Christopher Held was in all his glory. The long-retired actor – who played Lindstrom in the Star Trek: The Original Series episode “The Return of the Archons” -- was in the autograph room at Star Trek Las Vegas last month, with a nice, long line of fans waiting for him to shake their hand and sign their photos and posters. Held, who goes by Karl rather than Christopher, soaked it in and politely asked if he could reschedule an interview with StarTrek.com. So, the next morning, Held joined StarTrek.com for breakfast at a restaurant in the Rio Suite Hotel. Held, who will turn 85 on September 19, was as full of energy as he is full of stories. His wife of 55 years, Sarah Marshall, who passed away in 2014, had also guest starred on TOS, in “The Deadly Years.” Oh, and she’d dated William Shatner. And, pre-Star Trek: The Next Generation, Held worked with Patrick Stewart in England. Check out what Held had to say in our extensive conversation:
What's life like for you these days?
Well, I live in a retired living place in Glendale, where the average age is 90. It's independent living, but some of the people are not so independent. And I'm the kid. Yeah, I’m only 85. There's a lady in the morning I usually say hello to, and she's about 103. She looks at me and says, "You never call, you never write." I say, "But Anita, you're confusing me with your son." She says, "It's the same with him. He never calls. He never writes."
Do you have kids, grandkids?
I have great-grandkids. A boy and a girl. They're turning one in November. And I have my son and daughter. He's going to be 62. My daughter's going to be 57. Actually, my daughter tells me that her age is none of my business. But she's afraid, because she's going to turn 60. I said, "Don’t worry about it. Sixty is not old, unless you have children that age."
So you're keeping busy.
Yes. I'm keeping busy at that place where I live. I do stuff. I do Shakespeare Made Simple, call Bingo, do talent shows. That sort of thing. I go work out about five times a week. I have meetings I go to. Various kinds. I’m going to audition for an over-60s talent show for the veterans in November. And I'll be doing stand-up comedy.
And here we are in Vegas. How do you enjoy meeting the fans and telling the old stories?
Well, I tell you, it's fabulous. I have never done it before. It's my first convention. It turns out I'm the new guy on the block. All these fans have been coming to this kind of thing for years, and it's the first time I'm showing up. I didn’t know about them. I didn’t have anyone representing me, or getting me to it. I did my first signing in November, in Los Angeles, at the Hollywood Show, but this is my first convention. And I have to tell you, there are people from that show who are here who are just over the moon that I’m here. The fans, they're just so kind and so nice. They remember the episode. And of course, my wife did an episode. And I have pictures of her. The last few that were autographed.
You had a very long and successful career. You had worked before Star Trek, and decades after. So before we talk about Star Trek, what of your other work are you personally proudest of?
Falcon Crest. I had three years on it. I was hired for two episodes. The way I was hired was, I had a whole line of guys waiting to go in, as usual. But I was there on time, went in for my appointment and I did my reading. The producer, Jeff Freilich, looked at me. He said, "Thank you very much." I walked out and I thought, "Holy mackerel. I thought I was better than that." But what had happened was, I bowled him over. He didn’t know what to say. I went out and I called my agent when I got home. She said, "You're going to Napa Valley on Wednesday, and you're gonna do two episodes of Falcon Crest." I said, "Great." I did the two episodes, and then they said, "Well, you're in the next one." And I said, "Oh, okay. Three episodes." Then I was in the next one, and I thought, "That's it. They're finished." Just in case, I said to Jeff, "I have to go back to England and get some things, because I still have an apartment there and I want to close things up." He said, "When are you coming back?" My ears perked up. He said, "You're in this show. That's what's happening." I said, "Oh my God." [LAUGHTER] And I just wound up doing 55 episodes. The writers went crazy. They just loved the character. Of course, they adapted the character to me. David and I got along so well.
