Saturday, July 13, 2013

Secret Star Trek: Playground of the Elementals

Back row: Should've been played by Jasika Nicole,
James van der Kirk, Sylar. Front: Englebert Cabbagepatch

That the team that brought us Fringe also brought us the revised Star Trek is no accident. In fact it was inevitable. Fringe took huge chunks of storyline from The X-Files but it also drew inspiration from a bizarre period in American history when Cold War budgets were financing fringe scientists at Stanford Research Institute, Xerox PARC and other locales in north-central California. 

From Marin County down to Silicon Valley down to Big Sur you had the cream of the weird crop, scientists with 180+ IQs dropping megadoses of designer hallucinogens, consulting with UFOs and communing with dolphins for the CIA. Not since the glory days of the Alchemists was so much money poured into such strange pursuits.º

Star Trek  inspired another generation of science geeks to dream of taking to the stars, not realizing how weird that warp drive really looks once you look under the hood. So you can forget all of Gene Roddenberry's pretensions to rationalism, because it's not entirely clear he was ever steering the ship. Even before Star Trek actually existed.

Hardcore fans have long seen writers like Gene Coon and DC Fontana as refining the basic formula that Roddenberry brought to the airwaves, but reading the various pitches and treatments- some written a matter of weeks before Trek would go into production leads one to seriously question if other hands were not more deeply involved than Trek mythology would have you believe.

Star Wars fans have long credited producer Gary Kurtz for helping hammer George Lucas' wild flights of fancy into a coherent product, and Battlestar Galactica fans have done the same for Outer Limits creator Leslie Stevens and the original 1978 BSG pilot. 

Looking at the mind-boggling spiderweb of continuity between The Outer Limits and Star Trek, it's very likely Stevens did the same in the 1960s and beyond.

And given Stevens' pedigree in military intelligence and his long noted interest in fringe science and the occult, his role in the creation of Star Trek is no minor detail. It's pivotal in the unfolding drama of Star Trek, Esalen and the Nine...

The behind the scenes story of The Outer Limits (which Stephen King famously stated was "the best program of its type ever to run on network TV") and its spiderweb of connections to Star Trek is nearly as bizarre and inexplicable as the stories it presented every week. Largely forgotten now, The Outer Limits was in its first season was Star Trek was most definitely not; a major hit.

Over 30 million people tuned in every week and the show was shaping to be a licensing bonanza with a successful line of trading cards, comic books, toys and other merchandise. Yet for reasons never made clear, the ABC network began putting enormous pressure on its executive producer Leslie Stevens, even though he was delivering a successful product at a cut-rate budget.

It could very well be that ABC was facing outside pressures itself, since the program was subversive at a time when that word actually meant something (and carried with it actual consequences).

Coincidentally or not, The Outer Limits' stories closely paralleled real-life government programs such as MK-ULTRA ('Nightmare', 'Controlled Experiment'), Project Paperclip ('It Crawled In From the Woodwork'), NSA surveillance ('OBIT') and the NASA youth training program ('The Special One'), all of which were still very much classified.

Other stories dealt with nuclear accidents ('Production and Decay of Strange Particles'), secret societies within the military ('The Invisibles'), the assassination of an American President ('One Hundred Days of the Dragon') and any manner of alien abductions and human experimentations, again skirting the frontiers of the Top Secret world.

In other words, The Outer Limits was sticking its nose deep into the doings of the National Security State during a hotting-up period in the Cold War, namely the wake of the Cuban Missile Crisis, the assassination of JFK, and the growing escalation in Vietnam.

That deep resonance probably accounted for much of its initial success, but with a conservative Southerner in the White House and tensions growing over civil rights and other issues, it was no time for a monster show to be kicking up dust best left alone.

There's a logo for you

And so ABC broke the first rule of show business- don't mess with a successful formula. They moved the show from Monday nights to Saturdays (opposite UFO enthusiast Jackie Gleason), a kiss of death slot that Star Trek itself would be saddled with four years later.

That prompted producer Joseph Stefano to quit and put exec Leslie Stevens in a box. That box was nailed shut when ABC installed one of their own in Stefano's place, ensuring that the show would run according to their own dictates and not Stevens's.

