Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Secret Star Trek: The Godfather

The connections between the secretive flying saucer/channeling cult known variously as The Council of Nine, Lab-9 or simply The Nine with both Star Trek and the legendary Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California have been known for many years. 

Less well-known are the connections between Star Trek and Esalen, even though an Esalen board member wrote an episode of Star Trek in 1969 that eerily prefigured the Institute's drama with The Nine ten years later (a drama the Esalen board would very much prefer the rest of the world forget).

The Nine kept a very low profile over the 40 years it was known to exist as a functioning entity, releasing only a book on its New York-based channeling operation (1978's Briefings for the Landing on Planet Earth) and a later book of transcripts from the work done there (1993's The Only Planet of Choice). 

All that remains today is the personal website of former Nine channel Phyllis Schlemmer, which hasn't been updated in years. In all likelihood, most involved have moved on.

Mad scientist Andrija Puharich was pulled into their orbit in the early 50s and wrote a somewhat unhinged account of his devotion to The Nine in the unlikely venue of his 1974 Uri Geller biography, an act which may have put him at odds with his employers at the CIA (given the fact that someone burned down his house and made several attempts on his life). 

He would break ties with The Nine around the same time Nine psychic Jenny O'Connor became an administrator at Esalen to work with a similar group called The Law of One.

But The Nine would reincarnate in the late 80s when Star Trek was relaunched on television, and arguably become the stars of their own Trek spinoff, Deep Space Nine, which centered on the workings of a group of god-like aliens who were for all intents and purposes identical to The Nine (and apparently there were nine of them).

But all of this wouldn't simply manifest itself; key players from the Nine orbit would float in and out of the Star Trek studios, most importantly Puharich associate John Newland, who directed the first episode to introduce the concept of non-corporeal alien beings, 1967's "Errand of Mercy."

But as we will see in this chapter of our story, the collision of the occult and weird science was encoded into the very DNA of the long-running sci-fi franchise, in the form of a very well-connected producer who may also have played a key role in the creation of Battlestar Galactica and an unwitting role in a controversial "self-help" cult with murky yet well-documented ties to Esalen...

The Susan Oliver Show aka Star Trek

The writing credits you see in movies and TV shows don't usually have much to do with who actually wrote the words you are hearing onscreen. They are an artifact of a Byzantine and confusing set of by-laws set down by the Writer's Guild of America. 

The movies live and die on the work of uncredited script doctors, who are often called in to rewrite screenplays from scratch even though you'll never see their names onscreen. No less than a dozen script doctors can work on a single film.

TV is even more convoluted. TV scripts are worked up in writer's rooms and driven by producers, not writers per se. Producers plot out the storylines based on scraps of ideas, submissions, and anything they can get their hands on given the enormous time pressures they deal with.

 Once a story is boarded out on index cards it will be given to a writer who will produce a script which will then be revised and polished by the producers before going to the actors and director.

When Gene Roddenberry was pitching Star Trek, he was still seen as a moonlighting LA cop with very little experience under his belt (who most assuredly used his high-level connections with his chief to get his foot in the door in Hollywood).

He was pitching a sci-fi show, something the networks were generally leery of. And if you've read The Making of Star Trek by Roddenberry and Stephen Whitfield (like I'm sure Philip K Dick did), you'll see that the original treatment of "The Cage" bore only the slightest resemblance to the masterpiece that was eventually produced.
The episode's story outline consisted of 26 pages. In those pages, the name of the Enterprise's captain was Robert April (as it was in the series outline Star Trek is...). He was the only one of his crew whose name was to be changed, as the episode continued to evolve. Also, the Talosians were crab-like aliens (their species remaining unnamed, though they were commonly referred to as "crab-creatures"), and their planet was "Sirius IV".
People familiar with the ancient Mystery cults will recognize the Talosians as the cosmic twins of the Cabieri, the "Great Gods" of Samothrace. But as fascinating a sync as that is, the Talosians were given a makeover, for reasons that don't make a tremendous amount of sense:
It was also the initial draft of the episode's teleplay that changed the Talosians from resembling crabs to becoming small and slim humanoids with elongated heads. (The Making of Star Trek, p. 93) 
This alteration was made because the production staff realized the aliens might seem too much like the bug-eyed monsters of "1950s horror movies," the antithesis of what Gene Roddenberry wanted the more intellectually-minded Star Trek to be.
Why doesn't that explanation make sense? Because the very first episode of Star Trek ever aired was "The Man Trap," which featured a bug-eyed monster straight out of those same Roger Corman movies, as did other first season Trek eps like "Arena" and "Devil in the Dark." 