One of the people yesterday at the convention was a fan of Falcon Crest. He said what Richard and I had going together with the two characters is the kind of chemistry that you see sometimes. He said, "It was just wonderful, these two guys, and they got along so well. There were no egos, and it was humorous as well." So, I did that for three years. It was a joy going to work, and working with people like Jane Wyman, and the guest stars. I got to work with Kim Novak. Rod Taylor was an old friend. I was in a movie with him, 36 Hours, with Eva Marie Saint, James Garner. So Rod was great. They would bring all these wonderful old guest stars back. So I’d get to meet a lot of them. That was a gas. I really liked that.
Let’s talk about Star Trek. How did that come along for you?
That was a very simple thing. Agent said, "Go to Paramount," where the casting was. I went in, and the casting director -- I forget his name -- but Gene Roddenberry was there. He had me look at script. I started to read, and he said, "That's fine." I barely got two lines out. He looked at the guy, Roddenberry, and says, "Well, I’m happy.
Did you know anything about Star Trek? Had you heard of it yet?
I had watched, I think, one or two episodes. I think at the time I didn’t even have a color television. But anyway, so Gene hired me. I knew Bill Shatner from 1958. We were both in the same play on Broadway. The World of Suzie Wong. That was my first professional job, and I was understudying Bill. I also met my wife-to-be in the show, Sarah Marshall, who went on later and did “The Deadly Years” on Star Trek.
We sense a Shatner story coming on…
Let me tell you a little bit more about before the shoot. When I say my wife-to-be, the interesting thing is that when we were on the road trying out in Boston -- she told me this later -- they had a little fling one night. We come back into town, and I knew.
Meaning her and Shatner?
Yeah. I found out who she was. She had done one movie. Bill had done one movie, Brothers Karamazov. Sarah had done The Long Hot Summer. I knew Paul Newman and Joanne and whatnot. Of course, she worked with him. I only knew them through a friend. I didn’t know them professionally. But he was like a buddy. I thought, "She's established. They're writing parts for her. She’s' been nominated for a Tony. She's won the Drama Critics Award. She comes from a famous family, grew up with wealth and fame. This is a snob." She was gorgeous and sexy, but I didn't want to have anything to do with her. But I had to, because she wanted to run lines with her scenes with Shatner. But Bill would be out rehearsing, doing other scenes on stage. So I would get to meet her and work with her. That's when it started to happen. And that’s when I found out she was not a snob. She had her pick of all the guys on Broadway. She was very eligible. And I gotta tell you, Shatner got the career, I got the girl. Because we had 55 years. She was anything but a snob. I told the people yesterday at the panel just the kind of person she was. She was as happy being on stage or in front of a camera as she was pulling weeds in the rose garden, or rescuing a pussycat or a stray dog.
I have one memory of her talking with a guy. She was just laughing, and the two of them were laughing. It was the guy who drove the garbage truck. That's who she was. When she was given six weeks to live, her first statement to me when we came home, she said, "Carlo, I am so lucky. I'm nearly 81. I've had this incredible life. And you, 55 years. How many people would never have the chance for that? Would never get it? Don't even get to be my age." She said, "I am so lucky." And that just blew me away. That's the kind of human being she was.
Well, that's kind of like the line, "Don't cry over what you've lost. Smile over what you had."
She was a living example of it. My first thoughts…, I don't know if it would have gone to that. But hers did, automatically. I always knew what we had and what she was like. She was incredible. So it was a great experience. But anyway. She had an interesting experience, too, during her show. She was playing Bill's old flame.
And then I was following him as his understudy. Interestingly enough, Sarah and I lived in London for about 12 years. They did a Star Trek commercial, but it was for Heineken beer. Victor Borge was doing the voiceover, and they hired me as Captain Kirk. If you look at the pictures from the episode I was in, although I’m standing in the background behind Bill a lot of the time, you'll see we're the same type. Of course, I was hired to understudy him, in the commercial. And so, consequently, Gene had overlooked that when we met. He really should have hired someone who was a different type. In the very last scene, Bill and I have a scene together. Lindstrom is on the planet, radioing back what he's doing and what's happening. Then you cut to Bill, you cut to Lindstrom, back and forth. That's how the scene normally would go. It left it all on Bill. You're supposed to protect your stars. And they do. That's normal. I've been on a series, and they've done that for me. So I understand it. I didn’t take it personally, but I realized what had happened.
