Back in the 60’s my uncle Jerry was a science fiction writer. He had some fame in the 50s as a novelist, and became involved in the motion picture industry. I suspect his career was unfairly stunted by his involvement with HP Lovecraft’s gothic horror novel “The Color out of Space” for Shepperton Studios. The film was released in the US as “Die Monster, Die”, and features the last performance of Boris Karloff. It is also rumored to contain massive amounts of acting under the influence of LSD. As such, it resembles Hertzog’s “Heart of Glass” as much as it does a HP Lovecraft story – not well received at the time, but increasingly well regarded as a cult classic in modern times (rotten tomatos, 71% and rising).
In any case, he was a friend of Gene Roddenberry, and was one of the first science fiction authors tapped to write screenplays for a concept that had just been greenlighted called Star Trek. His first contribution to the canon was “The Corbomite Maneuver”, which was the first (non-pilot) episode filmed, although it was shown out of order (#3) when the series launched. The episode is famed for other reasons as well – the first appearance of Clint Howard (Rons brother, the member of the family everyone thought was going places) as a child actor playing the role of Balok, captain of the mighty Fesarius.
What this meant for me was that when my family visited Uncle Jerry in the spring of 1966, he arranged for us to tour the set, and watch the filming of an episode. We had no idea what the show would become, really we had no idea what it was even about since it had not been broadcast yet. Still, as a science fiction fan, I was excited to see the inside of a real tv show – and a science fiction one at that. We were not allowed to take pictures – in retrospect a great shame, but understandable at the time.
Mudd’s Women was being filmed the day we visited, (the second episode filmed) and we saw one scene being filmed – where a miner of lithium crystals (not yet dilithium) and one of the women have a fight – I remember a line about “Women’s cooking”.
We were introduced to William Shatner, and Leonard Nimoy, who were in costume and waiting for their scene. Both were polite, with Shatner distracted by a conversation about his motorcycle. Nimoy complained to Jerry about his ears not fitting. We shook hands and moved on.
We toured the set, and I was struck by the setcraft – boulders made of paper mache and tin foil, covered with spray texturing. There were several sections, each containing sets. In one we walked up a wooden ramp to the side of a large structure walled in surplus cardboard boxes, and walked through a door onto the bridge of the Enterprise. I was struck by the difference between the outside and the inside – with nothing better to compare it too, the control panels and tiered bridge were impressive, even with the inexpensive materials and repurposed elements. We looked around freely, and I sat in the captain’s chair (this probably made Jerry nervous, but no one was around to see). We then toured other sets – the transporter room stays in my memory. We stood on the transporters, but of course had no idea how they would be used in the show.
That captain’s chair is now on display in Paul Allen’s science fiction museum, housed in a building by Frank Gehry. My cousin Ed and I visited it not too long ago. Ed had been with us on the tour that year and so it was a homecoming for us both. I’m told that Paul has never actually sat in the chair – it is a museum artifact now, so I’ve done something that one of the richest men in the world can’t do. (or is at least smart enough not to do).
In the late 90s I came across a Star Trek action figure of Balok, which I sent to Jerry along with a comment on how Jerry had obtained pop culture immortality. I’m told he kept it displayed in his office till he passed in 2002.