I grew up watching syndicated reruns of the original “Star Trek.” Through 13 feature movies, eight live-action television series, sundry computer games and a theme park attraction, “Star Trek” has raked in roughly $10.6 billion — making it one of the most successful and profitable media franchises ever contrived.
No offense to our younger readers, but the Captain of the Enterprise was never meant to be a balding Frenchman. “The Next Generation” just never did much for me. However, I will forever be smitten with the original characters. The relatively recent reboots did a fabulous job of capturing that early Kirk/Spock magic.
The original series ran for three years, from 1966 through 1969. The state of the art as regards special effects was fairly primitive back then compared to today’s amazing digital capabilities. Regardless, across 79 episodes, Kirk and his valiant crew explored deep space in search of adventure. Their extraordinary chemistry even spawned the spoof “Galaxy Quest,” which was, in my opinion at least, one of the best movies ever made.
Trek’s original players hailed from a wide variety of backgrounds. Grace Lee Whitney played Yeoman Rand through the first eight episodes. She was also the very first Chicken of the Sea mermaid in their earliest ad campaigns. Leonard Nimoy, who played Spock, spent three years in the U.S. Army, separating as a Staff Sergeant. He was also briefly a professional singer (check this out if you need a giggle). William Shatner played Captain Kirk. He was born and raised in Montreal, Canada. He also had a successful career as a novelist. Both Nimoy and Shatner hailed from Jewish Ukrainian roots.
DeForest Kelley, who played the Southern country doctor-turned-ship’s surgeon, Dr. Bones McCoy, actually aspired to medical school in his youth. However, his family could not afford it. According to his character’s backstory, he is a graduate of the University Medical Center in Jackson, Mississippi – my alma mater. Were it up to me, I would have put his portrait in the lobby of the hospital, but it actually wasn’t up to me.
James Doohan played Chief Engineer Montgomery Scott. He also served with the Canadian Army and landed on Juno Beach on D-Day. While leading his men through a minefield, Lt. Doohan took six bullets from a Bren gun fired by a nervous Canadian sentry.
The one that should have killed him was deflected by a silver cigarette case given to him by his brother. One round blew the middle finger of his right hand off. Sharp-eyed Trek nerds can spot the missing finger on the screen if they look closely enough. After his recovery, Doohan eventually trained as a Canadian military pilot flying Auster Mk V observation planes.
One trope that seemed to run through the entire series was the sordid lot of the poor unfortunate disposable red-shirted security guy. You’d start with the regular cast with whom we were all familiar. However, when it was time to go down to the dangerous alien planet, there was always this nameless red-shirted loser who showed up at the transporter at the last minute, phaser on his hip and ready to rock. That dude was just doomed.
The phenomenon was so pervasive that it became a central theme in “Galaxy Quest.” A security officer named Guy Fleegman freaks out when the crew is thrown into some real peril because nobody knows his name. This is sufficient to assure him that he will never survive the pending alien encounter.
There was a reason for Fleegman’s anxiety. These poor nameless red-shirted crewmen always seemed to get whacked. However, in episode 10 of the first season, “The Corbomite Maneuver,” one of these guys actually survived to go on to even bigger and better things.
The weird little alien child at the end of that particular episode was played by 7-year-old Clint Howard, younger brother to the famed actor and director Ron Howard. However, in one brief scene, we get a glimpse of an anonymous red-shirted security crewman working diligently on some fake something in a corridor as a shirtless and sweaty Captain Kirk exits McCoy’s sickbay following some physical test or other. The red-shirted guy is only on screen for a few seconds.
You could be forgiven for not recognizing this nameless character. He didn’t make the credits. The actor who played him used the stage name Jonathan Lippe at the time. However, we all know him as Jonathan Goldsmith. As of this writing, Jonathan is still alive at age 84. His film credits include nine movies and 46 guest roles on various TV series. However, we all know him as a beer salesman for Dos Equis. Jonathan Goldsmith is, after all, the most interesting man in the world …