The Long Hot Summer

One of my early posts in this blog touched on the “Star Trek Lives” phenomenon of the 1970’s.  For those who may not have experienced it, Star Trek fandom at that time was building momentum to such a degree that it seemed inevitable Paramount Pictures (who owned the rights to the Trek property) would have to give in and bring back Star Trek in some form. The rest, as they say, is history.  We got the animated Saturday morning show featuring the voices of (most of) the original cast.  We got Star Trek: The Motion Picture and numerous big screen sequels.

However, one thing fans had been clamoring for never came to pass – namely: new live action TV adventures for Captain Kirk and his beloved starship Enterprise.  This is completely understandable in light of the success of Star Trek as a theatrical movie series in the early and mid 1980’s.  Yet, there was always that secret hope that, by some miracle, a new weekly series would spring up.  Sadly, by the time Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home was released, the actors were getting a little long in the tooth and the films were raking in big bucks while leaving Shatner, Nimoy, et al free from the rigors of weekly TV production. The dream we started dreaming in the early ’70’s would have to stay a dream.  Star Trek lived … just not in our living rooms.

Then something both wonderful and detestable happened.  Gene Roddenberry and the bulk of his original production team created Star Trek: The Next Generation.  This new series, set approximately 80 years after events in the original, would depict new characters played by new actors aboard a new U.S.S. Enterprise.  It would be sold directly into syndication, bypassing networks like the dreaded NBC, which had cancelled the original series all those years before, and give the producers that much more control.  I can recall both excited anticipation and righteous outrage.  I’m sure other fans felt a similar mix of conflicting emotions.  After 18 years, we would finally have a new Star Trek TV show!  Yet it somehow felt wrong – like it wasn’t going to be Star Trek; like it couldn’t possibly live up to the original.  The world had just experienced the debacle that was “New Coke” – why would we want to go through that again with our precious Star Trek? Nevertheless, some 27 million viewers tuned in when the show premiered in September, 1987 – myself among them.  I was not impressed…initially.

ST:TNG Season 1 Cast

I read an interview with Gene Roddenberry shortly after the launch of his new show.  In it he pointed out that fans were calling the new series a rip-off of Star Trek.  In his defense, he mused, “Star Trek was our show…how can you rip-off your own show?”  Perhaps that’s a good point. All the same, Star Trek: The Next Generation seemed doomed, right out of the gate, to suffer from weak scripts, stilted performances, overreaching characterizations, and far too much techno-babble.  By the middle of the first season, I also began wondering how many times a teenage boy could save the ship before I would stop tuning in altogether.  But I din’t stop tuning in.  Neither did millions of others.  That was due as much to curiosity about how bad the next episode would be than to any real interest in this universe or the characters it contained.  Or so I thought.

Having never acted on TV or in any other medium, I can’t say how difficult it is for members of an ensemble cast to get comfortable in their roles and with the relationships of their characters.  Nor can I say what elements must be brought to the writing to produce high-quality, entertaining stories.  I imagine these things must be tough under any circumstances.  They must be even tougher though under the constant shadow of a juggernaut like the original Star Trek.  Yet Roddenberry and his crew persisted.  His cast got more comfortable.  His writers delivered better scripts.  Slowly but surely the newest incarnation of Star Trek began to stand on its own, finally out from under the shadow of its famous predecessor.

This was most evident during the second and third seasons of Next Gen (or TNG as we fans tend to refer to it).  In my opinion, some of the best stories of the entire seven year run were broadcast during seasons two and three; the 3rd season finale being about the finest of them all.  It was an episode entitled “The Best of Both Worlds” and it was a cliffhanger. This was new ground for Trek fans.

In it, the captain we’d come to know and love was abducted by a super powerful alien race and genetically altered so as to assist them in their quest to conquer humanity.  In addition, there were other shake-ups aboard our newly beloved ship: the well respected first officer being offered a promotion which would require leaving the Enterprise; the introduction of an arrogant new Starfleet officer, and the crew’s inability to rescue their revered captain which left little choice but to try to destroy him.  There are so many meaningful story arcs in this episode and each of them does to us what Star Trek has always done best – forces us to reflect on our own feelings and see our own struggles and conflicts played out by the daring Enterprise crew.

