Thursday, December 11, 2014


If you're someone who was watching the Julien's auction of the Cage Laser, you know by now that the piece was pulled from the auction. Here's the rest of the story as to how it got to auction and why it was pulled. FYI: I was recently caught up in the home-buying experience which took my total attention away from this topic. Sorry for the delay.

Also, much of what has come to be known is a result of a discussion that I initiated on The Trek Prop Zone, a forum of passionate Star Trek prop fans. Members include contributors to, one of the most respected clearinghouses of Star Trek TOS prop information in the known universe! It was that discussion that yielded the inevitable truth regarding The Cage Laser at Julien's. All photos of the Jein Laser have come from various gray sources and I hope my use here is acceptable. If you are the owner of any image used here and object to the use, please contact me.

So why was the Laser believed to be real? One of the most important things to me was the person who was selling it. While I'm not free to share that person's identity, suffice to say that they have had a great track record in the past with such pieces. The owner believed that it had a line of ownership that took it back to the studio. But that belief could not be proven. So the piece had to stand on its own merits.

So what's right with the piece? A lot! Let's start with a basic comparison. Here's a side-by-side comparison of the only known Laser – the Greg Jein version mentioned in Part 1 – on the left (note that the Jein version shows the opposite side from the auction version – we have to use what we are given):

The most obvious issue to me was the fact that the auction piece seemed way too clean, especially when compared to the Jein which shows tons of wear. But that alone couldn't disqualify the piece. After all, it could have gone from the set to a box in a closet for fifty years and so wouldn't show the same wear as would a prop that might have been used as a child's toy. So what about the components? The proportions and sizes are an excellent match. Not perfect, but good when we take into account that these things were not mass-produced but individually created. Some parts were probably "found" items (like the barrel) while others were definitely made specifically for the props (the black body). I concluded that the only way this could be a fake was if the maker had access to an original for reference, and what are the odds of that? The size and details shown could not have been achieved from simply using screen captures from the original film. The piece never gets shown cleanly enough to get this close. I deemed it a physical impossibility. More on this later.

What about the triggers? The Jein trigger is a functioning, moveable trigger that was used to activate a battery-powered light for the tip. Since not all props would necessarily have had that feature, the difference doesn't tell us much. The white button doesn't tell us anything either, since that detail was added later (after production of The Cage wrapped) and we don't know if all the Lasers were modified in the same way.

The black raised detail on the top of the body isn't a perfect match in length. But again, so close that any difference could be explained by simply sanding one a bit more than the other. Hand-made pieces, remember.

The most significant difference, though is the grip detail. On the Jein, the detail is cross-hatched, while on the auction piece it is strictly a linear detail. But that's not a deal-breaker if you look at this shot from The Cage:

Grip detail from The Cage
Note that the grip clearly shows a linear pattern like the auction piece, not a cross-hatch like the Jein. Because of this, it's long been held that the original Lasers had a linear pattern on the grip that was then changed to a cross-hatch detail for later uses. After all, it's clearly linear in the screen-caps, right? What else could explain the difference?

So what about the barrel? That's where things get really interesting, IMO. Here's a side-by-side comparison of the two barrels:

Note that the two end rings are a perfect match in size and texture. The center, moveable ring is slightly larger on the auction piece, but, again, well within the tolerances of a hand-made prop that might have used parts cut to size for use. Slight variances would not have been an issue. The makers simply would not have cared. But the bottom line is that the center ring is another detail that does not specifically match the Jein.

Let's move on to the emitter end itself – the business end of the pistol. Here's the two examples:

The Jein is on the left. The black paint was added for later use while the original Cage use had clear acrylic rod (known from screen caps). And when we superimpose the black ends of the Jein over the auction piece, we see that the rod sizes are an absolute match. Not "kind of", but exact. Note that I did not individually resize the Jein details. All three were sized as a single image and placed over the Jein for reference.

Again, this confirmed my belief that the only way this could be a fake is if they had a real piece for reference. And the only known real piece was the Jein which had been in the possession of a TOS production person prior to Jein's ownership, and the piece had never been made public as far as anyone knew. And if this were made specifically from the Jein, all the details should match EXACTLY. And yet they don't. So how could this be a fake? It seemed to me that it was possible that multiple people made the props and variances were introduced because no one executed anything in exactly the same way as the other guys.

But there's one huge element that I thought would be conclusive. The original Lasers were made of Perspex, a very unusual material. It was basically clear plastic which then yellowed over time. Here's what the Jein Perspex looks like now when the metal barrel is removed:

I reasoned that if the Julien's auction piece could be shown to be made of yellowed Perspex, it would be a definitive element since no one really knew what the lasers were really made of all those years ago until the Jein (and the Chopped version mentioned in earlier Parts) came out in to the light of day. How could a faker know that fact decades before it was established as fact?

