Many fans may not recognize his name, but Billy Blackburn was often seen in original series episodes, sometimes as Lt. Hadley, other times in costume or as other minor characters.
In addition to his various roles, Blackburn did fans a valuable service by shooting Super 8 film footage of cast and crew behind-the-scenes. This footage was finally seen by fans in the original series DVDs as “Billy Blackburn’s Treasure Chest: Rare Home Movies and Special Memories.”
Blackburn spoke about his days as Lt. Hadley, and explained how he approached playing the character. Although Lt. Hadley was a minor character with no lines, Blackburn took his job seriously. “I did think of him as a character, but I thought of him as me,” he said. “I played him like me, like what I would do in the same situation Hadley was in. It worked for me to do that.”
When playing Hadley, Blackburn made sure not to overdo the limited role. “If anyone watches me, something that I always got good comments on was that I’m very stoic,” he said. “I was very stoic playing the character, which is what I would have been if I was doing what he did. I’ve had people say to me, ‘Well, you never smiled.’ And I’d say, ‘For God’s sake, I’m sitting there at my job pushing buttons and navigating a ship with however many people on it.’ I tried never to do what some people who came in and replaced me actually did do – and some of them had lines – and my God, they overacted all over the place. It was like, ‘Captain, there’s something on the screen,’ that kind of thing. And it was overacting to me. I’d done acting before, at a little theater in New York. So I was careful what I did with my face. I never wanted to overact, and you could really easily do that when you were acting without lines.”
In addition to Hadley, some of the other roles that Blackburn played include a NASA tech in Assignment: Earth, an android in I, Mudd, a Tellarite in Journey to Babel, close-ups of the Gorn in Arena and the White Rabbit in Shore Leave. The last role caused unexpected problems for Blackburn. “I have to tell you, that triggered claustrophobia in me that I never knew I had,” said Blackburn. “And it was so bad that I tore the head off the rabbit head. I kept saying to Bill (Theiss), the costume designer, ‘It’s getting hot in here. It’s getting hot in here,’ not really realizing that that’s what happens when you’re claustrophobic. You start feeling like you can’t breathe.”
The problem was due to Blackburn not being able to see out of the costume and once that was fixed, Blackburn was able to carry on. “…Once I knew I could look out, I was fine,” he said. “I was absolutely fine. But I was in that damn thing for two days. And the Gorn was even worse.”
Blackburn is currently retired and spends several days at skating at the Pickwick Ice Center in Burbank, California.