Tuesday, January 19, 2010

DeForest Kelley: From Sawdust To Stardust

He’s dead Jim.”

DeForest Kelley immortalized those words. The late actor embodied every aspect of the character that was and still is, Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy. The Star Trek: The Original Series character is iconic and Kelley made him that way as I came to discover with my latest biographical foray.
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First, my apologies for a long entry. Hopefully fans of Star Trek will appreciate it. I’ve been taking time out to rediscover the world of Star Trek: TOS by looking at the biographies of its primary actors. First, I read I Am Spock by Leonard Nimoy, then Beam Me Up Scotty by the late James Doohan. Now, we visit one of the big three that made the chemistry of Star Trek work so well. This is all thanks to one Jackson DeForest Kelley. The book is From Sawdust To Stardust: The Biography of DeForest Kelley, Star Trek’s Dr. McCoy [2005] written by Terry Lee Rioux. I have to laugh. I can’t tell you how many times I have read people’s comments on places like Amazon about books like this. The general complaints go something like “there’s not enough Star Trek in the book.” “They needed to cover more about Star Trek.” Really? Do these people understand it’s a life story? It’s called a B-I-O-G-R-A-P-H-Y! It's important to learn the meaning of the word. Let’s see how the book stacks up as a read. Call it a Cliff Notes version if you will.

The author notes DeForest Kelley was a man of “quiet conviction.” This certainly stands to reason as the actor is strongly reflected in the character in this way. “Everything to do with McCoy we did with Kelley’s input. We created McCoy with Kelley right there,” Dorothy Fontana remembers. “Roddenberry was the creator of Star Trek, but DeForest Kelley created Dr. McCoy.” In the final analysis, I felt the gentle soul of Kelley, the man, was definitely separate and apart from the McCoy character, despite elements of the man ultimately infused into this well-defined character. Enjoy the story of DeForest Kelley.

Part One: The Sawdust. Chapter I: The Preacher’s Son: The opening chapter looks back fondly at a childhood spent of simple pleasures, small country towns and gatherings with good folk. Collectively I'm struck by how different many of the lives of our favorite Star Trek cast members were growing up, but how they would all inevitably converge to make this one incredible show. Life is funny. The ministry was a big influence on Kelley as his father was a reverend. The family took residence in Georgia and moved to various church missions from Conyers to Atlanta. There is much insight into Kelley’s upbringing, the influence of the church and other wonderful moments we can all relate to ourselves. At the age of 17, DeForest was lured to Long Beach, California by an uncle for whom he had great admiration. It led DeForest to a more lurid side of life steeped in gambling and rogues. Eventually, he dabbled in theatre and caught the acting bug. His uncle made overtures to persuade him away from the business. He worked at a gas station chain for him, but the bug was kicking in. The lure of Hollywood called to him. The wholesome life of a preacher’s son was something he thought he would desire, but it was not to be. In the end, DeForest received the support of his mother, whom he adored, while his father was less accepting of his decision. There appeared to be an underlying guilt for DeForest reagarding his move away from his preacher man father. Photo Insert: I was struck by two things. First, there wasn’t a single photo of his years on Star Trek. Nothing. Second, there are hardly any pictures of Kelley in his youth.