Perhaps realizing this explanation didn't really wash, cost was added as another factor. But that just showed up the lameness of the first excuse.

In fact, the Talosians as we know them evolved in a type very close to the Grey phenotype-- large heads, scrawny bodies, indeterminate gender, metallic clothing-- a type so familiar from The Outer Limits (TOL) that some debunkers lazily claimed that Barney Hill's description of the aliens he claims he encountered were influenced by the episode "The Bellero Shield."

But the parallel between the Talosians and the kinds of aliens you saw on The Outer Limits was no accident:
The Talosian headpieces – complete with their bulging veins and small, round ears – were created for this episode by craftsman Wah Chang, who (like Robert Justman, Byron Haskin and Fred Phillips) had previously worked on The Outer Limits.
The similarity to aliens reported in abduction reports wasn't the only curious revision made to the pilot treatment. In Roddenberry's original version, the Captain is abducted when the crab-beasts throw a black plastic bag over his head.

In the final version, a very curious yet extremely resonant detail is added to the abduction, one that was not only recorded in ancient fairy encounters, but in more recent daylight abduction accounts being reported in Europe during the 50s and 60s:
In modern fairy-lore this divine branch or wand is the magic wand of fairies; or where messengers like old men guide mortals to an underworld it is a staff or cane with which they strike the rock hiding the secret entrance. 
- The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries
This is not necessarily unusual in TV writing. But friends and co-workers began to notice a change in Roddenberry's demeanor, changes that would become so pronounced in 1980s that they would drive his friends and co-workers away:
"As Gene completed the first-draft pilot script," (coproducer Herb) Solow said, "he unfortunately became overly protective of his new baby." Roddenberry also began to frequently lay claim to the input of others. " 
A new side of Gene slowly appeared: ownership of ideas," commented Solow. "If a good story or series point came from anyone, be it NBC, [Desilu's agent] Ashley-Famous, or Desilu, Gene Roddenberry appropriated it."
One of the people Roddenberry may well have appropriated ideas from is Outer Limits creator Leslie Stevens. The continuities between Outer Limits and Star Trek, both behind and before the camera, are so extensive that it could argued that Star Trek was simply The Outer Limits in space.

The continuities transcend personnel; Star Trek adopted the storytelling method of the "ontological shock" from TOL, as well as Steven's patented synthesis of fringe science and the occult.

As we'll see, Roddenberry wouldn't be the last person to appropriate ideas from Stevens. That might have simply been part of the Outer Limits' creator's job description.

L to R: Susan Oliver and some other guys 

Once Star Trek was up and running, Roddenberry mostly retired to his office to write. He wrote an endless stream of memos and comments to the producers, directors and crew and focused his energies on polishing the shooting scripts once head writer Gene Coon and his writers had prepared the stories for him.

To use a songwriting metaphor, Roddenberry wrote the melody but delegated more and more of the arrangements to his other producers. And when it came to the day to day running of the ship, the so-called line producer, the man on the floor was TV veteran Robert Justman.

But whereas most people know Justman as Roddenberry's right hand man, the producer came straight out of Leslie Steven's Daystar camp and would work with his old boss on another important but obscure series after Roddenberry passed him over in favor of Fred Freiberger as third-season showrunner.

More importantly, Justman also worked for Andrija Puharich associate and psi enthusiast John Newland on One Step Beyond, almost ensuring he was the man who brought Newland to Trek, and by extension unwittingly also introduced The Nine to the franchise.

Speaking of The Nine, Justman also played a crucial role in the development of Star Trek: The Next Generation:
Nearly two decades after leaving the original Star Trek, Justman returned to the franchise as Supervising Producer on Star Trek: The Next Generation for eighteen episodes of its first season. Justman was one of the driving forces in the formation of this series, influencing the creation of the characters and the casting.

