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When “Star Trek: The Original Series” hit television screens 55 years ago in September 1966, it became an international phenomenon that helped ignite a star-bound generation’s optimism and imagination.
To help celebrate the anniversary comes “Star Trek: The Original Series — A Celebration” (Hero Collector, 2021), a new hardcover from writers Ben Robinson and Ian Spelling that seeks to explore all corners of the seminal sci-fi show. The 256-page volume is crammed with a nostalgic compilation of revealing interviews, archival transcripts, network promo material, never-before-seen illustrations, concept art, costume designs, set stills, makeup techniques, spaceship miniatures and much more.
The book emerged from Robinson’s realization that there’s never really been a coffee table book covering all the different aspects of the show. “We wanted to cover the makeup and the costumes and the art department, as well as writers and stars,” he told Space.com.
As preparation for this ambitious project, Spelling and Robinson, who have both been writing about “Star Trek” for years, immersed themselves into existing books, particularly actors’ memoirs, to understand how the story had been told before.
And of course, the pair re-watched every episode of “The Original Series.”
“I was particularly excited to see ‘The Cage’ again,” Spelling told Space.com, referring to the original pilot episode. “[‘Star Trek’ creator] Gene Roddenberry and [actor] Leonard Nimoy were clearly still fine-tuning Spock, and it’s, pardon the pun, fascinating.”
Then, it was time to fill in the gaps. Spelling and Robinson went digging through old magazine interviews, tracking down studio memos and identifying and approaching people who hadn’t yet revealed their “Star Trek” stories before, Spelling explained.
“All of that let us approach ‘Star Trek: A Celebration’ from a unique perspective,” he said.
“There’s a story we’d never heard about [boxer] Muhammad Ali visiting the “TOS” set and hoping to meet Nichelle Nichols [the actor who played Uhura],” Spelling said. “[‘Star Trek’ authority] Larry Nemecek had done some great sleuthing work and tracked down April Tatro, the actress and contortionist who played the human form of the cat Isis in ‘Assignment: Earth.’ It had long been assumed a different actress played the uncredited role. Larry spoke to Tatro for his podcast, but as far as I know, this is her first-ever print interview.”
The evolution of Nimoy’s Spock character was of particular interest to the authors.
“With Spock, I was fascinated to see how all the pieces of his character fell into place,” Spelling noted. “You could see how it came together in a way that I don’t think even Leonard Nimoy ever fully expressed. The other piece of that is that I was lucky enough to have talked to [writer and editor] Dorothy Fontana about how she saw Spock and the Vulcans. Reciting that conversation and then putting it together with what Nimoy had said was incredibly satisfying.”
The book is also an examination of why “Star Trek” remains so compelling decades after it aired.
Robinson thinks that William Shatner, who so capably portrayed Captain James T. Kirk in the series, is onto something in declaring the show a modern mythology. “It’s the nearest thing we have to ‘The Odyssey,'” he said. “Homer would have written some fantastic episodes of ‘Trek!’ It’s about people and ideas, and it had an incredible cast who were perfectly suited to their roles.”
Spelling believes that “Star Trek” embraces so much of what we as a species aspire to be.
“It’s about exploring, about improving ourselves individually and as a species, about getting along with ‘the other,’ setting aside hate, and so much more,” he said.
“It’s science-fiction, but it all seems within reach,” Spelling added. “Roddenberry created something special, with a unique vision. The right actors played the parts and the right writers and crew did their part. And somehow, it resulted in on-screen magic. People see themselves in different characters. They want to live on the Enterprise. On top of all that, “Star Trek” is pure entertainment — there’s just nothing else like it.”