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Chapter II: The Young Artist 1939-1942: This section offers a glimpse into Kelley’s young adult life in California working in local theatre and the friends he made in those years. It really captures the moral fiber that grounded the man and remained central to his character. There’s an interesting segment when Kelley was close to breaking through in film, but lost a major role to Alan Ladd due in part to Hollywood politics. Alan Ladd became the big star, while Kelley marched forward undeterred despite it all. While James Doohan was neck deep in the thick of military duty in the midst of World War II, DeForest Kelley had little interest in even thinking about the war. Kelley enjoyed the life of an artist as a young man and the friends he shared in the acting community. This fulfilled him. However, this would all change.
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Chapter III: Her Innocent Young Man 1942-1945: As I began reading the third chapter of the formative years of young DeForest Kelley I couldn’t help but note how much I was enjoying the book. Writer Terry Lee Rioux was really transporting me to a different time and place in the world. She really captured the life of Kelley for me along with a number of other supporting characters in his life. It was a time of war and yet there was something simple, black and white, about it all. There was a joy about the simple pleasures. I know I appreciate those same things today, but technology and the pace of today’s world really thrust you along at a speed that makes it very difficult to enjoy the finer things. Recently, I was in a place on the ocean with no phone, no TV, no cell service, no internet and no way of connecting to the outside world. It was weird and maddening and when I began to let go of those things and submit to the fact that would not change I actually started to unwind. This is the beauty of such simplicity, but it's hard to realize it because we are so constantly connected. Some aspects of the 1940s might have been like this. I’m glad it happened by chance to me and I enjoyed those few days of peace and isolation. I had a similiar experience in County Cork Ireland in 1995. That was lovely too. Anyway, Kelley was still doing his damndest to breakthrough and lady luck was not biting. I kept thinking about how much of James Doohan’s life was spent embedded in his service against the aggressors of World War II and how much Kelley was hoping not to be part of that. In the end, it was interesting that Kelley, too, was drafted into the service working in radio, thanks to his theatre and radio background, for the Army. We are also introduced to Carolyn Dowling for the first time, THE Carolyn he would one day marry. Author Rioux does a nice job of painting a portrait of the lives that surrounded Kelley, which helped define who he was from his dear parents to his dear friends. One significant player in that drama was a girl names Anne Jolly. She was a close friend and there is some fascinating interaction here between DeForest and those he spent many a day performing. The period also reintroduced the arrival of DeForest’s mother and father, Clora and the Reverend, who returned to his world by relocating to California. There was a discomfort to the relationship between DeForest and his father due to the formalities that are well captured by Rioux. The war was in evidence and old friends were being pulled to and fro for the war effort. DeForest’s friend Anne felt, like many others, nothing would ever be the same. Is it ever? There is a very cinematic quality to the book at least in these early chapters. I kept envisioning a film of Kelley’s life being made and who I would love to see be cast as Kelley. It would be a sweeping, romantic drama to be sure. Despite all that was happening and DeForest’s service, the dream of acting still wrestled Kelley’s every thought. Meanwhile, DeForest was falling head over heels in love with Carolyn, while Carolyn was for DeForest. Carolyn was a married woman and was granted a divorce in 1944. The “war” was over for her at last. Divorce was probably a fairly big deal back in the day too. To know the man that was DeForest one had to know the love he shared with Carolyn, at least that is the picture painted here by writer Rioux. A fairly good bit is spent on Carolyn who certainly played a significant role in Kelley’s life. Some would say she was his life. Kelley was yearning for the actor’s life and reached out to contacts within the U.S. Army Air Corps for a transfer. The move resulted in making movies for the boys and the war effort.
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Chapter IV: Cinderella Boy 1945-1948: Kelley was happily relocated to Hollywood to work for the U.S. Army Air Corps’ First Motion Picture Unit [three years in existence at this point]. It may not have been Hollywood in the classic sense, but he was making films and appearing in those created. They sure would be something to see. Further, and it’s not made entirely clear, but it appears he trained alongside the likes of former President Ronald Reagan and Actor James Stewart to name a few. Kelley was grateful for the opportunity. Rioux paints such a warm portrait of the man that it’s easy to fall in love with the book and appreciate the man’s life. Before long Kelley was married to Carolyn in 1945. This was an interesting insight into the man by Rioux. “DeForest was the one who would become the actor, because the old boy was trying to escape the solitary person he was, the way he could escape the small world inside himself….” “Sure, he smoked and smoldered, but he looked almost exclusively inward for answers, and he looked to his art for outlet.” The war was soon over and the FMPU closed its doors. He became a civilian and eventually enlisted with Paramount. His first studio film was called Fear In The Night. Reviews were not scathing, but they were not overly generous toward Kelley either. Most liked him. “Likability never failed him.” The man’s character traits, “sweetness” and “vulnerability,” came through in spades. It was said the film would establish a pattern that ran throughout his career: “He was more popular with the audience than he was with the critics or the industry.” Fascinating. Case in point: Star Trek: The Original Series. At one point, in Santa Monica, Kelley visited a palm reader. I always wonder how true such stories really are. I never put much faith in palm readers myself. Anyway, the reader told Kelley, “He would not accomplish much until after he was forty.” Word has it he could not believe “such a ridiculous prediction.” As a contract actor with Paramount he would have to pay his dues. Next up was a film called Variety Girl for which he was not thrilled. Kelley certainly didn’t play the political game within Hollywood that many thought he should. If one thing stands out it was his devotion to time with Carolyn reciprocated by his adoring wife. This, combined with the upheaval of Post-War Hollywood, made for a difficult time for Kelley’s establishment within the industry.
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Part Two: The Actor’s Life. Chapter V: The Cold Hunger 1947-1952: Kelley found himself quite hungry for work. It was not easy to get roles and he began losing parts to even cheaper talent. This, coupled with his unflinching unwillingness to play the game, made for a difficult road to hoe for him. In 1948 his contract with Paramount was not renewed and he was let go. This saw DeForest and Carolyn move out east to New York in search of work. He landed brief roles or bit parts in television and began to wonder if there wasn’t something to that palm reading after all. Flat broke, DeForest considered moving back to California. Carolyn immediately began to pack.
