Friday, April 19, 2024

Enterprise Ahoy!

The 3-foot studio model of the starship Enterprise today, as discovered in an abandoned storage unit, a little worse for wear.

This is the feel-good story of the decade for me and what I imagine is a very small subset of my friends.

When the pilot episode for the original Star Trek series was shot in 1965, the starship Enterprise was a 3-foot-long model. The better-known 11-foot model, which is now on display at the Smithsonian, was built later, when the series was picked up for production.

The 3-foot Enterprise was used some in the early days, including the title "Swoosh" shots shown throughout the series, but was eventually retired and ended up on Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry's desk, where it remained until 1979, when Roddenberry loaned it to the studio making "Star Trek The Motion Picture" and it vanished.

After its days as a working prop, the model graced the desk of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry until it disappeared in 1979. One way the modern experts authenticated the rediscovered model was matching the wood grain of the display base seen in this photo.

Nobody knew where it was for 45 years. Had it been stolen, lost, destroyed? One rumor was that Roddenberry's son, Gene Jr., nicknamed "Rod," had thrown it into a swimming pool. It was a cosmic mystery: Where was the original Enterprise?

I don't want to brag, but I always had a pretty good idea what had happened to it, and I knew how it would eventually turn up. I figured it would surface as soon as the guy who in 1979 said, "Hey, this is cool, I'll take it home!" died, and his survivors had no idea what to do with it. 

I think I was pretty close. Several weeks ago, under circumstances that remain murky, the model turned up in an abandoned storage unit. Someone bought the contents, innocently listed the model on eBay, and Trekkies went nuts. A crack team of Star Trek model experts, people who'd worked on the TV shows and movies, authenticated it. It was the real deal. 

The model with William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy in early publicity photos for Star Trek.

It had also taken some wear and damage; one of the experts speculated that it had been dropped at some point. The two long cylindrical engines have a noticeable sag, which brought a smile to the face of everyone who'd built the Enterprise plastic model kit as a child, because it was nearly impossible to keep those things straight. Turns out it was pretty tricky on the real one, too!

The 3-foot model also had a cameo in the Star Trek episode "Requiem for Methuselah," in which Leonardo daVinci (yes, that one) shrank the ship and everyone in it down to a handy desktop size. Not one of the better episodes.

In recent days, all the parties have worked out a deal to return the model to Rod, who remembered seeing it around the house as a child. Rod has vowed to have it repaired, restored, and displayed for the public to appreciate it. Maybe at the Smithsonian next to its larger sibling?

For fans of the original Star Trek and its creators, particularly the brilliant Matt Jefferies who designed the Enterprise and established the look and feel of 60 years of Treks that followed, it's a happy day. Kill the fatted tribble! The prodigal starship was lost and is found! The Enterprise has come home.

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