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Star Trek’s Original Captain: Show Is Window To Future

Rare interview with Jeffrey Hunter surfaces talking about first pilot

By the time fans were introduced to his character of Capt. Christopher Pike, the original commander of the USS Enterprise was confined to a wheelchair, only able to communicate through a single light.

But Jeffrey Hunter was a pioneer in terms of what would become television and movie history, taking the captain’s chair ahead of everyone else in the original “Star Trek” pilot, “The Cage.”

While he didn’t return for the second pilot, instead being replaced by William Shatner, it seems Hunter did have a fondness for the franchise, and what could become of it. Except that fans really never heard that since Hunter died in 1969 after an explosion on a Spain movie set. That was long before “Star Trek” the series would become Star Trek the franchise, and develop a fan following unrivaled by any other television show.

There is a strong belief among fans that “Star Trek” was just another job for Hunter. But in an interview promoting the then yet-to-be-bought original pilot, Hunter had some interesting things to say about “Star Trek.”

“We run into pre-historic worlds, contemporary societies and civilizations far more developed than our own,” Hunter originally told a Hollywood columnist in early 1965, an interview later republished by Starlog. “It’s a great format because writers have a free hand. They can have us land on a monster-infested planet, or deal in human relations involving the large number of people who live in this gigantic ship.”

Hunter was obviously nudging NBC at the time to pick up the show for series, and added some extra bonus for readers by mentioning the show would be an hour long and in color (most television shows of the period were in black and white). He also promoted a primary cast, as well as a weekly special guest member, likely in the form of an alien or some other off-worlder.

“The things that intrigues me the most is that it is actually based on the Rand Corp.’s projection of things to come,” Hunter said. “Except for the fictional characters, it will be like getting a look into the future, and some of the predictions will surely come true in our lifetime.”

From Hunter’s mouth to God’s ear, that is a prophecy that would indeed come true — just not in Hunter’s lifetime. Many different futuristic devices featured in the show, like super computers, data storage devices, portable communications, and even hand-held computers networked with a main computer, have all since come to pass. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

While the original pilot was not shown on television as a complete episode until the late 1980s, scenes from that pilot were incorporated into the two-part “Star Trek” episode “The Menagerie.” Hunter did not return to play Pike in a wheelchair. That role, instead, went to Sean Kenney, who also appeared in the “Trek” episodes “Arena” and “A Taste of Armageddon” as DePaul.

Pike would then be mostly forgotten, until the character was resurrected for the “Star Trek” film reboot in 2009, now played by Bruce Greenwood.

“With all the weird surroundings of outer space, the basic underlying theme of the show is a philosophical approach to man’s relationship to woman,” Hunter said. “There are both sexes in the crew and, in fact, the first officer is a woman.” That woman, of course, was played by Majel Barrett Roddenberry, who would later marry the show’s creator Gene Roddenberry. She would return in a blonde wig in the original series as Nurse Chapel, and later as Lwaxana Troi in “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”

Although Hunter had a very short life, dying at the age of 42, he does have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, which was placed in 1960. It’s located at 6916 Hollywood Blvd., just a few blocks from the star placed in the 1980s for Roddenberry.

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