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Chapter VI: DeForest Lawn 1952-1956: The Kelleys moved back to California in 1952. Prospects were just as slim back in California, but the Kelleys had each other and a devotion toward one another that was uncommon. Kelley stayed busy in a number of genres with a variety of roles, but in 1955 Kelley turned to the Western for the first time. He would take on a variety of roles playing against his affable type opting for the villain. He was definitely achieving a bit of success and was at least busy acting and working.
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Chapter VII: The Reel Cowboy 1956-1959: Kelley’s career was solid in a variety of small roles. His mother Clora whom he loved was stricken with cancer and passed away. He would visit his father, but, in the end, it was his brother who cared for him. Some of Kelley's notable films in this period included Tension At Table Rock, Raintree County and The Law And Jade Wade. There’s an interesting footnote in this chapter regarding Grace Lee Whitney first noticing DeForest Kelley around the studios when she had a small role in the classic Some Like It Hot starring Tony Curtis, Marilyn Monroe and Jack Lemmon. In 1959, the Kelleys remembered the suspicious circumstances surrounding the passing of Actor George Reeves. The official report was suicide, but they always believed something more nefarious was in play as would be evidenced later. The divergence between Reeves’ life and that of DeForest is really highlighted. DeForest was thankful for the loyalty and love he had found in his life that kept him on the straight and narrow and out of the gutters of Hollywood.
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Chapter VIII: Playing The Heavy 1960-1964. DeForest Kelley once worked with June Lockhart. Lost In Space and Star Trek did cross paths during the same timeline of course. Kelley would enjoy the fruits of a number of labors within the Western genre often playing the “bad guy” or heavy. It was at this time Kelley first met Gene Roddenberry. The two were immediately drawn to one another. They worked together on a potential Western pilot 333 Montgomery. It would not be picked up. Kelley received favorable reviews and Roddenberry was dubbed “ahead of his time” [as always]. So Kelley’s hopes for his own TV series were dashed for a time and they went their separate ways. Kelley would appear on a few of the Bonanza entries working alongside Michael Landon and Lorne Greene [future Battlestar Galactica; perhaps there's a six degrees of DeForest Kelley in here somewhere]. Kelley was a huge advocate for the Western genre even writing in support of a canceled Sam Peckinpah series. In 1963, Kelley enjoyed working with the likes of Bette Davis and Rita Hayworth, but his fortunes were small and times were getting harder again. The Western began to wane in popularity. Shortly after buying a house and allowing Carolyn time to be at home, it wasn’t long before she was back to work again. It’s toward the end of this particular chapter that things really begin to get interesting for the Star Trek fan in all of us. As a journeyman actor Kelley worked the Western circuit fairly regularly and was still landing himself work. It was in 1964 where Kelley’s travels began to cross paths with a number of Star Trek stalwarts. Writer D.C. Fontana was scripting a number of ideas including Western ideas. She was a fan of the genre. She also began working closely with Gene Roddenberry. It was at this time Roddenberry suggested his “Wagon Train to the Stars” to Herb Solow at Desilu Studio. Several familiar faces began to orbit the life of Kelley including Gary Lockwood, Nichelle Nichols, Leonard Nimoy and Grace Lee Whitney. All appeared in Roddenberry’s series The Lieutenant. The interweaving at this particular juncture of Kelley’s career was quite telling. Writer Terry Lee Rioux presents the facts surrounding this critical juncture and period better than any autobiographical book I have read to date surrounding one of Star Trek’s key players. I think there is considerable information presented here regarding how many of these characters inevitably come together. In fact Roddenberry first broached the possibility of Kelley playing Spock. Perish the thought right? It's old information to the die hard Trekkie, but worth noting. The actors embodied their roles so uniquely you just can’t imagine anyone other than Kelley as Bones, Shatner as Kirk, or Nimoy as Spock. Kelley actually preferred waiting for a Western. When the pilot for Star Trek was filmed Roddenberry wanted Kelley for the doctor but was overruled by the powers that be. So, the Westerns continued. In 1965, Roddenberry was back at it with a second Star Trek pilot and his desire to see Kelley in the role of the good doctor. Roddenberry had a tough road to hoe selling Kelley to the suits. Kelley was being typecast thanks to the Western. As luck would have it, Kelley did a pilot with Grace Lee Whitney. He played the part of lab tech in forensics. He also got a pricey little haircut for the show to shake his gruff Western look. It was Associate Producer Robert Justman of Desilu who was quite impressed with Kelley. With reviews on Kelley for Police Story solid things were looking up. Still, Police Story was not picked up and for Kelley it looked to be the end of the line until Roddenberry called. Kelley thanked him for the part in Police Story, but Roddenberry interrupted and told Kelley he would be his third and final doctor for Star Trek. His role in Police Story had sold him. “Roddenberry wanted someone capable of more than medicine and counseling; he wanted someone who was confessor and physician… He would be a humane hero and a voice of human conscience.” Kelley was indeed the man for the role.
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Part Three: The Voyage. Chapter IX: Starlight 1966. It was 1966 and Kelley was about to go where no man had gone before. He informed his wife with some excitement that he was signed for seven of thirteen episodes. All the key components were in place like D.C. Fontana who was Roddenberry’s executive secretary. She was a major component behind-the-scenes for all Star Trek cannon. The Corbomite Maneuver was the first Star Trek episode filmed. It quickly established the pre-existing close relationship between Kirk and Dr. McCoy. This chapter really fleshes out the complex relationship of both Bones and Kirk as friends and shipmates. There is also some discussion of pay here and Shatner fared the best of all, Kelley- not so much. Bob Justman did however ensure the veteran actor received “separate billing” in the credits, which was pretty big for an actor who had struggled throughout his career. Apparently, the doctor was originally intended as the star of the show, but was later relegated to a supporting character. The author delves into Leonard Nimoy’s presence on the show. The salaries went as follows: Kirk- $5,000, Nimoy-$1,250 and Kelley- $850 per week. Funny, Nimoy had worked with Kelley briefly on a show called The Virginian whereby Nimoy’s character left Kelley’s character to die. In the end Kelley was glad he received the role. He also paid great tribute to Nimoy for bringing the role of Spock to life in such a relevant, powerful way. Kelley made a great point about Roddenberry. “He has a great knack for casting… I’ve seen how he works, and it’s not easy to get principals together where a certain chemistry works. If you don’t have that chemistry that’s flowing between three people or four, it doesn’t work, and you can’t force it. It’s one of the things that was a major factor with the three of us, me and Leonard and Bill. A lot of people thought there was a great deal of luck involved in it, but I think a great deal of it was shrewd casting.” There is a great deal of coverage regarding Roddenberry in this particular section which lends insights into the show and the mechanics of the many interpersonal relationships