A Star Trek Script Lost For 45 Years, Meant to Be Milton Berle’s Comeback, Has Been Found
Back before he became RuPaul‘s nemesis as as well as one of Saturday Night Live‘s worst hosts in the history of the show, Milton Berle spent several years trying to stage a career comeback after losing his luster in the late 1950s. His show was canceled, he was hosting bowling games, and he was desperate to regain the fame he’d enjoyed for decades. In 1967, along came a chance. Star Trek! Gene Roddenberry wanted him on Star Trek! But sadly (for Berle, shown above being upstaged by Statler and Waldorf on The Muppet Show), things did not go as planned. The writer of that lost episode, Norman Spinrad, has revealed the details of how Milton Berle was almost chewing scenery alongside William Shatner and how he found his lost script.
What many people forget about Milton Berle is that in addition to his success as a comedian, he was also an accomplished dramatic actor. It wasn’t always about drag and mugging for the camera. Sometimes, he just acted, appearing in movies including a serious turn in The Oscar (1966) and the episode “Doyle Against The House” on The Dick Powell Show, for which he was nominated for an Emmy. And it was Berle’s serious acting that Roddenberry wanted to bring to Star Trek.
Spinrad was commissioned to write the script for Berle’s episode, entitled “He Walked Among Us,” but once he’d handed in his draft, it became something else completely. Something … kinda awful.
This original version was rewritten into an unfunny comedy by the line producer Gene Coon apparently unaware that Uncle Miltie was also a serious dramatic actor and a good one. It t was so bad that I complained to Roddenberry.
“This is so lousy, Gene, that you should kill it!” I told him. “You can’t, you shouldn’t, shoot this thing! Read it and weep!”
Gene did, and he agreed with me. I killed my second Star Trek, which, down through the years has cost me tens of thousands of dollars in lost residuals.
Poor Milton Berle. Think what you want of him, but it’s a shame that someone who was once so revered as a performer, who was credited with increasing the sales of televisions and then named “Mr. Television,” could not find a sure-fire way to come back to television that didn’t include being typecast. It’s entirely possible that, had the script been written as a comedy in the first place, that Milton Berle could have really brought it. But it looks like Roddenberry was expecting one thing and his crew expected, well, Mr. Television.
However, that’s not quite the end of the story, for Norman Spinrad, at least. He thought he’d lost his script forever. The original was written on a typewriter, then handed off to the crew of Star Trek, only to be turned into the hot mess that never got to the shooting phase. But just recently, to Spinrad’s joy, his script has resurfaced, thanks to a devoted Trekkie, who asked the writer to autograph a faded copy of “He Walked Among Us.” The fan then sent Spinrad a scan of the script, in pdf form, which the writer has made available on Amazon!
While we know Star Trek: The Original Series had more than its fair share of silly moments, what were the producers who rewrote the episode into a “comedy” thinking? That Berle would be in drag again? On Star Trek?
What we were spared: Uncle Miltie in Space, or exactly what Roddenberry and Spinrad didn’t want. Such is the plight of the TV writer.