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The Trek Nation - Harve Bennett

Harve Bennett

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at February 28, 2006 - 5:37 PM GMT

Harve Bennett was the executive producer of four of the original series motion pictures - The Wrath of Khan, The Search For Spock,"The Voyage Home and The Final Frontier - all of which he helped to write. But his career was long and varied before his involvement with Star Trek, beginning with a stint on The Quiz Kids on the airwaves during the 1940's, when Bennett was a child. A graduate of UCLA with a degree in theatre, Bennett had a brief career as a journalist before spending two years in the army during the Korean War. Upon returning home, he became a production assistant at CBS and rose through that company, then ABC, where he developed dozens of successful shows including Batman and The Fugitive.

After producing television's first miniseries, Rich Man, Poor Man, and numerous other shows, Bennett went to work at Paramount, where he was asked to improve upon the first Star Trek motion picture, thus leading to a collaboration with Gene Roddenberry and a film team including Nicholas Meyer and the crew. While he was producing the Star Trek films, Bennett also produced and won an Emmy for A Woman Called Golda. He pitched a Starfleet Academy film in 1989 - a proposal that has resurfaced several times as a prospective television series. He talked to The Trek Nation about the franchise and his involvement at the Farpoint Convention in Hunt Valley, Maryland on February 18th.


Trek Nation: Did you follow the decline and cancellation of Enterprise?

Harve Bennett: No. I am very uninvolved in the subsequent series for one reason, and that is that Next Generation came on when we were still doing the films. I saw the pilot, but it was hard to be writing Star Trek V and see what would be happening beyond. So I never got into it. People ask me questions about everything from episodes to whether I knew Michael Piller, and I didn't. Berman was an executive at the studio, and I knew him well, but that was my only contact with The Next Generation.

Trek Nation: You were involved with the Starfleet Academy proposal.

Harve Bennett: I was very involved with that. We had a green light to picture which was cancelled only when there was a regime change at the studio and a concern that we should do something more conventional for the then-25th anniversary. We had 19 months to do it in. 19 months? There's no way to do a special effects picture in 19 months. The best time we had was Star Trek III, which was two years from concept to release date. And the reason for that is, we would write the script normally and that was an easy script, that was six weeks and we were ready to go. But the special effects planning takes the better part of the year. I said, 'It can't be done.' And then my time was up, so I left.

Trek Nation: Is that back in play now? There are rumors about it, it seems, every six months.

Harve Bennett: I'll tell you how recently it was. Before Sherry Lansing left [Paramount Pictures] last year, we had a meeting, about two years ago, in which I proposed that now was the time to do Starfleet Academy. And she loved it. We would have made it. But then she said the television department had asked her not to do it, because Enterprise was being produced and they thought that should be the prequel. Therefore, we did not do that. Could we make it now? If somebody wants to, I'm there. Technically, I'm retired, and non-technically but actually, I'm writing my own book. I'm considerably happy not to go into downtown Los Angeles every day.

Trek Nation: I'm not even sure, with the Viacom-CBS split, exactly who would make the decision to go ahead with the next movie or TV show.

Harve Bennett: I can't answer that question. I'm just as confused as you are. The whole conglomeration...I thought I understood it when Gulf & Western took over Paramount in my day. But I've lost track of it since. I still have a couple of connections there when I want to get legal things cleared up, though they may be gone now that Dreamworks is coming into the picture. If that deal goes through, I know at least three good friends who aren't going to be there. They'll put in their people.

Trek Nation: So you aren't actively pursuing the Starfleet Academy idea right now.

Harve Bennett: No, but I love it. Some of the steam went out of it when my dear DeForest Kelley died. He was going to be in it along with Bill and Leonard, those were the only two regulars, and they were involved in a flashback. That's how we incorporated the three main characters into the prequel: it was a memory. Kirk comes to the Academy to address the classmates and remembers his time, when they were 17.

Trek Nation: I had heard that Shatner was going to write a pilot, or was pitching something, along those lines...maybe it was to Pocket Books, not for television.

Harve Bennett: We always said that the benefit of doing this as a film was number one, you have nothing but good comes out of this because the original cast continues, the original Enterprise is there waiting to beam up our guys. Two, you have a potential television series called Starfleet Academy. I saw Bill a few weeks ago on the set of Boston Legal and Leonard I talk to occasionally from time to time. We remain friends. We're all about the same age. Critical this is a gentleman named Ralph Winter who was my associate producer on Star Trek II, and gradually became the man we all turned to for everything.

Trek Nation: I have to ask you, since you were talking about writing Star Trek III...the story I've heard is that at the end of II, Nimoy said, 'That's it, I'm not putting on the ears again. Kill me.'

