The charming and still-lovely Mariette Hartley sat down recently to chat with StarTrek.com about her life, career and, of course, her role as Zarabeth in the TOS episode “All Our Yesterdays.” During the conversation, the actress introduced her husband, Jerry Sroka, and mentioned that he had also appeared in a Star Trek episode. That episode was the Voyager second-season hour “Investigations,” in which Sroka portrayed the Talaxian character Laxeth. And so, we invited Sroka to speak with us as well. He happily obliged and, fittingly enough, when we called Sroka a few weeks later , Hartley answered the phone at their home and got him on the line. Below, then, is our interview with Hartley, and visit again tomorrow to read our Sroka piece.
At the Creation Entertainment Official Star Trek Convention in Las Vegas this past summer, you appeared in front of a large crowd of fans and reminisced about Star Trek and you also signed tons of photos of you as Zarabeth. People are…
Hartley: … Still fascinated by it. I’m just so stunned. I go there and it’s like going to a foreign country, with so many people in different costumes, dressed as different characters. I’ve met a few Borg, actually. It’s so bizarre and wonderful, and I kept thinking, “Are they going to have things like this for Grey’s Anatomy in 20 years?” This has such a very special heat, still, to it.
Take us back to December, 1968, and the shooting of your episode.
Hartley: When I did my episode, I just loved the script, loved the idea that this strange man (Spock) was finally going to be schtupped and I was going to be the one to do it, and that I was going to be the one to teach him how to not be a vegetarian. So I loved the idea. Then, when they showed me the costume, I thought I was going to die. But I sensed that it was a very special thing when I was doing it. I don’t know why. I don’t know if it was because of the script or the costume or the makeup, but there was a special-ness to it. I mean, who had any idea that it’d become what it has? I don’t think Leonard (Nimoy) or Bill (Shatner) had any idea, either.
What else do you recall of the actual production?
Hartley: I’m surprised how many memories I have of it, really. But when you kiss Spock, I mean, come on! I remember De Kelley. I remember the whole thing vividly. I remember taking off that huge coat, the fur coat, and people going, “Oh, wow.” I had no idea that I had a figure. I come from Connecticut. I had no idea what sexuality was. I was doing Shakespeare.
Everything you learned about sex, you learned from Star Trek?
Hartley: Absolutely (laughs). Absolutely. And Leonard, too, quite clearly. But I do remember it vividly. I remember being in the cave. I remember the lighting in the cave. Marvin Chomsky was a terrific director, very caring, and Jerry Finnerman, who unfortunately recently passed away, was a wonderful director of photography. He came in with this kind of magic, and I was fascinated with that, too, because the only things I’d done up until then were black and white, except for Ride the High Country, the Peckinpah film. I remember that the cave was lit with red and green. I remember that De was asleep and ill, and one time I was thinking, “Well, we’re going to be making a lot of noise, Mr. Nimoy and I. Aren’t we going to wake up De in the middle of all this?” And there was the whole thing about getting back into the time (portal). I just loved the brilliance of the imagination. I’ve been lucky, because I’d also worked on The Twilight Zone with Rod Serling. So I’ve been at the peak of these shows.
The odd thing about your Trek episode is that more than half the regular cast wasn’t in it. It was Shatner, Nimoy and Kelley, but no Nichols, Koenig, Takei or Doohan…
Hartley: Really? I didn’t know that. But, honestly, I didn’t know them. I didn’t know the show. I’d never seen it. I since then had met them, but I had no idea. At the time, I was in heaven. It was Leonard and DeForest Kelley. It can’t get much better than that.
One of the famous stories is that, at the time, and much to Gene Roddenberry’s frustration, you were not allowed to show your belly button, so the Zarabeth costume covered it. Later, when you appeared in Roddenberry’s pilot for Genesis II, he had you play a character with two belly buttons…
Hartley: I don’t really remember that, but it makes sense. My makeup for Genesis II took three hours. So that was Gene’s little F.U.? Oh, that’s funny. Oh, for heaven’s sakes. So I was I hired for my inny? But, really, that navel in Genesis II was a pain in the neck because, if I leaned over for a minute, it would get all scrunchy. So I couldn’t lean. I had to stand very, very straight in my scenes.
And let’s bring everyone up to date. You’re still working. You’ve been a recurring character on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. What else have you been up to?
Hartley: I’ve done SVU for several years (usually an episode every year or so). I did a Big Love this year. I did a Grey’s Anatomy. I’m doing a play (in January) at the Cleveland Play House. It’s a comedy called Ten Chimneys, and I’ll be playing Alfred Lunt’s mother. I’d worked with the director before and he called me about this, and I said, “You know what? I’m dying to do something creative.” So I’m going to do it. The thing I find about television is it’s not all that creative unless you have a running part and you have a chance to work on the arc of it. Usually, now, I come in as a guest player and it’s very frightening because you’re meeting everyone and then you’re doing what you think you’re supposed to be doing. I have my own show called Wild about Animals, which has been on for about 10 years. That’s fun. I’m also going to write something with my husband. And I’m helping to raise my little grandson. So that’s what I’m doing.