May 6, 2017


Star Trek: Five Decades Later (Bradley J. Birzer, 5/03/17, Imaginative Conservative)

Though last year officially marked the fiftieth anniversary of the Star Trek franchise, such dating is more for PR and marketing than for history and reality. As it turns out, Star Trek is several years older than the first appearance of the first episode, "The Man Trap," on September 8, 1966. The creator, Gene Roddenberry, had produced a sixty-four-minute Star Trek movie/pilot entitled "The Cage" in 1964. The studio, however, owned by Lucille Ball, thought the show excellent but too intellectual for the public. That movie, which revolved around an exhausted Captain Christopher Pike (played by Jeffrey Hunter of The Searchers fame), involved an exploration of a planet controlled by Oz-like characters, with immense and mildly abusive telepathic powers. While 'The Cage" is certainly Star Trek, the only major character to carry over from the 1964 version to the 1966 version was Leonard Nimoy's diabolic-appearing Vulcan, Mr. Spock (according to naval tradition, "Mister" is a common title). One might, I suppose, also include the carryover of the actual starship, the U.S.S. Enterprise, NCC-1701, as well. Still, while the Enterprise was the same on the outside, the inside was more mechanical and less stylized than the 1966 version, and Mr. Spock smiled and got excited in his earliest incarnation.

In a nearly unprecedented move, the studio not only paid for that original movie (not aired as originally produced in 1964 until 1988) but paid Roddenberry to write a second one, a pilot for a T.V. series. Ball, as it turned out, loved science fiction and prophetically believed that it would prove the future of television and film. Sadly, she herself became so involved in her own divorce and failed married life that she had to sell her Desilu Studio to Paramount before ever making any money on her investment. Star Trek, of course, would go on to become one of Paramount's greatest money-makers, though it had been Ball who had initially supported Roddenberry and his then rather wacky concept of a western set in space, Wagon Train to the Stars (the original name for the Star Trek series).

From the beginning, Roddenberry wanted the show to be allegorical, dealing with real-world problems and the struggles of civilization. In the original series, he very consciously wanted Kirk to represent John F. Kennedy and his "New Frontier"; Spock to be the good Roman Stoic and republican; and Leonard "Bones" McCoy to be a (no joke!) H.L. Mencken. In the first five-year mission of the Enterprise, the ship would explore the farthest reaches of known space, barely scratching the surface of the immense complexities of the galaxy. The stories worked best when Kirk stood for willful impulse; Spock for aristocratic reason; and Bones for democratic passions. From the beginning, Roddenberry attracted some of the best writing talent available, including Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, and Harlan Ellison.

Posted by at May 6, 2017 8:58 AM