Wednesday, November 19, 2014


In Part 1 of the Cage Laser story, I introduced you to some of the basics regarding the piece and its known, surviving versions. This time, I'll get into what we know about the prop based on its use in the show.

First off, let's talk quantities. How many Lasers were made? There's absolutely no documentation to give us a clue, so we'll have to do some detective work. It's imperfect, but it will give us some facts that we didn't have before.

First off, at a glance, all the in "The Cage" Lasers look alike. But through the marvels of modern technology (ie: Blu-Ray!!) we can actually see several kinds of Lasers, providing we look close enough.

The Jein Laser looks to be a hero prop, ie: one made to light up and look good in close-ups. It has a retracting site on its back that apparently once held a piece of glass or plastic but is now long-gone. In theory, the lit tip was important to the special effects people because it gave them a target to use for their optical effects. This was decades before CGI existed, so the laser beam effect was created optically, that is, by physically altering the film's image by using multiple exposures onto a new piece of film. That little light gave them a reference to hit, an important thing given the crudeness of the technology. I can't attest to the effectiveness of the light, but the same technique would later be used on Phaser props as well. Here's what this type of Laser would look like in use:

Lasers in use. Take THAT aliens. Notice both have sites on their backs.
So at least one hero lights up and has a foldable site. And since they would always make at least two heroes in case one got damaged, we can surmise that there were at least two heroes like the Jein. That's an educated guess, mind you, not a known fact.

But we also see a variation of the basic Laser. In a key early scene, Captain Pike is abducted and the landing party respond by pulling out their lasers and firing on the hillside. One of those crewmen was featured in a lone shot:

The scene is just a few seconds long, not enough time for us to understand what he's really holding. Here's his Laser when compared to a different one in the same scene:

When they are side-by-side, we can see that the first one actually has a longer barrel than the others we see. And, based on the position of its back ring, we can surmise that the barrel might actually be longer through extension. In other words, there could be two barrels, one nested inside the other, which, when pulled, telescopes to a longer length. The Jein example definitely does not have this detail. This version also shows a site peeking up on its back, like hero versions have. It's worth noting that the Julien's piece has a site and an extendable barrel like one shown above.

So, on screen we see "regular" Lasers and "extended barrel" Lasers. Both have sites. Lights are unknown. We don't see any evidence of lights in any frame I've seen.

But wait, that's not all! What's this? In the later scene on Talos IV, when Number One and Colt are attempting to rescue Pike, they are carrying Lasers. Pike snatches each of them out and tries to use them in vain. Neither shows any result. But as Pike is waving these around trying to make them function, we can catch a key detail that helps give us some more important information. Here's what both Lasers show us:

Wait, what?? Where's the sites? He pulls one out, then the other, without a cut, and they both get lit up by a beautiful highlight that shows us that this pair has no sites. The backs are perfectly blank. Why would this be? The answer comes a few seconds later when Pike deliberately throws the pair to the ground.

Which explains everything, of course.

They wouldn't want to risk their hero props by dropping them. So these aren't hero props but stunts – simplified props used to take abuse during action scenes. In most ways they can't be differentiated from heroes because they aren't intended to be seen in close-up. Only by using Blu-Ray some fifty years later can we see the true nature of these props. No site = stunts. And since they weren't meant for close-ups, when the close-up is actually shot we see this:

Hero Lasers, ready for their close-up.
The two stunts that Pike dropped have suddenly become heroes. One clearly shows its site and its recessed slot. And the other is nothing other than... an extended barrel version from the earlier scene!

So, here's what we know:

We never see more than two hero lasers in any scene. So we know there were at least two heroes made – one regular and one with a longer barrel. Keep in mind that, in the shot that shows Spock and the Lt. firing, one could be the extended barrel version, just in its unextended state. So while I THINK there probably would have been more than two heroes, I don't KNOW that there was more.

We also never see more than two stunts in any scene. Again, that doesn't mean there weren't more, just that we can't know it as a fact based on what is shown on-screen.

