Today would have been Roger C. Carmel’s 86th birthday, and the occasion got me thinking about a happy memory. A few years ago, I caught a rerun of one of the original Star Trek episodes and it just made me smile the whole way through. It was “Mudd's Women” and it's a favorite for a lot of reasons. I’ve always had a soft spot for the Harry Mudd episodes. Yes, that lovable rogue and notorious conman also known as Harcourt Fenton Mudd. Harry brought a bit of levity to the Star Trek universe. Poor Harry seemed to end up on the wrong side of the law, but he never really wanted to hurt anyone and, of course, he needed to escape the wrath of his shrewish wife, Stella. Who could resist that roguish smile just underneath his curled handlebar moustache?!
Ol’ Harry was a fun character to watch and I suspect that’s why he appeared twice on The Original Series. However, it wasn’t until I met the man who played him that I truly realized why that character came so magically to life for me. Roger C. Carmel was a giant of a man. He had a boisterous personality and immediately made you feel welcome. A big bear hug as a greeting and you were on your way to liking him straightaway. I had decided that I wanted to interview Roger for The Official Star Trek Fan Club magazine back in the early 80’s. So I arranged to meet him while I was in Los Angeles on a business trip to Paramount. We coordinated a lunch interview at the historic Hollywood Brown Derby restaurant which, sadly, no longer exists due to a fire in 1987.
As I waited in my booth for him to arrive I wondered if he would be anything like Harry Mudd. Over my shoulder I hear this booming, rich baritone voice, “Danny, my boy! How are you, lad?!” I looked up to see that familiar smile underneath a less-curled moustache and immediately was embraced in Roger’s giant bear hug. We sat in that booth for over two hours, enjoying our hamburgers, talking about his career, his memories of working on Star Trek and bringing Harry to life. Up to this point, Roger had not done any interviews on his time with Star Trek, so this really was his first time talking about it.
Some revelations that I didn’t know that came out of that interview:
- During the last season of TOS, the producers were planning a third Harry Mudd episode for the next year but, of course, as we all now know… there wasn’t to be a fourth season.
- A Harry Mudd spin-off series was, at one time, being considered. After TOS ended, there was a party at the studio. In Roger’s words, “Gene Roddenberry was there and we started talking and Gene said, ‘It’s a shame that series thing for you never worked out.’ I said, ‘What series thing?’ He said, ‘Oh, didn’t you know? Well, after the successful Harry Mudd episodes, NBC wanted to know if I would develop a spin-off series for you starring the Harry Mudd character. A space pirate, intergalactic con-man kind of thing.’ ‘My God Gene, I didn’t know anything about that. What happened?’ He said, ‘Well, the artists didn’t have enough time to develop it.’ And, of course, you couldn’t blame Gene; he didn’t want to let somebody take it off in a direction he didn’t approve of. Since he didn’t have the time to handle it all, the Mudd series project died. But it was a real blow to me because that was the first time I had heard of it. But what a great chance that would have been for me to star in my own spin-off series.”
- In the episode “Mudd’s Women,” Roger had a wonderful, lengthy monologue in which he is trying to seduce Uhura into taking the Venus drug. “They had to cut that,” recalled Roger, “because it was just too long. I remember being very disappointed because I felt the monologue was very effective and very much to the point of the show’s philosophy.”
Those two hours seemed to fly by and it still stands out as one of the most-enjoyable interviews I have ever done. Roger and I continued to stay in touch after that, right up until his unfortunate passing in 1986 at age 54. Of course, I primarily focused on his association with Star Trek in my interview, but Roger was an enormously talented character actor who appeared in hundreds of television series, films and commercials. Yet, he was forever recognized on the street for Harry Mudd, and it was one of his favorite roles. After his death, Starlog reprinted my interview with Roger in issue #127, so that more fans could hear his Star Trek stories. At the time of my interview with him, he had just begun to realize how much fans loved Harry Mudd. He related to me during that lunch meeting how he had seen a poll recently with one of the questions being, “Other than the regulars, which character would fans most like to see in an upcoming Star Trek film?” He said with a big grin, “They mentioned three or four people and one of them was me! I think it would be a very, very wild trip for old Harry to go careening around space with the old gang again and I would love it!”
I sincerely wish we had been given the chance to see that happen and, perhaps, had Roger lived longer we would have seen Harry Mudd return in some incarnation of Star Trek – though I’ve enjoyed Rainn Wilson’s portrayal of Mudd on Star Trek: Discovery, which echoes Carmel’s. Before Roger and I parted that day, I asked him if there was anything he would like to say to the Star Trek fans who would be reading this interview. Without a beat, and again with that big, infectious smile, he responded, “Just keep the faith all you wonderful people!”
Dan Madsen is the former founder, president and publisher of the Official Star Trek Fan Club and Official Star Trek Communicator Magazine. He now works with actress Ashley Eckstein on Her Universe (www.Heruniverse.com), which produces fashionable, female-focused apparel for Star Trek, Star Wars, Doctor Who and other Sci-Fi properties, and is a partner in FanSets, which produces collectible Star Trek pins. He is also working on his first independent feature film, Short Story, based on his original story (https://www.facebook.com/shortstorythemovie).