Drex Files: Bob Justman, The Heart & Soul Of Star Trek
Image- (From L-R) Doug, the wonderful Jackie Justman, The man himself, Mike and Denise Okuda. Our last visit with Bob, just weeks before he slipped the surly bonds.
I have been meaning to write an entry about Bob Justman every single day since his passing. Every time I thought I would, I stopped because I always thought I just couldn't do how I feel any justice. "How’s that workin' for 'ya?" asked Dorth. I laughed. No kidding.
I knew I had to write something about my feelings no matter what. So, if you will humor me... I'll ramble a bit, I'll be a little self-indulgent, but I'm in love with this guy. Forgive me as I let this go wherever it wants to. I'm sure it will read a little disjointed, but it's honest and from the heart.
Image- Bob with Gene Roddenberry, at the second season TNG Wrap Party.
Before reading any further watch this video clip.
Are you back? I'm so incredibly proud to be in that tribute. I'm sure that our sincerity and love of Bob comes shining through. You can't fake that.
The way I see it is that you have your birth family, and then you have family you meet as your life spools along. Family that is not an accident of birth, but family that grows from the mystery of your life tour. When you grow up reading about your real-world heroes, they are larger than life, and as far away and untouchable as fictional characters. There is about as much chance of me sitting comfortably watching TV with Bob Justman as there is of me having a cup of coffee with Superman... right?
2008 - I remember Dorothy – that’s the Dorth I mentioned up above, a/k/a Mrs. Drexler -- telling me that Denise (Okuda) called saying that Bob had asked for us, and that I had this overwhelming sense of dread. Yes, I was delighted that we would finally get a chance to see him again, but I sensed an urgency that made me afraid. Bob's health had been fluctuating, and it seemed that every time we visited him, he was more frail.
1966 -When I was 13 years old, my heroes were not ball players, rock n' roll stars or actors. My heroes were TV producers, art directors, and makeup artists. I'm a kid and I'm reading film budgets, production call sheets and script memos. Madam? Do you know what your son is reading? Do you think that is normal? It's this book... one of the most powerful "smart bombs" I'd ever been hit with, and it changed the course of my life. "The Making of Star Trek," by Steven E Whitfield. That book was like throwing gasoline on a fire. Like Popeye downing a can of spinach. Like Johnny Storm yelling Flame ON! There is this one superstar guy in there, Robert H. Justman, and I'd sooner read his production memos than chase girls.
"...Bob always told me (with a gleam in his eye) that he was "whelmed" by my work. Not overwhelmed, not underwhelmed... whelmed. During the short time I was blessed to have worked under him, we went through a lot of ups and downs, not always agreeing on some detail or another, but always appreciating each other's abilities and experience. Later I found out that he supported my efforts on TNG in a variety of ways and wish I could have known in time to thank him. I always smile, knowing how whelming he thought I was." - Andrew Probert
Image- Misguided 13-year-old Doug Drexler, on the right, squandering his youth on a television show. The character on the left is still deranged.
1975 - Whenever I was in the big city and saw a film crew shooting on location, I was drawn to it like a moth to a flame. You might think that not unusual, but in a town like NYC, where everything happens all at once, very few people even notice. Not me, I was drawn to it by a supernatural magnetism. I remember being in the East Village late one night and coming across Martin Scorsese shooting a scene from Taxi Driver. I was on the wrong side of the barricade watching the amazing efficiency of the film crew as it responded to the director's needs. I'm on the wrong side of this barrier, I thought; that's where I belong... over there. Those are my people. Your book did it to me Steven... do you hear? YOUR BOOK!
1986 - Red Hook. Brooklyn. Makeup lab. Caglione & Drexler. John and I are "shucking" molds, red hot from the oven, and wrapped in a towel. With considerable speed and dexterity, we peel the butterfly wing fine foam latex appliances from their shells. The tink-tink-tink hastens our task and ups our blood pressure, as the cool air assaults the 300-degree gypsum, threatening to crack it. If you wait for 'em to cool, the molds glue shut, and you might break 'em worse, so now is harvest time. I hold one of the supple cheek appliances up to the light looking for air bubbles. I look at John grimly, as I powder the pearl from the oyster, and put it away. They're making Star Trek again, and this time with Roddenberry and Justman! John licks his finger, and lightly lays the paper thin edge of an appliance across it. It magically disappears. In his best Elwood Blues he says, Well, my brother Jake! Why don'tchu just call Bahb then, and be dun with it? I look at him like he's nuts. You don't just call Bob Justman up on the telephone! I say this slathered with "oh come on!" John just looked at me grinning, flipped a ciggie into his mouth, lit it, snapped the antediluvian Zippo shut saying... Why not? I looked at him blankly for a second or two... yeah... ok... yeah... why not? I'm shaking my head laughing, because he's done it to me again.