Picard a.k.a. Locutus of Borg

Story elements notwithstanding, several titillating (and frankly, disturbing) things surrounded this episode.  No one in the fan community was entirely sure that Patrick Stewart would return as Captain Picard in season four.  None of us had ever had the joy/sorrow of a Star Trek cliffhanger on TV before.  In fact, the cliffhanger virtually guaranteed that the show would return for a fourth season – something else which we’d never before experienced.  The entire broadcast history of Star Trek: The Next Generation had been a roller coaster and June, 1990 was the pinnacle of the highest ramp on the ride.  Would the descent be full of heart stopping excitement or a plunge into the wasteland of television ridiculousness? (As in the entire season of Dallas that was later revealed to have been a bad dream – uggggh!!!!)

I was involved in the tedious and stressful process of purchasing my first house that summer.  The cliffhanger aired about two weeks before we closed – right around the time when a weekly distraction from life’s difficulties was most welcome.   I was also blown away by what I perceived as a “theatrical motion picture quality” about that whole episode. How could I possibly get through an entire summer waiting to see how it would all turn out?

I remodeled the first floor of that house that summer and spent a good portion of the time discussing the TNG cliffhanger with my neighbor while I took breaks from the intense heat. I cannot a recall a summer in my entire adult life that seemed to take longer to pass than that one did.  When the fourth season premiere finally aired in September, we got together with our neighbors to watch it.  I can recall thinking, as the flashbacks from Part 1 of the episode came onto the screen, that the long hot summer waiting for Star Trek: The Next Generation was as bad as, if not worse than, the 18 years we had to wait for new live-action Star Trek on TV in the first place.  And that, I believe, is the best statement I can make about TNG.  That summer proved to me that, where television drama is concerned, you can go home again.

To Boldly [Le]Go Where No Fan Has Gone Before

“You must be either an obsessive crackpot who’s escaped from his keeper, or Samuel T. Cogley, Attorney at Law!” .  That line, spoken by the character of James Kirk in the original Star Trek TV series episode Court Martial, has always given me a laugh.  I think it would be just as accurate to replace the “Samuel T Cogley” part with, “Chris Collins, adult fan of Lego and Star Trek fanatic”.

Sometimes I do think others perceive me as an obsessive crackpot but it’s OK.  I’m perfectly happy to have that reputation.  In fact, there are times I go out of my way to live up to it.  One such time occurred recently when my family had to give up their dining room table for the entire winter while I constructed a scale model of the ST:TOS Enterprise bridge out of …

Wait for it …

LEGO!

TOS Enterprise bridge made from Lego

Looking back on the project, I realize there are a hundred things I could have done to make it better. That’s the obsessive crackpot in me really coming out though.  Ultimately, it was a very satisfying undertaking and one that I would like to tackle again someday, albeit with a little more advance planning.  This one I threw together hodge-podge just to see if I could improve on a similar Lego project I had attempted as a kid.  There was a marked improvement; so much so that I created a profile at MOCPages.com where I have uploaded the only existing photos of my Lego bridge from childhood as well as a whole series of shots taken while I built the new one.

To me, this is one of the great appeals of Star Trek.  I know that I am only one of many millions of people who feel bolstered by Star Trek, its characters, and its stories.  Granted, others have made major changes in their lives because of inspiration derived from Trek, while anything I have achieved as a result of my fandom is much less profound.  All the same, I like to think that the “you can do anything you set your mind to” approach is something that was brought out in me, at least partially, by Star Trek.  I am not particularly athletic.  While I am intelligent, I am no rocket scientist.  I am at least somewhat creative though, and my love for all things Star Trek has given me numerous outlets for that creativity – to say nothing about the fomentation of that part of my personality, which sprang up quite unexpectedly while I was a youngster obsessed with Star Trek

“It’s Just a TV Show!” or: Was Star Trek Revolutionary?