But while the show was humming along, a tall, genial Texan began hanging around the Daystar studios. Gene Roddenberry had his own science fiction concept he was shopping around and since The Outer Limits was the success story of the '63/'64 season, he wanted to get some of that magic to rub off on Star Trek. 

That's normal enough, but then things begin to get very strange, leading one to wonder what was really going on between the two camps...

Roddenberry's focus was always on character and dialog and he had only the barest scraps of story lines in his original Star Trek pitch. The pitch for what became the treatment for 'The Cage' (which itself is only distantly related to the version that was eventually produced) is a fairly obvious takeoff of the Twilight Zone episode, 'People Are Alike All Over'. 

But the pilot as it was produced has two more obvious antecedents, both of them straight out of the Daystar camp.

The first is The Outer Limits episode 'The Guests', about a stereotypical angry young man that wanders into a old mansion that has become an alien laboratory occupied by abductees. From Wikipedia:
Trying to leave through the front door, Norton is forced backward and upstairs by a mysterious compulsion to discover that the house is the lair of an amorphous, gelatinous alien being who is keeping the group of desperate humans suspended in time until it can comprehend the disposition of humanity.
So here we see the hothead trapped in the human zoo/laboratory, with the omnipotent/omniscient alien overlord. Of course, he meets a young girl and falls in love and tries to cajole her in to escaping the trap with him:
The young woman, knowing the potential fate of the drifter, leads Norton to escape. However, she discloses to him that she cannot accompany him through the cemetery gate....As she realizes he will be trapped among them for eternity, she departs through the gate herself and...withers and turns to dust. The observing alien has found the factors missing in its equation: love and self-sacrifice.
This corresponds quite directly with the same theme in 'The Cage', as the captors are willing to sacrifice themselves to overcome their captivity: Pike offers himself as a captive for the freedom of the others and the Enterprise, but Number One begins a "force-chamber" overload of her laser pistol, intending to destroy herself and her shipmates to thwart the Talosians' plans.

And just as we saw the girl in 'The Guests' revert to her normal state as soon as she leaves the boundaries of the alien environment, so too we see the same repeat itself in 'The Cage'.
The crew members are free to go, but Vina says she cannot join them. After the others transport aboard, the Talosians show Pike Vina's true appearance: underneath the Talosian illusions, she is badly deformed from the crash of the Columbia. 
But the basic storyline isn't the only pilfering from The Outer Limits.

'The Cage' also lifts a vital plot point-- namely, big-headed aliens inducing manipulative hallucinations in prisoners-- from 'Nightmare', Stefano's dark mind-control set piece, almost certainly itself written with heavy input from Stevens, since he came from that world of military intelligence and retained deep connections to it through his powerful Admiral father. 

Then there's the feature that Stevens was prepping while Roddenberry was working on his various Trek pitches. Leslie Stevens had intended to film his art horror film Incubus before 'The Cage' was produced at Desilu, using his lieutenant Robert Justman as assistant director but got postponed. The future Trek producer was able to work on 'The Cage' because of the delay.

Pixies and picnics: The Cage and Incubus

One wonders what was really going on behind the scenes because the character of Vina took on a new air: the cool, sophisticated seductress of Roddenberry's original treatment soon became a pursuing, pleading sylph, very much like Stevens's female demon Kia in Incubus.

What's more, the basic plot of Incubus is the same: a beautiful blonde seeks to seduce a valiant man on behalf of her inhuman masters in the underworld. When you consider that that man is played by the future Captain of the friggin' Starship Enterprise you really have to wonder what the hell was going on behind the scenes between Leslie Stevens and whoever was actually steering the Star Trek ship.*

Another salient connection: Stevens' Outer Limits pilot depicts teleportation long before it ever appeared on Star Trek, as do Stefano's quasi-sequel 'The Bellero Shield' and 'Controlled Experiment'. Given the endless connections between Trek and TOL, it's safe to assume that Stevens was the immediate source for this most iconic form of travel.º

Remarkably, the second Trek pilot "Where No Man Has Gone Before," itself has a direct Outer Limits precedent: "The Man with the Power," a thriller about a psychotic telepath who works for the space program. Stevens was directly involved with the latter, leaving one to wonder about the former.