Image- Cagoline & Drexler in the makeup partnership days. I miss working with my old pal John.
Ahem... I'd like to speak to Robert H. Justman, please, I said in my most adult voice, even though I was already an adult. One moment please, I'll put you through... I cover the mouthpiece of the phone with my hand and look at John, my eyes as big as saucers, and I soundlessly mouth the words, Holy *hit! Cag smiles without taking his eyes off the sculpture he's working on.
2008 - Mike, Denise, Dorth, and I stand at the door to the Justman home. It's a beautiful Raymond Lowey\Frank Lloyd Wright-ish style house. It's a style I happen to love, but not as much as much as the man the home contains. The four of us are quiet. We're nervous. We're afraid. We look silently at one another. We love this man. We see him as family... a beloved uncle. A hero from childhood. A hero from adulthood. A hero who turns out to be everything that you imagined... better than you imagined... a dear, dear friend... and a doll of a human being. I take a deep breath and ring the doorbell.
The door knob turns, and there is a cracking sound as there door is pulled free from its weather stripping holster, and slowly opens. All eyes turn to it in trepidation, expecting to see Jackie Justman, but it isn't Jackie. It's Bob! But, oh no... something IS wrong. He looks at us with blank stare, and there is no recognition in his eyes. My worst fears have been realized. I look at him sadly... speechless... until he slowly closes the door on us, locking it, underscored by sound of our uproarious, and relieved laughter. Watta guy! I shake my head grinning... he did it to me again! Bob opens the door back up, this time wearing a small satisfied smile as we all embrace. It's a very sweet moment for all of us.
Image- Me, Denise, Bob, and Mike, on the 'Trials and Tribble-ations" set.
1986 - Since you are a professional... Bob reaches inside a file drawer... stops and looks up at me wryly... you ARE a professional? Yes sir, I think so, I reply. Bob removes a small box from the cabinet and sets it on his desk. I watch him remove something from it with the same sense of awe I had when I watched Reger uncover a self-powered lighting panel in "Return of the Archons." From the cardboard box he withdraws a five-inch hand-modeled prototype of the Enterprise D with pencil-drawn windows on it. Bob smiles at my slack-jawed reaction... Greg Jein built it for us... not a straight line on it... he says proudly. I smile, because I know that in producer-speak, that means "expensive."
"...To say that Bob Justman was the reason I became a space artist might be a bit of a stretch, but the kernel of truth was that he did work with Ward Kimball on Disney's "Man and the Moon" when I was a kid growing up in the 1950s. The space-related Disney shows had a profound effect on me, at a time when there was nothing man-made yet orbiting Earth, and when Bob informed me that he had a hand in those productions, I thanked him, after expressing some degree of amazement. I had seen plenty of other shows Bob had worked on, like The Outer Limits, that one having had, shall we say, a somewhat different effect than promoting human space flight. I really got to know him through Star Trek: The Next Generation and saw first-hand how a producer gets things done. At one particularly frustrating and slow production meeting, Bob took control, said "Here's how you're going to do it..." and like a general organizing his troops, he ran down a list of steps to make sure we could make the episode happen. I will never forget that. He was a gentleman, gracious with his time and willing to teach what he knew to others, and urged us to do the same. If that's old school, that's my kind of old school. Thank you, Bob." - Rick Sternbach
Is it possible for me to work on Star Trek in any way shape or form? The trouble Bob says, is a union issue. There is a West Coast makeup union, and an east coast union. They aren't interchangeable. Getting into the West Coast union is a whole can of worms. Bob stops for a second, weighing out what he just said with experience. Well, he says, there is more than one way to skin a cat... our graphic designer is coming all the way from Hawaii. I remember thinking what a lucky dog this guy is. Little could I have imagined who this lucky guy was, and how lucky I would be to know him later. Ultimately, it turned out there really was only one way to skin a cat, and my admittance to the West Coast union would be later ushered by Warren Beatty, thereby opening the door for me to Star Trek.
