Guardians of Forever: The Stars of Star Trek

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.

Guardians of Forever: William Ware Theiss and Joseph D’Agosta

“The degree to which a costume is considered sexy is directly dependent upon how accident-prone it appears to be.”-William Ware Theiss, defining the Theiss Theory of Titillation

With Bob Justman’s recruits from The Outer LimitsStar Trek‘s creative staff was beginning to take shape. One of the most infamous yet anonymous staff members was recommended by Gene Roddenberry’s secretary, Dorothy Fontana (more on her later). Theiss and Roddenberry got along swimmingly, and the reason is obvious starting with “The Cage”: Theiss knew how to make scandalously revealing costumes that weren’t technically scandalously revealing under the strict rules of the networks. Balancing these daring outfits were the functional yet iconic crew uniforms (the infamous miniskirts for the women being an idea that did not originate from Theiss), which avoided the military aesthetic while avoiding the trap of looking unbelievably campy.

Despite his considerable talents, Theiss was not universally popular: he was a noted eccentric (to the point of offense in some circumstances) and demanded much of his staff. (A telling quote in this regard: “Stop when all work is done-and not before.”) And, when Pat Westmore joined the series as hairdresser in the second season, he would find himself involved in constant conflict with a member of Hollywood’s most famous clan of makeup artists.

“You won’t get off my hook this easily. I’m going to marry you, Mister, battle or phaser weapons notwithstanding.”-Angela Martine (played by Barbara Baldavin) in “Balance of Terror”

Every production needs people to actually perform the material, and a great deal of the success (or failure) of it lies with the casting director who works with the producers to pick a cast. Having been extremely satisfied with the casting on The Lieutenant, Roddenberry wanted Joseph D’Agosta to cast Star Trek. However, D’Agosta had just accepted a position at 20th Century Fox, and couldn’t just drop a regular job for a pilot. So, Gene compromised and the two made their initial choices over the phone, and D’Agosta got $750 (which is the general equivalent of $5,650 today) for his work.

While the casting for “The Cage” did not go as smoothly as Roddenberry had hoped, there was no denying that D’Agosta was not the problem, and he was officially hired for future episodes, and in fact ended up handling casting for all of Desilu’s shows. Moreover, his wife, actress Barbara Baldavin (who would eventually become as gifted a casting agent as her husband), would find herself in demand with the staffs of those Desilu shows (much to D’Agosta’s chagrin, as he was against such a potential act of nepotism). But once again, I’m getting a bit ahead of myself.

Next up: the first of three posts on the cast of “The Cage”. After that, a pair of posts on the special effects and the music, and then, at long last, the first episode post.

Guardians of Forever: Fred B. Phillips, Wah Chang, and Janos Prohaska

“Captain, please go. Somehow, they do not look aesthetically agreeable on humans.”-Spock, prodding Captain Kirk to remove the ears that he had been surgically altered to have in “The Enterprise Incident”

A show like Star Trek, with its many aliens and exotic locales, is going to need a good makeup artist to help realize these fantastic settings. With Robert H. Justman coming from The Outer Limits, he was not only able to recommend a great choice, but an absolute legend: Fred B. Phillips. Working under Jack Dawn and William J. Tuttle (both of who were industry legends in their own right), Phillips had worked on the makeup for The Wizard of Oz in 1939, and later the 1956 version of Around the World in 80 Days before The Outer LimitsStar Trek, however, would soon become Phillips’ most famous job, and one he would literally continue with until he was physically unable to continue.

“You’ll know, sir. They’re painted like a giant bird of prey.”-Lieutenant Stiles, accurately predicting the signature design element of the Romulan Bird of Prey in “Balance of Terror”

As much a genius as he was, Matt Jefferies could not possibly design everything used in Star Trek. Thankfully, Bob Justman also knew Wah Chang through his work on The Outer Limits. Chang’s job on that anthology series included prosthetic appliances and various props and models, all of which skills that would be of use on “The Cage”, and eventually, on the series proper. By this point, Chang had long established himself as one of the most talented artists in Hollywood, having created models for Pinocchio and Bambi at Disney before nearly dying from polio, Elizabeth Taylor’s headdress for Cleopatra, and the Oscar-winning title prop for George Pal’s version of The Time Machine.