The connections deepen: the two actors offered to replace Jeffrey Hunter in the lead role were straight out of Daystar's orbit: William Shatner (who also starred in an episode of Outer Limits) and Jack Lord, who starred in Stevens' pre-TOL drama Stoney Burke. Shatner was Stevens' first choice as star for his project but was Roddenberry's third

Add to that all the prominent roles shared by Trek actors on TOL: 
• Leonard Nimoy starred in two TOL episodes (including Stevens's 'Production and Decay')

• James Doohan and Grace Lee Whitney each starred in one

• The second Trek pilot co-starred Sally Kellerman (who made such an impression in 'The Bellero Shield') 

• The first aired episode of Trek feature Alfred Ryder (from Stevens's 'The Borderlands') and several others 

• 'The Menagerie' guest star Malachi Throne co-starred on Shatner's TOL ep in much the same role as he did on Trek.
These connections lead you to seriously question what was going on behind the scenes: was Outer Limits cancelled to make way for Star Trek?

In other words, was another agenda being put in play?

This is no small question, given that we're talking about two different production houses and two different networks. Collusion here would be unprecedented-- unimaginable, perhaps. But was someone else outside Hollywood calling the shots here? If so, who?

The connections get to be so dizzying and the events weaving in and out of this get to be so weird that question might not be so easily answered. 


Stevens would drop the scientific trappings for Incubus, his first post-Outer Limits feature. Drawing the art house offerings imported from Europe, Stevens went straight for the occult. The use of Esperanto - the invented language cobbled out of several different European tongues - was chosen to deepen the sense of dislocation and disorientation so important to TOL. He couldn't have chosen better locations towards that end.

 Or a worse one.
Principal photography took place over 18 days in May 1965. Location shooting took place at Big Sur (Pfieffer) Beach and at the Mission San Antonio de Padua near Fort Hunter Liggett in Monterey County. 

Concerned that the authorities would not grant permission to shoot a horror film in these places, especially the Mission, Stevens concocted a cover story that the film was actually called Religious Leaders of Old Monterey, and showed the script, in Esperanto, but with stage directions and descriptions about monks and farmers.

Here we are again. Hunter Liggett brings us into the Star Trek orbit via Mike Gray, whose detour through the base from Big Sur inspired his feature film Wavelength, his first crack at sci-fi before developing Starman for television and joining Star Trek: The Next Generation in its second season (Gray always denied Wavelength ever had anything to do with a UFO event but I'm seriously beginning to have my doubts).

And of course, Pfieffer Beach leads us right into Esalen's literal back yard.

This is no small thing, because I'm wondering if Stevens may have been inspired by a trip to Esalen, since the same language and symbolism that kicked this off in Star Trek 9 hits us in Incubus

Or perhaps Michael Piller had been watching Incubus while developing the Star Trek 9 script. He'd surely notice a disturbing bit of prophecy within it...

The story begins telling of a famous well which like the rings of the Ba'ku homeworld in Star Trek 9 is said to be a "fountain of youth" and restores not only health but youth. But since the well's power are so potent- and this detail absolutely floors me for some reason-- it attracts a race of demons in human form, who wander the surrounding countryside and shoreline looking for souls to send to hell. 

Given the inconvenient weirdness that weaves in and out of this story like a spider, it should be noted that we see a bizarre foreshadowing of the death of Dick Price - a rich, influential but intoxicated man standing at the source of the healing waters, accompanied by a young woman who channels supernatural powers. 

The scene is complete with the stigmata we've already seen so much of and which we will see more of.

Remember now that this was all filmed some twenty years before Price's death but in walking distance of Esalen. I would be astonished by this if it wasn't par for the course in all of this weirdness.

And remember also that we saw the Stigmata again and again in Star Trek 9, which again was about a literal fountain of youth as well.

There's a further parallel between Star Trek 9 and Incubus: the Starship Captain initiated into the mysteries of the Nine by Anij/Jenny, who treats John the Light Picard to a low-dose phosphene hallucination.

