Saturday, April 27, 2013

MY LIFE IN STAR TREK PART III – The First Ever Con Preview of the Original Star Trek in 1966

Exclusive for Futures-Past Editions.

I am mostly relying upon treacherous memory here.

Having heard for a year, about the forthcoming and much-heralded "adult" science fiction series Star Trek, which was set to start running in two months on CBS, I was very excited to learn that an episode  would be premiered at the 1966 Westercon in July of that year, which I was already planning on attending. Though my mind was, as ever, on amour throughout the convention, I looked forward with anticipation to the Star Trek screening, particularly as such events were a rarity in those days. (Little dreaming that one day I would be working for the show's producer.)

Came the fateful day and hour. We were ushered into a very wide, brightly lit hotel auditorium, about thirty rows deep and, it felt like, sixty wide. Bjo and John Trimble, Gene Roddenberry, cast member Majel Barrett, and the show's star, who played the captain of the spaceship, William Shatner, were offstage in the wings.

Someone had decided fans would be impressed (and that person was right!) if the star of a television show were to come on  stage and say a few words. Bill panicked. "What should I say?" he blurted. "I'm an actor. I need lines. I'm not a writer!" Bjo Trimble, with the instant presence of mind that characterized her, responded. "Just run out there. Pause in the middle of the stage. Flash them the V for victory sign, ay, 'Frodo lives!' And come back. They'll love it." "Frodo lives?" Shatner said wonderingly. "What does that mean?" "Never mind," Bjo replied. "Just go out and say it and back. You'll be a big hit."

All we knew in the audience was that with a few words of introduction from Bjo, a Hollywood star dashed out before us, held his fingers up in a V and said one of the secret code words of fandom (at a time when  The Lord of the  Rings had yet to sell its first fifty thousand copies), "Frodo lives."

We went wild. Even before seeing one frame of film, we went wild! Applause thundered out in a wave, people stood up. A huge, surprised smile lit Shatner's face. (These people loved him!) And he ran back off stage with the applause still ringing. It was Bill's first taste of the heady nectar of fannish adulation. A taste, like single malt, once discovered, oft imbibed.

Came the big moment. Lights were dimmed and windows curtained. A screen lowered over the stage and a 35mm sound projector began to whir.

Some people say that it was the premier episode of Star Trek, George Clayton Johnson's "Man Trap," that was shown. I remember it as Samuel A. Peeples' "Where No Man Has Gone Before." I am positive it involved a crew member who developed extra sensory abilities, went mad with power and had to be put down by the rest of the crew before he destroyed them all.

Whichever it was, I remember being very enthused and thinking that it was actually like good science fiction stories, not about giant monsters and kid oriented juvenile adventures.Nothing like the silliness of Lost in Space. Instead, the episode raised actual human issues. It was very much in the mode of the action-adventure-with-an-idea kind of stories one would have found many of the science fiction magazines of a decade earlier, a sure sign that Hollywood was catching up with real science fiction at last. I thought that if the rest of the series could hold up to this, I would want to watch it.

From the applause around me, I was certain most of the other fans there felt the same.
I liked Shatner, too. He was an emotive actor, who seemed to sincerely want to portray the range of feelings the captain of a starship would experience when confronted with the strange and unfamiliar. Not at all in the rather boringly, to me, stoic mode of many male actors of the era.

Two months later, I was sitting in a living room with half a dozen other fans, watching the premier episode, which certainly was Johnson's "Man Trap." We were not disappointed.

(More about my life with Star Trek in the next installment.)

Jean Marie Stine
Page-Turner Editions
author, Herstory & Other Science Fictions, ebook an paperback.

1 comment:

  1. Oh my! I've been a sci-fi nerd since I was quite young, and I married another sci-fi nerd and we raised 4 more SF nerds to adulthood. We argue about episodes and challenge each other to trivia on various shows and books. We gave 2 of our sons the opportunity to see Shatner's live 2-hour show along with the meet and greet afterwards, so they could have their pictures taken with him and get autographs. Both were tongue-tied and almost catatonic! I can't wait to read more of your memories!