When it comes to doing an interview with any well-known personality, there is a very delicate line a newspaperman must tread (or is it trek?). On the one hand, the reporter must be cognizant of his subject’s often busy schedule; on the other, he has to answer to his editor when he fails to deliver a story.
Some time ago, the BSO announced it would reprise its highly acclaimed Sci-Fi Spectacular – a program of space-age music hosted by George Takei. Mr. Sulu (Takei) is one of the most popular and recognizable stars from the original Star Trek series. My editor asked me to interview Takei and write a piece about the event. Being somewhat a fan of the original series, it was an assignment I most happily accepted. Unfortunately, I was told by the press office at the BSO that Mr. Takei was not giving any interviews at this time.
Fair enough. Given the demands of travel, rehearsals and his ever growing Facebook page, I’m sure that Mr. Takei has his hands quite full. But before I could inform my editor that an interview was not forthcoming, I spied a copy of Gay Life on the newsstand with a smiling picture of Takei on the front cover. Discreetly glancing through the tabloid, I discovered, much to my chagrin, that Takei had given Gay Life an interview on the very subject I was told he would not, i.e. his upcoming appearance with the BSO.
I was in a fix. How could I explain to my editor that I had been scooped on a story? I certainly couldn’t blame the BSO. I mean, it’s not like their public relations office would lie to me, right? (Turns out they did.) I hesitated to blame Takei as well, though it should go without saying that if anyone should be cognizant of treating reporters equally, it is George Takei.
In desperation, I started looking for another voice from the Star Trek series. Gene Roddenberry, Majel Barret and James Doohan have all beamed up. DeForest Kelly? He’s dead, Jim. Leonard Nimoy would not return my calls, and I would not return Walter Koenig’s. I could not get a hold of Grace Lee Whitney or any of the surviving guest stars, nor could I track down the inimitable William Shatner – this even though I am a personal friend of Heather Locklear.
Finally, with a deadline approaching, I turned to a contact at the William Morris agency, who put me in touch with the perennial, though uncredited, mainstay of Star Trek: Red Shirt Number 3.
The following are excerpts from a frankly fictitious interview with Red Shirt number 3, in which we discussed some of his Star Trek memories, countless fatal missions, and this weekend’s BSO Sci-Fi Spectaclar:
BPE ~ Thanks for sitting down with us. Let me start by asking if you would bring us up to date. It’s been a while since the original show went off the air. I believe it was 1969. What have you been up to since then? Did you stay in acting?
RS3 ~ Yeah for a while I did a little community theatre – just to keep my hand in the acting scene. That didn’t pay the bills, so I ended up managing an Orange Julius stand at the mall. Tried out to be the spokesman for Eveready batteries when Robert Conrad bowed out, but they didn’t think a former red shirt would really do anything to help them sell their brand.
BPE ~ According to your bio, you appeared in 27 different episodes of Star Trek…
RS3 ~ 28, if you include episode 35 – “The Doomsday Machine.” But Commodore Decker beamed me down along with the rest of the crew ahead of the arrival of that huge planet killing machine and, well, we all died before the Enterprise arrived, so I never actually appeared on screen.
BPE ~ OK, 28. But you were never credited on screen for any of your appearances. Why is that?
RS3 ~ Well, part of that is because I was considered a feature extra. Extras are almost never credited, even though we do the lion’s share of the acting. I mean, how realistic would those photon hits from the Klingons have looked if all you ever saw was Kirk rocking back-n-forth in his Barcalounger. We extras were the ones who really sold those scenes; throwing ourselves here and there, all over the bridge of the Enterprise every time the director yelled, “ROLL RIGHT” and “ROLL LEFT”. One woman actually broke her arm in one of those scenes. They had to go back and fix the soundtrack because you could hear her screaming “Oh $#!^, Oh $#!^”
Another reason I was never credited was Paramont liked to re-cycle actors on Star Trek. Like, you weren’t supposed to notice that William Campbell played both a Klingon captain and a Liberace wanna-be. I died in both episode 32 – “The Changeling” and episode 34 – “The Apple” playing a security officer. Then, of course, there was that Dikironium cloud creature in episode 42 – “Obsession”….
BPE ~ Yes, we get it…
RS3 ~ Those baggy red engineering smocks weren’t any protection, either. Had one hell of a time getting all of those tribbles out.
