Your film and television credits date back to 1958, though your stage credits go back even before then. We know this is like asking which of your kids you like best, but what of your work are you happiest to have on your resume?
LUNA: It is like you say. It is like saying “Who’s your favorite kid?” And that’s because every job, at least for me, was such a wonderful experience. But, in terms of what stands out, I’d have to say Star Trek. “Mirror, Mirror.” Then you’ve got your soap opera fans, so my character on One Life to Live, Maria, was rather notorious. She was the bitch that everybody loved to hate. And when you work with people like Frank Sinatra and Spencer Tracy on something like The Devil at Four O’Clock, that’s going to stand out. Ship of Fools stands out, because it had Vivian Leigh and Oskar Werner and Lee Marvin and Michael Dunn (who later guest starred in “Plato’s Stepchildren”) and George Segal. I have worked with the best people, the best actors and actresses.
But it’s Star Trek you’re most recognized for, right?
LUNA: Absolutely. When I’m at autograph shows – not just Star Trek conventions, but autograph shows – and I have all my photos out on the table, fans will be at the table looking at the photos. They’ll look at the photos and say, “Oh, did you meet Frank Sinatra?” “Oh, did you meet Henry Fonda? Wonderful. But let’s talk about Star Trek…”
And, let’s talk about Star Trek. Do you remember how you landed the role?
LUNA: I’d worked with Marc Daniels on an episode of Mission: Impossible. He directed my first episode of Mission: Impossible, “Elena” (in 1966), and I was working quite a bit at Paramount. There was a point when I’d already earned the right to be offered a script rather than having to go in and read for it, and that (Star Trek) was one of them. Of course, who knew what it was going to turn into? I mean, it was a job. It was just a job. I know you’ve heard that from many other actors involved in Star Trek, but that’s what it was, a job. It was offered to me. It was a guy with funny ears. And I was already a fan of William Shatner’s when I did the show. I’d always thought he was just a wonderful actor.
LUNA: Well, I found out something so interesting about the sci-fi world. When it was offered to me, I was kind of shocked. I thought, “My gosh,” because almost all of the roles I portrayed were Hispanic or Japanese or Chinese or Vietnamese or Indian. Because of my ethnicity, which I always thank my parents for, you couldn’t really pin down my look. And I think if you see all the characters I played you know exactly what I’m talking about. Marlena was surprising because there was no accent involved. I thought, “Gee, I love this role because she’s just a woman. No accent. Just a woman.” When I was offered Koori on Buck Rogers, it was the same thing. She was a bird… (laughs), but still. That’s one of the things that’s so intriguing about the sci-fi world. You can be hired just as an actor or an actress and not for any particular ethnicity. Things (in general) are much better today. It’s quite wonderful because things are not as stereotypical anymore. I had many arguments with producers where I’d be hired for a role and they’d change the character’s name to a more Hispanic name. I’d march up to producer’s office and say, “We can’t do this!” So I feel that many of us paved the way for actresses like Jennifer Lopez and Cameron Diaz and Salma Hayek, who are hired only as actresses and not because they speak with an accent.
Your hair as Marlena was remarkable and your costume as the mirror Marlena was pretty memorable, too. What anecdotes can you share about the hair and the costume?
LUNA: When I want a good giggle I always look at Lt. Moreau when she comes in at the end with her hair piled up to the ceiling. Those hairdos, they were so funny. But, actually, something awful happened. The story is kind of known. I woke up with a strep throat and a very high fever after filming for four days. And, of course, I couldn’t call the studio and say, “I’m sick. I’m not coming in.” So I, of course, got into my car and drove to work. They took one look at me and sent me to the medic and he said, “Oh my God, she’s so contagious.”
Of course, the scene we had left was the scene in the cabin, the kissing scene with Shatner. I barely had a voice. The decision was to send me home and go on to the next scene, which is what they did. I went back about a month later and completed the show. However, I guess while I was recuperating, I lost several pounds. So when I arrived on set in the costume that was made for that scene, Roddenberry said, “Oh, my gosh, that’s awful. No.” Bill Theiss, the costumer, came out, and genius that he was, he put me in a bikini and wrapped this material around me. And what you see is that beautiful caftan in the cabin scene.
Many people ask me why they didn’t do more with Moreau, why there wasn’t a sequel, because it seems, when she appears at the end, that there could be a continuation. I don’t know. This is only conjecture on my part, but if they had any plans, when I got sick, it probably nixed the idea. But they may have never had plans at all.
What runs through your head when it hits you that it’s nearly 50 years ago that you shot “Mirror, Mirror,” that there have been two Marlena action figures and a Minimates toy, and that you’ve done numerous Star Trek conventions and autograph shows?
LUNA: I stammer and stutter. It’s just shocking. It’s also the 50th anniversary of The Outer Limits. It’s what we were talking about before: it was just another job. I did it, that was the end of it and I never gave it another thought. It was a cab driver I met in New York City who told me about the conventions. He recognized me and called me Marlena. I thought, “How sweet, he thinks I’m Marlene Dietrich,” but he was talking about me from Star Trek. And he told me all about the conventions and what goes on. But I don’t think you get it until you do it. As actors, sitting at a table, seeing a line of people waiting for your autograph… honestly, I don’t think we really get it. We’re just so thankful. It’s mind-boggling. But little by little I’ve come to understand what it’s about and also why Star Trek is so impressive. And I happen to love the J.J. Abrams films. I think they’re wonderful. Yes, they’re wonderful. Yes, they stray from what Star Trek is really about, but, it’s Hollywood. It’s show business. And I think he’s done a wonderful thing by shedding new light on Star Trek. It will continue, as the saying goes.
What’s life like for you these days?
LUNA: When I retired as an actress, I really thought I was going to be a lady of leisure, but I’ve discovered what retirement is about. I did One Life to Live in New York for several years and when that was done I called up my agent and said, lovingly, “I really want a life without you.” I’d actually started working as a child, doing Broadway, and I thankfully never missed a year once I got started doing films and television. But eventually I wanted to know what it was like to go away to Europe and not have to come back for an audition or a job. So I did that.
I’ve been volunteering. I volunteer for a group called the Thalians, which has been around for a very, very long time. It was founded 54 years ago by Debbie Reynolds, Hugh O’Brien, and Ruta Lee is the chairman of the board. I help round up celebrities for their charity events. They’re in a state of transition.
They originally supported mental health, but now they’re raising money for Operation Med, which is for our boys. Our veterans need so much help when they come back from war and many of them have no place to turn. So our next big event is on April 26, when they’ll be honoring Smokey Robinson at the House of Blues. I also helped Dave at The Hollywood Show, which is coming up April 11-13. That’s an autograph show I’ll be at with a lot of other people from TV and movies, and there will be reunions of actors and actresses from Star Trek and The Outer Limits, so it should be very exciting. It’s so much fun for me to do this. I’m running around and seeing old friends. I love it, and it’s kind of my way of giving back.