Pretty much every boy growing up in the 1960’s adored Lee Meriwether. How could they not? Meriwether – 1955’s Miss America – graced the 1966 Batman movie as Catwoman, played Dr. Ann MacGregor on The Time Tunnel and, of course, guest starred as Losira in the third-season TOS episode “That Which Survives.” Losira was the holographic Kalandan commander who’d utter the phrase “I… am for you” before touching someone – and killing them with that very touch. Meriwether turned 76 in May, but she’s still acting and still stylish and gorgeous, as StarTrek.com discovered a couple of weeks ago, when we sat down with her for an interview before she took to the stage for an appearance at Creation Entertainment’s Official 45th Anniversary Star Trek Convention in Las Vegas.
Let’s start with Star Trek. How did you land the role of Losira?
Meriwether: I have no idea at all. I have thought and thought about this, and I think I was offered the role. I had to have been. I didn’t read for it, I know that, because I would have been terribly nervous.
What do you remember most about making “That Which Survives”?
Meriwether: It was extremely difficult to play Losira because she was a computerized image, but she had a soul. She had been, when she was alive, really a wonderful, compassionate commander of the Kalandans and cared for her people so much, which you found out at the very end of the episode. She was so conflicted and I can tell you, even all these years later, having played Losira on Star Trek is helping me now in doing Long Day’s Journey into Night, which we’ll be performing at a theater near me in Studio City. Literally, you have to divide your mind for Long Day’s Journey, and that’s what I had to do for the first time when we did Star Trek. I had to kill, but not want to kill, but couldn’t be over-dramatic. You can’t telegraph that kind of thing or it will look false. So, playing Losira was a great challenge.
Back when you filmed “That Which Survives” did the now-famous line “I… am for you” strike you as brilliant or silly?
Meriwether: Oh, I loved it. I loved it. I thought it was perfect. It was the way Losira had to express that that’s what she had to do. “I… am for you and I must touch you and you must die.” I knew that and yet I didn’t want that. It was the perfect line to express that Yin and Yang. I think it was a very inventive line of dialogue, a very inventive script. And I thought the technology they used was fascinating. Nowadays they can do it like that, because we’re in this digital world. But in 1969, when we did Star Trek, they had to roll back the film so that I became three. It was just amazing, and it still holds up.
The makeup, hair and costume were certainly unforgettable, too…
Meriwether: Oh, absolutely. For that costume, hip-huggers were in and lounging pajama pants were really very in. So it was these big, big flowing pants, the hip-huggers, and then you had to cover your navel. I had this hip-hugger and then, all of a sudden, here’s this flap coming up over my navel, back down and around.
We’re sitting here in Las Vegas and you’re about to get on stage to speak about Trek with thousands of fans. How amazing is it that 42 years after you shot “That Which Survives,” people still want to hear about your one guest appearance and have you sign photos of you as Losira?
Meriwether: I think it’s wonderful. It’s a credit to the show. People love Star Trek and anything to do with the show. I don’t think it’s necessarily me they’re wanting to meet or talk to; it’s more that I’m a part of the show’s incredible history and the wonderful legacy Gene Roddenberry gave the world. And Star Trek is worldwide. I still get fan mail from all over. You used the word “amazing,” and that’s what it is.
You’ve had a long and successful career. Would we be correct in guessing that when people recognize you they want to chat about Batman, Star Trek, The Time Tunnel, Barnaby Jones and All My Children?
Meriwether: It is those (credits), yes. What’s funny is you kind of have to look for me or know what I look like now to make the connection or be at something like this convention, because I look so totally different now. On Star Trek, I had the dark hair and all the makeup, and now my hair is grey. But once it’s stated, once it’s clear who I am, people will say, “I loved that episode. I remember everything about it.” If you asked me what most people recognize me from, it’s probably Barnaby Jones, which I did later on (for several seasons).
You’re still acting, doing theater in Los Angeles, playing the recurring character of Ruth Martin on All My Children, and shooting such films as the upcoming comedy Cooler. Is that love of the craft, necessity or both?
Meriwether: It’s both. One needs to pay bills, especially these days. I hope to keep working right up until the very end. It’s not the camera I love so much as the stage. Theater has always been my first love. That’s where I was headed. That’s where I wanted to work. I wanted to work with children, do children’s theater, way back when, when I was very altruistic. Being able to have an audience gratify your work is what I love. It’s not the applause so much, but the silence of their interest. They’re listening. You know when you have them and when you’ve lost them. Film and television, the camera is right there and you have to work a lot harder to not notice it and to not do anything, because a camera just magnifies everything you do. So I love it all. I’d love to do more film and television, but I think the silver ceiling has something to do with my not doing much film and television now.
All My Children is nearing the end of its run for now…
Meriwether: It will be the end of an era, but they’re saying that it will be online in the near future. I wonder what will happen. Maybe they’ll move Joe and Ruth back to Pine Valley, so that we can really be a part of it. I do now live in Los Angeles, so I’m available if they want me. I originally had to move to New York to do the show, when I was under contract with the show.
Tell us a little about your other upcoming projects.
Meriwether: I did a film called Cooler, which is a low-budget, low-pay SAG thing where you kind of volunteer your time. And I’m going to be doing Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs again for Theatre West, for our Storybook Theatre in Los Angeles. It’s for the children, and that will be fun. I’ve done it before and I’ll be the Wicked Queen. The kids love it; it’s for three- to nine-year-olds and very interactive. So they get up on the stage and help out and tell Snow White that “She’s the Wicked Queen.” And it’s a musical. So trying to act and sing and handle three-year-old is not easy. It’s a challenge, but it’s great fun. That’ll be in October. I’m also working on that production of Long Day’s Journey into Night that I mentioned, and that will be at the same theater. So I’m very busy and very happy.