Bjo and John Trimble, the super-fans who helped save Star Trek: The Original Series from cancellation, share memories and anecdotes about their friend, Trek legend DeForest Kelley.
DeForest Kelley was very shy for an actor. He loved to act, but he disliked being in front of an audience. So the life of a movie and TV actor suited De just fine. All the people he had to deal with on a set were ones he already knew. His shyness, though, made it difficult for him to face a convention full of Star Trek fans, all of whom wanted to get to know him better.
He dealt with fan questions in an unusual manner. De would tell fans that he was only an actor, and he was not a doctor and certainly did not know anything about the medical profession. He also pointed out that he knew nothing about how things worked on the Enterprise, so don’t ask him anything about things like that.
Of course, the first question some fan would ask was about how the framistan in the infirmary worked. De would get that wicked smile on his face and point out Bjo in the audience. “Ask Mrs. Trimble,” he would say, “She knows all about how these things work.” All the fans in the audience would turn to see if they could get an answer from her. She kept telling De that she knew only about as much as he did, but he cheerfully pointed out that he had at least deflected the fan question to me, not him.
The oft-repeated story about De being crowded so badly by eager fans that the autograph table pushed him against a wall is only half-true. It happened at Equicon, one of our own conventions, and we were present when it happened. It was one of De’s early appearances, and the fans were indeed eager to get as close to the Enterprise doctor as they could. The table was pushed far enough to alarm De, but Equicon security went into action. They told the fans that Mr. Kelley would leave the room if people didn’t stop crowding him and wait their turn for an autograph. The fans stopped pushing, and withdrew to discuss who had been standing in line where. End of problem. But of course the story grew into a major legend.
He was sometimes left alone behind the curtain of a convention auditorium, patiently waiting until he was called on stage. Conventions might have a “green room” for actors to wait in, but just as often, De and other guests would end up sitting behind the curtain.
At one large convention where De was a major guest and Bjo was a minor fill-in guest, she met a young lady in a wheelchair who had attended the con courtesy of Make-A-Wish. Ginny was waiting for a heart and liver transplant due to a mistake in medication given to her in college. All she wanted to do was meet DeForest Kelley, but the convention had been totally uncooperative about getting them together. Bjo decided to rectify this problem.
First, she went backstage to ask De if he would see Ginny for even a few moments. His sympathy was aroused, so he said he’d be happy to talk to her. Bjo went back to the waiting audience to get Ginny. After a short but acrimonious discussion with the Green Room guard, he allowed Ginny in to see De. No question that Ginny was thrilled. Bjo took some photos of De and Ginny, and then left them alone to talk for a few minutes. The talk lasted more than half an hour, and when Ginny finally said goodbye to her hero, he gave her a kiss on the forehead. We could have floated Ginny home!
We found that while De disliked being shuffled around by some convention committees, he was always willing to talk to special fans like Ginny. This made him a very real human being in our book, and a very special man. Ginny is still waiting for the transplants, but still alive. She credits De’s encouragement for a good deal of this.
DeForest Kelley had an unusual problem with Desilu Studios. Just across the studio street from the Star Trek offices was a film industry research department owned and operated by one Kellam DeForest. Understandably, fan mail and research questions continually ended up going to the wrong person! At one point, De said that he was tempted to answer some of the research questions just to perk things up a bit. The questions could be anything from serious (how long would it take a starship to reach Orion?) to frivolous (how many Smiths are there in Yatesville?), so we could understand De’s humorous urge to answer the questions in his own inimitable style.
Gene Roddenberry often said he had ruined De’s movie career. De had made a career of playing second-banana bad guys both on TV and in movies (if you remember his gimlet-eyed look in the "Patterns of Force" Nazi uniform, you can see why he made a good villain). However, after he’d played kindly Doctor McCoy on two-plus seasons of Star Trek, producers were reluctant to cast him in those kinds of roles, so he had a great deal of trouble getting work. Fortunately TOS went into immediate re-runs and then into syndication, so residuals gave him an income. The series of original cast movies improved that situation for him and the other TOS actors.
Trek fans may not remember, if they ever knew, about De’s villain roles. What they remember is the kindly but irascible doctor who had all of the Enterprise crew in his capable hands. That role spoke to many of us who lacked a father figure when growing up. It was also a major source of satisfaction to DeForest Kelley -- as well as to Gene Roddenberry -- that Star Trek inspired so many young people to go into medical studies, including space medicine.
A NOTE TO FANS FROM BJO and JOHN TRIMBLE:
The Trimbles are active in the Society for Creative Anachronism, a medieval re-enactment organization. Last year, SCA folk joined the Orange County AIDS Walk in Disneyland. This year, Team CAID is once again Walking for a Cure that goes from the Middle Ages to The Next Generation and Beyond. Most of us wore the name and often a photo of a friend who died from AIDS. I chose William Ware Theiss, TOS costume designer, and John chose Mike Minor, TNG artist.
The surprise was how many SCA folk supported this walk and how many Trek fans... did not. We know that many people are short of jobs and funds, but hopefully there are some Trekkers out there who can spare a dollar or two. Undaunted, the entire family is walking again this May 4, and we hope everyone will support this worthy cause and join Team CAID in the walk, or form your own team. We’d love to see Starfleet groups and Klingons walking the walk!
Our team currently has 54 walkers and just passed the $5,800.00 mark in our goal of $10,000.00!
Team CAID's Page:
Team CAID’s Facebook:
OC AIDS Walk information:
Bjo and John