It was Justman who discovered and pushed for the casting of Patrick Stewart for the role of Captain Jean-Luc Picard. Rick Berman recalled, "Roddenberry was very against the idea of a bald British actor playing the next Capt. Kirk, but Bob was very persistent, and Patrick became Capt. Picard." Justman also brought LeVar Burton to the series...
Other Outer Limits vets would follow Justman to ST:TNG as well, including Joseph Stefano and Mark Richman, casting the shadow of Leslie Stevens over another era of Trek.

"I'm a great believer in the solar channel: 
the realization that the actual body of the sun is conscious-- 
not sentient-- but conscious."  - Leslie Stevens.

Leslie Stevens is yet another of those individuals our sick, dying and degenerate society is no longer capable of producing. The son of a high-ranking Admiral (who was also an MIT graduate and inventor of the devices that catch landing planes on aircraft carriers), Stevens ran away from home in high school to work with Orson Welles at the Mercury Theater.

Continuing his rebellious streak, he joined the Army (unheard of for a high-ranking Admiral's son) and was the youngest captain in the Corps by age 20. He worked as an Intelligence officer in Iceland of all places (!). 

He met future TOL producer Joseph Stefano at Yale while studying theater. Stevens would earn a Broadway hit on his own with The Marriage Go-Round. Stevens then formed Daystar Productions and set about producing films and material for TV shows such as Playhouse 90 and the Jack Lord vehicle Stoney Burke.

Stevens had an interesting sense of style: "He affected certain external characteristics. He always wore a black suit- he had a number of them," Justman reported in the official Outer Limits guide, "He looked so youthful, with his blond hair and fair skin and unblemished complexion, he seemed almost mysterious at times, as if if he came from another time, perhaps from the future."

Another associate said of Stevens, "He was one of those guys with a black Lincoln Continental and eight pairs of sunglasses- all black- in the glove compartment."

Huh. You thinking what I'm thinking?

Stevens will always be remembered as the creator of The Outer Limits. Like those of Star Trek and The X-Files, the pilot episode of The Outer Limits (written and directed by Stevens) is one of those perfect, complete, self-contained statements of intent.

The title of the series refers to that space in which science and occultism meet, and "The Galaxy Being" (Stevens' original title: "Please Stand By") is nothing less than a classic Alchemical narrative of contact with the Seraphim through scientific sorcery. 

Stevens worked that same formula with "The Borderlands" (in which fringe science explicity trumps Spiritualism in crossing over to otherworldly dimensions) and "The Production and Decay of Strange Particles," which we'll look at in a moment.

Stevens appointed Stefano as showrunner, but a two-tier system seemed to be put in place. Stefano hired writers and handed out assignments, but the scripts Stefano signed his name to strongly reflect Stevens' interests and inclinations as established in his credited scripts, not Stefano's own (Stefano hated sci-fi).

For example, Stefano's "The Bellero Shield" is essentially a rewrite of "The Galaxy Being." Again, it may be be that getting the material out there was more important than taking credit to Stevens, as it for many well-known writers who work on films anonymously.

And it may well be that Stevens wanted a bit of distance while he told tales out of school.

Just as "It Crawled Out of the Woodwork" had a strong reek of Project Paperclip with its sadistic German scientist performing horrific experiments for the government in Los Angeles, so "Controlled Experiment"(again, written and directed by Stevens) seems more like a mind control experiment.

At one point Barry Morse removes a dollar bill from his subject's purse and he and Carroll O'Connor (whose characters are named Phobos and Deimos) launch into a complete non-sequitur of a discussion about the Great Seal and the eye in the pyramid. Morse ends it all by asking cryptically "what does it all mean?"

It's apparent Stevens is leading the audience to ask that same question, a tall order in 1964.

What's more remarkable in hindsight is that the gorgeous blond is played by Grace Lee Whitney aka Yeoman Rand, who disappeared from Star Trek after a handful of episodes. She later wrote a memoir on how she was driven to amphetamine abuse by pressure from agents and managers and recounted that she was raped by an unnamed executive and an actor on Star Trek. 