Merriam Webster lists the following among its definitions of the word revolutionary:  “constituting or bringing about a major or fundamental change”. Other similar reference sources use the word innovative as a synonym.   I have found myself thinking about this a great deal recently and, given these definitions, I think it is fair to say that the original Star Trek TV series of the 1960’s was revolutionary.

This begs the question, “What major or fundamental change did Star Trek bring about?”. In other words, what made it innovative?  I have several answers, some of which are common knowledge even among non-fans, while others are more personal to me.  Herein I will tackle them one at a time and attempt to explain each in some detail.

Star Trek depicted a future of racial and gender equality:
While it may be true that Trek was not the first TV show to place “non-whites” in prominent roles (see: I Spy with Bill Cosby opposite Robert Culp – 1965-68), it was the only one bold enough to consistently portray a human future in which skin color, national origin, gender, etc. in no way determined a character’s level of importance or ability.  In Star Trek we see a multi-national crew comprised of officers both male and female who function as a completely cohesive unit; one in which individuals’ standing is rarely questioned because of race or sex.

I have heard complaints from young Star Trek fans that characters like Uhura and Sulu weren’t featured prominently enough.  Certainly, I too would love to have seen more from those members of the ensemble who were co-stars.  Nevertheless, anyone who has watched the bulk of episodes from the original Star Trek series can’t argue that Uhura, Sulu, and even Chekov later on weren’t given important parts to play.  It was, after all, the 1960’s – a time when African and Asian Americans still had to suffer indescribable indignities in many parts of the United States and Russians were looked upon as little more than cold-war enemies.

Consider that Uhura was portrayed not only as a full Lieutenant but a competent electronics technician, a capable navigator, and an insightful, talented, and gutsy woman on top of her position as Communications Officer.  Sulu too was a commissioned officer who served as a department head, deft Helmsman/Weapons Operator, accomplished botanist, and a confident commander in the absence of Kirk, Spock, and Scotty.  The character of Chekov may have been the most under utilized as he was there primarily to appeal to the same young people who were fans of The Monkees.  All the same, he was given plenty of time in the limelight in his role as Navigator, often being assigned to landing parties, taking the science station in Spock’s absence, and even “getting the girl” in an episode or two – to say nothing of his “national pride”.

I had a great many friends at that time who were of diverse national origin.  All of them counted themselves as Star Trek fans and simply loved the characters I have described. In addition, many celebrities and public figures have cited the characters and philosophy of Star Trek as inspirational, actress/comedienne Whoopi Goldberg and astronaut Mae Jemison among them.

Star Trek was aimed at adults but appreciated equally by children:
With the possible exception of The Twilight Zone (which wasn’t necessarily science fiction anyway), there was very little believable adult sci-fi on TV or in movie serials prior to Star Trek.  Much of what was being shown was intentionally written for children or quickly changed its focus to appeal to the young after otherwise promising starts (see: Lost in Space – 1965-68).

Star Trek, on the other hand, never lost sight of its adult audience.  Even in its third and final season when the writing was sometimes less than stellar, the stories were often thought provoking morality tales that might not have been shown at all had they been conceived for any television series format other than sci-fi.  Moreover, the series always managed to maintain a level of quality that adults could appreciate while sprinkling in more than enough action and adventure to keep kids like me (I was a little tyke when the show first aired) glued to the TV.

Star Trek engendered strong feelings of loyalty among its fans:
The above is an understatement of galactic proportion!  I can think of no other television series, in any genre, that garnered the respect, devotion, and love of its fans the way Star Trek did.  When rumors of cancellation began circulating during the 1967-68 TV season, fans organized a massive letter writing campaign quite possibly contributing to the renewal of the show for another year.  After its network demise, Trek achieved such cult status during its run in syndication that, at one point in the mid 1970’s, fifty two percent of Americans considered themselves Star Trek fans.

