Beverly Washburn has had the kind of career that can fill books – and it has, two of them, in fact. Washburn gained fame as a child actress back in the 1950s and amassed an impressive array of credits, among them such films and television shows as Superman and the Mole Men, Shane, Dragnet, The Lone Ranger, Father Knows Best, The Greatest Show on Earh, Old Yeller (as Lisbeth Searcy), Gidget, Spider Baby, The Streets of San Francisco, Hotel and Las Vegas. Star Trek fans, however, remember Washburn for her role as Lt. Arlene Galway in the TOS episode “The Deadly Years.”
StarTrek.com caught up with Washburn in Las Vegas several weeks ago. She actually lives in Sin City and was on hand in August for Creation Entertainment’s Official Star Trek Convention. We chatted with the vivacious actress about Trek, her books and her upcoming projects, and here’s what she had to say.
How did you land your role in “The Deadly Years”?
WASHBURN: I went on an audition. The show was in its second season and it wasn’t that popular yet, or certainly was not as popular as it is now. At the time, I didn’t know that much about Star Trek and I don’t think anybody had any idea that it would go on to be such a huge phenomenon all over the world. I want on the audition and one of the first questions they asked me was if I’m claustrophobic. I replied no and then I read for the part. I got the role, but I never knew if they cast me because they liked my reading or because I wasn’t claustrophobic.
We’re assuming the claustrophobia question had to do with Galway aging so rapidly…
WASHBURN: I die of old age, and they had to make a plaster cast of my face. So I had to breathe through a straw for four and a half hours while it dried. Then, after they made the cast of my face, they made a rubber mask from that. Then, in makeup, they’d put that over my face. We’re talking many, many years ago, so, since then, they’ve come a long, long ways with all the makeups. But back then they had the spirit gum and everything, so it was very tedious. It ended up taking four and half hours, and then two hours to peel it all off. And they put on the wig and everything else. But it was such a wonderful set and a great experience for me.
The role may not have been huge, but it was pivotal. What was the meat on the bone for you as the actor playing her?
WASHBURN: I was the first to die and I was the youngest. As you watch the episode you progressively see the others getting older. Then, of course, Chekov found the cure, but too late for me. I was hoping I could have gotten cured, but that didn’t happen. But it was a very special role and it’s still one of my favorite roles that I’ve done.
Take us to your big death scene…
WASHBURN: William Shatner was a very funny guy and he was just cracking up the whole time because they had him with his grey hair, starting to age. So he was doing all this funny shtick on the stage. It was a really lighthearted, fun set to be on and then we’d try to get right into the moment when we had to shoot it. People remember the scene, so I guess we did a good job of it.
You’re on the famous Star Trek blooper reel. How did you wind up on that?
WASHBURN: As an actor, you try to come prepared and be on time and do everything right, but it was such a fun set that when I forgot my line it became a joke. I was supposed to say something like, “There’s something wrong with my hearing. I don’t feel well.” And, instead, I said, “I feel like hell. I can’t remember my next line.” Everyone just cracked up and it was such a release to me. No one got upset. No one said, “You need to be a professional.” Everybody was laughing and it was a fun moment.
You had been a popular and prolific child actor. By the time you did Star Trek, were you as busy as ever or had the work slowed down as you made the transition from child actor to young adult?
WASHBURN: It had kind of tapered off a little bit as I got older. Primarily my work was done as a child. Making the transition from a child to a teenager to an adult is not always easy. I did keep working, but the roles were getting fewer and farther in between. I talk about that in my books, Reel Tears and Reel Tears, Take Two. I talk about the good parts and the not-so-stellar parts of my life. I’d just a film with Ellen Burstyn and Dick Davalos, which was called Pit Stop. Dick was a wonderful actor. He and I were supposed to be dating, and we both had the same color hair. We were both blonde. So, the director, Jack Hill, who also directed Spider Baby, thought it’d look better if we didn’t have the same exact color hair. So, me being the woman, he asked me if I’d mind dyeing my hair. Well, this was many years ago, and they didn’t have all the dyes that they have now. So they dyed my hair auburn, and it all fell out. So they had no choice but to cut it really, really short. It was right after that I went on the audition for Star Trek, and that’s why I have that very, very short hair in “The Deadly Years.”
