The Drex Files: Butt of the Joke
By Doug Drexler - August 11, 2011
Step right up! Drexler's Hollywood science-fiction sleigh ride continues to accelerate, charting new territories, fighting scary monsters, dancing with wild producers, leaping tall buildings with nutty directors and generally running with the devil. I've been strapped in with Star Trek VFX guru Gary Hutzel on Galactica: Blood & Chrome, and it is one wild time. As usual, Gary likes pushing that upper left-hand corner of the old envelope, and he ain't afraid of no demons out there in the thin air, no way, no how. So let's light this candle!
There will be a D-TV next time around. I got some stuff for you, oh yes. Until then, here is a Hollywood fable that is sure to appeal to your inner positronics. Some of you know the tale... I've pumped it up a little... made it a little more thoughtful, a little more philosophical... before painting John de Lancie's ass.
Since September of 1966, and especially after reading a new book called The Making of Star Trek, by Stephen E. Whitfield, my impossible dream was to work on this TV show that nearly every adult I knew, and most of the kids as well, sneered at. That's right, back then, science fiction was for idiots and fools. I remember a story I had read about Gene Roddenberry's father apologizing to the neighbors for Star Trek. Since I didn't seem to fit in, either, Star Trek and I were kindred spirits and I saw Gene Roddenberry as a grown up version of myself... a guy who knew the same secret that I did. When NBC planned to cancel the series at the end of its second season, I was one furious 14 year old. I organized my friends and wrote thousands (that's right, thousands) of letters to NBC at 30 Rock. I even ended up in two prominent New York newspapers, with a full-spread article by a senior editor for Newsday named Harvey Aronson (who incidentally was a cousin of Isaac Asimov). I remember Mr. Aronson opened the article by saying, "There is the new left, and the new right, and then there is the Centereach Save Star Trek Committee headed by Doug Drexler, a 14 year old idealist."
My infatuation with Star Trek showed me that I could have an effect on the world. If Harvey Aronson, senior editor at Newsday, thought I was worth a look, then my parents and teachers who said I was wasting my time were evidently stuffed with wild blueberry muffins. Mind your parents, kids, but let's not go crazy. You could be flushing a cool career down the drain. I remember my dad saying "If you spent half as much time on your schoolwork as you do on that television show, you'd turn out alright." Twenty four years later, he'd be sitting in the audience at The Shrine auditorium watching me win an Academy Award, then a British BAFTA, a Saturn, a VES and two Emmys. How sweet it is. So stick to your phasers.
Which, by no accident, brings us to Warren Beatty's Dick Tracy, from which the Academy Award sprang. Just across town from where we were shooting DT were freaking starship sets. The second season of TNG was in full swing, Gene Roddenberry and Bob Justman were in charge, and although I wouldn't trade that Tracy Hollywood mother lode for anything, it was instrumental in guiding my Star Trek experience. In 1988, Dick Tracy was the biggest show in town, and everyone wanted a piece of it. It had become a legend during the preproduction stage. Warren Beatty had rounded up an unbelievable cast by calling in favors from all of his actor friends: Al Pacino, Jimmy Caan, Dustin Hoffman, Paul Sorvino, Charles Durning, to name only a few, and he got them at union day rates. It was a makeup artist's dream come true and our canvas was made up of some of the most recognizable faces in Hollywood. My partner, John Caglione, and I were a couple of NYC-based guys, and the odds of us getting the makeup job of the decade were remote. Warren had interviewed Rick Baker and Rob Bottin, but liked our un-Hollywood attitude better, so we got the job that would change our lives and set me up to embark on the greatest Star Trek adventure ever. Seventeen years living in the universe that kicked off my love of Hollywood, and not just any Star Trek, but Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek. I started as a makeup artist on TNG seasons 3 through 6 and branched out into the other departments from there. I spent most of my years in the Trek Art Department as a scenic artist and illustrator, then migrated to visual effects and worked on every series following TOS. To paraphrase Harry Mudd, oh, you beautiful Galaxy.
