Gorn to Be Wild: Bobby Clark
The Gorn is on the phone. The freakin’ Gorn!
We at StarTrek.com are immersed in Trek 24-7 and we’re usually pretty objective and professional about what we do and whom we talk to each day, but knowing that the phone is ringing-ringing-ringing and that Bobby Clark, the stuntman and actor who spent the majority of the time in the iconic Gorn costume for the TOS episode “Arena,” is about to pick up, well, our inner fanboy is getting the better of us. And once he answers the phone, Clark lives up to every expectation. He’s happy to spin some old stories about “Arena” – which debuted on January 19, 1967 -- and his other TOS appearances, recount how he discovered the convention circuit, and is eager to point out that he enjoyed a long career before and after Star Trek.
First, for those who know the Gorn, but not your history with Star Trek, you actually appeared in four episodes of TOS…
Clark: Yes, that’s right, and they were all in the same season, season two. I was in “The Apple,” “Mirror, Mirror,” “The Return of the Archons” and “Arena.” “Arena” was the first one. I got Star Trek because I’d done a lot of work on other shows with a director named Joseph Pevney. We knew each other. We got along real. He knew how I worked and so forth and so on, and I knew what he wanted and needed. When he and Gene Roddenberry talked about “Arena,” they of course talked about the Gorn, and Joseph knew who he wanted to play that character. When the time came, he called me in, and that was it. And then, with “The Apple,” I was part of a small group on this planet. There was a computer named Vaal, and it took care of us. It was a nice part. I didn’t have dialogue, per se. I was there and did some good stuff with Bill Shatner and the other actors there. Then, when it came to doing “Mirror, Mirror,” I actually had more, but a lot of it ended up on the cutting room floor. That’s how it works sometimes. And in “Mirror, Mirror,” there were two Kirks, two Spocks, two Chekovs, two of everybody, and I was one of Chekov’s henchmen.
The Gorn is one of the most iconic characters ever to appear on Star Trek, but for you it was a few days work 44 years ago. How strange is it for you that people are still so excited to hear about your time on the set, to get your autograph, to shake your hand?
Clark: It’s kind of weird, but it’s very impressive. It’s very rewarding to me to know that after 44 years I’m still the Gorn and that people, when they come to conventions, really like to meet me and talk to me and hear me talk to them during the Q&As or at my booth. It’s funny how that one episode changed everything. I’ve been a cowboy, really, all of my life. I’ve done westerns all of my life, mostly. I mean, I’ve done cop shows and played firefighters and all of that, but westerns were how I made my living. I did Gunsmoke for eight years. But nobody knows me as Bobby Clark, the cowboy. It’s Bobby Clark, the Gorn. And that’s fine. As Bobby Clark, the Gorn, I can tell them I’m also Bobby Clark, the cowboy. And the interesting thing, for me, is that for a long time people didn’t realize I was the Gorn. That happened because I started doing some convention appearances a number of years ago and people started to associate me with the Gorn. So, it’s great. I love the Gorn. And if, because someone talks to me or reads about me, they realize some of the other things I’ve done, even better. But it’s absolutely a neat feeling now to look back and say “I was the Gorn.”
For you, was the Gorn an acting role or a stunt job?
Clark: At first it was a creature that was performing a stunt. Joseph Pevney hired me as a stunt actor. As a stuntman, you come in and if you’re a stunt double, then there’s an actor there on set and you resemble him in size. You wear his wardrobe and you do the fight for him so that he doesn’t get hurt. You can replace a stuntman. He gets hurt, boom, bring in another guy and do it again. Now, for “The Arena,” I was hired as an actor who could do my own stunts. That’s how I’d say it. Regardless of what the critics say about the fight with Bill Shatner, I think the Gorn was pretty interesting.
By “what the critics said about the fight,” you mean him moving so slowly and being so cumbersome, right?
Clark: Exactly. I was supposed to be cumbersome, I was supposed to be awkward and I was supposed to be slow. That was the reptilian creature of the Gorn. But, definitely, I was hired as an actor who had the capability to do the stunts.