Harve Bennett: That was true even before we did II. Everyone said, 'How are you going to get Leonard to do another one?' I had an idea. I went to see Leonard who was then in a play and we had dinner afterward, and I said to him, 'I know you don't want to do any more Star Trek. Leonard, do you remember Psycho? Do you remember that the biggest star in that picture was killed, to everyone's shock, 1/3 of the way into the picture?' He said yes, and I said, 'I want to do that with Spock. I will give you the most glorious death scene ever played.' He said that was a great idea, and he was on.

Now, Gene, the Great Bird, already thought it was tough because I was taking over and he was being shunted aside. I was in an uncomfortable position; I respected and liked him, but there's no way for the new guy to come in and not be resented. He was furious. The fanzines were 'it' before the internet and other organized fan activities, and Gene let the fanzines know that they were going to kill Spock. And thousands of letters came in!

Trek Nation: Gene himself was the leak?

Harve Bennett: That was the leak. Now, the studio got panicked and said, 'You can't kill him.' Leonard was already aboard, so we devised the simulation scene in which Leonard was killed, and the key line becomes, from Kirk, 'Aren't you dead?' And that relieved everybody. Then at the end we had the same problem, but it went to Nicholas [Meyer], the giant creative force, he wrote and directed it, I rewrote him and he knew nothing about Trek.

Trek Nation: And was directing the carrot you held out to Nimoy to bring him back?

Harve Bennett: No, what happened was, he had a wonderful time. Towards the middle of the picture, he confided in me and said, 'This is a lot different. If there's another one, I'd like to direct it.' I thought that was wonderful. So when we had our first preview, and Nicholas was adamant that he be dead dead dead dead dead, the audience was enthralled with the movie until the end and then it was a downer. We knew there would be no word of mouth on this picture. So we devised the ending as you know it, the additional scenes and Spock's voice at the end and 'Remember,' over Nick's objections until he saw the next audience which gave it a standing ovation. And everybody knew we now had a picture that was both poignant and hopeful. III wrote itself in six weeks because all the pieces were in place; nobody set out to do a trilogy but we ended up doing just that.

The longest laugh I have ever heard in a movie theater was in Moscow in 1987. We ran Star Trek IV with Cyrillic subtitles at the Moscow Motion Picture Academy on the occasion of the Russians signing the anti-whaling treaty, and the World Wildlife Foundation sent us to Moscow with this film, so we ran it. The film played exactly the way it played in America except for one line. Near the end of the film, they're in spacedock going to get their new ship and they're very pessimistic. And Bones explains that they'll get a freighter, because, I quote, 'The bureaucratic mentality is the only constant in the universe.' The Moscow audience stands up and cheers!

Trek Nation: I don't want to ask you about nothing but Star Trek when you were involved in the proto-nighttime soap, Peyton Place

Harve Bennett: As an ABC executive development person. I can't claim much on it because the head of 20th Century Fox, the head of programming from ABC and me went to a dark screening room and watched a British kinescope called Tiffany Street or something like that and it was Peyton Place. ABC had purchased it and wanted to adapt it. We approved casting, that sort of stuff, but I really didn't have a personal involvement, just an executive involvement.

Trek Nation: Did having fought in Korea affect how you saw Star Trek's military?

Harve Bennett: I didn't see combat. My background goes way back into World War II as a kid. You may have picked up that I was on a national radio program called Quiz Kids and we toured with war bond sales shows all across the country and in military camps. I grew up a lover of history and the military, so that was already inside this person. World War II, as so well defined by Tom Brokaw, was the greatest generation. I can't think of a time in American history or world history when one people was so united to do one thing. To preserve ourselves and humanity. It was an ultra-patriotic time. I'm so glad I was there. We had come out of the deepest of depressions, starving people everywhere, and for all the nobility of the war it was also an economic boom. People came out of World War II employed.

Trek Nation: Of all this, what are you proudest of?

Harve Bennett: You want the truth? Trek lovers have called me one of the most important people in science fiction, but I have never thought of myself as a science fiction maven. What I am, and it's because of the background I just talked about, I write about heroes, because I was born and raised in a heroic time. What I loved about Star Trek when I got the assignment was the very heroic male and female, the ethnicity, all that stuff that was a legacy of the Declaration of Independence, that was my attachment to it.

I left the service as a corporal but later on in life, there is a program run by the army called the Civilian Aides to the Secretary of the Army and there's one from each state, usually the dominant industry of the state, so California's is almost always someone associated with show business. I did eight years as the Civilian Aide to the Secretary of the Army from California, and I got to go everywhere from the Pentagon to Colorado missile bases to Panama to West Point. It was not the army that I knew, it was an all-volunteer army which was on a tight budget, the officers did not have staffs, and the uniforms of generals were shiny from too many cleanings. I gained a respect for these people that I never had as an enlisted man.


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Michelle Erica Green is a news writer for the Trek Nation. An archive of her work can be found at The Little Review.