My first acting role was The Stage Manager in Our Town. Emboldened by the reviews--generally positive, but mentioning my youth and inexperience—I auditioned for and landed Curley in Oklahoma! a year later. I brought down the house with my “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning…” This time the paper raved; it was all the encouragement I needed. If the Hilltown Gazetteer said that Jake Gibbons’ Curley was “definitive” and “superb”, then…well, I headed for Hollywood with the tassel from my mortarboard tied to the handle of my suitcase and my Class of ’58 letter sweater tucked inside.
Ten years later, my most impressive acting job had been “Man in Suit” in an episode of The Twilight Zone. I had a speaking part in that one: I got to say “He’s been gone for a while, hasn’t he?” That paid for beans and bread for, oh, about three days.
I was a walking cliché—the starving actor, working odd jobs in Hollywood, just waiting for a break. And then my agent called, with the part that would change my life.
“Jake,” he said, “you’re not gonna believe it. How would you feel about being on the crew of the Enterprise?”
I practically tore over to the studio, where I was told to report to wardrobe. Another guy joined me there, and we gave each other that sideways glance that guys do, sizing each other up. We were pretty interchangeable: physically fit young men, close-cropped hair, looks of desperation. Maybe Star Trek would be our ticket to the big time.
The wardrobe girl was a real cutie—she wore a Dorothy-in-Oz dress with combat boots and a fringed vest, and her hair was two curly ponytails. I liked the way her freckles jumped around when she checked us off her list. She pointed out a rack of uniforms, tagged with our names.
“You’ll go to Door B and pick up your scripts and props, then come back here for wardrobe and makeup,” said Cutie. I looked over at the rack; there were two uniforms there, one gold and one red. Disappointment rose in my throat; the “Jake Gibbons” tag was on the hanger of a red uniform, and anyone who’d seen Star Trek knew what that meant. The Red Shirts are the guys who get killed off first on “away missions”. Best I could hope for was an interesting alien to fight, but more likely, I’d be phaser-ed with less than ten seconds on screen.
I was about to slump off to Door B when the other guy sidled up to Cutie, pulling her close. “How about you put on one of them little mini-skirt uniforms and we can play “Captain Kirk and the yeoman”, babe?” I took two steps to rescue her, but apparently she’d dealt with guys like him before. She kicked him in the shin and shoved him toward the door, where he stormed past me with an angry face.
“You okay, miss?” I said, but she just flushed deeply and ducked behind the rack of uniforms. I left for Door B.
After collecting phasers, flip-top communicators, and scripts, we headed back to wardrobe to prepare for our scene: an encounter with three-legged purple aliens on a swamp planet. I reached for the “Jake Gibbons” shirt, mentally calculating if my paycheck for this job would cover my gas to the studio, when I noticed that the tag was on a gold shirt. A gold shirt! Gold Shirt Guys had lines! Speaking parts paid more!
The tags must have been tangled up on the hangers. I pulled on the gold shirt, and listened to the bozo who’d bothered Cutie grousing about being a Red Shirt Guy. I didn’t much like his language, but the wardrobe gal had disappeared. At least she didn’t have to hear it.
It was a great day. I got to fire my phaser—twice—and I had two lines. You may remember my groundbreaking interpretation of “Get down!” and “Behind you!” The Red Shirt Guy got nailed by a purple alien after about two seconds of action. There’s justice for you.
Yeah…Star Trek turned out to be my big break. I guess I should tell you what happened as I was leaving the set.
I met Gene Roddenberry, who…nah, that’s not it.
Leonard Nimoy praised my line delivery…nope, not that, either.
But I did cross paths with Cutie again, on the way to my ’63 Rambler. And she winked at me.
You finish the story.
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