Captain "To Supplant the Roman Church" Shatner (remember Roddenberry's captain had the meh name of "Robert April") would get the heroic dose in Incubus...

During this trip, Shatner sees --you guessed it-- disembodied elemental spirits hovering over him. They seem to induce a kind of dementia in him along with apocalyptic hallucinations, since he delivers his lines with every bit of 'Mr. Tambourine Man' gusto he can muster.

Given the history of the area Stevens was shooting all this, I'm almost given to wonder if these were in fact not special effects.

Either way, this point cannot be possibly stressed enough:
• In Incubus, we has William Shatner  playing a military man, enacting a narrative closely related to 'The Cage.'

• We see him having a distinctly psychedelic experience with a woman channeling supernatural entities.

• We see him interact with disembodied entities exactly like those we would see on Star Trek.
• All of this was being filmed within walking distance of Esalen.
So, in other words the Nine and Esalen were encoded into Star Trek before there ever was a Star Trek. If all that weren't crazy enough, there was some more crazy to come.

Bad, scary crazy. Manson kind of crazy.


Incubus is one of the films that seem less a work of fiction and more a Working. The tableau of gorgeous Nordic succubi wandering the windswept beaches of Big Sur and the sun-bleached hills of California and the summoning of noncorporeal entities would be potent anywhere, but a more experienced occultist would have advised the more scientifically-leaning Stevens to choose another spot to stage it.


Because Hunter Liggett sits on an ancient piece of haunted real estate:
Two apparitions have been documented in and around this National Register of Historic Places site, including a candle-carrying monk who walks the mission grounds and Cleora, the ghost of the Headless Horsewoman.  
Soldiers stationed at Ft. Hunter Liggett have reported the vision of a headless woman on horseback riding the crest of the hills near the mission.  Local Indians claim her husband caught her with another man who was prospecting the area and, in a rage, killed her.  
To ensure her misery and shame, he buried her body and head separately and her spirit rides the countryside in search of her remains.  The best time to spot Cleora is in front of the mission church at sunrise and sunset.
Local indigenous tribes-- such as the Essalen-- "told stories of visits of flying people in long robes." To this day, "multicolored clouds" and "ghostlike presences" have been reported around Hunter Liggett. One professor at California Polytechnic says of the Mission, "it has the aura of the paranormal about it.

I think there is truth in the ghost stories. It's a very haunted place."

Typical folklore? Maybe. But it turns out that filming such a highly-charged narrative on such troubled ground may well have had terrible consequences for many of the people involved. 

Here we see the fabled Curse of Incubus, and it's nothing at all to scoff at:
The Incubus — a lumbering, craggy-faced giant — was played by Milos Milos...(a)t the time, he was dating Barbara Ann Thompson Rooney, Mickey Rooney s estranged fifth wife. In 1966, Milos murdered her, and then shot himself.

In the film, Shatner’s virginal sister...was played by Ann Atmar...(s)he committed suicide a few weeks after the film wrapped up.

A few years (later) the daughter of...Eloise Hardt, was kidnapped from her Los Angeles driveway and murdered. 

Even the film’s premiere at the San Francisco Film Festival turned into a disaster. The brand-new print of the film turned out to be missing its soundtrack. 

Special guests of that premiere were director Roman Polanski and his date, actress Sharon Tate, who would be killed in the Manson “family” rampage in 1969.
Let this be a lesson to any aspiring ritual magicians. Do your homework and be prepared to face the consequences of your actions.** 

Although he gives the ultimate victory to the "God of Light" (aka Horus, there is fragmentary but interesting evidence that Stevens was himself loosely affiliated with the Nine) over the Succubi, this all seemed to put Stevens' magickal interest to a dead stop. His next project was the "Electronic Social Transformation" manifesto.

If Leslie Stevens was involved in the development of Star Trek, why isn't there more documented (as opposed to the volumes of circumstantial) evidence? 

Well, for the same reason you don't see Quentin Tarantino or M. Night Shyamalan's names in the credits of the movies they essentially ghost-wrote.