Fan conventions brought out thousands when only hundreds were expected to attend. The stars of the show were highly in demand for personal appearances and were asked by organizations as prominent as NASA to be goodwill ambassadors.  The show become such a cultural phenomenon that four years after its cancellation it spawned a Saturday morning cartoon and after five more years of increasing popularity was re-imagined as a major theatrical motion picture.  The country’s first space shuttle was renamed Enterprise in deference to the show’s popularity.  It is highly likely that the market for films like Star Wars might not have existed had it not been for Star Trek.

I could go on but I think the point has been made.   If even one life is fundamentally changed by something, there is no measure of the importance of the thing.  Millions of people have been affected positively by Star Trek – some in the most trivial fashion and some in life altering ways.  I think Merriam Webster would agree – that is revolutionary!

Consulting the Library Computer

In an effort to get “all geared up” for my forthcoming visit to Creation Star Trek 2011 in Las Vegas, I’ve recently taken my obsession with Star Trek to another level.  I’ve always been a pretty fanatical lover of Trek.  Although, like anything else in life, my over-the-top fandom has had peaks and valleys.  There were times when I was much younger that I ate, drank, slept, and breathed Star Trek.  There have also been just as many periods more recently during which I’d watch 20 minutes of a Trek rerun on SyFy and that was the extent of my involvement for weeks on end.

Thankfully, the Internet provides the perfect means by which I (and countless others to be sure) can dive headlong back into all things Trek.  It’s almost as though I have my own LCARS terminal connected back to every database in Starfleet!  In all seriousness though, as well versed as I am in technology (I’ve been using the Internet in one form or another since 1990) it still never ceases to amaze me the depth and breadth of information that is available on most any topic – especially Star Trek!

I imagine that just about anyone reading this blog is already well acquainted with the sites I’m going to cover in this post.  All the same, there may be one or two folks like me who, only a short time ago, would have been unaware of the existence of so many terrific Star Trek resources online.  For that reason, I decided to compile a list of the Star Trek related websites I’ve been visiting lately.  This list is by no means exhaustive.  In fact, I would welcome comments with suggestions for others that I may be unaware of.

So, here goes:

http://www.startrek.com – The official website of the Star Trek franchise.

http://www.cbs.com/classics – Watch episodes of TOS and TAS online (this can also be done at startrek.com above)

http://www.trekweb.com – News and articles about everything to do with Star Trek

http://www.trekbbs.com – An excellent forum for chatting with like-minded fans

http://startrekofgodsandmen.com – Home of the terrific fan film made for the 40th Anniversary of the series

http://www.startreknewvoyages.com – The site of James Cawley’s excellent fan film series set during the TOS five year mission

http://www.starshipfarragut.com – More terrific fan films

http://creationent.com/cal/stlv.htm – Big, big, big Star Trek convention in Las Vegas next month

http://starfleet1701st.yuku.com – Forum operated by the fantastic 1701st Star Trek Uniform Club

http://www.therpf.com – Custom props and costumes used in role playing

http://www.startrekhistory.com – Absolutely incredible site with insider information about the production of the original TV Series

http://www.trekcore.com – All encompassing site with everything from rare photos to audio clips and more (from all series and movies)

http://www.startrekonline.com – Great Internet game set in the Trek universe

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Star-Trek-Fans/161013817304738 – Cool new Facebook group for we fans

As I had indicated above, there are undoubtedly hundreds (if not thousands) of other sites containing all kindsa’ Star Trek stuff and I’ll bet some of them are just great.  If anyone feels like to directing me to any of them, I’d be more than receptive.

LLAP

Star Trek Uniform Horror Stories – The Final Phase

To complete my series on mishaps and difficulties with Trek uniform costuming attempts, I am going to start out with what would appear to be a horror story.  The great part is that, although the uniform itself and the circumstances surrounding its aborted creation may have been horrific, the ending is a very happy one IMHO.

Stardate: 1986.6 – By the age of 19 I had already done several things that a geek like me wouldn’t have been expected to, at least according to Bill Shatner’s “evil Captain Kirk” from Saturday Night Live.  I had most definitely kissed a girl and I had already moved out of my parents’ basement and gotten my own apartment (with the lovely girl I had kissed, I might add).