That look turned out to be quite memorable…
WASHBURN: I know! People either liked it or they didn’t like it at all. One guy said, “I love your role, but that hair… What were you thinking?’ I said, “I didn’t have a choice.” Some people like it and some don’t, but you’re right, it was quite memorable.
How amazing is it to you that, 47 years later, people still want to meet you, get your autograph on a photo from the episode, hear you talk at events like this?
WASHBURN: I had no idea that all these years later that people would still remember it. I’m always so touched because I only did the one episode and it wasn’t a huge role. But people come up to me and they remember me, they remember my character and some of them even remember my dialogue. They’ll say, “Well, that’s a stupid place to hang a mirror.” It’s amazing to me and I’m always so flattered.
You have photos from Trek, Giant, Old Yeller, Spider Baby, etc., here on your table. Of all your credits, which are you proudest to have your name on?
WASHBURN: Oh, that’s hard. It really is like having five children and being asked, “Which is your favorite?” Spider Baby is a horror film I did with Lon Chaney Jr. and it has become a cult film. A lot of people love it. I guess maybe Old Yeller because so many people love it and it’s considered a Disney classic. That was also a wonderful time in my life because I got to have school with all the Mouseketeers from The Mickey Mouse Club. I’m still in touch with most of them and, in fact, saw many of them at Annette Funicello’s memorial service. She was the sweetest person in the world. So I’m just incredibly proud to be a part of Old Yeller. Movies today have changed so much, but that movie lives in on many people’s hearts. I’ve had grown men tell me they can’t watch it because it’s too sad and makes them cry.
Tell us about your new book, Reel Tears, Take Two…
WASHBURN: It’s out now on Amazon.com and it’s a memoir, a follow-up to my first book, Reel Tears. The reason we chose the name Reel Tears is because it seemed that, for whatever reason, I have no idea why, I had to cry in every film and show I did as a child. So that’s a little play on words. I’ve been doing some book signings for that, and that’s been fun.
You also just wrapped the indie movie Unbelievable!!!!!, which is loaded with Star Trek actors…
WASHBURN: Yes, it is. It’s got Nichelle Nichols, Robert Picardo, Chase Masterson, Michael Dante, Gary Lockwood, Jack Donner, Michael Forest, Celeste Yarnall, Sean Kenney, Garrett Wang, Tim Russ and… I don’t want to leave anyone out. It’s a spoof, kind of like Spaceballs and Airplane. It was fun to do. We play washed-up actors that worked in Star Trek years ago and now we can’t get a job. So we sit around every month and we have a meeting where we try to figure out why we’re not working. We complain that nobody wants us because we’re old and all that. So we decide to produce our own movie. It’s kind of a movie within a movie. It’s pretty funny, pretty bizarre and just a lot of fun, and I was really happy to have been included in it.
What else are you up to?
WASHBURN: I write a monthly column for a local paper here in Las Vegas called The Vegas Voice. My column is called Hollywood Memories, and I’ve been doing that for four years. I’m also part of a group in L.A. that does reenactments of old radio shows. I’m going to, in November, do the show My Friend Irma, with Tony Dow, who played Wally on Leave It to Beaver.
How much do you enjoy your occasional convention appearances?
WASHBURN: I love doing the conventions. It’s so wonderful to know that Star Trek lives on after all these years. Next year will be the 50th anniversary of Spider Baby. So they’re going to fly me in for Monster Bash to do that celebration. I’m looking forward to that. I love these kinds of events. As actors, without the fans, none of us would be here. I’ve never understood the concept of actors who don’t want to be bothered, who won’t sign an autograph. Fans make you who you are as an actor, so I’m always touched when people take the time to talk to me or ask for a photo or have me sign something.
Click HERE to check out Washburn's official site.
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