Transporter Operator Wilson beams on in from NY
Frank Silvera Writers' Workshop Foundation, Inc. of New York
“FROM RAY BRADBURY TO GENE RODDENBERRY”
Two of the most important writers/producers in my life and professional career are Ray Bradbury (The Martian Chronicles) and Gene Roddenberry (Creator of the Star Trek TV series). I first introduced myself and my acting work to Gene Roddenberry when I auditioned for his Star Trek series, and I invited him to screen a 1964 Academy Award nominated short film in which I performed the title role in The Legend of Jimmy Blue-Eyes (directed by Academy Award-winner Robert Clouse). After he viewed our Jimmy Blues-Eyes film, he explained to me that the series Executive Producers had decided to cast actress Nichelle Nichols as the "Communications Officer" on board the "Starship Enterprise." However, he would consider casting me as "The Transporter Operator Wilson," as a recurring role when needed.
In the meantime, in 1965, I went to work as a technician/assistant stage manager for Ray Bradbury's Theatre Company production of his sci-fi plays in Hollywood at the Coronet Theatre. While working for Ray Bradbury, which was like taking a master course in Theatre, he graciously encouraged me to also write, after he read a short film treatment idea of mine. My acting coach, the director Corey Allen, also liked my short film idea and optioned it and we made my first film as a writer, MadGame, in1966. It included my three-year old son, Garland Jr., as a little boy playing "war games" with other kids in a public park in Los Angeles, Ca.
During that same period in 1965, Gene Roddenberry kept his promise and did cast me in his fifth episode of the original Star Trek series entitled, "The Enemy Within," starring William Shatner (Captain James T. Kirk) and directed by Leo Penn. This was definitely "going places where no one has gone before." As "The Transporter Operator Wilson," I was blessed with two personal film scenes with Captain Kirk. First, when we "beamed" him up to the "Starship Enterprise," and due to a malfunction of the transporter, he was split into two Captain Kirks. One was negative and the other was positive (a good and a bad Captain Kirk). Both characters looked just like our "fearless leader," to my character as a crewman on the spaceship. What a debut for a new young actor it was. Firstly, I was alone with the "Starship Captain," who looked just like himself, in uniform and all. Secondly, Gene Rodderberry (The Creator) and the writer Richard Matheson, wrote my ensign character to pass the private quarters of Captain Kirk, and director Leo Penn, staged my character to be confronted with: "Ensign, give me your phaser!" And immediately afterwards the negative Captain Kirk, attacked my character, knocking me down martial arts style. I rolled onto a safety floor mat and director Leo Penn cried, "Cut & print it!" And the set crew all applauded Mr. Shatner's and my scene performance. Why? Not because it was so great, but because it was done in one "film take," and all the crew could then go to lunch early!
For me too, it was a relief indeed. For I, as a "rookie player," with "the Star," had gone aside and quickly rehearsed our body moves together as in dance and stage combat. And that’s what made it work. William Shatner is trained in martial arts, stage combat and I am also and in dance. I was a teenage dancer in my film debut in the Twentieth Century-Fox major film, South Pacific, (1957), in Hollywood, as a "Fire Tender, on the Island of Bali Hai" (on the old back movie lot at Twentieth Century-Fox Studio).
Gene Roddenberry awarded my family and I with a second episode of Star Trek entitled Charlie X (1966) with me cast as a "Crewman." But it was nearly two years before the Star Trek casting office called me for a third episode, in which I could not do, because I was under a stage manager contract at the Inner City Cultural Center Repertory in Los Angeles, Ca. Thus, I was forced and may have become one of the few actors in Hollywood to turn down a Star Trek episode. I shall have to live with that fact, and unfortunately, I never saw Gene Roddenberry again in this life.
I now remember back when my mother, Sylvia N. Thompson, came to Hollywood to visit me, that I was able to introduce her to Gene Roddenberry on the Star Trek set at Paramount Studio. I shall be forever grateful for that fact, but I only regret that my son Garland Jr. was too young to be there also to meet the great Gene Roddenberry. And my daughter Alex was not born yet. But I must remember "my take" on this life situation: "Don't let your son catch you crying (Or your daughter, either)."
Now, as far as "Star Trek" is concerned, I was glad "to beam them up, Scotty," "To go where no one has gone before," as Nichelle Nichols wrote about in her 1994 book, Beyond Uhura: Star Trek and Other Memories. Or as Ray Bradbury and Gene Roddenberry taught me: "He who hesitates, spectates." "Make it so, engage!"