I really was incredibly lucky to have fallen in love with someone so intelligent and beautiful but, to my added good fortune, she was also almost as much the Star trek fan that I was. We had purchased our first VCR (a BetaMax – LOL, I’m old!!) and the first pre-recorded movie we acquired was, of course, Star Trek: The Motion Picture.  The TOS episodes weren’t readily available on Beta yet so we got a bunch of blank tapes and started recording them from TV.  This way we’d have a monster collection of Trek shows to watch whenever we wanted.  We also worked diligently on collecting every paperback in the PocketBooks Star Trek series and read them all many times over.  We had just made tentative plans to attend a Star Trek convention – it would have been our first together – when this particular horror story began to unfold.

We thought it would be pretty cool to participate in the costume parade at the con and we each had a favorite uniform from the TV series that we planned to wear.  Mine was to be Kirk’s alternate command tunic – the green wraparound.  My lovely girl would have donned Uhura’s revealing mirror universe uniform.  Unfortunately, neither of us knew the first thing about constructing a homemade Trek uniform costume.  Although, at least my girlfriend knew how to sew and had made some garments in the past.  If memory serves, we didn’t have any patterns either and there certainly was no World Wide Web as we now know it through which to order them or do any research.   We did have some reference books to work from (The Making of Star Trek, The Starfleet Technical Manual, and Bjo Trimble’s excellent Star Trek Concordance) but otherwise we were on our own. By far our biggest impediment though was that we were almost always broke, so we didn’t have a lot of money to put into these costumes to begin with.

We picked up some cheap (and dreadfully wrong) material and tried to get underway.  My girl’s fabric was a bright red double-knit … definitely on the right track but too bright and too thin, almost like a crepe.  Mine was very dark green, way too dark really, and was similar to the material from which bedsheets are made…so it had no flex/stretch capability whatsoever.  Undaunted we began our project anyway.  I think my girlfriend drew out something akin to a pattern for my shirt and she then cut the individual sections accordingly.  I don’t remember if she had cut out all the pieces and was assembling the final garment or if she had just done a few basic pieces to put together a mock-up.  Either way, before long I had a front and back connected to a right sleeve.  The fit was awkward and the material didn’t lay well on my torso.  Nevertheless, it was coming together.  But given everything I’ve just described, it was questionable whether this costume would be usable at all – and therein lies the first horror story.   The second, and much bigger, horror story is that we left that green shirt half finished – that was as far as we ever got on it.  The sexy red mirror universe uniform never even got started.

For a multitude of reasons that probably have no place being published in a Star Trek blog, we broke up at the beginning of that summer, having never attended the convention or even finished the costumes.  Although I initially thought there was hope of getting back together, I blinked my eyes and months had gone by.  Suddenly it was a year – then two. We each ended up marrying and starting our own families, neither seeing nor speaking to each other as two years became five and so on.

What makes this such a terrific story is the happy ending I alluded to earlier.  We two geeks each knew that we were meant to be together.  In a way it was almost like one of those great Star Trek stories in which destiny is fulfilled even if there is sadness along the way.  More than ten years after we had originally begun dating and nearly eight years since we had last spoken, we met at our tenth high school reunion and picked up where we left off.  Now we are rapidly approaching our fifteenth wedding anniversary and our Trek fandom hasn’t waned.  In fact, our thirteen year old son and I will soon be attending Creation Star Trek 2011 in Las Vegas – and we will be doing so in full uniforms created by none other than my lovely girl.

I will be blogging from the con and undoubtedly posting photos of my new and improved green Kirk wraparound tunic.  But no photos or blog posts can accurately convey the most important facet of this tale – even though the blog topic is “Horror Stories”, my time with the incredible woman described herein has been the antithesis of a horror story!  She completes me and I her.  And our shared love of all things Star Trek is one example among many of how our fate was “in the stars”!

Star Trek Uniform Horror Stories – Phase II

I find myself in a strange and unique situation, well…unique for me anyway.  After 40+ years of being a die hard Star Trek fan, collecting all sorts of books, toys, games, and videos, and attending numerous conventions – I am 5 weeks away from Creation Star Trek Las Vegas, the first convention at which I will don a Trek uniform costume.

