Inside Star Trek issue 4: Klingon side-projects with Matt Jefferies and coloured food cubes with Irving Feinberg

Inside Star Trek was a semi-official newsletter, published under the guidance of Gene Roddenberry. This connection gave the writers access to the actors, production crew and sets.

I own the complete run:

Issues 1 to 12: Inside Star Trek, edited by Ruth Berman

Issues 13 to 24: renamed Star Trektennial News, edited by Susan Sackett

Issues 25 to 31: again called Inside Star Trek, edited by Virginia Yable

Here are highlights from issue 4, published October 1968.

The best issue so far, Inside Star Trek 4 gave readers inside information on two TOS production stars: art director Matt Jefferies and property master Irving Feinberg.

The cover art for Inside Star Trek 4; a sketch of Captain Kirk

Dorothy Fontana interviewed Matt Jefferies, designer of the Enterprise, the shuttlecraft, the Klingon battle cruiser and most of what we saw on TOS.

A photo of Gene Roddenberry and Matt Jefferies, showing them standing and reviewing art work
Roddenberry and Jefferies, from the book Beyond the Clouds

Walter Matt Jefferies started his Hollywood career with design work on military-themed productions. He told Fontana “I did ship interiors at MGM for The Wreck of the Mary Deare, World War II airplane stuff for Never So Few and The Bull Halsey Story” and then casually mentioned that he also worked on the original Ocean’s Eleven.

For most of his career to that point, he was a set designer, but on Star Trek, Mission: Impossible and April Savage, his title was art director. Fontana asked what an art director does:

I’m responsible for everything they photograph, except the people. It entails the initial design of sets, supervising the building, colors, painting, everything that’s on the stage or location, having it ready for the camera and within budget. It calls for working with the director, set decorator, carpenters, painters, special effects, the whole ball of wax.

Fontana asked him about creating planet sets, and how that differs from designing interiors.

The first thing I do is work out what has to happen in a proposed set… How many actors we have, what the moves are, what kind of general settings the script calls for, how to light it, how to get the equipment in and out, what the camera shots will be, the scope of the shots…you design the set around that.

The approach to interiors is the same as exteriors… In the early stages, John Dwyer, set decorator, comes in and looks at the initial drawings. Then he and I sit down and have a talk about what I have in mind. He proceeds to put his talents to work finding the proper dressing along the lines of what we’ve discussed. I depend on this man very heavily, not only to carry out my ideas but to come up with an endless fountain of his own ideas. And he does. For the most part, stage 9 [which houses almost all of the standing sets for the Enterprise] is a very static set, and John can turn that over to his assistant, Mike May. Then John has the opportunity of getting off the lot and searching for unusual things — something particular he has in mind, or some idea of mine. But John has the opportunity to get out and look where I don’t. So he’s my floating eyes and sticky fingers…that’s where all the ‘freebies’ come in too. He has a wonderful knack for finding these things.

See my coverage of issue 1 for Fontana’s interview with John Dwyer.

Fontana then asked about the Klingon battle cruiser and the Botany Bay, from Space Seed.

We had already established the essential character of the Klingons, so we really had more to draw on in the background than we originally had on the Enterprise. The Klingon character was different and clearly defined in several scripts. We tried to keep some of that character in the design of the ship — cold and, in a sense, vicious. We tried to get into it some of the qualities of a manta ray, shark, or bird of prey, because the Klingons follow that general feeling. Another requirement is that we had to get a feeling their ships were on par with the starships in equipment, power, size, etc. After many sketches and many evenings, it finally evolved. Everyone liked it, and that’s what we built. It was strictly an extra-curricular activity on my part.

The Botany Bay was actually designed before the Enterprise. It was a little idea that popped up and was labelled “antique space freighter.’ Later on, we made it look like something else — a vehicle out of the early 2000s.

Matt Jefferies original sketch of a space freighter

Jefferies drawings here are all from the wonderful people at TrekCore.

Creating limbo

Matt Jefferies saloon design sketch for Spectre of the Gun

The design of the frontier town in Spectre of the Gun, in which only the fronts and basic interiors of the buildings were represented, has often been characterized as a cost-saving idea, but this never made a lot of sense as the studio backlot surely had standing western sets the production could have used. Fontana credited this “limbo” design to Jefferies, and he characterized it as a thematic, rather than a budget, decision: “It wasn’t a true limbo — it was a stylized limbo only in what wasn’t there. When you say ‘stylized limbo’ you usually mean misbalanced proportions, things hanging in space, etc. What was there was real. It looked different and it worked effectively.”

Jefferies said that the most challenging sets to that point had been for What Are Little Girls Made Of? and Amok Time, while the most successful were for A Taste of Armageddon, The Return of the Archons, and The Squire of Gothos. His favorite set at the time was “the temple and oracle room in a show we’re shooting (now), For The World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky.”

Asked about the most difficult aspect of the job, “Matt had a ready answer for that one: Compromise.”

Usually what we wind up with is only a small part of what I would like to see. But you have to give with the material you have available, the capabilities of the people working for you, time, money — bend for the lighting man, bend of the cameraman, for the director. The most difficult thing is to come up with something you visualized that is on budget and will work best for the company. Frequently, when we get up there to shoot, there’s not a lot left of the original concept.”

Feinberg’s tribble-ations

Irving Feinberg proved that Deep Space Nine did not invent the name of its tribbles tribute episode; the article he wrote in this issue was called Trials and Tribble-ations of a Master of Properties.

A photo of Irving Feinberg with the cloaking device prop from The Enterprise Incident

Feinberg defined his job as managing properties, “any object in the show that works, i.e. is handled, used, or moved by an actor. It may be as big as a boulder or as small as a pin. For each episode I must first read the script for the story content, and then break it down, checking it for all of the props that are to be used. These props must be available by the first day of shooting.

He goes on to describe his tribble travails:

I had about 1,000 tribbles made in four different sizes and four different colors. Some of them were fitted with balloons which could be inflated to make the tribbles pulsate. Others contained motors which moved them about. In one sequence, when I had just finished piling hundreds of tribbles around the set and attaching numerous others to the walls, William Shatner came up to me and with a perfectly straight face told me that they would all have to be removed so that the walls could be repainted. Just before I started to climb those same walls, the whole cast and crew exploded in one grand guffaw.

Food cubes of the future

Feinberg also provided a short-hand Enterprise cookbook:

While on these distant planets, our actors are served with exotic food and drink. I use cubed apples, celery, or other fruits and vegetables dyed bright blue, green, or purple with harmless vegetable dye. I use the vegetable dye because they must not only look strange, but they must be edible. In one scene I had to have a blue drink. I thought I had found the answer to both the color and palatability when I discovered blue curacao. The director swore that I was making William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy tipsy with my liqueur, so, much to their disgust, I had to go back to my trusty (but not tasty) blue dye in water.

A photo of Uhura standing at her console, from The Corbomite Maneuver. She is using an earpiece designed by Irving Feinberg.
Feinberg’s props, like Uhura’s earpiece, were called feinbergers on set

It’s gratifying to read that Feinberg really liked his job: “I take pride in my work and in Star Trek. I want each episode to be artistically and scientifically logical. Being the property master on Star Trek may challenge my ingenuity and send me home talking to myself, but I am pleased to be associated with all of the artists on it and proud of the finished product.”  

Inside Star Trek is an invaluable source of early Star Trek voices. I’ll cover each issue.

Click here to read other articles in this series.

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