BPE ~ Do you recall the first episode you appeared in?
RS3 ~ Of course. I was in episode 3 – “Where No Man Has Gone Before.” That was actually just a reworking of the second pilot.
BPE ~ How did you fare in that one?
RS3 ~ I bought it pretty early on at the galactic barrier.
BPE ~ Tough gig.
RS3 ~ It was a steady pay check.
BPE ~ Moving on to the BSO, this weekend’s Sci-Fi Spectacular will feature selections from Star Trek, along with the best of John Williams: E.T., Somewhere in Time, Star Wars and more. I wonder if you could say a few words about Alexander Courage or John Williams?
RS3 ~ Hmm. I’m afraid I can’t help you there, pal. I’m actually a fan of Stan Getz.
BPE ~ So you have nothing to say about John Williams?
RS3 ~ Didn’t he also do the theme for Lost in Space as Johnny Williams?
BPE ~ Yes, I believe he did.
RS3 ~ Oh, geez, don’t get me started on that damned Dr. Smith. If there was ever a character who deserved to die a thousand deaths…
BPE ~ George Takei was last here in 2008 for the BSO Sci-Fi Spectacular. Have you ever been to Baltimore? If so, what was the occasion?
RS3 ~ Yeah, I was there in 1999 for the relaunch of the USS Constellation.
BPE ~ Oh, that’s interesting. Are you a history buff?
RS3 ~ Hardly. Someone in your city’s PR department thought it would be a great idea to invite some of the people who had served aboard other incarnations of the Constellation. William Windom wasn’t available, so…
BPE ~ Right.. Commodore Decker… “The Doomsday Machine” again.
RS3 ~ Hey, you’re good.
BPE ~ I have my moments. Getting back to your last visit, do you have any memories of Baltimore?
RS3 ~ Yeah. It was the first time I had steamed crabs. You can’t get anything like that from a food replicator. Just sorry I missed Blaze Starr.
BPE ~ Yes. Blaze Starr and the girls on The Block. Speaking of girls, I almost hesitate to ask, but were there any female red shirts on The Enterprise?
RS3 ~ Of course there were. For example, there was Yeoman Leslie Thompson in “By Any Other Name”. She beamed down with us to Kelvan where their leader Rojan had her reduced into a dehydrated porous cuboctahedrion cube. Not pretty. I mean, the porous cube. Leslie was a real looker.
BPE ~ Speaking of co-stars, Gay Life asked George Takei who would be his most desired – Kirk or Spock? Any comment?
RS3 ~ You’re kidding, right? Please tell me you’re kidding?
BPE ~ ‘Fraid not.
RS3 ~ Ummm… OK. Well, different strokes, I guess.
BPE ~ So, any comment?
RS3 ~ I always had a thing for Lt. Uhura.
BPE ~ Well that’s totally understandable. Nichelle Nichols is absolutely gorgeous. But talk about going boldly. Weren’t interracial relationships pretty much taboo in 1967?
RS3 ~ Hey, the star date was 2712.4. We’ve come a long way, baby. Besides, didn’t you ever notice?
BPE ~ Notice what?
RS3 ~ Uhura wore a red shirt.
(The BSO Sci-Fi Spectacular featuring George Takei as narrator and host, happens this weekend at the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall in Baltimore. Performances are Friday, February 21, at 8 p.m., Saturday, February 22, at 8 p.m., and Sunday, February 23, at 3 p.m. Jack Everly conducts the BSO with Kristin Plumley, vocalist and The Sci-Fi-Ettes, vocal ensemble. Tickets and other information are available online at the BSO. Many thanks to Memory Alpha for help with this piece. Screenshots from Star Trek [c] CBS Television Studios.)
Anthony C. Hayes is an actor, author, raconteur, rapscallion and bon vivant. A one-time newsboy for the Evening Sun and professional presence at the Washington Herald, Tony’s poetry, photography, humor, and prose have also been featured in Smile, Hon, You’re in Baltimore!, Destination Maryland, Magic Octopus Magazine, Los Angeles Post-Examiner, Voice of Baltimore, SmartCEO, Alvarez Fiction, and Tales of Blood and Roses. If you notice that his work has been purloined, please let him know. As the Good Book says, “Thou shalt not steal.”