This 45th anniversary celebration will undoubtedly be the largest Star Trek con I’ve ever been to.  It’s also going to be my first in nearly 15 years as I’ve shifted my focus to concentrate on raising a family and earning a living.  Now I have a 13 year old son who’s just as big a Trekker as I.  He will be coming with me and appearing in costume as well, as fans at this con attempt to set a world record for the largest single gathering of people dressed as Star Trek Characters.

Much attention around our house has recently been devoted to acquiring all the materials, notions, and other components from which my wife plans to lovingly construct our costumes.  As insignia, rank braids, etc. have begun arriving, many memories of my childhood are flooding back – motivating me to blog about some of my earliest costuming experiences and the mishaps that accompanied them.

Stardate: 1975.2: After finding my 8 year old self in possession of a homemade Star Trek uniform tunic with a houndstooth pattern on the material (see my last post for details) I knew the only way to go from there was up.  I desperately wanted to look like my heroes from television and the only reliable resource at my disposal was the dealers’ room at the annual New York CIty Star Trek Convention.  My family attended that con in ’75 but I cannot remember if there were uniforms available for sale.  If there were, they must have been prohibitively expensive because I definitely recall not coming home with one!  Fortunately, I did bag my second complete set of U.S.S. Enterprise insignia patches with a view toward getting one of them sewn on another shirt.

The author in a homemade Star Trek shirt

The humble author in a homemade uniform tunic. Circa 1975

I think I must have been like thousands of other kids my age – pestering my mother to do something, anything to assist me in my quest to have a cool Star Trek shirt. Her second attempt was definitely an improvement over the houndstooth, of which there are no photos (thank the maker!).  But here I am in all my glory sporting the first Trek shirt I owned that I was proud to wear… even if it was the wrong color and was missing the customary black collar.

It was wintertime when we went to that ’75 ST con and my long-sleeved homemade shirt made its debut very soon afterward while the weather was still cold.  Needless to say, I also wore it as often as possible that whole summer! But when I returned to school that fall I made a new friend who had his own custom made Trek uniform shirt.  As we got to know each other better, I came to find out he was as big a Star Trek fan as I and it was through him that I eventually became aware of the first commercially available (to my knowledge anyway) line of licensed Star Trek shirts for kids. They were from Donmoor and were just about the coolest thing I had ever seen!

My friend got his blue “Sciences Division” Donmoor shirt for Christmas that year as I recall.  I was so impressed and, at the same time, so jealous!  I had to have one.  I really wanted the Command gold (which I would eventually get) but my first one was Support Services red [insert “redshirt” jokes here].  I think I received it as a birthday gift in January of ’76.  We didn’t go to the annual NYC Star Trek convention that year but I had my shirt so I was pretty happy anyway.  Sometime shortly after I got the red one, we found the gold one at a local department store and I was walking on air.

Donmoor Star Trek shirts

Donmoor Star Trek shirts - photo courtesy of John Cooley

There are actually two horror stories associated with my beloved Trek shirts from this time period.  Having grown into a somewhat obsessive perfectionist adult, I must say that the first horror story was the Donmoor shirts themselves!  They were initially available only with short sleeves.  Eventually long sleeve versions were introduced and I don’t think they even had the rank braids – but they also had black cuffs at the ends of the sleeves!  Furthermore, the colors were wrong – these shirts were far too dark.  After a fair amount of research I believe I have found out why.

Donmoor Color Samples

Donmoor Color Samples - photo courtesy of John Cooley

Apparently, Donmoor requested and was given swatches of all the original series uniform colors.  Since they were designing a product for children and anticipated a fair amount of wear & tear and multiple washings, they darkened these shades considerably so that eventual fading would produce something close to the true original colors.  My new found friend and I discussed this more than once and we decided we didn’t care – these were still the coolest Star Trek shirts either of us have ever owned!

