If you happen to skate at the Pickwick Ice Center in Burbank, California, it’s very possible – perhaps even likely – that a little piece of Star Trek history just whizzed right on by you. Billy Blackburn spends several days a week there, gliding across the place like an old pro – which he is – and chatting about his unlikely Trek connection with anyone who asks. So what’s that unlikely Trek connection? Where to begin? Blackburn served as DeForest Kelley’s stand-in on TOS, played Lt. Hadley in dozens of episodes, appeared in costume several times (the White Rabbit, for example, and the Gorn, in close-ups), and even lent his face to the makeup team when they needed to test exotic new looks on someone. Though he was on hand for most of the show’s run he never uttered a line of dialogue (at least not on camera) or received a screen credit.
Blackburn got on his with life and career after TOS ended, spending much of it as a costumer in Hollywood, and he never really played up his Trek work even as the franchise experienced a renaissance. Then, several years ago, Trek came calling again. Back in the day, on the TOS set, Blackburn was forever running around with a movie camera, shooting Super 8 film footage of the cast and crew behind the scenes, with many of them mugging happily for the camera. The footage, which had sat untouched for decades, provided a glimpse unlike any ever seen into the day-to-day of making TOS. That footage – about an hour’s worth – was cleaned up in 2007 and spread across the three TOS DVD releases, with Blackburn providing on-camera commentary as part of the segments called “Billy Blackburn’s Treasure Chest: Rare Home Movies and Special Memories" (excerpt seen above). StarTrek.com recently caught up with Blackburn for a fun, nostalgic conversation during which he talked about his time Star Trek and what he’s up to now. Below is part one of our exclusive conversation, and be on the lookout tomorrow for part two.
Would you agree that your story – shooting so much backstage footage, appearing in so many different episodes -- is one of Star Trek’s most unusual behind-the-scenes tales?
Blackburn: Absolutely. I think the thing is that Star Trek has never really died, for anyone. It certainly hasn’t for me. I still have people coming up to me, even younger ones. Some of them tell me they love Star Trek, a few of them even tell me they didn’t like Star Trek, and some people say that they didn’t watch Star Trek. But pretty much everyone who meets me, when they find out that I was on Star Trek, thinks it’s cool that I had this association with the show. A few weeks ago I was at the rink where I skate and this woman came up to me and said, “Oh, I’m from Ohio. I came out here to see my niece skating, and she told me that you were on Star Trek.” So I gave her a picture of me on the bridge and I autographed it, and she was so excited. It was a picture of me with Scotty. I suddenly realized that there are people who really think it’s so wonderful. It’s always a surprise, and I enjoy. The kids at the rink are funny. They’re used to it. They know that I was on Star Trek. They think it’s fun when they hear that I’m doing something, like being at Comic-Con or in Vegas, but they also try to be nonchalant about it.
Let’s talk about the film footage you took over the course of all three seasons of Star Trek. Did you have a clue that you were capturing a glimpse of history in the making?
Blackburn: No, not all, actually, because I did that on every show and movie I worked on. I was on My Favorite Martian and I did the same thing. I leased some of my film to Rhino when they re-released My Favorite Martian, season one, on DVD. I worked on the film Spartacus, and I had my old still camera with me on that. And I have tons of photos from that picture. But my movie camera, that was like a second appendage to me in the 1960s. So I had probably 10,000 feet of film – film of my life, my work. It’s me working, me swimming, me skiing, me diving. It was all on eight-millimeter and, later, Super-8. And it sat in boxes for the longest time, until I had most of it transferred and people started to take an interest in it.
So take us through what’s on the Star Trek DVDs. You captured the cast and crew having fun. You’ve got green and purple goats. You’ve got Shatner’s Doberman circling the set when you were on location. You’ve got shots, taken by someone else, of you as all different characters…
Billy Blackburn: I think there was about an hour and five minutes of actual film from Star Trek. I was on the show all three seasons. I had my camera on season one. I came back for season two and brought my camera with me again. I came back for season three and brought my camera again. By that time I was using a Super-8 camera and film. It’s about 20, 25 minutes from each show that I shot. I think there’s 10 to 15 minutes of footage from each season on each of the DVDs. But they cut some stuff out. There were some things that Paramount thought was inappropriate, gestures I guess someone thought were too suggestive. But most of what I shot, just about all of it, is on the DVDs.
I never knew the rumors about the set not being a fun place to work. I had no idea. I had a good time. Everyone worked hard, but they had fun. I really loved working on that show. Bill was so delightful on that set, at least to me. He was always fooling around with the crew. It’s amazing that I got away with everything I did. Everyone posed for me and had fun. It was amazing. I was just a freaking extra. So I’m glad that people can see this footage, because it shows a different side of the experience than people may be aware of.
OK, if we’ve got our math right, you appeared on Star Trek, in one way or another, 61 times…
Blackburn: That sounds about right. I was there from the beginning of the series, once it officially started. I did not do the pilot with Jeff Hunter. I was not in that. I was hired when it went to series. I was doing a lot of episodes as the navigator until the second season, when Walter Koenig came in to play Chekov. He came on season two and some of what I would have gotten to do, including probably a few lines, kind of went out the window.
Blackburn: No. Actually, I think that DeForest (Kelley) might have said something. DeForest and I were very close. I was his stand-in. But I came close to getting lines. I did several scenes that were really acting, like when the pods blew up in Spock’s face. Everybody was standing in line, and they gave Eddie Paskey a line there. So he got the line. That could have just as easily been me. I should have had a line. In fact, it was funny, the script supervisor – Rutter… George Rutter -- kept pushing for me to do the off-stage dialogue. For example, I did do Bill Campbell’s father’s voice when he says, “Trelane, what are you doing?!” I did the god’s voice. I did that for Rutter. I did that on the stage and -- I can’t remember if it was Bill or Leonard -- but one of them came around the stage and said, “My God, what an acting voice.” (Laughs). George didn’t want to do the offstage dialogue himself. So I did some of that for him, and you may be able to hear me in a couple of episodes, but no one ever saw me speak a line of dialogue on the show. That happened to me in a lot of pictures and shows, where I did the offstage dialogue for the script supervisor.
Be sure to check back tomorrow for part two of our interview with Billy Blackburn. In it, he talks more about playing Lt. Hadley and catches us up on his life today.
See Billy Blackburn’s Treasure Chest Part 1 featuring never before seen behind-the-scenes footage available on Stark Trek: The Original Series Season 1 on Blu-Ray™. See Parts 2 and 3 on Star Trek: The Original Series Seasons 2 and 3 on Blu-Ray™.