behind-the-scenes. There is also some cursory coverage on the many secondary players in the series as well. One example, Grace Lee Whitney was intended to be a prominent character in the Star Trek series, but was eventually marginalized. I think it’s notable because you do see her character become less prominent over time. Further, Rioux writes that Whitney’s departure had less to do with character and budget and probably more to do with the male-dominated Hollywood structure of the day. A studio executive assaulted Whitney and her career tended downward for the series following that event. These are no doubt facts to the Star Trek aficionado, but they are new and fun for me. Further, we are given insights on how the episode order would be slated. The Man Trap was the first to be aired. It was the third filmed. Corbomite Maneuver was the first filmed, but according to D.C. Fontana airing depended upon where each was hung up in post-production. The Man Trap finished first. Everyone had their favorites. Justman wanted Naked Time. The executives liked The Man Trap. It’s all part of Star Trek lore now. Fontana salvaged Charlie X from a throwaway Roddenberry story no less. Justman thought it lacked action, but that it was loaded with drama. I liked this portion from Rioux. “A trio emerged as contract regulars were minimized and Kelley’s role became stronger.” It was nice to see the tide turn in Kelley’s direction. “As Fontana recalls, Roddenberry and the whole team saw the exqusite chemistry among Shatner, Nimoy and Kelley, three men as different from one another as the characters they played. The actors truly enjoyed one another, and it showed in their performances.” This was an additionally good piece. “The barbs, bristles, and brotherhood between Spock and McCoy began subtly…The doctor’s jutting chin or squinted eye provoked the lifted brow and tilt of the Vulcan’s head, and in reaction, the doctor’s head pulled back in mock disgust or confoundedness, and so it went. The writers… picked up on it. The two actors had a syncopated timing that lent itself to good use for comedic effect or dramatic clashing of wills. It was delicious all the way around.” Seriously, where did it begin? It’s hard to figure. Watching Mudd’s Women you can’t help but note the back and forth at the end of the entry and wonder if it wasn’t there. Kelley was considered the straight man on Star Trek. Nichelle Nichols loved him. She said of the man: “A kind person, but he was a strong person, and, like Bones, he was irascible, don’t push his buttons… he would quietly put you in your place… His work, his craft, his art, was very private, very personal… you didn’t notice it- you didn’t see it.” Nichols remembers being dissatisfied with some of the direction she was receiving for her character and pointed to Nimoy and Kelley as her mentors. They urged her to stay in character and never cave. She recalls Kelley telling her to “stick to your friggin’ guns, Nichelle.” It was clearly not an easy time for a woman in the industry, nevermind a black actress. Dang! She was gorgeous too! It was a chance meeting with Martin Luther King that gave her confidence to stay with it as a role model for many actresses, black and white. Things were apparently beginning to click because Star Trek was picked up for ten more episodes. At the same time, sadly, in 1966, Kelley’s father was failing and passed away. Kelley shouldered his guilt and his inability to be there for him or his brother through his father's decline. It took its toll physically on him along with the grueling hours, but as Nichols explained earlier he rarely complained and internalized most of his trouble so as not to burden anyone. What a class guy. Kelley reckons in retrospect, it was the performer in his preacher man father that resonated with him and manifested itself for DeForest to become his own showman. Even sadder, “He never saw his son on the bridge of the Enterprise.” There are some sweet memories of both his father and his mother in the final segment of the chapter. Rioux writes that Justman believed Kelley was “a very gentle man… gentled by rejection and compromise.” Justman had this to say about Kelley and his character in the series: “It became apparent to me as well as to Gene very early on that the character of McCoy was going to be a linchpin- a fulcrum upon which one side was balanced with the other.” How true. In December of 1966 they quietly raised Kelley’s salary to $2,500 per show. Kelley’s character highlights to start are noted in Charlie X, The Naked Time, The Man Trap, Mudd’s Women and most notably, Shore Leave. It was around this time Kelley first encountered fans on a date with Carolyn. The whole incident left her shaken. She had little interest in going into public after the whole event. Both DeForest and Carolyn were unnerved and disinterested in that kind of attention on the whole. Home would be their safe haven.
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Chapter X: Dammit, Jim 1967. Actor Bill Campbell, a good friend to James Doohan as noted in his autobiography, had some wonderful things to say about Kelley. With regard to McCoy, Cambell called the character Star Trek’s “humanity.” I think that was always conveyed by Kelley. According to Campbell he was the “one whole human being” referring to his old friend Doohan’s character, Scotty, as a caricature. Wow- Ouch! There were two groups of friends who emerged from the war, heroes like Roddenberry, Doohan, Gene Coon and Campbell to the actor stars clique. Kelley somehow often landed in the latter. Still, Kelley was a family man and tended to retire home at day’s end to be by his wife. In February 1967, Kelley saw the return of his former employer Paramount. Paramount purchased Desilu and relations between Star Trek’s creators and the new boss were not good. Many were skeptical of Paramount and Roddenberry, in particular, was not pleased. The second season was under way and as much as politics and negotiations were raging Kelley carried on as the unassuming professional that he was. He kept the battles at a distance by keeping close to home, but he was happy to be back in the shoes of McCoy. Spock’s star was rising while Nimoy’s relationship with Roddenberry was strained to be sure. These accounts are covered to some degree by Leonard Nimoy in I Am Spock, but I don’t recall Nimoy going into great detail about Roddenberry. He was flattering of him at times, while matter-of-fact in other instances about the man’s personality. Apparently Nimoy and Roddenberry's troubled relationship grew out of hard fought negotiations for Nimoy on the second season. Kelley had a lot of support from Justman and clearly became the third primary player in the series. Kelley was noted as a counterpoint to Nimoy’s more “exotic” character. “Kelley was let loose as the human conscience of the ship. His was the human courage of an extraordinary but altogether human soul… the one who was vulnerable.” It was at this time Shatner began his diva status as a result of his insecurity over Nimoy’s rising popularity. Shatner treated the cast horribly. It’s not covered in great detail, but clearly everyone easily sided with the gentleman that was Nimoy. Kelley stayed out of the fray and rose above it all remaining neutral like “Switzerland” writes Rioux, “established, neutral, and sweetly refusing to get involved in the fracas and gossip.” Kelley was indeed a cool character and I have a great deal of respect and admiration for him based upon his handling of these events as written by Rioux. “Kelley always insisted that Star Trek could not live without Shatner, nor could it live without Nimoy. He never hinted that he thought it couldn’t live without him.” Kelley had a healthy respect for Shatner’s precarious position as the show’s lead. It’s success rested with him and he understood that. Shatner also made Kelley laugh frequently. Nimoy said of Kelley, “I was always fascinated by the simplicity of his life. He seemed to be the kind of guy who could sit on the back porch with his wife and watch the grass grow.” That was my father. Sounds good to me. It was clear that Kelley maintained a likeable, professional distance. I respect that a great deal. There is not enough of that in any workplace. Things were going quite well for the actor for a change. You know things are going good when you command the use of a stunt double when needed. Still, when it came to public appearances and interviews, sadly, Kelley often got the short end of the stick. He was often sitting on the sidelines while Nimoy and Shatner enjoyed the public fruits. Kelley was definitely feeling a bit down by the exclusions. Star Trek took a big loss in the departure of writer Gene Coon in the fall of 1967. Some would certainly feel it was a major hit to the writing of the series moving forward. Gene Roddenberry was contending with his own health bouts during the second season and Bob Justman was leading the charge. In the final quarter of 1967, Star Trek was renewed for a third season.
