What are the odds?

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Published: Mar 05 2015, 01:01:am

Thursday, March 5, 2015


    Back in 1991, just after the release of the sixth Star Trek feature film (Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country), it occurred to me that service in Star Fleet was good for an actor's health. At the time, the seven principal performers from the original television series were all still alive and working together, a fact that seemed at odds with the actuarial odds.

    For my own amusement, I sat down and made a list, noting the age of each of the actors in the year the TV show premiered (1966), the year they were reunited for Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) and their farewell to the final frontier in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991). It looked like this:

*    William Shatner (b. March 22, 1931 in Montreal):
     played James T. Kirk — Age 35 (TV); 48 (MP); 60 (VI).
*    Leonard Nimoy (b. March 26, 1931 in Boston):
     Mr. Spock — Age 35 (TV); 48 (MP); 60 (VI).
*    DeForest Kelley (b. Jan. 20, 1920 in Atlanta):
     Dr. Leonard McCoy — Age 46 (TV); 59 (MP); 71 (VI).
*    James Doohan (b. March 3, 1920 in Vancouver):
     Montgomery Scott — Age 46 (TV); 59 (MP); 71 (VI)
*    George Takei (b. April 20, 1937 in Los Angeles):
     Hikaru Sulu — Age 29 (TV); 42 (MP); 54 (VI).
*    Walter Koenig (b. Sep. 14, 1936 in Chicago):
     Pavel Chekov — Age 30 (TV); 43 (MP); 55 (VI).
*    Nichelle Nichols (Dec. 28, 1932 in Robbins, Ill.):
     Lt. Uhura — Age 34 (TV); 47 (MP); 59 (VI).

     Averaged out, a Star Trek principal player was 36 (TV); 48 (MP); 61 (VI). But for the passing of the torch to television's Next Generation cast that occurred in 1994 (in the feature Star Trek Generations), the original ensemble would have been available for the next three pictures in the franchise.
    In 1999, 33 years after the television show's premiere, DeForest Kelly died of stomach cancer in Los Angeles. He was 79. In 2005, pneumonia and Alzheimer's disease ended James Doohan's life in Redmond, Wash. He was 85. And, last Friday (February 27), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease took 83-year-old Leonard Nimoy.

    Carrying on are Shatner (83), Takei (77), Koenig (78) and Nichols (82).

    Also carrying on is Reeling Back, now 17 months old. The ten most recent additions to the archive are:

BEETLEJUICE — In 1988, Tim Burton established himself as a major directorial talent with his second feature film, an imaginative new approach to horror comedy brought to life by the memorable performances of Michael Keaton, Geena Davis, Wynona Ryder and Catherine O'Hara. (Posted March 4)

VIP, MIO FRATELLO SUPERUOMO — Italian animation legend Bruno Bozzetto came to fame with this 1968 superhero parody, a cartoon that combined sharp social commentary with commercially astute characters. (Posted March 3)

THE GREY FOX — The best of the Northwesterns, director Phillip Borsos's 1983 debut feature brought a documentarist's eye to the story of a gentleman bandit seeking new opportunities robbing trains in British Columbia's Interior.  (Posted March 2)    

POLICE ACADEMY — Apparent proof of the rule that it's hard to go broke underestimating the intelligence of the filmgoing public, first-time director Hugh Wilson's low-brow 1984 cop comedy spawned a six-feature franchise and two TV series. (Posted March 1

IMPROMPTU — Cheeky, compelling and thoroughly literate, Pulitzer Prize-winning Broadway director James Lapine's 1991 feature-film debut offers a speculative account of the 19th-century feminist icon George Sand's courtship of consumptive Polish composer Frederic Chopin. (Posted February 28)

TALES FROM THE CRYPT — Made in 1972, director Freddie Francis's feature is a British-made tribute to the golden age of American comics. It was inspired by five stories from a crime-and-horror title actually banned in Canada by a 1949 law passed after a Parliamentary debate eerily similar to today's Bill C-51 discussions. (Posted February 26)    

JOURNEY — Lost to distributor indifference, director Paul Almond's imaginatively crafted 1972 final-moments fantasy offered award-worthy performances from its co-stars John Vernon and Genevieve Bujold. (Posted February 24)    

PAPER MOON — Following in the entrepreneurial footsteps of Johannes Gutenberg, con artist Moses Pray (Ryan O'Neal) and his daughter Addie (Tatum O'Neal) hustle Bibles in the American South in director Peter Bogdanovich's 1972 tale of Depression-era survival. (Posted February 23)

ROCK-A-DOODLE — Just before computer animation took over the cartoon business, traditional craftsman Don Bluth offered up this 1992 feature, a pleasantly old-fashioned entertainment inspired by French playwright Edmond Rostand's tale of Chantecler. (Posted February 20)

NORTH CHINA COMMUNE — An example of the National Film Board of Canada documentarists at their best, this 1980 feature looked at life in the Peoples Republic at a time when memories of the 1949 revolution were coming into quiet conflict with hopes for something more. (Posted February 19).