Unfortunately, Chang’s incredible talents came at a cost. He was not a member of the propmaker’s union, and wasn’t allowed to join because his talents dwarfed the other members by a good country mile. As a result, Wah Chang was never credited on Star Trek, as his work was officially bought “off the shelf”. Among these items for “The Cage” would be the Talosians’ headgear, the communicators, the redesigned laser pistols (as Matt Jefferies’ original design was rejected), and various creature suits.

“Yes…it’s the Mugato. No problem, though, those prints are several days old. They seldom stay around in one place.”-Captain Kirk, “A Private Little War”

Someone needed to be in those creature suits, and once again, The Outer Limits paid off. Janos Prohaska, a Hungarian actor/stunt performer, was that man. While generally specializing as a performer in gorilla suits (which would culminate with a recurring role on The Andy Williams Show), Prohaska was an expert at “becoming” any sort of suited creature, often with strange and unpredictable results. However, unlike Wah Chang, Prohaska’s efforts would be rather infrequent (as there’s only so many plots Hollywood could think of with a man in a suit), and he would drop in on spec (i.e., a non-guaranteed pitch)….but that’s a story for another time.

Next time, however, we will discuss the matter of the costumes for Star Trek, and the man who would help Gene Roddenberry to fill them.

Guardians of Forever: Robert H. Justman

For all of his considerable talents, Gene Roddenberry needed someone to direct and help produce “The Cage” for NBC. Roddenberry wanted James Goldstone, who had directed an episode of The Lieutenant. However, Goldstone was unavailable. Herb Solow suggested Robert Butler, whom Roddenberry knew from both Have Gun – Will Travel and The Lieutenant. Butler was already a well-regarded director, and would only reach greater heights in the future, with the pilot of Hill Street Blues and creating Remington Steele ahead of him. Butler, however, wasn’t a great fan of science fiction, and would clash with Roddenberry on a number of creative issues, including the very title of the series. Butler would quickly decide to just go along with his new boss’s ideas.

The production received an incredibly lucky break when NBC called in a favor with Disney, whose Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color was a fixture of the network’s lineup. The “favor” was in the person of three-time Oscar winner William E. Snyder to serve as director of photography. With The Creature From the Black Lagoon and the now-forgotten Disney comedy Moon Pilot on his resume, Snyder was considered to be a great asset for the upcoming production.

However, Star Trek needed an associate producer (or line producer as they are currently known). The associate producer’s job is to make sure the show is made, on-time and on-budget. For any production, the associate producer needs to be a dedicated, hard-working individual with good-to-excellent planning skills. For a show like Star Trek, the associate producer needed to be a miracle worker.

History has proven Robert H. Justman to be exactly that.

As yet another recommendation from James Goldstone, Bob Justman had a long history of being not only a hard worker, but a bold and persistent one. Originally classified as 4F by the Draft Board during World War II, Justman managed to be enough of a pest that he was reclassified in 1944, and served in the Pacific as a radio operator. He also applied for a hearing with the Director’s Guild to be promoted from second assistant director to first assistant director without inheriting the position or being nominated by one of the major studios, and still managed to get the promotion. By the start of the ’60s, he had risen to the position of Production Liaison Executive at MGM for their television shows, and was also serving as the associate producer for The Outer Limits when ABC cancelled the series partway through the 1964-65 season. So, in Gene’s mind, Justman was well-suited for the job.

