Guest Star Jason Wingreen Relives Trek And Other Roles
Jason Wingreen’s career as an actor spanned from 1955 to 1994, and included dozens and dozens of memorable roles in films and television shows. Among his credits: Playhouse 90, The Untouchables,The Outer Limits, Get Smart, The Fugitive, The Dunwich Horror, Mission: Impossible, Mannix, Ironside, Happy Days, Kojak, Airplane, Highway to Heaven, Matlock and Seinfeld. He’s best known, though, for his three appearances on Twilight Zone, a longtime recurring role as bartender Harry Snowden on All in the Family and Archie Bunker’s Place, for voicing Boba Fett in Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, and for playing Dr. Linke in “The Empath” episode of Star Trek: The Original Series.
At 93 years young, Wingreen is long retired, though he’s scheduled to sign autographs and pose for pictures at the Hollywood Show this weekend in Los Angeles, not far from his home. Though he popped up only briefly in Star Trek and, frankly, has few recollections of the experience, it’s our goal at StarTrek.com to speak to every living guest star from The Original Series. And so, since Wingreen was kind enough to make time for an interview, we took him up on the offer. Here’s what he had to say:
You’re 93 now, turning 94 in October. How are you enjoying your golden years?
WINGREEN: I’m enjoying retirement, but not when I’m not feeling well and, unfortunately, not feeling well seems to come with old age. I retired after I did my episode of Seinfeld. I was 72 and my wife wasn’t well. She wanted to travel some more, so I just decided that was enough and I didn’t do any more acting. My wife died in 1996 and I’ve been living alone. My son and his family live in Princeton, New Jersey, and he’s a professor at Princeton. He’s a terrific guy and he calls me twice a week, to make sure I’m still alive. And I have a grandson and a granddaughter.
Let’s talk about Star Trek for a few moments. We know your memories of it are limited, but how amazed are you that 46 years later, people are still interested in hearing you talk about it or getting your autograph on a photo of you as Dr. Linke?
WINGREEN: It’s beyond belief. I take it as a compliment. I take it as it comes. I’m used to the letters, to signing the autographs. Star Trek has never been in my life the way Star Wars was. Star Wars really changed things for me. But Star Trek, I remember, was not an audition. My agent submitted my name and I was given the job. I have no real memory of shooting the episode. I’m sorry about that. I know there were two of us, but the name of the other person (Davis Roberts) escapes me.
You had an interesting death…
WINGREEN: Yes, that’s true. And I have the photos of me in that position when I was struck. That was the best bit in the episode for me, my dying. I do have a faulty memory now. I’m losing names now, the names of people I worked with. Words that have always been easy for me, I no longer can remember them. If I’m writing to somebody I will sometimes go to a dictionary to make sure my spelling is correct. I’ve never had to do that before. It’s happening to me because I’m 93. It’s what comes with age. So it’s interesting to me that people remember more about me doing Star Trek than I remember. For me, it was just one day of work. Really, it was just one day. It was a one-day job, and I had hundreds of one-day jobs. I had a good career out here.
The role you played most often was Harry the bartender. You played him about 100 times between All in the Family and Archie Bunker’s Place…
WINGREEN: Now, Harry the bartender started for me as just one episode. It was the last episode of the sixth year of All in the Family. It was about an argument between Archie and his wife, because he doesn’t take her out anymore. So she says she’s going to go out on the town on her own. She winds up at Kelsey’s. She shouldn’t be recognized by Kelsey or anybody because of the story, so they needed to send Kelsey’s to the Catskills for the
weekend, and they needed somebody to take over the place. The director of that episode was Paul Bogart, who was an old friend of mine from New York. And he recommended me to Norman Lear and to Carroll O’Connor. This was just for that one episode. I played it. It was a nice part. I did it to the best of my ability, and I went home. They broke for their hiatus and when the next season started, I got a call from my agent. He said they wanted me back. So they got me back… for seven more years. And the poor guy who had to take a vacation lost his job.
You’re retired, but you still sometimes attend events like the Hollywood Show…
WINGREEN: Yes, I do, and I enjoy them. I’m prepared to meet with people and sign my name for as long as I can write. And I still get a lot of mail, too. I sign photos from everything when I’m at the shows – Twilight Zone, especially from “The Stop at Willoughby,” Star Trek, Star Wars, All in the Family – but most of the mail I get is about the Boba Fett character in Star Wars. I did the voice because the actor who played that role in the movie, Jeremy Bulloch, is an Englishman and had a veddy, veddy British voice, not quite right for the bounty hunter. The funny thing about the experience was that I recorded the lines on a soundstage in Hollywood, but the news about it being me did not break until about 20 years later, when they were celebrating the 20th anniversary of The Empire Strikes Back.
Once it came out that I had done the voice, my life changed. I’ve signed a lot of photos of Boba Fett. I was living a quiet, peaceful, unencumbered life until that news broke, and when the news came out in a Star Wars magazine, for which I’d done an interview, the letters just never stopped. I’ve gotten letters and autographs requests from all over the world. Still do. It’s like a new career. And, of course, it kills the time. The funny thing is I was talking to my son about this interview, about Dr. Linke. My son said, “You did get lots of letters about Star Trek. I remember them.” I said, “Well, you’ve got a better memory than I have.”
Visit www.hollywoodshow.com for details about Wingreen’s appearance this weekend at The Hollywood Show.