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Chapter XI: Rising Star 1968. Fan mail for Kelley was in full swing. Fans of Kelley’s complex performance kept them thirsty for more. Most were intrigued by the complex interplay between Spock and McCoy. This would be the year things got tricky. Kelley studied hard learning all he could about medicine for the role. Herb Solow departed in January 1968. Roddenberry was losing his stamina. Justman was the biggest component with backing from Fontana and Director/Writer Charles Washburn. Star Trek was getting heat from NBC and Paramount because ratings were not up to snuff. Expenses were high for the series and ratings low. Kelley seemed to prosper to a degree. Amidst the insanity of it all Carolyn kept Kelley calm, comforted and grounded. He was a well respected actor for his fidelity and loyalty to family and friends. The now infamous announcement of Star Trek’s third season time slot was slated and Roddenberry was informed. Star Trek would be on Fridays at 10:00 pm. It is said Roddenberry lost some of his fire for the series based upon that announcement alone. There was a sense of doom going into the series. Justman felt “Gene gave up.” Nimoy appears to reflect much of those same feelings in his autobiography I Am Spock. The series suffered as result of Roddenberry's inattendance. It’s interesting because you really get a sense of the period from these different biography perspectives. There are differing vantage points on the facts and together give you a fairly multi-dimensional portrait of exactly what transpired on the series. It is said Roddenberry gave directives from a distance as executive producer including more McCoy-Spock scenes. Roddenberry remained detached through through the proceedings and was less effective in steering the series as a result. “Kelley understood that McCoy was to be the human presence between the two extreme personas [Kirk/Spock], neither of whom would ever be mistaken for a real person. Only McCoy was real.” Kelley added himself, “McCoy is merely human. At times he feels fear. At times he can perform really dangerous acts. But he’s always just a man who feels and who thinks and who searches. And who makes mistakes.” I love all of that. I love being human. Carolyn was busy running the fan affairs of her husband at home. There were whispers Kelley would receive an Emmy nomination for his work on The Deadly Years. He should have been. He was a necessary and riveting component of the show. Nimoy was nominated twice. Shatner and McCoy never received a nod in what remains a sizable injustice. Some fans were defensive of Spock at McCoy's expense. They felt McCoy was too hard on Spock in Bread And Circuses. In 1968, third season shooting began and Roddenberry played hardball by removing himself. He excused himself from the production he had embraced for the first two seasons. Roddenberry was considered an amazing talent when it came to rewrites. His absence was notable. Justman had to coproduce with a newcomer that really placed pressure upon the established mythology and chemistry of Star Trek. Being human, interviews did exhibit Kelley’s frustration with being relegated to second fiddle behind Nimoy and Shatner. He had fought long and hard and was exasperated by the lack of recognition for his role. “I’ve been through episodes where I’m standing there , without a word, for twelve pages of dialogue. Once I got left out of an episode entirely.” After the writers told him it was an oversight he knew he had his problems. Still, he did shine in a number of entries in the third season including Spectre Of The Gun and For The World Is Hollow And I Have Touched The Sky. Through it all he was grateful to Gene Roddenberry and credited him for taking a chance on him. Shatner and Nimoy had to contend with a number of security and privacy issues, while, miraculously, Kelley managed to maintain a fairly normal life with his wife Carolyn unmolested by the same problems. Apparently being third in line had its advantages. By the end of 1968, Star Trek’s characters, mythology and language were becoming more popular than the show itself. The beginning of 1969 marked the end of Star Trek. My greatest surprise is with all of DeForest’s success how it alluded him post-Star Trek. He remains a favorite among fans. Unfairly, it would be Nimoy and Shatner who would receive all of the post-Star Trek glory. The final airing of Star Trek took place in June 1969 months after its cancellation. It was defeated handily by Mod Squad. I loved the groovy, afro-heady Linc of Mod Squad, but not more than Star Trek. Can you believe that? Where is Mod Squad now?
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Chapter XII: DeForest Lawn Revisited: 1969-1974. The Kelleys enjoyed some down time and DeForest enjoyed conversations with his postman Tony Kirk. My father, as I’ve mentioned, was a postman. He loved Westerns too. I bet he watched some of the Westerns starring Kelley. Kelley loved his postman, Kirk. People loved chit chatting with my father when he delivered the mail. He was often offered apple pie, lunch, ice tea even beer. Those were the days. Anyway, Kelley was a regular, down-to-earth fellow. One of those normal things was how Kelley would have a cold drink ready for his postman Kirk. I remember riding my bike to bring my father drinks on his postal route. I look out for my postman today. I always have a cold drink on the ready. I suppose its my way of channeling my father or somehow connecting to him in the great beyond. If there is one thing I would say here, it is try and be considerate of your mailman, and offer them a cold drink or hot beverage once in awhile. Kelley speaks of his mailman falling into his rose bushes from heat exhaustion one day. Those drinks can go a long way friends. Kelley was running into a number of acting roadblocks following his role as McCoy and he began to concede defeat. He was definitely hurt by the lack of interest in his talents. DeForest and Carolyn often had dinner with Gene and Majel Roddenberry. Star Trek was still syndicated in 1972 following its cancellation years earlier. The fanbase was building like a tribble explosion “converting people with the show’s quality and with repetition in favorable time slots on local channels.” Honestly, I think I was one of those tribbles. I would later catch it in syndication. I liked the line, “Even as the show and its fans were ridiculed, the messages of the Enterprise grew stronger.” That is staying power for you. It just goes to show you if you put everything you have into something the rewards can be prosperous beyond your wildest expectations. In 1973, Kelley attended his first convention with Carolyn. His castmates had been attending conventions as a career move for some time and having good fun with them. Kelley always shied away from that aspect of celebrity. Kelley was cautious about the proceedings, but seemed to embrace it after a time and was moved by the events and the adoration of fans. Where James Doohan loved the attention and was wildly gregarious, Kelley was more the opposite initially. In June 1973, with Roddenberry’s approval, the original cast of Star Trek reunited for Star Trek: The Animated Series boosted in part by the quality of scripting thanks to involvement from mainstays like D.C. Fontana who also produced. It's been noted here and elsewhere, it was thanks to Leonard Nimoy who insisted the original actors play their respective parts on the animated show. Nimoy was a class act when it came to his castmates. A request from an ill young man to meet DeForest Kelley changed Kelley’s outlook on life after Star Trek. The boy was elated to meet him and filled him with a joy his family and doctors had not seen. “DeForest’s life was changed by that one little boy in Colorado, who in just a few days taught him what Dr. McCoy was really for.”