The second horror story involves my Command Division gold “Captain Kirk” shirt.  It was, after all, the one I had been wishing for since I first started watching Star Trek.  Once I owned the Donmoor version, my red shirts were mostly relegated to dresser drawer duty unless the gold one was in the laundry.

My school friend and fellow Star Trek aficionado was a huge fan of the TOS episode “Shore Leave”.  He was of pure Irish decent and simply loved the Finnegan character.  Knowing that I was equally fond of the Kirk character, he once suggested that we should learn all the stunt moves from their outdoor fight sequence in that episode.  How cool!  We watched it as many times as we could (there were no VCRs in homes yet but it was on fairly often in syndication – we probably saw it three or four times over the course of the school year).  By late spring we could do that fight move for move in our sleep.  We even used to joke about growing up to become Hollywood stunt men.  One day we decided to wear our prized Star Trek shirts to school – his blue and mine gold.  We re-enacted that fight on the athletic field much to the delight of all our friends.  Unfortunately, the lunch aid who saw us was convinced we were really fighting!  Being only 9 or 10 at the time I hadn’t given much thought to dirt and grass stains, a multitude of which I collected that day.  But when the principal was sent out to “break up the fight”, he grabbed me by my sleeve and ripped the stitches.

Uggh!  Even with all the imperfections I now recognize as an adult, that shirt was priceless to me as a kid.  And it was ruined.  My mother tried valiantly but the stains never fully came out and the repair job on the ripped sleeve was obvious.  Years later, probably in high school, my friend would tease me about ruining that shirt – he’d say, “You should have had it ripped across the front if you really wanted to look like Kirk!”.

Star Trek Uniform Horror Stories – Phase 1

It is a fact of Trek fandom that hardcore Trekkies (or Trekkers, or whatever people of my ilk are being called these days) can’t resist playing dress up.  In any other realm this fascination with costumes would probably be confined to small children.  However, sci-fi fans are cut from a different mold and the almost obsessive desire to dress the part of one’s favorite character doesn’t end with adulthood.  In fact, it almost seems that it gets stronger.  Nonetheless, the first entry in this series of costume tales does concern a small child – namely: me.

When I was about 7 or 8 years old (many moons ago) the Mego company introduced a line of Star Trek toys.  The “Star Trek Lives!” phenomenon I described in my last post was at its peak and so it was altogether fitting that the stars of my favorite show began doing personal appearances at retail stores to promote the new Mego toys.  I had been dying to have a gold Star Trek tunic anyway and, to my knowledge, Donmoor had yet to release their collection of excellent Trek uniform shirts – or if they had, my mother didn’t know about it.  All the same, she was willing to aid me in my quest to have a custom-made Captain Kirk tunic in which to greet Mr. Leonard Nimoy when he came to Alexander’s Department Store in New Jersey.

We had already attended the International Star Trek Convention in New York City and thanks to my Mom’s good nature (and deep pockets) my brother and I came home with very convincing Enterprise insignia patches and patterns for uniform shirts.  When the Nimoy appearance was announced I pleaded with Mom to make my special shirt post-haste.  I don’t know where she found it but my mother was able to acquire a bolt of beautiful double-knit material that was the perfect solid gold on one side and had a gold-on-white houndstooth pattern on the other side.  She also got a great little piece of black material for the collar and very accurate gold braid for the sleeves.  So begins the horror story.

Mom’s only sewing machine was a 100 year old Singer treadle model that she had gotten from her grandmother.  She knew the Star Trek uniform backwards and forwards from having watched the show with me so many times and having taken me to the early cons. She also knew that there was no way she’d be able to put together such a complex garment in such a short period on that antique machine.  So she boxed up all the material, the pattern, the braid, and insignia and shipped them to her good friend in another state who was a sewing wiz with a top-of-the-line modern machine.  She assured me that I’d have my shirt in time for our date with destiny.