So, what we know for sure is that there was at least four Lasers made and seen on-screen:

1. One "Regular" hero with site.

2. One "Extended Barrel" version with site.

3. Two Stunts with no sites.

I think it highly likely that more than 4 were made, but there's no proof of that on screen. And I can't find more than three in any given frame. If you've found more, please drop me a line!

So that's what the film itself tells us. Next up: the side-by-side! It will be scintillating reading to be sure.



Tuesday, November 18, 2014


A few months ago, I was contacted by Jason DeBord, President & Editor in Chief of the Original Prop Blog, LLC. He had been contacted by Julien's auction house regarding a Star Trek original series (TOS) piece that had been offered for consignment: a Cage Laser Pistol. They were looking for any kind of background information that could help them authenticate or debunk the piece. Knowing of my love for early Trek, Jason asked me if I might be able to help. I thought I might so I agreed to aid them in whatever capacity I could. This is the story about my findings. Details about the auction can be found HERE.

First pilot: the intrepid Capt. Pike wielding a Laser Pistol.
There's an alleged piece of Star Trek history on the auction block. Julien's is offering one of the rarest Trek props ever: a Laser Pistol prop from "The Cage", Star Trek's first pilot film. Everyone knows that Star Trek firearms are Phasers. But in the original pilot (before Shatner was cast as Kirk) there were Laser pistols, not Phasers, and, apart from them being a sidearm, they had nothing in common with each other. After Star Trek was bought as a series, a lot of changes and updates were made, especially regarding the pistols. By the time the first actual episode was filmed – "The Corbomite Maneuver" – the Lasers were forgotten in favor of Phasers and became just another prop in inventory that would show up in later episodes as a generic gun. The Phasers took their permanent place on board the Enterprise and the rest is history.

Second Pilot: Spock sports a modified Laser Pistol.
But, despite them being sidelined, those Lasers played an important part in early Star Trek. They were used in the first two pilot episodes as THE standard Starfleet weapon. Spock himself carries one in both pilots. Captain Pike and most of his landing party pull one out in several scenes. They get quite a bit of screen time in "The Cage" and are actually pivotal to the plot – their power could make the difference between imprisonment or freedom, but for the ability of the alien Talosians to mask their effectiveness. There's even a nice close-up of them – unheard of for a prop!

The Lasers show up in later episodes.
They later showed up in a few episodes like "The Man Trap" and "What Are Little Girls Made Of?" as a basic gun. But after those few appearances, they were never heard from again.

So what happened to these props? That's the question asked of just about every prop ever made for the original Star Trek: where'd they all go? For most pieces, we'll never know, unfortunately. They left the Paramount lot in a variety of different ways. Some were undoubtedly stolen from the studio, either during production or after production ceased. Others were simply gifted to the various production people (or taken by same) at the end of the run in 1969. Some of the greatest pieces to ever hit the collecting market came from insiders like producer Bob Justman, Art Director Matt Jefferies, SFX guy Jim Rugg, and set decorator John Dwyer. Some stayed on the lot for quite some time and were in the possession of Dick Rubin who worked as property master on The Motion Picture in 1979. Keep in mind that, back in the day, no great value was given to these props. The idea that a phaser rifle might someday fetch nearly a quarter of a million dollars would have been a ludicrous notion.

On a side note, I'd like to address an issue that has come up time after time in regards to these Lasers. The creation of these pieces is almost always attributed to the great Ming Wah Chang, the creative mind who gave us the Cage Talosians, the Romulan Bird of Prey spaceship, the Salt Vampire from "Man Trap, the Tricorder and much more. The trouble with that supposition is that there's no evidence out there to substantiate this claim. In all the great books about the making of Star Trek, Wah Chang is given credit for all the aforementioned concepts, no one – not one single time – ever mentions him working on the Lasers. "The Art of Star Trek" says that he did, but that book got so many things wrong (and it cites no source) that it simply cannot be relied upon. And to repudiate the concept, according to an interview with Chang, himself, that occurred later in life, Chang "disavowed any involvement in their creation, pointing out the clumsiness of the design." So, until I hear some specific, provable claim to the contrary, I for one have grave doubts about the Chang attribution.