Looking back over the nearly two decades of my Star Trek odyssey, hands down, it was the four seasons on stage as a makeup artist on TNG that was most astonishing. I had stepped through the looking glass and into the trenches with Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner, LeVar Burton, Michael Dorn, Marina Sirtis, Gates McFadden and Wil Wheaton. They weren't just faces that passed me by on the way to the set. As a makeup artist, I lived with these guys through thick and thin and got to know them in a way that is usually reserved for family, because indeed you are their family. Working on a television series is more than a full-time job. You literally give yourself over to it, lock, stock, and barrel. And as the universe would have it, this gang was everything I wanted them to be, and those years on stage on TNG, after 31 years in Hollywood, were the best, most fun years I'd had on stage, bar none. The on-stage environment was just as you've always heard, one big fun loving, hard-working family. As a huge fan of the original Star Trek, I had always read about the on-stage love, but years later, cranky books by some of the secondary characters threw a soggy wet blanket over that legend. Thanks, guys. But I'm here to tell you that TNG behind the scenes was everything that TOS claimed to be, but secretly wasn't. I was hanging out with my heroes, who became my friends, and ultimately family. It was hard work, with grueling hours, and sometimes with days as long as 19 hours (makeup artists work the longest hours in show business. You're there before anyone else, and you are the last to leave). But I didn't care. I was home. If I'm gushing, tell me.
The really remarkable thing was that there were no lines between the on stage crew and the actors. I can't stress how unusual that is. Often, and certainly I experienced it on some of the other Trek shows, there is the cast, and then there is the crew, and never the twain shall meet. Maybe they'll say hi to you in the morning, but more often than not they'll just go about their business and look right through you. I can't blame them. Learning pages of dialogue every day, day in and day out, being at the studio before dawn, working late into the night, worrying about cutting it, no time for home life... That is a heavy burden. Yes, you are paid well, but at a certain point that doesn't matter. But TNG transcended that, and every actor knew every name. It wasn't just courtesy; it was a special chemistry. No, this isn't just that tired Hollywood hyperbole. It really was "lightning in a bottle." Even more unusual was that, the later the nights wore on, the more fun it became. The bridge became a high-tech night club, and there was huge silliness, with singing, wrestling matches, water bottle bowling with Frakes, Spiner practicing his Jimmy Stewart, and honing his phaser fast draw, and Patrick reciting Scottish poetry in the native tongue. I never watched them do a serious rehearsal, and an appreciative stage crew was usually roaring with laughter. But I'll tell you what... when the bell rang, and the clapboard clapped, they were right on the money. It was uncanny.
The crew saw me as "their Oscar winner." and loved teasing me about it, especially LeVar Burton. No matter where we were, or what the situation was, LeVar would announce my presence in his best emcee voice, and at the top of his range, "Ladies and Gentlemen! Academy Award Winner... DOUG DREXLER!" In fact, in general conversation, I was no longer Doug Drexler, but Academy Award-winning Doug Drexler. LeVar carried the joke through several seasons and never missed an opportunity. One day I was walking down the busy main drag in Studio City, when this guy running at full tilt around the corner runs headlong into me. I'm about to say, “Hey, watch it, bub!” when who does it turn out to be? LeVar! Who, without missing a beat, turns to one and all on the busy thoroughfare, and at the top of his lungs announces... you guessed it… "Ladies and gentlemen! Academy Award Winner... DOUG DREXLER!" It was not the last time I would be teased about the Oscar, and LeVar would not be the only devil to employ it.
I was in the TNG makeup lab, prepping some appliance molds, when Mike Westmore dashed in, “Doug, the union doesn’t have any “body” makeup artists available today, so guess what?” Images of sugar plums danced in my head! What beauty would I be bronzing today! I’m the luckiest boy in the world! “It’s John de Lancie,” said Mr. Wes’mo, as my shoulders slumped. “He appears naked on the bridge, stripped of his Q powers by his fellow Q, and dumped on The Enterprise.” “Very well, sir!” I respond dutifully. “Where to, and what with?” Mike hands me a Max Factor pancake and a sponge. “He’s waiting in his trailer.”