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Chapter XIII: Beginner’s Luck: 1974-1978. “I’m the star of a ghost.” DeForest Kelley uttered that line in 1976. I love that line. Fans “were comforted by something they saw in McCoy. What they sensed was Kelley himself.” One fan noted the “thing about Kelley was that one looked at him and always expected the truth. He tapped into viewers’ deep need to trust someone, somewhere and McCoy/Kelley never let us down.” McCoy illustrated “the qualities of a gentleman. He taught many young women how to recognize a gentleman.” As the chapter’s title suggests, Kelley packed up with his wife and relocated far from Hollywood to Texas. He met a man named Phil Weyland and auditioned for his play, Beginner’s Luck. Weyland remembered getting a glimpse of Kelley and his trials with Hollywood when he spoke to Weyland’s theatre group. Kelley was asked whether or not to pursue an acting career. Kelley’s answer was no. Weyland saw for the first time how Kelley had been wounded over the years by the disrespect and cold realties of the Hollywood industry. The lack of work cemented the pain of a “gentle studio veteran.” Weyland also witnessed the influence of Star Trek on Kelley’s life from visiting fans through strong attendance of Kelley’s play. When it was all said and done, Kelley was ready to go home to Carolyn. Offers were on the table from Weyland to travel with the play, but Kelley was tired of it all. By 1975, the Star Trek phenomenon was growing and DeForest began to frequent the convention circuit more especially when the guests began getting paid for coming. You know times were tough for an actor when Kelley needed to frequent the unemployment line. On one visit, Kelley bumped into none other than Grace Lee Whitney. She was struggling just like the rest. Kelley mentioned she was in demand at the conventions. The fans gave stars of Star Trek a second life. When there was talk of reviving the series some of the stars of the show were concerned it might taint the memory and magic of a show that was paying their bread and butter at this point. In 1977, while Kelley waited anxiously for the possibility of a Star Trek motion picture Star Wars arrived. His old friend, Phil Weyland, was struggling when he received a call from Kelley to be his stand-in for Star Trek: The Motion Picture. It was finally going to happen.
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Part Four: The Stardust. Chapter XIV: I Must Be McCoy. The title is a reference to Leonard Nimoy’s book I Am Not Spock, which Nimoy later embraced and righted with I Am Spock. In 1978, Star Trek: The Motion Picture began. Kelly was almost 60 years of age. Kelley remembered worrying about the film as soon as he had read the script. Where were the relationships between the characters? Roddenberry was involved very peripherally. According to Nimoy Gene “hated all of us, wanted to see us all die… ha!” WOW. Obviously he is joking, but relations were not good. There is a real sense of sadness here. Kelley yearned for the old days between his old castmates, but it just didn’t happen for this film. It was a blue-screen special and lacked the heart of the show’s characters. Kelley felt when it came to the characters of Star Trek the creators of the film really didn’t care. Kelley relented, but recalls Shatner and Nimoy fought for creative justice every step of the way against the Hollywood machine. The film proved the point that it was the TV series character-based stories that made the magic in Star Trek when its script was poorly received by all. When it was over Kelley went home to Carolyn as always. It was about this time the Kelleys found themselves susceptible to their age. As someone constantly aware of mortality I always find such material fascinating as Spock would say. “He was contemplating the meaning of age, the twilight on life’s horizon.” Rioux adds, “He was rather young to be so preoccupied, but he was an old soul with plenty of time on his hands.” Kelley's vices didn't aid his health situation. “Vodka drinks were having an impact on his appearance- the doctor’s eyes always told on him.” This is indeed a tell-tale sign of alcoholism, not that Kelley was. On the upside, DeForest’s friends noted he began to drink less. He appeared to be getting healthier.
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Chapter XV: “Someone Suggested they get Harve Bennett, Rich Man Poor Man- fix it in a minute.” Paramount was in trouble fiscally and Harve Bennett was asked to make a second Star Trek film. It was a gamble. He knew one thing, like everyone else, Star Trek: The Motion Picture was “boring” as he recalled. He knew he could do better. He did his homework by watching the entire series. “I had isolated the extraordinary energy core of the show. Star Trek was really about a triangle of characters passionately trying to solve human problems from three different behavioral perspectives.” Bennett felt that one-third of the Star Trek episodes were brilliant and often centered on the trio of Kirk, Spock and Bones. He had much praise for Kelley as the centered, steady professional actor. Bennett definitely consulted with Gene Roddenberry, but had great respect for Gene Coon and his vision for the characters and the show. Kelley did not like the first script for the second film. He discussed his concerns with Bennett. One of the problems was the death of Spock initially planned for the early part of the film. Word hit the street and it was relocated to the end of the film as the surprise was gone. Kelley liked the changes and Bennett heeded much advice from a number of Star Trek veterans. Nicholas Meyer was called upon to write. Meyer loved the literary parallel of Khan to a kind of Captain Ahab- Roddenberry not so much. The creator of Star Trek did not care for the nautical undercurrent of the film. Meyer’s treatment of Roddenberry’s characters was to portray individuals that were too flawed in Roddenberry's opinion. Rioux points out how this creative team embraced the aging process for the second film, which Star Trek: The Motion Picture attempted to mask. Nicholas Meyer felt Kelley was a tremendous actor who never had the chance to shine. Nimoy, Shatner and Kelley carried out their emotionally wrenching parts with real talent. Fans and critics loved the film when it was released in 1982. Director Meyer did not care for the tacked on ending [like they did to Blade Runner] and would not return for the third film.
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Chapter XVI: That Green-Blooded Son Of A Bitch: 1983-1985: Leonard Nimoy takes the helm of Star Trek III: The Search For Spock. Kelley’s role became a critical focal point in the film. He would later be honored at conventions by fans with their equivalent of an Academy Award for his prominent role in the film. He was 64 years of age and enjoying the ride.