And so I asked that the barrel be removed so that the material could be established. And this is where things went south. I was told that the barrel was too tight and couldn't be removed. They weren't crazy about drilling a sample, either (though that's exactly what I did with my TOS Klingon Disruptor). So what I considered to be the single most important piece of information was not to be made available. So I gave them my opinion: that while I could not state that the piece was real (I don't have that right with ANY TOS piece), I felt that the only way it could be a fake was if an original was used for reference, and how could that be?

At this point, I want to mention a rather important thing. I was not allowed to talk to anyone about the Julien's auction piece, except in vague, general terms. I was not allowed to tell anyone about it nor share any photos. a situation that greatly hampered the free flow of information. Had I been given the freedom to start a discussion with others, this whole business could have been avoided. It was only by crowdsourcing that the true nature of things could be realized. And it is something that I will insist upon in the future, should the occasion arise.

So once the piece hit the public through the auction catalog, the shit hit the fan, big time.

Of course I was prepared for that. After all, it's a steep hill when you are trying to prove whether a TOS prop is real or not, especially in this case since so little is known about these Laser props. Until now, no one had really made a study of them beyond showing the Jein photos. And, like everyone out there, I knew the unlikeliness of any piece being real. There's so many examples of TOS fakes out there that one would have to be a fool to not know there would be controversy.

But that doesn't mean that all the criticism should be taken at face value. For instance, I was told in no uncertain terms that the piece was a replica that had been made by a specific, known prop maker. But when I checked that out it was obviously not the case, despite the casual insistence that it was. I mention this because, while many people are quick to say "fake", it is only by defining EXACTLY WHY it's a fake that we can know the truth. We need to delve into the true nature of the piece in a very specific, very detailed examination. Only then are we be able to separate the facts from the supposition.

To that end, Trek Prop Zone member and friend of the Blog Will Smith (no relation) brought the first of the unexplainable discrepancies to our attention. He pointed out that even if the grip detail started out as linear but then became cross-hatched, if the bodies came from the same molds (and everyone agrees that must have been the case) then the angle of the linear pattern should match half of the cross-section pattern in the Jein.

But they don't. Here's Will's photos that demonstrate what I'm talking about:

This image clearly shows that the angles not only don't match but that they aren't even close. So unless they totally obliterated the linear pattern and then created the cross-hatch (and that makes no sense whatsoever) these pieces couldn't be from the same molds. No way.

It was then that an older discussion was brought to my attention regarding this same subject – the grip. Despite evidence to the contrary, the grips as shown in the Cage might NOT have been linear but cross-hatched as seen on the Jein. The argument was that the severe angle of the point of view obscured the true nature of the grips texture – that the cross-hatching was indeed present all along!

And that's where, once again, the wonders of Blu-Ray come to our aid. Once again, here's the only decent shot of the Laser grips from the Cage:

When the two grips are blown up, something interesting can be seen:

The handle on the left shows the laser on the left apparently has a linear pattern that goes diagonally from high to low, in a similar fashion to that on the auction piece. The image on the right shows the laser on the right, BUT ROTATED 180 degrees so that it now has the same "up and down" as the laser on the left. But this grip clearly shows a linear pattern that goes diagonally from low to high, completely opposite that of the other Laser. But if they came from the same mold, how could that be? The explanation is that the severe angle creates a moire pattern that only permits us to see one angle at a time based on the camera's POV and the lighting angle. The cross-hatching would be at such a severe angle as not to be discernible. And when we examine the left grip on more detail we can see hints of that cross-hatching. Notice that the overall linear grip texture seems to be bumpy:

And when we take the cross-hatching pattern from the Jein Laser (care of TPZ member Gene G.) and overlay it we get this:

We think the "bumps" are actually highlights of the cross-hatched pattern. Because of the severe angle, the grooves are lost, but the hint of the pattern remains. This explains the two angles that can be made out in the Cage pistol shot and why the Jein has cross-hatching.

It's been a mystery as to why they would add cross-hatching after The Cage for use in later episodes. Such a detail would never be seen and would take valuable time. Why bother? The short answer: they wouldn't.