Tap-tap-tap on the Winnebago. “Come in!” I slowly open the door, and peer into the darkness. John is wearing a bathrobe, busy on the telephone, and quite involved in the conversation. He waves me to enter. I gently close the door behind me. I don’t want to interrupt him. I smile, holding up the pancake and sponge. He nods in the affirmative, and loses the robe. He’s wearing a modesty G-string that maintains the privacy of his forward plumbing. I get to work, wetting the sponge and applying pancake. I know it feels a lot like being licked by a big Saint Bernard… it’s cold and yucky for sure, but de Lancie pays it no never mind, as he continues his phone call. He’s aware of me enough to anticipate needing to lift an arm or turn his body, but other than that he is oblivious. One complete turn and I am done. There comes a sharp rap at the Winnebago door, the second AD sticks her head in and says, “We’re ready for John.” De Lancie dons his robe, as I follow him into the cool and dark of Stage 8. The stage smells of ancient edifices, fresh lumber, paint, and cat pee. It’s funny how those smells give me a rush of excitement, because I know what they mean. Ahead you can see the glow of that amazing, beautiful TNG bridge. To our unadjusted eyes, light pours from it. The wall to Picard’s ready room has been flown out, and we cut through. It’s controlled chaos as grips, wardrobe, extras, construction and electric, criss-cross in front of us as we make our way.
By now our eyes have adjusted, and we can see the friendly and funny faces. “Grandfather” at his sound cart, Lovable Cosmo “Cosi” Genovese checking his script for continuity notes, Charlie “Chooch” Russo, polishing Geordi’s visor. Suddenly; there is a huge crash to the left, and most don’t even look, because they know that Jonathan Frakes is bowling with empty Sparklett bottles. LeVar notices me come into the bridge, and he calls out loud enough for everyone to hear… “Ladies and gentlemen! Academy Award-winning makeup artist DOUG DREXLER!” I feel the blood rushing to my face. LeVar plainly knows he’s embarrassing me, and he loves it. The crew hoots and cheers their admiration. I wave like the mighty Casey, and then shake my fist at LeVar. Out of the corner of my eye I spot director Les Landau. Les and I have some history. He is observing me, and the adulation I am receiving with a mischievous smirk. I realize I am in trouble.
John hands his robe to wardrobe Jerry, and takes his mark on the bridge, buck naked. Landau approaches, looks at John’s naked butt cheek and yells at the top of his lungs! “MAKEUP!” I wear a tight smile that I cannot help as I walk over, because Landau has seen the opportunity for comedy, and there is no way he can pass it up. I know where he’s going, I think it’s hilarious, but I want to run away. As the entire crew turns to see what Les is yelling about, he points to a spot on de Lancie’s gluteus maximus and proclaims, “I think you missed a spot!” Wow! Everyone starts whistling, screaming and laughing as I stroke Max Factor pancake onto Q’s bum. I’m smiling and shaking my head as I do my job with all the professionalism I can muster. Les plants one hand on his hip, presenting me with the other, and like a circus ringmaster proclaims: “LADIES AND GENTLEMEN! ACADEMY AWARD-WINNING MAKEUP ARTIST, DOUG DREXLER!” The crew goes wild, as the bridge literally explodes with laughter and applause! Frakes roars! Patrick, loving me being humbled, grins like the Cheshire Cat. Dorn chants my name, "Drexler! DREX-LER! DREX-LER! De Lancie is still oblivious to me and everything else, as he is lost in memorizing his lines.
About Doug Drexler
A lifelong Star Trek fan, Doug Drexler first made a mark on the franchise as a makeup artist, spending three years with TNG. He later joined the Trek art department, assuming the job of lead scenic artist on DS9, before handling visual effects on Voyager and serving as senior illustrator on Enterprise. Drex, as everyone calls him, has also written Star Trek books, made cameo appearances on TNG and Enterprise, and has even had a Trek character named after him: on DS9, the Klingon son of Martok and Sirella was named... Drex. Post-Star Trek, Drexler has worked on several iterations of Battlestar Galactica, including the upcoming Blood and Chrome.
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