an interview conducted by Dave
conducted 11/8/2007 to 1/1/2008
Bruce Schoengarth, Fabien Tordjmann, Donald Rode, and James Ballas were the principal film editors who worked on Star Trek during its three year run on television. Bruce Schoengarth, who passed away in 1995 at the age of 77, edited 14 episodes of the original series including "Dagger of the Mind," "Catspaw," "The Trouble with Tribbles" and "Platos Stepchildren." I recently had the opportunity to visit with his son John who was approximately 12 years old when his father worked on Star Trek and we talked about his dad and his experiences on the show. In this article, and with our sincerest thanks to John, we are pleased to present my conversation with him along with some special "close-ups" of the Schoengarth collection. Enjoy!
DT: John, tell me about yourself and your family.
JS: I am a graduate from Pepperdine University, which I attended while working for IBM in my early career. I have been married almost 30 yrs and have 3 children: an Engineer in Lake Tahoe, a "soon-to-be" school teacher, and the youngest, who at 21, has yet to discover his calling. The older two graduated from Colorado State, the youngest is in process.
DT: It sounds like you have a great family! I guess they all decided to not go to Hollywood?
JS: No one in my family (or my wife's) followed in their fathers footsteps, I really don't know why. Of the five of us, no one even cut a commercial, though I did rent my house out for one when we lived in LA. Made $1,000 just to let them film in our den and the front of the house. I never saw the commercial aired (it was for Mexican TV).
DT: Tell me about your father.
JS: My early memories of Dad's career are watching Lassie, which he worked on during the early 60's, meeting many of the Lassie (Laddie?) pups, and getting one of the first color televisions of the time. Dad always had time off around Easter (the lay-off from the studio) between seasons, and for years we would venture off to Yosemite.
DT: How did he get started with Star Trek/Desilu?
JS: How he landed Star Trek I don't know, but I was able to visit the set a few times, and remember meeting Uhura, got one of Spock's ears (I threw it away, yuk), played on the bridge, and helped start an avalanche! Dad was a film editor, so I got to "work" a moveiola and cutting machine and make my own film strips. I even got to sit through the dailies once.
DT: What education/experience did your Dad have to train him for film editing?
JS: Dad, from what I remember, Dad fell into the movie industry. He came west during the depression (around 1933), having lost his mom and brother to some epidemic. He came with my granddad and a sister (who was raising him). I know that his two brothers were also in the industry one was a camera man before the talking movies, and the other I am not sure what his role was. Dad was in the army in the WWII and ended up making newsreels in New York, never got overseas. I don't know if he had the experience before, or learned it in the military.
DT: I assume he really enjoyed film editing?
JS: I really don't know. Like most of us, we don't complain to our kids about our jobs, much less discuss the merits of our work at the nightly dinner table. I do know when he moved on to sound editing in his last few years (especially Laverne and Shirley), that he didn't like the cackling of those women!
DT: Did your Dad have any opinions concerning the quality of Star Trek (good, bad, or otherwise)?
JS: None that I ever heard him speak of, though I know he did not watch any of the Star Trek follow-on series.
DT: You have to tell me about the avalanche you started.
JS: The avalanche, just good timing...it was like...hey kid, help throw these over the wall!
DT: So this was an avalanche on film?
JS: The scene involved a rock slide that Cap'n Kirk and others had to escape from. I have no idea what episode, and I stayed only long enough for the one take...had to leave to have lunch with Dad at the Nickodel on Melrose!
DT: " played on the bridge " What was that like?
JS: Star Trek - The set was cardboard, all the lights and buttons fake, the elevator was a closet, but it looked so real when they were actually filming it. My father-in-law was one of the set designers, his brother the art director, and after the show broke up they took Sickbay with them. I remember it being very "cheap" looking when it was setup at Uncle Matt's hangar.
DT: So your (wifes) uncle was Matt Jefferies. Was John Jefferies your father-in-law?
JS: Yes. Matt passed away a short time ago; John is retired in the LA area.
DT: Why did Matt Jefferies and his brother take the sickbay set to Matt's hangar?
JS: For the fun of it...
DT: Was that their favorite set? And how did they get the entire sickbay set there?
JS: I only saw it once, and without being told what it was I would never have known. They broke down the set after the 3rd season, and it was probably too "flimsy" or too poorly constructed to put into the "set library." There really weren't that many pieces, a bed or two, some wall props, etc.
DT: Do you know what ultimately happened to those set pieces?
JS: They are still there, but with Matt's passing, and his airplane being donated to a museum in Indiana, I believe they will eventually fall to the dissemination of my father-in-law.
DT: Any additional stories about them [Matt and John Jefferies] that you'd care to tell?
JS: I don't really have knowledge about Matt, and the only John stories aren't related to Star Trek. He worked the last few years with Andy Griffith on Matlock (out in North Carolina). I remember calling Dad one day and Andy answered, blew me away. I commended Dad on his new secretary.
DT: Do you remember the episode you saw dailies of (or what you saw on the screen)?
JS: The dailies were where the producer, director and others viewed all the "takes." I don't remember which episode...I was spending time with Dad. During my various visits, I remember running into Lucille Ball, Michael Landon, and the youngest kid from My Three Sons. I also watched filming of Little House, The Barbary Coast, Lassie (from much earlier), and I am sure there were others. Dad worked on Mannix, Hawaii Five-O, Mork and Mindy, Laverne and Shirley among other shows.
DT: Did you actually get to talk to those people (i.e., Lucille Ball, Michael Landon, etc.)?
JS: I saw Ms. Ball when she actually lived at the studio out front of her house; Landon filming an episode of Little House (actually met Matt Jefferies, just didn't know our futures would cross later in life), and did talk to the kid, but didn't care. Back then, the actors would talk to you if you ran into them on the lot. Stories I have heard were that some were great, others haughty (like Shatner), while the really good ones were Andy Griffith and James Garner, both of whom worked with my father-in-law. I met Landon and the cast at a Christmas party in the late 70's hosted at Uncle Matt's house. I remember the actress who played the older daughter being a real bit!!
DT: What was the cutting room like? I assume that everyone there wore gloves and that the film was handled delicately?
JS: The cutting room was like you mentioned, white gloves for handling the strips, and strips everywhere. The most fun was the library, where they had film of almost everything you can imagine. The last few years before he retired, Dad did some sound editing...and that library was even more amazing.
DT: You mentioned earlier that you had met one or two of the Star Trek actors. What do you remember about them?
JS: Leonard Nimoy was friendly, and he gave me an ear he had just pulled off! Uhura gave me a peck on the cheek, said hey..and that was that.
DT: Did you have any interactions with Fabien Tordjmann [one of Star Trek's other film editors] or Monica Collingsworth (film editor on several television shows, including Lassie)? What about your Dad did he collaborate with them or were they basically like ships that passed in the night?
JS: All three collaborated every week, worked in the same immediate environment, and were friends. I remember going to Monica's house in Toluca Lake a few times after she retired...stayed friends with my Dad. I don't remember much about Fabien.
DT: Thanks for sharing some of your Dads Star Trek items with us for this article. Can you tell me about them?
JS: Before I moved out to Texas in 1989, my Dad gave me the script. He had many at the house at one time but what happened to them I haven't a clue. The letter was given to my brother around 1992, whose son then made superb reproductions for each of us. Lastly, the picture [of William Shatner and my Dad] was taken at a cast party after the first year, so my guess is [that it was taken in] early 1968.
At one point, Dad had dozens of brandy glasses with a 24k gold starship Enterprise on the side. He used to give them out as gifts to various people during the 80's. His bowling team also had the Enterprise on the shirts, but the teams name was "That Damn Family." Lastly, all remaining glasses were destroyed in 1994 during the Northridge earthquake. The entire hutch fell over, and nothing survived.
DT: John, thanks for taking the time to visit with us and for sharing the memories.
JS: Growing up with a parent in the magical movie industry allowed us access that very few got. It also dispelled any myths that actors and actresses were special, just hard working everyday people who were lucky enough to make it in the "industry." I got glimpses of movies and television, access to one of the first color tv's on the market, met "stars", made sound effects, and got to spend time with Dad at his work. What else could any kid ask for?
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