INTERVIEW: Stewart Moss, Two-Time Original Series Guest Star
Stewart Moss spent decades acting on television, in films and on stage, and he earned his stripes as a writer and director as well. His life and career intersected with everyone from Marilyn Monroe, John Wayne, Alfred Hitchcock and Frank Sinatra to Rock Hudson, Robin Williams, Hugh Hefner and more than a few Playboy Playmates (thanks to his directing shows for the fledgling Playboy Channel), as well as Marianne McAndrew, who became (and remains) his wife. Moss also made two forays into the Star Trek universe, guest starring as Joe Tormolen in “The Naked Time” and as the Kelvan, Hanar, in “By Any Other Name,” both episodes of The Original Series. Moss is 77 years old now and mostly retired, but he just penned a memoir titled My Trek, available at amazon.com; click HERE for details about the book. StarTrek.com recently caught up with Moss for an extensive interview, and here’s what he had to say:
Let's start with the present. What's life like for you these days?
MOSS: My life has taken a total turnaround. Having lived in big cities in the past -- Chicago, New York, Los Angeles -- Marianne, my wife, and I now live in Arroyo Grande, a small town in California’s central coast, population 14,000. People make eye contact on the street and say hello. I spend my time reading, painting, some TV, cooking. Marianne is an excellent cook. I’m kind of her sous-chef, being handy with a chef’s knife, and I’ve learned to make sausage from scratch. We walk for an hour, three mornings a week, at a cardiovascular pace on the beach, along the bluffs, in the woods. I carry a camera, photography being a hobby most of my life. I did some directing in community theater when we initially moved up here. I wasn’t looking to do that, but some local theater buff recognized me as an actor and I was asked to direct a play. After four plays, I’d had enough. I also taught acting for two years, but no more. It seems there are as many divas in community theater as there are on Broadway and in Hollywood, but without the commensurate talent.
You just published your memoir, My Trek. What made now the time for an autobiography? And what's the story you wanted to tell?
MOSS: Now is the time because I turned 77 a little over a month ago, on Thanksgiving Day, and so far no male in my family has lived longer than that. My thinking is now or never. Basically, I wanted to leave a footprint as deep or shallow as it may or may not be. I’ve had a varied and interesting life shared with an exceptional woman and I believed my story would make a book worth reading. It’s a story about making a living in show business on both coasts during the Sixties into the Nineties, and what that entailed regarding any and all aspects of life: relationships, sex, career.
How easily did all the anecdotes come back to you? What kind of research -- talking to old friends. filmmakers, producers, etc., looking at scripts and reviews, watching old episodes/movies -- did you do?
MOSS: The Internet made writing my book a lot easier than when I first started writing with a typewriter and Whiteout. Now I have Word, a Dictionary/Thesaurus program and Google. IMDB lists my filmography in chronological order with details about who directed, the cast and in some cases a story synopsis, all of which brought back detailed memories. And I have clippings on file, theater programs, photos etc. -- a good deal to work with. Writing the book was a sweet and sour experience, a reliving of my life.
We'll talk about Star Trek in a moment, but taking Trek out of the equation, two questions: What of your work are you proudest of? And what of your work are you most recognized for when you meet fans?
MOSS: I’m proudest of my stage work, as I was trained as a theater actor. I worked on Broadway, off-Broadway and in regional and dinner theatre. I acted in a total of 64 productions. Relative to television, I played Kenneth O’Donnell, special adviser to President Kennedy, in Missiles of October, the same part Kevin Costner played in the movie Thirteen Days, only in his situation, his part was the lead. Outside of Star Trek conventions I am rarely recognized, though I am sometimes for a not very good horror movie, The Bat People, in which I co-starred with my wife, Marianne McAndrew. Two other Star Trek alumni, who are no longer with us, Paul Carr and Michael Pataki were also in that film.
OK, let's go back to 1966. How did you wind up on Star Trek?
