Roger Perry’s career spans six decades and nearly 100 television shows and movies. He was a regular or recurring character on such series as Harrigan and Son, Arrest and Trial, The Facts of Life and Falcon Crest, and appeared in the B-movie classics Count Yorga, Vampire and its sequel The Return of Count Yorga, as well as The Thing with Two Heads. Talk to any Star Trek fan, though, and there’s one credit that matters more than any other. Perry played Captain John Christopher in the TOS episode “Tomorrow is Yesterday,” a time-travel adventure in which the Enterprise winds up back in the 20th century and Captain Christopher of the United States Air Force is beamed aboard the Enterprise. Christopher soon learns that though he’s rather expendable, his as-yet-unborn son will head the first successful Earth-Saturn probe, and thus he’s beamed back to Earth while the Enterprise employs the “slingshot effect” in order to return to the 23rd century. StarTrek.com recently caught with Perry, now 77, for the following exclusive interview.
Your episode of TOS premiered on January 26, 1967, nearly 45 years ago. You were guest starring at the time on all the big shows of the day. How did you land the role of Christopher?
Perry: I remember that it was one of the easiest jobs I ever got. To this day, I don’t understand why it was so easy. The director was Michael O’Herlihy, who was Dan O’Herlihy’s brother. I remember going to Desilu. I’d been under contract to Desilu at one point, so I was familiar with the studio. I went there and his office was on the second floor of some building there. I walked into the office and there was a secretary, and no one else. She said, “Just a moment.” She announced me and I went in. Michael was behind a desk and there was no one else in the office. We talked for about five or 10 minutes and he said, “Well, you’re right for this. Let’s go do it.” That was it. I guess he pictured the character a certain way and I fit that image. I didn’t have to read. I didn’t have to do anything. We just talked. So I always remember that experience, and I wish I had more of them!
What do you remember of the shoot? Any great anecdote that people may not know?
Perry: The unusual thing, but I have to say this because I remember it… The very first day going into makeup I was in the makeup room and (William) Shatner was a couple of chairs down. I remember looking over and I was very shocked because they were putting his toupee on. I said, “Wait a minute. He’s a young man.” At that time he was very young and I thought, “Well, that’s interesting.” I didn’t know at that time whether they were doing it because of the character. Then I heard later on that he’d been wearing a toupee for a long, long time.
The episode is one of the most popular hours of TOS, with a great teleplay by Dorothy Fontana. What intrigued you most about the time travel story and about Christopher as a character?
Perry: That’s interesting. I didn’t know her name was Dorothy. All I knew was D.C. Fontana. But I liked the whole idea of the episode. Going back in time, it’s very confusing and mysterious, but it’s also fascinating. I liked the idea that he found out he was going to have a son, and we had a lot of fun with that. I watched it again a few months ago, before I went to Las Vegas for the big convention there, and I remember watching the scene when he’s first beamed up and saying to my wife, Joyce, who was watching it with me, “I think maybe I could have done more at that particular moment with that particular scene.” I said that because one minute he’s in a fighter plane and the next moment he’s in this strange situation where he’s in this room with these different people. It’s such a momentous moment for him that I think I should have tried some different things.
You mentioned your wife, Joyce, who is Joyce Bulifant. A lot of people grew with her as an actress and she was a frequent game show guest, too. Some of us at StarTrek.com actually know her from Match Game. Anyway, she didn’t initially believe you were on Star Trek, right?
Perry: We first got together in 2000. We were meeting at the Beverly Center in Los Angeles. We were talking and I happened to mention to her that I’d done a Star Trek. She said, “Oh, come on. You did a Star Trek? That was years ago. You actually did one?” I said, “Yes.” Right then we were passing a video store. So I ran in and there it was, and it had my picture on the cover. So I grabbed a copy and took it over to her and said, “Here. Here’s the proof!” But I don’t think she’d ever seen the episode until we watched it in July (2011). She kept saying, “Oh God, look at those eyes! Look at those blue eyes!”
Star Trek is but one credit in a very long career. If someone reads this and is not aware of your many other credits, what are a few you’d steer them toward, either because they’re among your better known work or because you’re particularly fond of them?
Perry: I did a lot of Love, American Style. I did a lot of The Facts of Life. I did a lot of Falcon Crest. Those were good experiences. I did about five episodes of a show called The F.B.I. Back in the old days, you used to go in for readings maybe Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday during the week, then on Friday you’d find out whether you got the part. If you got the part, you’d then go get the script, study over the weekend and start on Monday. But you always knew that the later they called you on Friday that’s how far down the list you were. I remember them calling me at 5 or 6 on a Friday and saying, “Do you want to do an F.B.I.? It starts on Monday.” I said, “Of course,” and they sent the script over (for the episode “Arrangement with Terror”). I did the part. It was about a guy who’s hung up on dope. They asked me afterward if I wanted to try to get an Emmy Award nomination for it. So that was one of my favorite things, just because it was such a good episode, but I can’t find it. It’s not out on DVD yet.
A lot of old-time horror movie fans love the Yorga movies. My son deals in 3-D and old movies, and he just sent me a picture from the second Count Yorga movie. I have an axe in my hand. I have a beard. I’m about ready to hit someone. Those were like doing home movies, the Count Yorga pictures, because we were all friends. I had a great time doing them. The Thing with Two Heads, people bring that up all the time. My wife Joyce saw it, too, and she really likes it. The problem with that movie is they really had no idea what the hell they were doing. They had this wonderful, interesting story, but it came out very funny. I went to see it in a theater on Hollywood Boulevard. They had a sneak preview on a Friday night. I went down there and the place was packed. They showed the thing and everybody just laughed and laughed. It was a great comedy. They released it as some kind of a horror film, but it wasn’t. It was just kind of a camp thing, but I’m not too sure that (director) Lee Frost and (writer) Wes Bishop really knew what they had. So it sort of disappeared into the sunset (at the time), though it’s a cult film now.