Justman, however, wasn’t so confident about his knowledge about optical effects, and took the position of assistant director for “The Cage”, and encouraged Roddenberry to hire Byron Haskin, who had directed episodes of The Outer Limits. Haskin, who had been the head of Warner Bros. special effects department in the ’30s and ’40s (earning an Academy Award for developing a rear-projection system specifically for special effects shots) before moving into directing, was a natural choice. Among the films Haskin directed were The War of the Worlds for George Pal and Robinson Crusoe on Mars, so he most certainly knew about special effects.

However, Haskin and Roddenberry would soon end up clashing, resulting in “The Cage” being Haskin’s only effort on Star Trek. However, he would turn out to be an exception with Bob Justman’s recruits from The Outer Limits, as we’ll see next time when we discuss a whopping three of the people that would join Star Trek from The Outer Limits.

Guardians of Forever: Matt Jefferies

“This vessel….I give, she takes. She won’t let me live my life; I’ve got to live hers.”-Captain Kirk, “The Naked Time”

After speaking with writers Samuel A. Peeples and Jerry Sohl and contracted the aid of the RAND Corporation, Gene Roddenberry started writing. Three treatments were conceived: a story about mental illusions and hypnotic suggestions called “The Cage”, a story about an idyllic planet with a dark secret named “Visit to Paradise”, and “The Women”, about a con artist named Harry Patton who was engaged in “wiving settlers”, which is to say, prostitution. NBC chose “The Cage”, which also happened to be hardest of the three stories to produce. Suffice to say, Desilu and Roddenberry were being tested.

At this point, the beginnings of a staff for Star Trek was assigned. Rolland M. Brooks, Desilu’s supervising art director, took one look at the Star Trek assignment, and knew who to give the project to: Matt Jefferies.

Walter “Matt” Jefferies, like Gene Roddenberry, served in the Army Air Corps as a pilot, but while Roddenberry went into commercial piloting and then the LA police before becoming a professional writer, Jefferies became an illustrator for the Library of Congress and a freelancer for magazines on the side. He got his start in Hollywood in 1957 when he was hired as a consultant for the Warner Bros. film Bombers B-52, and became in demand for all types of design work. In 1964, Jefferies was a set designer for Ben Casey before taking a month vacation. When he came back, his desk was moved, and assigned to the series that would end up defining his career.

Roddenberry gave Jefferies very simple directions for Star Trek‘s primary model (which, at this point, was referred to as the S.S. Yorktown): no flames, fins, or rockets (all excessively used in prior science fiction productions), but make sure the ship looked powerful. Luckily, as a member of the Aviation Space Writers Association, Jefferies had access to tons of NASA and military designs to guide him (as well as other science fiction movies and TV shows to guide him on what not to do). With art directors Pato Guzman and later Franz Bachelin, Jefferies whittled down the design ideas before reaching the famous design we know today. The initial mock-up was made of wood, the weights of which resulted in the ship flopping upside down briefly before Roddenberry. Thankfully, Jefferies won out and the ship appears right side up. With these details set in place, Jefferies and Roddenberry agreed upon the registry information: NCC (“N” being the aviation registration code for United States aircraft, and “CCCC” being the code for aircraft from the Soviet Union) 1701, with the numbers chosen because they could be easily read on television.

It also fell upon Jefferies to design the interior of the Enterprise, and this became an even greater triumph: the circular bridge with the captain’s chair in the center was inspired by naval vessels, and was segmented to allow cameras to shoot from any angle. (The only fault in the design was how noisy the bridge proved to be in production: the wood sets would loudly creak whenever anyone moved, creating endless challenges for the crew and post-production staff.) Further revisions to the set design (especially the elimination of the goose-necked personal monitors that Jefferies loathed), as well as the eventual engineering and sickbay sets would solidify the strength of the Enterprise‘s interior design.

With the design of the Enterprise‘s exterior and interior taking shape, Gene Roddenberry would need to assemble a team to actually shoot the script that was taking shape. Among those people, however, would be a producer who would prove to be indispensable to Star Trek, and we’ll speak about him next time.