Image- Roddenberry and Justman confer with director Robert Butler on the Mojave parkland set of the Star Trek pilot, "The Cage". Knowing Bob, he was probably saying something droll; I mean, look at Susan Oliver's face.
1992 - Down on stage they were getting ready to shoot Scotty's return to Star Trek on The Next Generation. A nice pie-shaped piece of the original bridge had been conjured on Stage 9, and Mike and I had spent some time in the DS9 art department recreating the various blinky panels. Doug! shouts Mike. Bob Justman is downstairs to see our bridge! Hurry! I stand straight up. Bob Justman! I hadn't seen him since 1986. I wonder if he'll remember me? I swallow hard, and dash down the art department steps after Mike. I'm nervous! After more than 10 years in the business there are still things that make me nervous.
When we get down to stage, Ronald D. Moore is standing there, checking out our handiwork. It's obvious this is a dream come true for him as well. Mike taps me on the shoulder... Bob, he whispers. I look up and see Robert H. Justman enter the stage. OK... this is what the Twilight Zone feels like. Mike enthusiastically shakes Bob's hand as Denise gives him a hug, but Bob doesn't recognize me at all. Sigh! We inspect the bridge set with him, and he tells us to change the carpet. Still the producer. Across the street we had just completed the DS9 sets. As we head for the stage door, Bob turns to me and says... Thought I forgot you, huh? My jaw goes slack. I'm very proud of you, says Bob. I saw you win your well-deserved Academy Award. Oh man! Doug is on cloud nine, AND Stage 9, and all at the same time.
Image- Bob and I shake hands in front of his tribute shuttle arranged by Mike.
Image- A quite-pleased Bob soaks it up in his tribute shuttle.
1992 - A crack opened in the stage door as our entrance to it created a blinding wedge of light into its inner sanctum. The DS9 promenade was one huge set, on a Bond-ian scale. Bob was impressed, but I could sense a certain sadness in him. Bob had never profited from the enormous success of Star trek, aside from his regular salary. He confessed that he had never watched any of the DS9's... because it was too painful. I remember feeling somewhat uncomfortable at that moment, but Bob was his usual gracious self and was quite impressed by the set design. We had quite a rambunctious and spirited design team in that first season. Ricardo Delgado was a real firebrand, and our two set designers, Brits Joe Hodges and Nathan Crowley, were quite nutty as well. This is evidenced by all the sexual innuendo in the promenade designs. This was not lost on Bob Justman when he came for a visit. Bob covered Denise's ears, and whispered to Mike and me, “The windows are vaginas!”
"...Bob honored us with a visit to the Deep Space Nine stages, just before the show went on the air. Doug, Mike, and I were proud to show him around the new sets, and he was very complimentary about them. At one point he turned to us and said something like, "You all look pretty tired." We had all been working very long hours (along with the rest of the production crew), so we agreed. Bob smiled at all of us. He looked each of us in the eye and said, ‘Remember these times. In years to come, you'll look back on these as some of the best days of your lives.’" - Denise Okuda
Image- Bob and the DS9 filming minature.
Read Part II of Doug Drexler's tribute to Bob Justman here.
About Doug Drexler
A lifelong Star Trek fan, Doug Drexler made a variety of marks on the franchise as makeup artist, graphic designer, illustrator, and visual effects artist. Over his 32-year-career in Hollywood, science fiction, fantasy, and especially Star Trek, have defined Doug's career. A protege of makeup legend Dick Smith, Doug went on to become a creative mainstay on Trek for 17 years, designing such shows as TNG, DS9, Voyager and Enterprise. His Trek career culminated as the primary designer of the Enterprise NX. Drex, as everyone calls him, has written Trek books, made cameo appearances on TNG and Enterprise, and has even had a Trek character named after him: on DS9, the Klingon son of Martok and Sirella was named... Drex. Post-Trek, Doug has worked as CG supervisor on several iterations of Battlestar Galactica, including the upcoming Blood and Chrome and Defiance. Click HERE to visit Drexler's office blog, Drex Files. Drex is an American and British Academy Award winner, two-time Emmy winner (seven nominations), Saturn Award winner, Peabody Award recipient, and Visual Effects Society Award winner.