Thursday, February 08, 2007


I was first sucked into the Star Trek fandom wormhole in the fall of 1975. Although I was aware of the show, I never paid much attention to it until my friend Greg started extolling its virtues to me every day during recess. In those days, Star Trek reruns were shown daily just about everywhere on the planet. I was able to watch them on WDCA Channel 20 in Washington DC. It didn’t take long to cycle through all three seasons of the series and by winter 1976, I was a hard core Trekkie (that was the proper term back then, before some geeks became inexplicably offended by it and decided they must be called Trekkers).

Star Trek filled a necessary void in my life as I transitioned from child to adolescent. Unlike other kids my age who were graduating from action figures and Hot Wheels to guitars and 10-speed bikes, I was having a hard time leaving the escapist fantasies behind. I needed something that would capture my imagination and allow me to live in make-believe, at least for short periods of time. Star Trek was perfect for that, providing a starship populated by charismatic crew members who could transport me to new worlds full of aliens and high adventure. The positive, humanistic sub-text of the show, promoting the good in mankind and our capacity to create a brighter future, was also encouraging to a child dealing with an alcoholic father and bullying classmates on dreary 20th century Earth.

Fortunately for me, this was also the time when Paramount realized that they could cash in big by licensing the hell out of Star Trek to toy makers, publishers, and anyone else who could put out a Star Trek-related trinket. I spent the next year nagging my parents to buy me any number of Star Trek items. I started with the paperbacks novelizing stories from the original series and the later animated one. I moved on to all the model kits and soon filled my room with the Enterprise, the Klingon Battle Cruiser, Romulan Bird of Prey, Galileo Seven, and Space Station K-7. AMT was even ballsy enough to put out a totally made up spaceship under the Star Trek banner, called something like Interplanetary Explorer (my mind’s a little hazy). Although it didn’t look anything like a Star Trek ship, I liked it because it glowed in the dark and it had a hangar with working doors and a little shuttlecraft that lived inside.

Peter Pan Records, the people who put out kiddie records in the 60s and 70s, released a series of Star Trek records with accompanying comic books so you could read the story as you listened to it. The art work was pretty good (a step up from the amateurish Gold Key Comics of the era) and the stories were in the spirit of Star Trek, although clearly aimed at a younger audience.

The part I found strange about the art work was that, while the renderings of the main characters and the interiors of the Enterprise were quite accurate, the depictions of the Enterprise exterior varied from frame to frame and was often wildly inaccurate, like the artist was never given a clear picture of the ship.

Also, Uhura was a white woman and Sulu was African-American! As far as the recordings went, the voice actors asked to imitate the real stars of the show did an admirable job of invoking the spirit of the characters without resorting to full-on impersonations.

In the spring of 76, someone put out a line of Star Trek shirts for kids. I was still small enough to fit into one, so I got a red shirt like Scotty’s. Most of the kids I knew got the gold Kirk shirts, but I was always more partial to Lt. Commander Scott. To me, Scotty was the true soul of the ship and he alone pulled their bacon out of the fire far more frequently than Kirk or Spock ever did. With my red shirt, and my model kit of the phaser, communicator, and tricorder, I could go off on my own adventures (although I usually did this in my room or in the basement since walking around the neighborhood dressed like Scotty could elicit some unwanted laughs).

Of course, the big Star Trek collectible of that time for any kid was the Mego action figures. I had the Kirk, Spock, and McCoy figures, then I acquired a Klingon. The likenesses were spot on, but I was always frustrated by Mego’s cheapness when it came to accessories. Spock and McCoy had a communicator, phaser, and tricorder. Kirk only had a phaser and communicator, and the Klingon had the exact same phaser and communicator rather than his own alien weaponry.

Since I was losing interest in action figures around this time anyway, I ended up using my figures in a school project where I created a diorama of the Time Portal from City on the Edge of Forever. I think I got a passing grade on it.

I was really thrilled to find such a treasure trove of fantasy fun as Star Trek, but after watching the same episodes over and over every day, the stories were beginning to lose their luster. I needed to find another diversion. As luck would have it, a new science fiction show was on the air at the same time…

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