Since the maker of the Julien's piece decided to do an "original" Cage version, ie: not one modified for later use, he probably used the best Cage reference available at the time: VHS or Laserdisc. "The Menagerie" – the TOS episode that incorporated footage from "The Cage" –  was available on both formats and the image appeared in that episode. Laserdisc would have given an image which could not have been matched in quality until DVDs came around. The bumps would still have been impossible to see, though, leading the maker to assume the linear pattern was there. He might have even used that detail as a selling tool!

The last lingering piece of the puzzle was finally addressed, though, when the seller authorized Julien's to drill into the body of the laser to determine what EXACTLY it was made of. And it wasn't yellowed Perspex. It was white resin. Definitely not the true material.

So with this conclusive piece of evidence in hand, the seller pulled the Laser from the auction. I want to stress that the seller is a victim here. The seller was offering the piece in good faith and when so many questions arose, they authorized the drilling. They did not hesitate to pull the piece upon receiving the bad news. I want to point out that there's at least one self-appointed "authority" out there that to this day refuses to accept the fact that he owns a fake TOS piece. The owner of the Laser holds no such delusions. When confronted with facts, they graciously accepted the truth and did the right thing.

But that still doesn't answer the big burning question: how did someone make this piece without having access to an original? And if they had access, why wouldn't they have made a mold from it and have a perfect copy? The licensed replicas made over the last decade or so can all point to the Jein as their source material. Only with that piece can you achieve accuracy. But the Julien's isn't an EXACT copy of the Jein, just a damn close one.

Remember how I said that I thought the Julien's Cage Laser could only be made if the maker had access to a real one? Well, I think that's EXACTLY how it happened.

Here's how I think it was achieved. While the maker might have handled an original, I think it's apparent that he wasn't given extensive access, ie: an opportunity to make a mold of it. But how did he get so close by simply handling it? I think he had some visual aids, namely this:

But this is just another photo of the Jein, right? Sort of. This is actually a photo of the Jein BEFORE Jein got hold of it.

There's a series of these photos that show various Star Trek props, most notably a hero phaser and this Cage Laser. They are easy to pick out with their distinctive blue background and ruler and have been floating around for years. You can buy some copies of these on Ebay right now. Until recently, I had never understood their source, though I incorrectly assumed they were from Greg Jein. But they aren't.

Apparently, back in the 70's or early 80's, a couple of Star trek fans named Bruce Weggman and Dave Hielman visited Jim Rugg, former special effects man for the original Star Trek. When Star Trek wrapped in 1969, Mr. Rugg evidently ended up with several original props including – you guessed it – a true Cage Laser. Remember that back then nobody really cared about what happened to these pieces. He would later sell some of these props to Greg Jein. But these photos were undoubtedly taken many years before Mr. Jein took possession. What happened to these photos after they were taken is anybody's guess, but they were apparently distributed among the photographer's friends, though never widely distributed back in the day.

There's several important things going on here. First, there's the ruler that gives anyone access to the props dimensions by simply measuring right off the photo and adjusting per the ruler. It's in color so it shows the tones of the barrel and rings very well. It's a profile view so it would really inform the maker of the overall shape. I think it's safe to assume that multiple angles were taken that would reveal all the details, their size, shapes and positions. A set of these photos would be enough for an enterprising prop-maker to make an incredibly tight copy of an original. It would explain why certain things are inaccurate while having an uncanny closeness to the original.

I think this set of photos explains a lot about the Cage Laser as well as many Star Trek fakes from the past. This series of photos could have acted as a blueprint for the forger. Since so few knew of the photos' existence, the forger would have free reign. Until the internet, that is!

And now, I have to have a mea culpa. I have to admit that I wanted this piece to be real. Not for any monetary reason or anything like that – the piece was not mine and I was in no way compensated. Rather, I wanted it to be real because I think any true TOS piece that can be found and brought out into the light of day a half century after it was made is an amazing and wonderful thing. That's how I felt about the incredible Phaser Rifle that seemed to come out of nowhere a year or two back. Everyone thought it was lost to history and yet there it was in all it's 60's sci-fi magnificence. A truly great Star trek piece. I was hoping that this Laser was like that. But it was not meant to be.

Here's the takeaway: a piece MUST be traceable back to the studio in clear, specific terms or it cannot be taken as real.

Through the efforts of the members of the Trek Prop Zone, a new understanding of this piece is possible and will be presented in due time as a permanent record for all to use. It's important to note that only through collaboration can such a piece as the Laser – or ANY TOS piece – be dissected and understood. If a piece cannot survive the spotlight, it doesn't deserve to be there in the first place.

So again, my sincere thanks to all those on the TPZ for their tireless enthusiasm and their willingness to dig. You are individually and collectively a true resource for TOS prop fans everywhere.



No comments:

Post a Comment