The DeForest Kelley Centennial

Born 100 years ago today, that crucial cultural bellwether DeForest Kelley (1920-1999).

Yes, yes, “He’s dead, Jim”. In fact he died 20 years ago, of stomach cancer, and that’s a very painful way to go. I bet he wished he had a small, humming electronic device he could wave near the injury and make it all go away, but we are very far from there yet. It seems odd to do a post on Kelley before Nimoy (having already done one on Shatner), but like I said, we’re celebrating his centennial, and Kelly had a decade on his beloved colleague. And there are some points of natural contact between Kelley and some Travalanche content areas. For example, he was named after inventor Lee De Forest, one of the pioneers of radio, who introduced his early sound on film technique in 1922. He sang with big bands on radio and at presentation houses early in his career. And the genre he is most associated with besides science fiction is the western, which is a significant content area on Travalanche.

Kelley was originally from Georgia and the son of a preacher, hence that folksy quality that made him a natural in westerns, and as a “simple country doctor” on the Starship Enterprise on the original Star Trek (1966-69), the animated series (1973-74), six feature films (1979-91), and one guest appearance on Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987). But Kelley had dozens of film and television roles outside the Trek universe. His first feature film role may have been his best. Though second billed to Paul Kelly (no relation) he’s basically the star of the noir thriller Fear in the Night (1947), perhaps still coasting from his radio fame. He also had a seat at the table of the ensemble musical Variety Girl (1947). Pretty quickly though he slid down to bit player status, again, mostly in westerns. He did have a decent sized role in one major picture: he played Morgan Earp in Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957) with Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas. His last pre-Trek theatrical film was Waco (1966). And he did lots of television including multiple episodes of Gunsmoke, Bonanza, Wanted: Dead or Alive, The Virginian etc. The notorious low budget sci fi film Night of the Lepus (1972) cleverly merged both of Kelley’s associations, being a science fiction film set in the western desert. Had to live down a thing like Night of the Lepus, if that’s the note you go out on, but he only had to wait a few years before he was carried aloft on a tidal wave of Trek fandom, making his last couple of decades enjoyable ones indeed, I imagine.

Wait, I totally forgot my SEO shit. I’ll do it now: Bones. Dr. McCoy.