Review by C.J. Bunce
Literally hundreds of books and journal articles have been written on the three seasons of Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek. What more can be said about the making of this series? After all, there is a well-maintained website chronicling seemingly all you would want to know about “the original series” called Memory Alpha. Plus, nearly every major player involved with the creation of Star Trek has written a book on it, from Herb Solow and Robert Justman’s Inside Star Trek to William Shatner’s Star Trek Memories, Gross and Altman’s Captains’ Logs, to Stephen Whitfield’s The Making of Star Trek, Allan Asherman’s The Star Trek Compendium to the more recent entry Block and Erdmann’s Star Trek: The Original Series 365. But what writer/researcher Marc Cushman’s new These Are the Voyages TOS Season One does is pull information from all these sources plus resources like Starlog, Daily Variety, and TV Guide articles as well as delve into an archive of production work papers from the UCLA Performing Arts Special Collections never before tapped for such an exhaustive work on the series. These are the Voyages is a treatise on Trek, a comprehensive history of a crowning achievement in science fiction, but also a history of television itself in the 1960s.
These Are the Voyages delves into each episode in a level of detail that has not been reached before. For each episode the author gives a brief picture of where the U.S. stood via pop songs on the radio and national events. Cushman then introduces a plot summary and nicely extracts the critical theme of each episode—separating Star Trek from frivolous weekly episodes of competing series with each episode’s focus on some weighty issue for mankind. Pulling margin notes, memos, and script drafts together with interviews, both old and new, Cushman recreates the making of each episode from a production standpoint and–even more illuminating—he recreates the development of each story into the final script. Who was responsible for the romance between Edith Keener and Captain Kirk in City on the Edge of Forever? (Not Harlan Ellison). When did Gene Roddenberry’s rewrites contribute to or take away from the story writers’ original vision? What would NBC let the production get away with (like William Ware Theiss’s many actress costumes) and what did they censor (such as how brutally red-shirts could be offed)? Why did Romulans wear helmets in Balance of Terror? How much of those famous introductory words to each episode were actually penned by Gene Roddenberry, and how many takes did William Shatner need to get it right?
Cushman also records here for the first time in context the puzzling Nielsen’s ratings that supposedly ultimately prompted NBC to drop Star Trek altogether. Here we see another story emerge: Did NBC simply disregard Star Trek’s significant margin share, hidden from the public back in the late 1960s? Could they just not get past the idea that a genre TV series could survive?
We also get to see something we never get to see—the actual salaries and per-episode pay given to each major Star Trek actor. We get to see the time and sweat poured into getting each story as perfect as the deadlines would allow, the aggravation and toll on cast and crew of long days and work schedules. Where past works on Star Trek give a single perspective on decisions, These Are the Voyages presents many views of the most controversial and lets the reader decide. Why was Grace Lee Whitney really cut from Season One so quickly? Why were the episodes created in one order, only to be presented differently, with many episodes not re-broadcast in syndication for several years? Which episodes were the most costly? How did the producers swing building a prop shuttlecraft Galileo for no out-of-pocket cash?
These Are the Voyages intersperses in its narrative a treasure trove of black and white behind-the-scenes images, most never before published. Here you’ll find clapperboards galore, views of sets all the way to their off-camera boundaries, on-location images, producers and other creators with series stars, guest stars in their many futuristic costumes preparing for filming, and much more cut footage.
Professors of the history of technology or the history of television will find here material that will amplify their teaching and studies of this period, all anchored by the weight and influence of none other than Lucille Ball and Desilu Studios. Everyone’s favorite classic comedienne was even onsite late hours pressuring the production to meet its schedule. Readers will also encounter hundreds of other television shows in this first volume as Star Trek relied in great part on the creative talents behind so many classic series, but also movie creators, too. What key role did the cinematographer of Gone With the Wind play in establishing the lasting look of the universe of Star Trek? What actors would appear in the original series and come back in later Star Trek series?
Challenges for the next two volumes covering Season Two and Season Three are many. So much content in Season One revolves around the trials of getting the production off the ground. What similar challenges will we find facing the production in Season Two? With a Season Three that is full of episodes hardly as compelling as those of the first two seasons, how will Cushman hold our interest through the end of the series? As much as you can pack into such an immense work, fans will always want more. William Ware Theiss and Wah Chang created costumes and props for the series, and Cushman includes a few comments by these creators, including that fact that Theiss felt forthright enough to comment on the substance of scripts to Roddenberry himself, but readers will want even more from these creators in future volumes–if more is available (we’re a greedy bunch).
Co-written by Susan Osborn, Volume One clocks in at a hefty 580 pages, with a foreword by John D.F. Black and Mary Black. If book one is any indication, Star Trek fans will have another thousand pages of densely packed content to sift through in the coming months as later volumes are released. A three-book boxed set will be a must.
If you already have a shelf full of the 40 years of non-fiction books written about Star Trek, you may not think you need another book on the original series. However, if you don’t, and even for those who think they know everything about Star Trek, you will find These Are the Voyages TOS Season One an exhaustive, indispensible resource and a most compelling and interesting read.
Editor’s Note: You can also check out the Kickstarter campaign where the publisher is making available signed copies of this series. Books can also be purchased here. The scheduled release date is August 12, 2013.
If you want to check out many other past Star Trek books, you can find an extensive list of resources we previously discussed here.