Leonard Nimoy guest-starred in Stevens' "Production and Decay..." which dealt with a nuclear reactor melting down due to another mad German scientist messing with non-human entities, in this case, disembodied entities invading from another dimension and taking possession of human hosts.

It's like something straight out of the Collins Elite's worst nightmares, although without the masturbating rocket scientists.

Stevens serves up some truly shocking imagery, presenting this all as a nuclear black mass complete with Host. Again, we see an explicit combination of the scientific and the sorcerous, as well as Stevens' fourth wife, the beautiful Allyson Ames (who we'll see again shortly).

What's even more interesting in light of the daisy-chain of connections we see throughout all of this is that Stevens makes extensive use of stock material of nuclear blasts, the same material produced at the Lookout Mountain secret base we discussed in the post on Wavelength.

That film was inspired by a trip to Big Sur, and that's where Stevens proved once and for all who was the visionary behind The Outer Limits when he took William Shatner and Allyson Ames there to film his unhinged cult classic Incubus, about a female demon looking to seduce an untainted man.

The film is well-known for being the only film shot in Esperanto, which Stevens used to emulate the European horror films he was clearly inspired by.

Stevens had no connection to Esalen that I can tell, but his book est: The Steersman's Handbook, a left/libertarian manifesto that spelled out how technology would change society, would have an oblique influence on Werner Erhard (aka Jack Rosenberg) the self-help/human potential guru who seems to be Michael Murphy's Jenny O'Connor, meaning the onetime close associate who came to be a liability, requiring some juducious rewriting of the historical record.

All that's a discussion for another day, but suffice it say Erhard takes up a lot of real estate in Upstart Spring, the 1983 book on Esalen and not so much on later accounts. But this is par for the course:
Two weeks before Easter in 1971, Thaw wandered into the City Lights Bookstore and bought a copy of est: The Steersman Handbook, by L. Clark Stevens. Est, for Stevens, meant "electronic social transformation...Thaw says he left the book with Erhard's "Facilitator," a combination valet and sidekick. 

Within two days, Thaw says, the name of Erhard's proposed organization was Erhard Seminars Training - or est.

Stevens then developed a series that dealt with electronic surveillance, computer hackers, a proto-internet, international conspiracies and the rest of the themes we now take for granted but was way ahead of his time. He worked on several different shows and rode the sci-fi wave when Star Wars changed the entertainment landscape.

He went to work for Six Million Dollar Man exec Glen A. Larson, developing Buck Rogers for TV and a feature and according to many hardcore BSG fans, is the real creator of Battlestar Galactica.  From a BSG fansite:
Enter director Alan J. Levi. Levi is known to BG fans as the director of "Gun on Ice Planet Zero," but he also directed half of the premiere after Richard Colla was let go by Larson. Levi was a good friend of the late Leslie Stevens, the producer best known for the famous science fiction series The Outer Limits. 

Recently I interviewed Alan Levi. I had not planned to ask him any questions about the origins of Battlestar Galactica because he had not been involved early enough in the process to know about it. 
But, out of the blue, with no prompting from me whatsoever, he said, "Well, Leslie Stevens wrote the original script. Leslie was one of my best friends. I do know that Leslie had told me at one time way before he ever got into the script that he had this great idea for a script that he was going to take to Glen Larson and talk about." 
This seems right to me. And it also seems to fit what we know about Stevens. Although fans are up in arms, it's probable that Stevens made an arrangement with Larson to be compensated for his work, and Stevens didn't seem to worried about credit. :
Where did all of this outer space stuff come from? It sure as hell didn't come from Glen A. Larson's "Adam's Ark" concept, and it sure as hell didn't come from Glen A. Larson's "Howard Hughes" concept. 
The only place where all of this outer space stuff could have come from, was a script not written by Glen A. Larson. It could only have come from the Leslie Stevens script that Alan J. Levi confirmed existed before Leslie Stevens ever took it to Glen A. Larson.
 Be that as it may what's important is that the shadow of Leslie Stevens- a man whose inclinations were esoteric to be sure- extends over yet another legendary franchise. And here again we find ourselves not only in the realm of the ancient astronauts but also The Nine. 


Because Deep Space Nine producer Ronald Moore was the man who revived Battlestar Galactica. And the story of his start at Star Trek will bring this all full circle....