What interested you about Lindstrom as a character?
Well, he was not a three-dimensional character. He was just there for convenience. So I tried not to look stupid. And not get in anybody's way. When the lines came, you just make them as real as possible. It seems to have worked.
So what was it like to have this one random episode that you did almost 50 years ago still be a part of your life all this time later?
Well, that's it. It just blows me away. I can't believe it. The nice thing is, it brings back nice memories. I have nice memories of De and George and Leonard, and I have cordial memories of Bill. [LAUGHTER] I remember that I was there the day they announced that the show was picked up. That was the first time it was picked up for more episodes. We were out on the 40 Acre place, on a stinking hot day. You try doing close-ups and try to get it done before the perspiration drips off your face. Your makeup comes and hits you before. And that's when they announced the show was picked up. There was a cheer, and I looked over at De, because we had talked about this sort of thing. There's nothing like a regular series, for an actor. You're in steady work. When you do a one-shot, your nightmare is, that's the last. "I'll never work again. They're finished, they don't want me. I'm lousy." [LAUGHTER] De drove me home. I didn’t have a car. Sarah had the car. And one was in the shop. De went right past my place in Encino, because he lived out in Woodland Hills. We would talk about the actor's nightmare. Both of us had the dream where you walk out on stage and you have no clothes on suddenly, or you're there to play Hamlet and it turns out to be Othello.
But you’d asked about the shoot. I think that the most fun was being back at the 40 Acre studio. First, you're looking at Gone with the Wind and everything else. This was '66. We were filming in the fall or winter of '66. So I'd been in the business about six years, five years. When I went to Warner Brothers, I went to the stage where Casablanca was filmed. I almost knelt down and prayed. It was like that. I still get gaga over stuff, you know? Joe Pevney was a very easy director. I worked for him later in The F.B.I. Knowing that that one little thing has blossomed into this, that blew everyone away, when syndication took off. People tell me the things that they've done in their lives, and how Star Trek influenced them, how it’s impacted their lives in a way. I was in one episode and I’ve had people tell me that. You never know how you impact other people. Suddenly I started to think, "Wow, am I lucky that I’m doing what I love to do. I get to do this show, it takes off. It becomes an incredible television phenomenon. And I get to enjoy it and entertain and impact so many people.”
You mentioned your wife, Sarah. You were on the set during her episode of Trek, right?
Yes, I visited the set. It was interesting. I was there the day that Bill had to do his old-age makeup for four hours. Then when he came out on the set in the afternoon, they said, "We're not gonna use you today. Go home." [LAUGHTER]
He must have not been happy.
Well, a few little Anglo-Saxon words came out. But again, I’ll put it this way. He and Sarah got along, and we're all grownups. It was cordial. We'd run into him every once in a while at some function, Actors Fund, something like that. We'd say, "Hi, Bill." But I hadn't seen him in years.
And don’t you have a Patrick Stewart story?
Oh, Patrick! When the second Star Trek was taking off, a friend who lived in my building said, "I'm going to do a Star Trek." She said, "There's a guy on there who's wonderful. Patrick Stewart." I said, "Patrick Stewart? I know Patrick." We were at the Royal Shakespeare Company of London in 1976. There was another famous actor who had a lot of features, Bob Hoskins. Mia Farrow. We were in rep there, doing various things. Patrick and I were in O'Neill's Iceman Cometh. Hoskins was playing Rocky, the bartender. Patrick was wonderful. He had a huge part, and he was very good. We had no idea, of course, he was going to snowball into an international star, but bless his heart, he deserves it.