It’s hard for me to believe that I’m older than Star Trek but the numbers don’t lie. Star Trek is 50 years old today. I’ll be 51 three weeks from today.
The first episode of Star Trek that I remember seeing was “The Apple” (Season 2, Episode 5). I was at my grandmother’s apartment in Dallas — couldn’t have been much more than 8 years old. Flipping through the channels (which in those days was done by twisting a knob that was actually attached to the TV and made a “kachunk” sound with every twist) I landed on KXTX, Channel 39. And there it was.
I’d never seen anything like it. The bright red sky of a planet as a landing party just appeared out of nowhere. The landing party itself a marvel to my young eyes – an alien who looked like a devil, a bold Starship Captain (in the green shirt this time out), the country doctor, the young beatnik Russian, and a beautiful blonde woman. Three red shirt crew members were dead within the first 15 minutes.
Incidentally, Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network owned KXTX at the time. (Telemundo owns it now.) This was years before most homes in the U.S. had cable so Robertson was acquiring UHF stations around the country in those days to expand his network for The 700 Club and other televangelist fare. They rounded out the programming day with reruns of, among other things, The Andy Griffith Show and Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek.
I had to live on the memory of “The Apple” until miracle of miracles, Little Rock’s KARK started running the series five days a week after school. Joseph Pevney directed “The Apple.” A list of Pevney directed episodes and a list of my favorite episodes are practically interchangeable with titles like: “Amok Time”, “The Trouble With Tribbles”, “City on the Edge of Forever”, “The Devil in the Dark”, and “Arena”, to name a few.
I grew up in a loving, fun household. It was also strict, and not just by today’s standards. We were not allowed to wear shorts except for swimsuits (only when swimming) or if required by a sport in which we participated. Mom confiscated the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue every year when it landed in the mailbox. Modesty was the watchword around 2905 Echo Valley Drive. So, you can imagine how many lip smacks and eye rolls Carlene Jackson had for the women’s wardrobe of Star Trek, not to mention Captain Kirk’s romantic exploits. My Dad who was a big fan of all things sports, movie westerns and TV cop shows never got the appeal of watching people in their pajamas running around space with ray guns. But I was hooked from the get-go and only now really appreciate how my parents looked past their own discomfort to let me enjoy the series.
Star Trek and Planet of the Apes were the two biggest imagination-expanding entertainments of my pre-adolescent years. Then came Star Wars and all bets were off. But Star Trek was first. To this day, much to the chagrin of my wife and bemusement of my son, a life-size cut-out of Captain James T. Kirk stands watch in my office.
It’s hard to believe that I’m older than Star Trek. It’s odd that I have Pat Robertson to thank for introducing me to the series. It’s a testament to my parents’ patience that they let me indulge such an obsession. It’s amazing that a ratings-challenged sci-fi TV series that limped through its third and final season before NASA could land a man on the moon, endures to this day – having accurately predicted much of our current technology while presenting a hopeful, egalitarian, and non-cynical vision of a future yet-to-come.