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Chapter XVII: Any Problems, Just Call Me: 1986-1987: It was full speed ahead with Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. It was another Nimoy production and another wonderful time for Kelley. Actress Catherine Hicks discusses how she found Kelley “very sexy.” There are also many observations about The Kelleys enduring romance as a couple. It was a rousing success and the fan mail never subsided. Kirk, his postman, hand delivered all of it to his friend. Fame and fortune continued with the film, but DeForest never changed as a result of it. One recollection notes a limo dropping Kelley off at his Greenleaf home. He walked inside, gave everyone a kiss, changed his clothes and went back to puttering around the house. He was an ordinary man with no airs about him. His neighbors looked out for both he and Carolyn. Life did begin to slow down for them both as age had its impact.
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Chapter XVIII: Don’t Say I Didn’t Warn Ya: 1988-1990: The disaster that was the script for Star Trek V.
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Chapter XIX: The Last Best Hope In The Universe For Peace: 1990-1994: In 1990, Kelley was informed he would make one million for the Nimoy-scripted Star Trek VI. He was in his golden years at age 71 and his efforts were rather deliberate and slow.
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Chapter XIX: The Last Best Hope In The Universe For Peace: 1990-1994: The aging of both DeForest and his wife becomes clear. It covers the final film, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. It would be one big, final payday for Kelley going into retirement. It was also a special time for Kelley. Kelley utilized much padding under Bones’ attire in the film because he was literally skin and bones at this point. He was never a large man. Gene Roddenberry passed away after seeing the film in October 1991. Kelley gets his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. It was clearly an emotional experience for Kelley. DeForest was nearly seventy-four when an earthquake hit that really shook he and his wife to their foundations physically and mentally. Some say Kelley was never the same in his elder, fragile state. They had essentially slept through a 6.9 hit, but woke to the devastation when concerned friends and neighbors came around. After Star Trek concluded, the Kelleys really isolated themselves and never had much contact with cast members from the series. DeForest’s health begins to wane into decline. As someone fascinated by the golden years I was fairly moved by the honesty here a portrayed by Rioux. Little did I know things would get so emotional in the final chapter.
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Chapter XX: The Stardust: Carolyn and DeForest were becoming elders. Both remained tight and close to home and to one another in the end. DeForest was fearful of driving. He became lost in his thoughts as elderly folks can. Daily routines were maintained and kept in check by lists, charts and reminders. Still, DeForest did engage with the fans even now, but to a much lesser degree. This is certainly one of the most bittersweet chapters in the book and maybe one of the most bittersweet I’ve ever read. We certainly hate to see our heroes fall, but I love how Rioux takes on DeForest’s final days head on with dignity and honesty. She treats this portrait of a man as the regular guy he was. I really had no idea how or why DeForest passed away in the end. It turns out he had cancer and it was attacking his liver. I was really surprised because I didn’t know it, but also not so surprised as DeForest was a heavy smoker. He quit smoking cold turkey in the end when it was far too late. I remember my father stopped drinking when it was too late for him as well. Like I said, it’s tough to see our heroes go. DeForest’s postman friend, Tony Kirk, was devastated when he heard the news calmly delivered to him by DeForest. Kelley was fine about it or pretended to be. Kirk went home and cried that day. Carolyn herself was fracturing and experiencing falls. Soon after she lived in a care center. Although DeForest was quite frail he did all he could to get to her. He would drive there when he shouldn't. He was stopped by the police. People offered him help, but DeForest always refused it politely. I know his type. He was proud, but he also never wanted to put anyone out. DeForest felt bad he didn’t have the strength to tend to fan mail. In 1999, he looked emaciated and discolored. Tony Kirk would walk with him. It broke his heart to see him this way. Bones was literally all that, skin and bones. His weight was down to 104 pounds at one point. His old friend Aileen Pickering was also heartbroken to see her old friend so ill and filled with worry for his wife Carolyn. Rioux pulls together the connections of DeForest and his father and his life and what he was always meant to be. It’s touching. Rioux writes, “DeForest would live out the mythology, in real time, in the real world, tragically beautifully.” Rioux believes DeForest’s message was self-evident, “You are more beloved than you think you are.” Like his father, he practiced what his father preached. He was humane. He was kind. People should be valued. “He had indeed become his father’s son.” No matter how much we try to be different or take on new adventures in our lives, there are aspects of our family and our parents engrained in us we simply cannot deny or escape. We are them. The end for DeForest was nearing. Everything was hard. Painkillers began to have little effect. He was down to 98 pounds. Yet, the life of DeForest and Carolyn until the end was that of a loyal, tender love story, a rare thing indeed. “Who could resist being loved so? She had been the very earth to him, but he had been her heaven, and he was being taken from her.” A long time friend and pen pal, Kris Smith, was there for DeForest. She took care of him. His was “a fragile vessel” and he was in her very good care. Tony Kirk was also there. DeForest really didn’t want Carolyn to see him this way yet he missed her so. He was offered potential help options but Kelley was steadfast in facing his fate with the same kind of inner strength that gave him sturdy convictions all his life. One of his final acts was to reach out to Bill Shatner through his friend Kris Smith. He was coming. He respected his privacy all the while. Kris would take him back home. DeForest told her if he was to die in her presence he would want it to be that way so she should not feel guilty. DeForest seemed about as selfless a man as I’ve ever read about. His concerns were sweet and genuine, yet he was the man in trouble. Old DeForest was accepting the inevitable. He asked his doctor how he would die. “The doctor assured him he was dying right now and that the smooth decline, the lessening of life, the devolving of will was the dying.” Sounds peaceful enough. We can only hope it goes that well for all of us in the end. The doctor was doing his part to make it painless and comfortable. In the end, a few good friends visited him including Tony Kirk. DeForest rubbed his hands in comfort and to all those preparing to say goodbye. DeForest tried to take away their pain. He tried to heal them as only DeForest could for people. As Rioux put it, he really did have children. “Indeed, DeForest had a son, the “real Captain Kirk,” and a daughter, Kris Smith.” Could you ask for better than these two people? You can only hope your kids love you and care for you and are there for you like these two fine people were for the Kelleys. Carolyn was there at the end caring and comforting DeForest as he let go, her husband of 55 years. That is no small miracle. DeForest Kelley died in 1999. His wife, Carolyn, followed a few short years later in 2004.

