the few Batman villains whose likeness rights were not acquired in the licensing deal which pre-dated the show’s long-awaited arrival on home video.) Additionally, Carmel scored a contract to voice Smokey Bear in the infamous series of public service commercials, a role he shared with multiple actors into the ’80s, which kept him busy as acting gigs began to dwindle. On top of that, Carmel forged a highly successful voice acting career in 1985, voicing Motormaster, Bruticus, Cyclonus, and the Quintesson Face of Laughter on The Transformers (among many others) and Sir Tuxford on Gummi Bears. However, this promising new avenue, plus the massive success in commercials for Naugles (a chain of Mexican fast-food restaurants on the West Coast) were cut short when Carmel died in 1986 due to heart failure stemming from hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. He was only 54 years old.

Next time:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *