Monday, May 2, 2011

in the living and the dying, how easily you bruise

With not a little sadness, I announce the passing of actor William Campbell, who died at age 84 on Aprille 29, 2011. Though he only appeared in a handful of Star Trek episodes, he left an enduring impression that persisted through both published books and comics. He even had his own action figure.

What most of us remember him for, honestly, is the singular role of Trelane, the Squire of Gothos.

(from the loss album)

His portrayal was jovial, manic, and very much over-the-top, but brilliant. Many fans theorize that this was Star Trek's first encounter with the race of Q. He certainly would fit the profile--charismatic, curious to a fault, and endowed with world-changing abilities.

(from the loss album)

He also appeared in Star Trek--on two different series--as Koloth (seen here as a first-generation Klingon, in the episode The Trouble with Tribbles.) Koloth was aggressive, arrogant, and yet still charming, even in the later appearance on DS9 with the race's token turtle-shell forehead in place. And in these two roles, Campbell was much beloved by fans and actors alike.

But I don't remember him for that, or for the double handful of other television work he turned in, as a capable comedic and dramatic actor. I remember him for Dementia 13.

(from the loss album. Actor William Campbell on the set of Francis Ford Coppola's
Dementia 13. © Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc. All Rights Reserved.)

Dementia 13 was Francis Ford Coppola's first "serious" effort at direction, and it was a troubled film from the start. Filmed essentially as a leftover, so to speak, from borrowed funds and to one specific producer's vision, Coppola still managed to turn in a neatly gothic film that manages to this day to be atmospherically creepy.

(from the loss album)

And the cast was quietly phenomenal, even more surprising considering that the film wasn't lurid enough for the producer, Roger Corman, who brought in director Jack Hill (better known for a handful of other drive-in horror shockers, among them the quirky and bizarre Spider Baby) to film additional sequences that were pretty much tacked on randomly to the finished film.

Even the name seemed to have nothing to do with what was essentially an Irish period piece with a haunted lake and an axe murderer, and unfortunately, the name--the choice of Corman, not Coppola--has persisted to this day in turning people away from the film. Which is a shame--it features many good performances, Campbell's and Patrick McGee's among them, and still retains the ability to surprise.

He will, most definitely, be missed.


Sphynx Soleil said...

You know, I don't remember him playing the klingon (back then the costuming was more cookie-cutterish than in the later series) but BOY do I remember him as Trelane! *laughs*

(To be fair, in "Trouble with Tribbles", I found the tribbles much more interesting, so I wasn't paying as much attention to the klingons...)

Never even heard of Dementia 13 until your post though.

Word verification: "Unwin" for the win. LOL!

Emilly Orr said...

Unfortunately, it's kind of a forgotten film--to the point that it's not even archived by Netflix--but if you do run across it, it's well worth a viewing.

And yes, Trelane was very memorable. Part Liberace showman, part cheerful homicidal maniac, part five-year-old on a bender...and, as the episode concluded, the discovery that he was all these things just added to the joy. It was a wonderful episode.

Icterus Dagger said...

Trelane is one of the reasons I fell in love with Star Trek. That and "Arena." My Dad, who rarely laughs out loud, would do so repeatedly during this as we watched the series in syndication together.

When ST:TNG premiered, and Q came on the scene, my brother and I both cried out "TRELANE!" together.

R.I.P. Mr. Campbell.


Emilly Orr said...

Indeed. The connection between Trelane and Q seems inescapable for many fans.