Any actor would envy the career of Morgan Woodward. Over the course of five decades, from the 50s to the 90s, he amassed 400-plus film and television credits. Along the way, he played some mighty memorable roles, including Shotgun Gibbs on The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, Boss Godfrey in Cool Hand Luke, Jock Ewing’s pal Punk Anderson on Dallas and (Old) Harry Cokely on The X-Files. But, perhaps most enduringly, he had the distinction of portraying two wild-eyed, emotionally volatile characters on Star Trek: The Original Series: Dr. Simon Van Gelder in “Dagger of the Mind” and Captain Ronald Tracey in “The Omega Glory.” Woodward is 89 years old now, and will turn 90 in September, but other than bum legs that require him to use a walker, he’s in great health, sharp of mind and strong of voice. He’ll attend The Hollywood Show this weekend in Los Angeles, signing autographs and posing for photos with fans, and in advance of that appearance, he spoke to StarTrek.com about his life, career and Star Trek. Here’s what he had to say…
What's life like for you these days?
WOODWARD: I’m retired. I wish I could travel, but I’m so gimpy that I can’t do that. I waited too long to do the traveling that I wanted to do. I was afraid to travel because I was afraid I was going to miss work. I also owned apartment houses, and it was hard for me to get away. It shouldn’t have been, or I should have gotten away somehow. But my knees are gone and I’ve got a bad back, so I’m pretty well sedentary, unfortunately. But I can still get out. I’m still driving. I have things to do and I do them.
You'll be at the Hollywood Show this weekend. How do you enjoy meeting the fans, posing for photos and signing autographs? You've got to feel appreciated at such events.
WOODWARD: That’s the only reason I go out to them, is to meet the people and listen to what they liked and what they liked about a certain part and which episodes of which shows they liked. It’s all of the different shows and movies. It’s Star Trek. It’s Wyatt Earp. It’s all of the westerns. Dallas is very popular with people. Plus, it’s just nice to get out and be with people. I can sit the whole time. So I get a comfortable chair and sit there and enjoy the company.
WOODWARD: Vincent McEveety, the director, told Gene Roddenberry that I could do anything, just not to worry.
What do you remember about the character -- who was angry and violent, but not because that's who he really was?
WOODWARD: He was a prisoner on the island of Tantalus and the evil doctor was making a vacuum of my mind by the neural neutralizer. So he was literally emptying my mind of thought. And I escaped on the ship. I hid away. It was the most difficult thing I’ve ever done, and I spent a week in bed afterwards. I was screaming. I was crying. I was in a straightjacket. I was trying to hide. It was terrible. It was physically and emotionally draining.
WOODWARD: When I saw the episode, I was pleased. I remember telling Vince, “Look, this is Star Trek, and I think I can go over the top. But if you think I’m going too far, just wave a finger at me.” And he never waved a finger at me, even in that scene with Leonard. I just let Leonard do the mind meld on me and reacted the way I thought the character would react.
You'd done so many westerns and wielded countless guns. Did the phaser seem like a futuristic version of a Colt 45 or just a silly prop?
WOODWARD: Oh, it was a good prop. Anything that I have in my hand, if it’s useful, I’m going to believe it’s real. The phaser felt real enough.
How did your second episode, “The Omega Glory,” come your way?
WOODWARD: Vince directed that episode, too. He had Roddenberry’s approval and must have said, “Yeah, get him back.”
WOODWARD: Exactly. He couldn’t have been crazy or a bad captain to start. He had to become that over time. I wish I remembered more about that episode. I’m going to have to get the script and read it, and it’ll all come back to me again.
You worked a lot with Shatner on that one. What do you remember of that experience?
WOODWARD: Shatner was very affable. And he loves jokes. I worked with him again on T.J. Hooker. He remembered.
Vincent McEveety, as you said, directed both episodes. Had you known him before doing the episodes?
WOODWARD: Yes. I did a lot of westerns with him, and I did a couple of movies with him, too. Good director. Good man.
WOODWARD: Star Trek is a cult, and any time you’ve got a cult, it continues and continues. They’re getting ready to do another Star Trek movie now and some of the original people could be in it. It just keeps going. So, no, it doesn’t surprise me. It doesn’t surprise me, not at all. The (conventions and autograph) shows that I’ve gone to, most of the people want me to sign pictures from Star Trek. I sign pictures from Dallas and the westerns and Cool Hand Luke, too. The Man with No Eyes from Cool Hand Luke is still very, very popular, and that’s almost 50 years, too. But it’s mostly Star Trek that people want me to sign pictures of, and I get that.
Woodward will be at the Hollywood Show this weekend, Friday to Sunday, at the Westin Los Angeles Airport Hotel. Go to www.hollywoodshow.com for details.