So, anyway – lots of pieces – like the Laser Pistols – got out in unknown ways. Theft? Gifts? Recovered trash? Who knows? The bottom line is that we know that SOME of these Lasers got out because there are two documented specimens that can be used for reference. Did more get out? Maybe.

First, there's a specimen owned by famed Trek prop maker Greg Jein. If you don't know who Mr. Jein is, shame on you! You can educate yourself by clicking HERE. According to various sources, Mr. Jein was able to purchase several TOS props from one of the aforementioned insiders. His version has been shown at some sci-fi shows over the years and has been the single best known example of a known Laser.

Propmaker Greg Jein's example of an original Cage Laser prop. Note the typewriter keys! Photo by Karl Tate.
The Jein Laser shows the piece in a modified configuration that is slightly altered from its original use. Between the two pilots, the producers apparently felt that the Lasers were too bland, so they had some metallic details added – typewriter parts! – to the give the effect of high-tech details. Since the pistols would never be seen in close-up, this crude modification was actually quite effective. It gave some visual interest to what had previously been a plain black body. The fact that the detail was achieved through typewriter parts would never be known to the viewer. They were simply shiny things that added some zip.

There's a lot of shots of the Jein Laser that we can use for reference, many of which were taken by Star Trek prop fan and contributor Karl Tate. Other shots were taken by Trek prop enthusiast Steve Dymszo. Thanks to them, we get a glimpse of one of the most enigmatic of all Star Trek props.

Here's what we know about the Jein Laser:

The Jein Laser courtesy of Steve Dymszo
The Jein Laser courtesy of Steve Dymszo

1. It apparently lit up at the tip.

2. The trigger is practical and the piece is wired, though no longer functional.

3. The rear body was originally cast in clear perspex plastic.

4. The side has two protrusions which could be magnets.

5. The barrel is a hollow brass tube with two steel rings that can move. Screws on the barrel limit the rings' movement.

6. A steel cap is on the end with three plastic "emitters". Originally, they were clear but were later painted black.

7. Crosshatching on the handle is crude and shows signs of having once been painted.

The second known example is not remotely as good. This specimen probably went home with a staffer and got played with. To say it's in rough shape is an understatement. Basically, the entire front assembly is gone and it's nothing but the rear body. And even that is in terrible condition.

Original Auction Catalog shots.
It's impossible to know anything about this piece due to its severe condition. In the episode, "What Are Little Girls Made Of?", the character of Brown can be seen holding a Laser that has bold cross-hatched details on its handle, similar to this piece.

Blu-Ray screen cap from "What Are Little Girls..." Laser shows bold crosshatching on handle.
Does this mean it was used in that episode? Not at all. It might have been but there's no way to make a conclusive screen match, IMO. The Jein version shows signs of that same type of paint, but it's either worn off or partially removed. This version also shows some signs of having had the typewriter parts attached in the style of the Jein. Because of its state, I'll refer to this in the future as the "Chopped" version.

In Part 2, I'll get into more details regarding the Laser's use and how the auction version stacks up to the known facts.

That's FACTS. Some out there need to look that word up.

Back soon.



Tuesday, November 4, 2014


Kirk costume from ScreenUsed site.
As usual, the upcoming ScreenUsed auction has some great stuff for Star Trek collectors. One of the lots is an ensemble worn by William Shatner throughout Star Trek III: The Search For Spock. (See it HERE). This is a highly desirable costume as it features Western Costume tags with William Shatner's name typed on which is the holy grail for a hero costume. The only problem with it is the jacket that accompanies the lot. That jacket is a highly-sought after piece since Kirk had it throughout Star Trek III. Obviously they had numerous pieces in wardrobe due to it's use in many scenes. This specimen is described thusly by ScreenUsed:

"The jacket is the unique distressed version used during the scenes on the planet Genesis and for Kirk to cover his son's body."

Now, before we go any further, let's talk about the key word used in this description:"distressed".