At what point did you get swept up in the Trek phenomenon? In other words, when did convention appearances and interviews become a part of your life?
Clark: OK, now you’re opening up a whole book. But let’s go there. I guess this is 10 or 11 years ago. I have five grown children, and my oldest son came up to me one day and said, “Dad, why don’t you do a Star Trek convention?” I wasn’t a convention type of a person, and I said, “Why should I?” He said, ‘Because you were the Gorn.” I said, “So what.” I know that sounds funny. But, as I say, I’d done so many different shows, so many different characters in the television and motion picture business. They hire me for the lines I can speak or the horse fall I can do, a fight, a car wreck, all that stuff. To me, it was my work, my job. I didn’t think of it as anything else. And I did other kinds of work, too, to make money when I wasn’t doing shows or motion pictures. I was in rodeos. I worked at a track, exercising race horses. But, if I think about it, all these jobs, there was an audience, people, sometimes just a few, seeing what you do. And I like being in the eye of other people. I do. I was a tree trimmer for several years. Back years ago we didn’t have cherry pickers. So we had to climb into the trees to do the cutting. We’d climb 80, 90 feet up, rope ourselves in, cut and trim, and work our way down. And people would gather to watch, to see you do this. So that has always been food for me. I like to be in the light, so to speak. And, good God, you certainly got that as an actor and stuntman.
So, here we were and my son said, “Why don’t you do conventions?” And I’d said, “Why? Why? Why?” One day he brought me an action figure, and it was of the Gorn. I said, “Holy cow, where did you get this?” Someone had given it to him. I thought it was neat and a week or two later I went to a swap meet here in southern California, where I still live, and somebody there had some sci-fi stuff out on his table. Sure enough, he had a rubber Gorn action figure. I said, “How’d you get this? Where do these come from?” He said, “Paramount makes them.” I asked what they sold for and he told me. And I said, “Well, that’s funny. I played the part. I was the Gorn.” I guess you could say that was the moment that got me started doing Star Trek events and appearances. This guy made a spectacle of himself. He got on his knees and grabbed my hand and said, “You were the Gorn! You were the Gorn.” He said “There are millions of people out there who’d like to meet you.” He said “millions,” but he just meant a lot of people. I talked to him for a while and later on I talked to my son and said, “All right, let’s do one of these.” My son spoke to Creation Entertainment, which was doing a show in Pasadena, and I did my first show. I went to that first show with 100 pictures, 50 each of two pictures. I was at my table, with my son next to me, and all of a sudden this big line starting to form. They wanted autographs of the Gorn. I was out of photos in less than an hour, and I’ve done many shows since then. I enjoy them. I enjoy talking to people. I just did one in Hawaii last month and I’m hoping to do several this year.
You were invited by Enterprise stunt coordinator Vince Deadrick to visit the set of that show when they did an episode –“In a Mirror, Darkly, Part II” -- featuring the Gorn. How much of a déjà vu all over again experience was that for you?
Clark: I was invited by Vince and also by one of the producers, Manny Coto. Manny is a big Trek fan. And it was such a pleasure. I hadn’t been on the lot in a long time. I had a name to get through the gate at Paramount. I had a place to park my car. I went to the sound stage. Everything now is different from when I worked regularly, but I got to sit and watch them work. And I met the model maker who made the Gorn model for the show. It was really great. Then, Vinnie took me to the bridge and I got to sit in the captain’s chair and I was the captain for a few minutes in my leather jacket.
Aside from spending time with your wife and family and attending the occasional convention, what are you up to these days? Are you retired?
Clark: Oh, no. No, no, no. Retired? No. If I got a job, I’d definitely be interested. I don’t get called anymore. However, I did a bit for an up and coming director at USC, and I had the honor to work on that. I will do whatever I can. Don’t put me up 30 feet and ask me to fall onto a pad. Don’t ask me to fall off a horse anymore. But I can still do driving stunts. I could still do a fight. So you can tell everyone, I’m around if they want me!
Fans -- What are your thoughts on the classic Gorn/Kirk fight scene?