Inside Star Trek 9: Polka-dot marshmallows and herding extras with Charlie Washburn

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 9, published early 1969.

The cover of Inside Star Trek issue 9, showing a top-down drawing of the Enterprise and comparing it in scale to a NASA rocket.

This issue highlighted two important production staffers and is one of the best so far.

Working around the periphery of the set

Charles Washburn was a second assistant director on seasons two and three of the original series. He landed at Desilu after completing an apprenticeship at the Director Guild of America’s trainee program.

The article, which is uncredited but almost certainly written by editor Ruth Berman or frequent contributor DC Fontana, opens with Washburn explaining the role of second AD.

We prepare the shooting schedule and break it down by scene. From the shooting schedule I make out a call sheet for each day, containing all the scenes we’re to do that day in order, and all the members of the cast, the extras, and the crew-members involved in those scenes. And any extra equipment that we’ll need. I also call [the actors] and tell them ‘You are to come in at such and such a time.’ 

As second, I’m usually at work around the periphery of the set, in touch with all the departments and their needs. There might be a sequence coming up that requires food, so I check with the property department that they have the polka-dot marshmallows or whatever and that they will be ready.

A call sheet for the episode Plato's Stepchildren, dated September 9, 1968. It shows a cast list along with make-up and set-call times.
One of Washburn’s call sheets, reproduced in the newsletter

Washburn was also in charge of the extras on the set. He explained that they usually got a fixed-scale payment but he would bump up their fees if “we’re going to shake the ship and they’ll have to fall down or hang onto the rail.” 

The article noted that “Washburn is Negro” and, despite the dated language, I appreciate that he was asked about barriers in the industry: “Did you have trouble getting into the guild because of prejudice?” Surprisingly, for the time, Washburn said no, pointing instead to the familial nature of unions as the biggest challenge: 

I’m sure there has been prejudice, but, as I understand it, it’s not exactly prejudice against minorities — many of the unions have been closed to anyone who wasn’t related to a member. I cannot personally point to incidents in which I have been discriminated against because of my color.

Washburn concludes the article by stating that he was not really looking to become a director: 

The work (of an AD) isn’t necessarily designed to turn out a director, but a lot of it would be helpful to someone who wanted to become one… But being an Assistant Director can be a career in itself. It’s a more stable job than straight directing — well, usually anyway.

A photo from the Starlog article Charlie Washburn wrote. In the photo, Washburn leans over Nichelle Nichols, sitting in the captain's chair, as she reviews a script.
Photo from Starlog

Cutter, director and writer

The author of the article then walked “down to the opposite end of the lot” to chat with “cutter” Bill Brame. The film editor was “whirling rolls of film through a moviola (a sort of miniature projector).” Brame was at work on The Tholian Web.

The scene, like most scenes, had been filmed several times. One roll of film was entirely in close-up of Spock, one of McCoy, and some rolls showed both men. The script called for a scene between Spock and McCoy. It was Brame’s responsibility to decide whether the finished film would show a close view of the speaker, or a close view of the reactions of the listener, or a more distant shot of both (or a closeup of the object of discussion). The impact of the scene can be heightened by good editing or lost by bad… The director or producer of a show may want to do his own cutting, but otherwise the choice is up to the cutters.

Brame hoped editing would be his path to directing, and by the end of this career he had directed four movies, two of which he also wrote. 

Washburn on Washburn

Washburn was a fixture on the lot, even becoming known as “Charlie Star Trek” because of his habit of answering the set phone with “Star Trek…Charlie!” but not much was written about him. The other significant source on Washburn is an article he himself wrote in issue 112 of Starlog in 1986. In it, he expands on the duties listed in Inside Star Trek, adding delivering breakfast to the actors, directing extras in the background, distributing script changes, rereading the next day’s scenes each night to ensure all bases were covered, and “cueing the special effects man when to open the Enterprise’s sliding doors as the actors approached.”

Washburn began working with Star Trek as a trainee second AD under Leonard “Tiger” Shapiro. Washburn said Shapiro gave nicknames to those he liked, and called George Takei “Take Home Pay.” He also called Nichelle Nichols “Madam Fufu” but, unlike most nicknames, he did not use it openly and she never heard it — until he wrote about it in Starlog

To me, there is a condescending undertone to this supposedly fun practice, especially as Tiger called the “lot’s shoeshine man” Jake “Honest Jake the Gonif.” That last word is Yiddish and means a thief, dishonest person, or scoundrel. Washburn himself was called Washrag, Washtub, or Washbottom but says “I was never offended, even though the name was often shouted across the stage. I would always smile, yell out “Yes, sir,” and run to him. I loved the man.”

Washburn then provided some interesting day-in-the-life information and dropped a funny story about Shatner’s breakfast:

The reporting times for our main cast almost never changed. Nichelle Nichols’ and Leonard Nimoy’s reporting time was 6:30 a.m. to be ready for an 8:00 shoot. Bill Shatner’s was 7:00. And DeForest Kelley, George Takei, Jimmy Doohan and Walter Koenig were all expected at 7:30, since their makeup requirements were minimal. Leading ladies would usually have a 6:00 a.m. call. Now, for all the cast members in before 7:30, we would tender a breakfast to avoid a meal penalty (an actor could only work 5 1/2 hours without a company breaking for a meal, and we usually had lunch at 1:00 p.m.).

Nichelle, Bill and Leonard’s breakfast order was almost always the same. Nichelle would order yogurt. Leonard would order two soft-boiled eggs with bacon. Bill’s would be a rather grand order: two soft-boiled eggs, bacon, two scrambled eggs, a half grapefruit, wheat toast, and a large orange juice. 

What Gregg (Peters, the unit manager) didn’t know — and I somehow never got around to telling him — was how Bill’s breakfast was disposed of each day. Bill would eat a piece of toast and drink the orange juice. His wardrobe man, Ken Harvey, would eat the half grapefruit. And his Doberman (Morgan), who Bill brought to work each day and kept in his dressing room, ate the rest. 

Over the course of the third season, Washburn apparently changed his mind about directing, telling Gene Roddenberry “that my number one ambition was to be a motion picture director.” Roddenbery replied: “I don’t know what you tell you as to how to go about being a director. But, the most important thing for you is to want to do it. And, if you want to do it bad enough, you’ll find a way.”

Washburn worked as an assistant director after TOS, mostly in television, including contributing to the first season of The Next Generation.

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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