A couple of weeks ago, my wife and I took the first vacation we’d had in about five years. We drove down to the Florida Keys to attend the Humphrey Bogart Film Festival. Among many enjoyable functions was a panel discussion featuring Stephen Bogart, Monika Henreid, and Eddie Muller. The subject was The Maltese Falcon, as this was the 75th anniversary of that film.
At one point in the conversation the focus turned to the cast, and how so many of them became well known after their involvement in the movie. In fact, Sidney Greenstreet and Peter Lorrie are back together with Bogie in the next year’s hit Casablanca.
But there was also a young man in his first or nearly first picture, named Elisha Cook, Jr. At this point, Ms. Henreid (her father, Paul Henreid, was Ingrid Bergman’s husband in Casablanca) made a remark that he went on to guest star in every TV series in the 60s and 70s. Mr. Muller retorted that she was thinking of Whit Bissell. I leaned over to my wife and said “-and both of them were on Star Trek.”
The Trekkie will find the Trek connection, every time.
Elisha Cook, Jr. as Wilmer (right) up against Bogie’s
Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon.
Cook as Samuel T. Cogley preparing to defend Jim Kirk in
Whit Bissell (left) as Station K-7 Manager Lurry in the very
popular The Trouble with Tribbles.
There was, though, more to my comment than just the usual Trek reference. The point Ms. Henreid was making was that many of the character actors of old Hollywood ended up in the TV series that many of us grew up on. Now, I had heard that frequently these folks were hired because they needed to keep their union medical benefits, and could no longer get jobs in mainstream movies. But Ms. Henreid suggested it was because these actors were professionals. They got on set, they did their parts, and they got the job done in a few, if not one take.
This is an important consideration in early television. Programs were either live, or they were shot on film. Film was expensive. You couldn’t just delete the file or clear the SD card and start over. In either case, you need actors who are reliable, professional and experienced. Particularly people who don’t let their egos get in the way of the work.
So TV directors turned to the character actors who’d been working in the industry for decades. And we saw those faces over and over. Even if we didn’t know the names, and didn’t know the history. Those faces connect us to the past.
And while most people would agree that Star Trek is about the future, it’s also about the past. Take a moment and consider how many episodes of the original series were set in our past, or parallels of our past. A Piece of the Action is a gangster pic. Spectre of the Gun a Western. Balance of Terror is an excellent remake of Run Silent Run Deep set in space.
Of course the writers of Star Trek knew this. They intentionally tapped into successful genre’s both because of a built in audience and the budget saved by using standing sets. And they used those familiar faces when they could.
Some of those faces led me back to the old movies. They broadened my awareness of an industry and an art form which many feel is endangered today by the need to make giant computer generated blockbuster events that sell out thousands of theaters, millions of DVDs, and untold mountains of toys, t-shirts, and novelty items. The problem of course, is that it’s very hard for something small, and thoughtful, and well made to get any traction in the that world, simply because no one thinks it can.
Which is why I still putter around out here on the internet, believing that small and thoughtful, frequently silly, and hopefully well made can get an audience. I don’t expect to make a fortune. Like anyone dabbling in a dying art form, I realize there’s little future in it. But sometimes we need to do things because it is important that someone do them.
Otherwise, they are lost.
I hope you’ll continue to come along for the ride.