GUEST BLOG: "A Private Little War" at 50
The second season’s “A Private Little War” was the 48th broadcast episode of Star Trek: The Original Series and its story came from Don Ingalls -- writing under the pseudonym of Jud Crucis (a name that Ingalls used as a stand-in for “Jesus Crucified” when he didn’t like the final product) -- and a teleplay by Gene Roddenberry. “A Private Little War” was a serious episode when it was produced in 1967 (airing in 1968) and, today, it’s an oft-referenced one in any discussion about how TOS used science fiction as a cloak to comment on the then-current events. In the case of this episode, Ingalls and Roddenberry wanted to make a statement on various aspects of the Vietnam War that was raging controversially at the time.
Since today is the 50th anniversary of the first broadcast of “A Private Little War,” we thought we’d take a look at three things which we think made it unique, namely, the guns, the girl and the Gumato (OK, the horned creature was actually called a Mugato—which was changed from the scripted Gumato right before filming began—but why ruin a nice alliteration?).
Above: “A Private Little War” was first broadcast on February 2, 1968. The TV Guide with the episode’s listing had a cover that featured Elizabeth Montgomery from Bewitched in an episode where she's also playing her sister Serena. Coincidentally, Montgomery was often listed in the credits using the pseudonym “Pandora Spocks” – a play on the phrase Pandora’s Box – when she played that part.
One of the major plot points in this episode concerned the imbalance of power caused by the guns – the flintlocks, specifically – manufactured by the Klingons and given to the Villagers. Interestingly, the weapons used in the episode weren’t flintlocks at all.
Above: The village patrolmen, played by Roy Sickner, Paul Baxley (behind the slate), and Bob Orrison (from left to right), carry “flintlock” muskets supplied by the Klingons. In the real world, these weapons weren’t flintlocks, but modified Trapdoor Springfield rifles. They were used instead of flintlocks because they allowed a type of blank to be fired.
The Gypsy Girl - Nona
Nona, a Kahn-ut-tu woman of the Hillpeople of the planet Neural, was Tyree’s wife (with Tyree being played by Michael Witney, shown at the top of this page). The story and script modeled the Kahn-ut-tu’s (and, to some extent, the Hillpeople and Villagers) after the Romani gypsies with regards to interests and abilities, e.g., the use of medicinal plants and herbs for healing, having strong and driven personalities, etc. In fact, the final draft script makes specific reference to Nona being gypsy-like and with intelligence. However, generally, she’s an essentially static character and a foil to Tyree.
Above: Nona was played by actress Nancy Kovack, who was a guest star in many episodic television shows of the time, including Batman, The Invaders, I Dream of Jeannie and… Bewitched. In the publicity snipe that accompanied the photo of Kovack, written by Paramount Television for the NBC Network, Nona’s motivation was described as seeking to become the queen of Neural.
The Mugato was the poisonous, carnivorous ape-like creature that tried to kill Kirk... twice! Actually, two Mugato’s were seen in “A Private Little War” -- mates of each other according to the shooting script -- and both were created and played by Janos Prohaska. Prohaska was a creature fixture in TOS because he also played a humanoid bird and an anthropoid ape in “The Cage,” the Horta in “The Devil in the Dark” and Yarnek in “The Savage Curtain.”
Above: Janos Prohaska shown in his studio working on one of his creations, perhaps the Mugato (left, courtesy of TV Guide) and being slated for his performance as the Mugato in “A Private Little War” (right). Incidentally, the Mugato costume was reportedly a modification of Prohaska’s white gorilla suit – “Snowpuff” – that appeared on other television shows, including The Lucy Show and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.
And with that, it’s a wrap. We hope you’ve enjoyed our grand gander at the guns, girl and Gumato (and our addled attempt at alliteration).
Until next time.
David Tilotta is a professor at North Carolina State University and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Curt McAloney—an accomplished graphic artist—resides in Minnesota and can be reached at email@example.com. Together, Curt and David work on startrekhistory.com. Their upcoming book, Star Trek: Lost Scenes (due out in August 2018 from Titan Books), will be filled with hundreds of carefully curated, never-before-seen color photos that they use to chronicle the making of the original series, reassemble deleted scenes left on the cutting-room floor, and showcase bloopers from the first pilot through the last episode.