If memory serves, the package with my prized tunic arrived a day or two before the Leonard Nimoy appearance.  I’m pretty sure it was summertime but it may as well have been Christmas as I was so excited to open that box!  Then – – – utter and complete horror!  My mother’s friend had done an incredible job.  Every stitch was perfect.  The collar, the insignia, the captain’s rank braids were all in just the right places.  But our family friend, who wouldn’t recognize an episode of Star Trek if her life depended on it, had made the shirt with the houndstooth pattern facing outward and the solid gold inward.  I was crushed.  This would never do!  I’m fairly sure I cried when Mom told me there was no time to fix it and I’m certain I cried when she forced me to wear it to Alexander’s anyway.  It was one of those things that parents do when they’ve totally forgotten what it feels like to be a kid – “Yes, you have to wear it.  Connie worked very hard on this for you and you will wear it!”.

Unlike some childhood horror stories, this one has not one, but two happy endings.  I think I was still wiping away tears when we reached the front of the line at Alexander’s Department Store and I shook Mr. Nimoy’s hand.  Being a parent himself, and just a plain classy guy – he didn’t miss a beat when he said to me, “That is a fantastic uniform shirt!  Very original.  I really love it!”.  Leonard Nimoy made my day that summer afternoon at Alexander’s.  Some 15 years later I had the opportunity to meet him again at a Trek con in New York City.  When I relayed the story of the tunic gone wrong he remembered, laughed out loud, and told me how fortunate I was to have a mother who’d go to such lengths to please her son.  And he was right.

Star Trek Lives!

This phrase means something completely different to me now than it did when I first heard it nearly four decades ago.  As I recall, in the early 1970’s “Star Trek Lives!” was a rallying cry; an almost defiant exclamation by a large segment of the public that our beloved Star Trek couldn’t be killed by an entity as insignificant as a mere television network.  Thanks to a less than accurate Nielsen rating system, the execs at NBC put an end to production of new live-action episodes in 1969.  However, within a few short years people were clamoring for more – and we ate up anything we could get: TV reruns in syndication, paperback books, magazines, photos, models, toys, and more.

I even had the good fortune to attend some of the earliest conventions and I witnessed first-hand the effects we, the fans, had on keeping the Star Trek universe alive.  By September of ’73 people my age (and, yes, even older ones) could see new adventures on TV, albeit in a half-hour, Saturday morning animated format.  The important thing though was that the quality of the storytelling and the optimism of the show’s creators was still evident.  Then there were the books – novelizations of the original ’60’s TV episodes, collections of short stories, new full-length novels, looks behind the scenes – enough to fill the bookcase in my bedroom.   But it got better still.  When the Federation Trading Post opened on 53rd Street in Manhattan, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven!  By 1976 or ’77 all manner of Trek merchandise and memorabilia was available.  It was only a matter of time until the “Star Trek Lives!” mantra would result in the fulfillment of every fan’s dreams – new live-action Star Trek with the original cast intact!

Fast forward 30 years.  It’s fair to say that Star Trek has reached its saturation point.  After 11 theatrical films, 4 new television series, hundreds of books, and dozens of video games old-timers like me are forced to wonder if there is anything fresh and new to be brought to the Star Trek table.  And yet, even if there is not, Star Trek lives!  As far as I can tell, there are still millions of people around the world whose appreciation for, and devotion to, the Star Trek universe is unwavering.  And although there are undoubtedly those who would disagree, I think that’s a good thing.

In a little over a month, I’ll be attending Creation Star Trek – Las Vegas with my 13 year old son in tow.  We’ll be celebrating with thousands of others the 45th anniversary of the sci-fi juggernaut we both love so much…and it really doesn’t matter to us if there is ever another new Star Trek TV show or film.  Heck, my son wasn’t even alive when the bulk of the Star Trek stories we now enjoy were released.  Yet, in the Star Trek universe as it stands now there are so many good stories, so many morals worth living up to, so much blatant optimism for our future – it’s a legacy well worth celebrating.  In many ways, I am reminded of the means by which we mere mortal humans manage to live forever… by creating great memories with our loved ones and passing them down through generations.  The phrase “Star Trek Lives!” may have a different meaning now but the optimism, understanding, tolerance, hope, and love which continues to be shown by its newest legion of young fans speaks volumes!

Star trek Lives!