Weeks before the fall 1987 premiere of Star Trek: The Next Generation, one of its publicists assured me as to just who the show's two "breakout" characters would be, the ones audiences would immediately embrace: Captain Jean-Luc Picard and Lieutenant Tasha Yar. As any fortuneteller might foresee, predictions are an iffy business. Instead, of course, Picard and two other Lieutenants (Data and Worf) emerged as The Next Generation's breakout personalities.
Equipping him with grave questions, I assigned California-based Starlog writer Marc Shapiro to quiz Crosby. He did on January 12, 1988. He debriefed with me afterwards. Echoing Mark Twain eons ago, it seemed the reports of Tasha Yar's demise had been greatly exaggerated. As Crosby told Shapiro then for Starlog #130: "Tasha's being killed off? I know I've been complaining about Tasha being more involved with what was going on [in the stories], but I don't think things have gotten heated enough to where they've decided to kill me off."
That issue was designed and in production during February and then off to the printer by month's end. It shipped from there, printed, the second week of March (beginning its standard three-week-long, mostly-by-truck odyssey to newsstands). Meanwhile, in my other role as Editor of Starlog's Official Next Generation Magazine, the "Skin of Evil" script arrived on my desk. Reading that put a different spin on Yar's longterm prospects. And ominous media reports began surfacing elsewhere.
The timeline's a bit twisty, but apparently, somewhen (days? weeks?) after our January 12 interview, matters had changed. The script soon got finalized, the episode, shot. Media outlets with much shorter production lead times than the monthly Starlog (like the weekly TV Guide and the daily Entertainment Tonight) were able to report more timely information (obtained after our talk),and even nab newer interviews with the actress. Our original story, overtaken by events, was now wrong and out of date. So, I suggested Shapiro contact Crosby for a follow-up interview. Amazingly, she granted it on May 16.
Now, Crosby explained (in Shapiro's "Farewell to The Next Generation," published in Starlog #134): "Things were being discussed at that point [when the earlier interview occurred]. I couldn't say anything because it was at a stage where nothing had been decided on. The script in which Tasha dies had not even been written yet."
Crosby revealed that the death was Gene Roddenberry's decision. "Gene felt it was the only way," she told Shapiro. "He knew the dramatic impact would be tremendous because no regular character in the Star Trek series had ever been permanently killed [except the movies' David Marcus, up until then]. He felt it would really blow people's minds." And the "Skin of Evil" script, already in hand (and a.k.a. "The Shroud" and "Tour-de-Force"), was revised to now include Yar's sudden demise.
Alas, that death had a more muted audience impact than Crosby expected, thanks to the rumors, the media reports and, in selected fans' opinions, that Starlog #130 cover story itself (which some readers, writing into our letters page, believed spoiled the surprise). "Personally," Crosby advised Shapiro in that second chat, "I think it would have been great to just have people tune in the show and suddenly I would die. The impact would have been fantastic."
But, that's all water under (or over) the Bridge. I first met Crosby in Miami a year later when we were both guests (thanks to Joe Motes, Ruthanne Devlin & Carroll Page) on the 1989 SeaTrek Cruise. One May night in her S.S. Emerald Seas stateroom, I interviewed her myself.
In that shipboard encounter (published simply as "Survivor" in Starlog #151), Crosby explained, "No matter what happens to me, Star Trek will always be a strong part of my life. I didn't leave to snub my nose at Gene Roddenberry, the fans or Star Trek. In my case, I left because there were not enough stories for me to do. I was not willing to spend six years saying, 'Hailing frequencies open, sir,' and that's all."
She also addressed my opinion about her desire to turn back time and somehow return, telling me, "Ever since I made the decision to leave, my immediate afterthought was: 'How can I come back?' Never as an ongoing character. Never permanently. That was over for me. Coming back to the show as a regular would be cheating and could ultimately diminish [Yar's death]. But, it would be fun to work out [a] story and return for one episode." She did, in fact, encore more than once, most memorably on the time-twisted classic "Yesterday's Enterprise" and later, in several appearances, as Yar's half-Romulan daughter Sela.
"Is it really? I haven't seen it yet!" Crosby declared. "Let's all go!"
So, a tableful of us (Crosby, her cruise handler Dawn Bladen, Starlog managing editor Eddie Berganza, me, and eight or nine others) impulsively decamped from the Omni International Hotel and into the labyrinthine hallways connecting it to the neighboring shopping mall, down escalators and around chain stores to a multiplex theater. Sure enough, Pet Sematary was on the marquee; the next show would begin in just seven minutes.
Crosby excitedly told the theater manager she was in the picture and hadn't yet seen it. Could she go in? And her friends? He waved her --- and, outrageously, all dozen of us comprising her impromptu entourage --- in for free. Hot buttered popcorn quickly purchased, we all sat down for trailers and then the main attraction. But, as noted, I had already caught the whole thing in NYC, so every now and then throughout the show, my eyes would dart over to her. And I would watch Denise Crosby in the theater two seats away from me... watching Denise Crosby in Pet Sematary on the big screen.
David McDonnell, "the maitre’d of the science fiction universe," has dished up coverage of pop culture for more than three decades. Beginning his professional career in 1975 with the weekly "Media Report" news column in The Comic Buyers’ Guide, he joined Jim Steranko’s Mediascene Prevue in 1980. After 31 months as Starlog’s Managing Editor (beginning in October 1982), he became that pioneering SF magazine’s longtime Editor (1985-2009). He also served as Editor of its sister publications Comics Scene, Fangoria and Fantasy Worlds. At the same time, he edited numerous licensed movie one-shots (Star Trek and James Bond films, Aliens, Willow, etc.) and three ongoing official magazine series devoted to Trek TV sagas (The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager). He apparently still holds this galaxy’s record for editing more magazine pieces about Star Trek in total than any other individual, human or alien.
Copyright 2015 David McDonnell