MOSS: Star Trek’s casting director, Joe D’Agosta, was someone I had met socially and became friendly with. I hadn’t seen Joe for a while and I was pleased to get a call from him telling me he was casting a new science-fiction series for NBC and there was a part of a lieutenant on a spaceship in an upcoming episode that I was right for -- and was I interested? Being a science-fiction fan, having read most all of Asimov, Heinlein and Bradbury among others, I was.
Your first episode was "The Naked Time," in which you played Joe Tormolen. What do you remember of actually shooting the episode?
MOSS: My first scene was with Leonard Nimoy down from the Enterprise on an alien planet. The action was we’re in a space station full of frozen bodies, Spock tells me not to touch anything and he leaves to look around. While I’m taking a reading on a wall, my nose starts itching, so I take my glove off and touch the same wall, inviting a space germ to drizzle down onto my hand, impregnating it with an alien disease that causes me and anyone who touches me and then anyone who touches anyone who touched me to lose all control of our emotional safeguards and, in short, go batty. Approaching my director, Marc Daniels, I said, “I don’t want to make any waves, but my character is a Starfleet officer who has got to have at least a PhD in engineering and is he so dumb as to take his glove off and put his hand on a wall when obviously there’s something seriously wrong here? And no sooner does he put his glove back on than Spock comes back and says ‘Be certain we expose ourselves to nothing.’ ‘Oh golly gee, Sir. Too late.’” Marc chuckled, looked up from his script and said, “You’re absolutely right. But if you don’t take off your glove and touch that wall, we don’t have a show.” That made perfect sense to me.
In my last scene, emotionally unglued, I have dialogue that is off the wall, questioning our mission in space, building to a self-hatred that ends in a struggle with two other crew members over a butter knife which I fall on, wounding myself and eventually dying. Worried that I’d go over the top, I asked Marc to make sure I wasn’t too big. He told me not to worry, what I was doing was believable. This was just another part in just another television show, nothing extraordinary about it. Little did I know. After the show aired I got a note in the mail from John D. F. Black, the writer of my episode and an associate producer on the show, thanking me for making him look good. Much appreciated.
Black has said that there were discussions -- before the decision was made to kill off the character -- about making Tormolen a series regular. Had you heard anything about that? If so, what? If not, how intriguing might that have been?
MOSS: News to me. I never heard anything about my character, Tormolen, ever being considered as a regular member of the cast. When I think about it, if I was a regular on Star Trek, I’d most likely never had met my wife of 46 years. I’m happy about the way it turned out.
More than a year later, you returned to Desilu to shoot "By Any Other Name." How did the second opportunity come along?
MOSS: My being cast in “By Any Other Name” happened because the director of “The Naked Time,” Marc Daniels, asked for me. As it turned out I was the only actor in The Original Series to guest star as both a crewmember and an alien. The guest cast on “By Any Other Name” was excellent. It included Warren Stevens, a charter member of the Actor’s Studio, and two lovely ladies, Barbara Bouchet and Julie Cobb.
What do you recall most vividly about making the episode and Hanar as a character?
MOSS: My character, Hanar, was part of an alien group that assumed human form to commandeer the Enterprise. We started out as very pale, almost whitish in complexion and stiff, somewhat robotic. As the story went on, we became more human-looking and behaving, which eventually did us in. As an actor, the progression in playing Hanar was interesting to deal with. As I remember it, I worked through the entire shooting of “By Any Other Name” and only three days on “The Naked Time,” but the latter was my best experience. It was a juicier part. I had scenes with Bill, Leonard and DeForest Kelley, who was my favorite Star Trek cast member.
It's nearly 50 years now since you played the two guest roles on Trek, yet you were swept up into the Trek phenomenon that resulted in a unique bit of fame, steady con appearances, autograph signings, etc. What’s it been like for you to be a part of the phenomenon?
MOSS: The whole Star Trek phenomenon is mind-blowing. Who would’ve thunk that almost 50 years later it’s still going strong? I haven’t done any conventions in six years, but I get a request now and then in the mail from fans from all over the world asking for an autograph, to which I happily comply. All in all, being a part of the Star Trek world is something of which many actor friends of mine, who have more impressive resumes, are envious.
Again, visit www.amazon.com to purchase My Trek.