A distressed Khan costume
In the costume collecting world, "distressed" refers to a costume that is intentionally created to look damaged. A famous distressed costume would be the one(s) worn by Ricardo Montalban in Wrath of Khan. His costumes are singed, ripped and dirtied, all to make them look as if they had been damaged during his time on Ceti Alpha V. That does not make it a DAMAGED costume. A damaged costume is one that is damaged in some way – torn, stained, meltedafter its use on screen. But a costume made for the express purpose of looking damaged is really distressed. Got it?

So this Kirk jacket is described as "distressed". Only one problem with that – there's no sign of any distressed jacket in the entire film. When Kirk and company beam down to the Genesis Planet, Kirk is wearing the jacket. He finds David's body while still wearing the jacket, and it is unharmed (ie: not distressed). He takes off the jacket and drapes it over David's body. This is not done in one continuous take so we see Kirk take off the jacket as he kneels over David. The film then cuts to several character close-ups before returning to Kirk now standing over the body with the jacket over it. Here's a frame from that moment:
Screen capture from Search For Spock showing Kirk's jacket over David's body.
And here's a close-up of the jacket:
Close-up of the frame above showing the jacket.
It's important to note that, beyond this moment which lasts less than four seconds, the jacket is never seen again in the film. I'll repeat that: we never see the jacket again. And there's no evidence of any distressing on the jacket that is draped over David. The sleeve on the right of the frame would represent the melted sleeve in the auction piece. And why would there be any distressing? The fires in the scene are strictly in the background and are in no way in the vicinity of David's body. So melting a sleeve for this scene would make no sense whatsover.

But maybe they distressed a jacket for a scene that was cut from the film. Perhaps so, but if you're going to distress something, it's usually done for the specific reason of conveying damage or wear. Simply melting one of the sleeves and part of the front panel as shown in the auction piece would not help tell any story, in my opinion. In the frenzy of the action, such distressing would be far too subtle, especially given the fact that the melted area would not be seen by the camera – it's on the front and the bottom of a sleeve. If you wanted to show damage, you'd distress the back of the jacket, since that's what the camera would see as it was draped over the body.

ScreenUsed pic showing melted jacket detail.
Because of this, I think it is not actually distressed, but simply damaged. I have no trouble believing this jacket was on-set during ST3 and may or may not be seen in the final film. And with all the flame that is seen, I can believe that the jacket got damaged during shooting. That's damaged, not distressed. But even with Blu-Ray screen caps there's no way to tell definitively. Those that point to puckers and creases that "prove" it's use are trying too hard to be relevant. Blowing up blurry images and claiming a match is like seeing canals on Mars. Or, like the old Texas saying goes, "you can throw a bundle of kittens in the oven, but that don't make 'em biscuits". Well put, Texas. Well put.

Also, keep in mind that this damage could have been inflicted by an errant iron years after shooting wrapped. It might not have happened on set at all! We can't know for sure.

So for the starting bid of $8,260 ($7,000 plus 18% buyer's premium) you can try to own a damaged Kirk ensemble. Is it worth that much? The value is in the eye of the bidder, obviously. But for my money, as much as I like this costume, I don't buy damaged goods, period, unless the damage is slight (imperceptible) or specifically due to use in a scene – ie: we watch a piece get damaged as a scene unfolds. But that's not the case here. IMO, this piece was in the wrong place at the wrong time and got a melted sleeve because of it. Nothing more.

It's worth noting, too, that, while the shirt and pants have Shatner tags, the jacket does not, unlike other specimens. The version sold at Christies in 2006, for instance, featured a Western tag with Shatner's name. Since this one does not have that tag, it's entirely possible (maybe even likely) that it was a stunt version rather than a hero, ie: a version made for Shatner's stunt man or double rather than for Shatner himself. That would still make it a Kirk, of course, but not necessarily one worn by Shatner. Without a Western tag being present there's no way to prove a hero attribution.

I assume that ScreenUsed took the word of the seller regarding this piece and its use while failing to mention its possible lack thereof. To their credit, ScreenUsed never claims the jacket is a Shatner. But regardless, two minutes with a Blu-Ray player blows the "distressed" idea out of the water.

So if you're a bidder on this piece, know what you're buying. There's a big difference between distressed and damaged. This is definitely the later.