Inside Star Trek 12: meet the gaffer, learn a little about Paris

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 12, published in the summer of 1969.


This is the last issue of the initial newsletter run and the last to be edited by Ruth Berman. It offers interesting information for production nerds like me but it is also clear from some of the content that Berman just needed to fill pages. 

Juniors, Seniors and Babies with Star Trek’s gaffer

The best part of this issue is a column written by George Merhoff, the gaffer who started on The Corbomite Maneuver and stayed through to Turnabout Intruder. The gaffer is the chief electrician on set and is in charge of the lighting crew. 

Merhoff shared a bunch of interesting behind-the-scenes facts.

  • Planet sets were 150 feet long, 100 feet wide and 36 feet high, and occupied an entire sound stage.
  • The curtain that formed the sky on distant planets measured 225 feet wide and 30 feet tall and was made to be the “whitest white Matt Jefferies…could find.”
  • Jefferies could choose from about “90 hues” to tint the sky.
  • Up to 150 “lamps” (lights) were rigged on catwalks 30 feet above the floor or on rolling platforms.
  • Fully lighting a planet scene consumed more than one million watts of power.

Merhoff also ran down a list of insider terms for the lights he used. Asking for a “Type 450, 225 ampere Molarc” was cumbersome, for example, so this light was called a Brute. 

A vintage studio light on a stand.
A Baby Brute Molarc 4611, circa 1965, from eBay

Babies, Juniors, Seniors, Soft-Eyed 10Ks, Hot 10Ks, 150s, Brutes — all are somewhat descriptive of the size and light output of the unit… You can probably guess that a Midgey is smaller than a Baby but larger than a Dinky Inky. 

[One] “fill” light containing two 1,000-watt pear-shaped lamps…is wider than it is high — and is called a “Broad” for obvious reasons. There was little confusion associated with the Broads until a neat little unit containing one 1,000-watt lamp was introduced to the industry. Now, calling for a Big Broad or a Little Broad is much too wasteful of words and too unimaginative to be tolerated. An electrician at Warner Brothers…was working on the same show as a small, attractive hairdresser named Betty Lou. Betty Lou was small [and] the slang term for a woman is broad — and the confusion was resolved. If you call for a Broad, be prepared for a 2,000-watt Broad — but if you want its smaller 1,000-watt counterpart, call for a Betty Lou. 

He then explained that he and the crew would often have to construct “gimmicks” —  “almost anything that is not standard lighting equipment. It must be made to do a special job for which there is no available unit.”

So, when confronted with the problem of getting a green light of at least 400 foot candles on Doc McCoy’s face during open-heart surgery on Spock’s father [in the episode Journey to Babel], the light comes from the surgical enclosure housing the patient and that allowed no more than two-and-one-half inches in depth. We “gimmicked” two small housings of aluminum, each containing a 50-watt quartz lamp — and McCoy turned properly green.

A screencap from the Star Trek episode Journey to Babel, showing McCoy leaning over the biobed, operating on Sarek. His face is illuminated by green light.

The antimatter chamber in engineering was another challenge. 

No one was quite certain really what should happen — but it was agreed that energy and heat were certainly associated [and] that it should be illuminated with warm light… So we gimmicked it with just under 100 red and amber dichroic spot lamps — and had only to vary the ratios of red to amber to get just the effect of matter-antimatter fusion.

These are fascinating production details, and from this moment on I will know that Betty Lou is not a Broad. 

A really basic Matt Jefferies overview

Berman published a good piece on art director Matt Jefferies in issue 4. She revisits that topic here in her last issue, but this article is only a rudimentary overview of what art directors do. There are two good bits, as told by Jefferies.

Most art directors can turn to a reference book when they run into difficulty. On Star Trek, we had to design and build everything from scratch. Where do you find a blueprint for an antimatter engine capable of driving a ship the size of the Enterprise?

Before we even started our preliminary sketches for the [Enterprise], I met with Gene Roddenberry, executive producer and creator of the show, numerous times. We hung drawings, sketches, and photographs of current and projected space rockets and vehicles all over the office walls. Along with these, we had clippings from the Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon comic strips. We had to avoid duplicating either of these areas… We spent better than four months building the model ship and the interior sets. There wasn’t a button or a panel in it that wasn’t there for a logical, functional reason and based on scientific research and projection of what is now being done within the area of space travel.

We also learned Jefferies typically had “seven to 10 days to come up with everything needed for an episode, including props.” 

That’s about it. It’s interesting that Berman felt she had to tell readers that Roddenberry created Star Trek. I know there was a lot less information available then, but if you chose to read this newsletter then surely you know stuff like that.

I wanted more from Paris

Leonard Nimoy went straight from playing Spock to donning the many costumes worn by The Great Paris in Mission: Impossible, filmed across the Paramount lot. Apparently, someone named R. Dyan R. got to visit the set with two friends “to see LN” and that sounds like an interesting story but the newsletter only gives us one paragraph on it. 

A close-up of Nimoy as Paris in Mission: Impossible. He looks very 70s.
From double o section

Online sources list the writer as R. Dyan, so it is likely that the second R. is a typo, but who was this person and why did Dyan have access to the set? Was this person a journalist, a friend of the producer, or a passerby who somehow got past the gate? 

More perplexing is why we got so little about this visit. According to the paragraph: 

The topics we discussed ranged from the demise of Spock, whom he politely mourned; the new character, Paris, which LN thoroughly enjoys doing; LN’s new pet shop, a subject of great interest to us all; actors and their parts, including our own personal experiences; and other miscellaneous subjects too numerous to mention.

Too numerous to mention? No no. Mention them. And tell us what Nimoy said about this critical transition in his career. Also, LN? Who calls people by their initials? 

We have actually watched Star Trek

The last article, a summary of the main characters, is also weirdly basic. We are told that Sulu is “mixed oriental in ancestry,” that Uhura is “an intelligent and lovely girl,” that Scotty’s accent “betrays his ancient roots,” that McCoy is a “warm and gallant southern gentleman” and etcetera. It occupies a page of the newsletter — which was clearly the goal in writing it — and tells you nothing you don’t know if you’ve watched even a couple of episodes. And it does not even mention Chekov, even though the navigator is on the cover. 

Issue 12 closes with a list of answers for the crossword that appeared in issue 11. Here is my article on that. There is no mention that Star Trek has been cancelled, no notification that this is the last issue, and no thank you to the readers. The newsletter was relaunched in 1976 by Susan Sackett under the title Star Trektennial News, and I will cover those issues. 

I have sometimes been critical of this publication when it is obvious that little time was put into some issues, but overall these are a hugely important resource. Inside Star Trek was at its best when it gave voice to the production people who contributed so much but are almost unknown to fandom. I had never heard of Merhoff or wondered how the reaction chamber was lit, but I learned about both in these pages. Thanks for that, Ruth. 

Click here to read other articles in this series.

Postscript

R. Dyan hints in that paragraph that he/she/they is an actor, but a search on IMDb turns up nothing relevant.

Postscript the second

The sign on Leonard Nimoy's Pet Pad, Nimoy's pet store in the late 60s and early 70s.

The San Fernando Valley Blog has a good write-up on Leonard Nimoy’s Pet Pad. This photo is from that page.

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