Conclusion: I was impressed how the book really maps each phase of DeForest Kelley’s life. The book is a terrific read and ranks right up there with Leonard Nimoy’s autobiography I Am Spock, while quite unique in style as written by Rioux. It is lovely, linear tale of DeForest Kelley’s life, but it is a fascinating one. Rioux really delivers what made the man and the picture painted is honest and that of an infinitely loveable fellow. He's definitely my kind of human being. Rioux deserves tremendous credit for a meticulously researched book. One look at the bibliography and you will find she exhausted every resource available to her to tell his story. There is plenty of Star Trek coverage here for the aficionado. There are certainly books or resources that offer far more depth into the years Star Trek was filmed and its politics, battles and triumphs, but Rioux delivers on the promise of the biography of DeForest Kelley. It is a wonderful book and well written from start to finish. “I have achieved personal contentment to a degree. My ambition is peace and perfection.” [Kelley, 1968]
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Seek out and purchase Rioux's book, From Sawdust To Stardust: The Biography Of DeForest Kelley, Star Trek's Dr. McCoy. You won't be disappointed.
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From Sawdust To Stardust: The Biography Of DeForest Kelley, Star Trek's Dr. McCoy: A-

4 comments:

Bethany Minervino said...

When I read this book, I wept. It is one of my most prized possessions. I feel that I know this man, now, and am richer because of the knowledge. Thank you for your kind and thoughtful review.

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Thanks so much bethany. I agree. What an emotional work from start to finish. The man really had soul. Glad you stopped. Tku. Best. Sff

Anonymous said...

I cried just reading what you wrote. Man, what a great guy! I would've loved to have met him.

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Thanks for writing. This is a wonderful book of an excellent fellow. I had such a new perspective on Kelley after reading it and, like you, would loved to have had a chance to meet him.

Thank you for the nice message.
sff