From the start, Gene Roddenberry was chosen as the figurehead of Star Trek, even though most hardcore fans realize it was others such as Dorothy Fontana, Robert Justman, John Black and Gene Coon who were doing most of the heavy lifting.

Roddenberry has no track record as a producer to speak of; he handed over control to Coon halfway through the first season, the movie franchise was given to Harve Bennett after the first picture, and Rick Berman, Justman and Maurice Hurley were running ST:TNG from the very start. Roddenberry certainly had a vision, it's simply that he didn't seem to have the skills to execute it by himself.

Leslie Stevens created The Outer Limits and appointed Joseph Stefano as showrunner so he could focus on developing new projects, but was unmistakably still the man in charge. He later developed Buck Rogers for Glen Larson and according to many fans, he is the actual creator of Battlestar Galactica (Both BR and BSG were released as feature films as well). 

Stevens seems to be what you call an "idea man," and specialized in creating show concepts and setting up infrastructure for other producers to work within before moving on to another project.

While Gene Roddenberry's career was foundering (a good share of his income came from Star Trek conventions), Stevens was exec-producing big mainstream hits such as McCloud and The Virginian. He had enough juice to gather an all-star cast for his Probe pilot, an avant-garde high-tech detective series. 

From the Amazon product description:
That hipster ring special agent Hugh Lockwood wears? 
It's a camera, transmitting image and sound of his surroundings. It's also a scanner, detecting telltale changes in pulse or other biometric readings of himself and the people around him. 
The ring and more electronic devices - some embedded - keep Lockwood linked with Probe Control, where experts and banks of computers provide instant mission-critical warnings, intel, even language translations. 
Probe became Search, which lasted only a single season. The critics were harsh, claiming the premise of ubiquitous high-tech espionage was unrealistic (oh, the good old days).

Considering what a bunch of shills the news media are, one wonders if the fact that the series aired at the exact time that the Watergate scandal was beginning to break didn't have something to do with the bad press the series got...

But then a funny thing happened- some 15 years after Leslie Stevens' Probe went off the air, a new Probe aired, ostensibly "created" by Gene Roddenberry's close friend Isaac Asimov and starring Parker Stevenson. It only lasted a few episodes, but was essentially an 80s spin on Stevens's original premise:
Writer Issac Asimov co-created this literate series. Austin James was a brilliant young scientist who operated out of a warehouse laboratory nicknamed the "batcave"; his secretary and helper was the ever-amazed Mickey. 
With cocky self-confidence, the ability to anaylize physical clues in his high-tech lab, and deductive reasoning worthy of Sherlock Holmes, Austin managed to unravel crimes perpetrated by the world's most clever criminals.

The most distinctive aspect of this series was the plots, all based on scientific principles -- a computer whose artificial intelligence program had run amok, a murder-plot utilizing genetic engineering, a super-intelligent ape accused of murder (in an episode titled "Metamorphic Anthropoidic Prototype Over You"). 
Given Asimov's relationship with Roddenberry and the fact that the two Probes are variations on the same theme (read: blatantly actionable plagiarism), we see-- yet again-- Leslie Stevens hovering like a ghost over yet another sci-fi series that doesn't have his name on the masthead.

Kind of a pattern here. You wonder if casting "Parker Stevens'-son" wasn't some kind of inside joke.

Another funny thing about this new "Probe" - Star Trek: Insurrection author and Deep Space Nine co-creator Michael Piller was a writer/producer there during its brief life.

Of course. 

† So potent was this mix that an entire movement of government underlings, corporate shills and various sideshow geeks and card sharps was assembled at the State University of New York to put the lid back on Pandora's Box. The name they gave themselves is a cipher of "Thought Police."

º Teleportation was used in earlier sci-fi sources, none of which were as well-known as TOL.

* Creators are left to do the work but are never actually in charge of their creations once they sell them to a studio. The studio executives are, unless the creator has the juice to retain creative rights.

** Given that the curse effected a specific set of individuals and not the crew as a whole (Stevens, Ames and Shatner themselves didn't seem effected one way or the other), I wonder if the actors involved were part of a coven or circle using the site to do workings after hours.