Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about TV and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the TV urban legends featured so far.
TV URBAN LEGEND: Spock was originally going to have red skin on Star Trek.
Few characters in television history seem to have as much myths and rumors built around them than Star Trek’s Mr. Spock (portrayed by the late, great Leonard Nimoy, who sadly passed away earlier this year at the age of 83). There have been articles written about the myths surrounding Nimoy and Spock all the way back to the 1970s (from the Associated Press in 1978, “Lenoard Nimoy shoots down myths about him, Mr. Spock”).
I have debunked a few Spock legends here, as well, over the years, like whether it was Spock who was originally going to be the one who kissed Uhura on the famous interracial Star Trek kiss or whether Nimoy requested for Spock to be killed off in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. This is not to say that every legend about Spock over the years was false, of course. For instance, there is the story of how Spock originally was going to have red skin! Read on to find out how his actual skin color came to be!
Many things changed dramatically from Gene Roddenberry’s original conception of what Star Trek was to become, but likely none any greater than his original idea of what Mr. Spock would look like. Originally, even his costume would be much different, as he would be wearing a black leather skull cap (as shown in design pictures discovered by Star Trek History.com).
Roddenberry’s idea was that Spock would look as drastically different from humans as possible to highlight the idea that looks can be deceiving. So along with his pointed ears, Spock was going to have red skin. This was also tying in to his original origin that he would be from Mars, not the fictional planet Vulcan.
The problem came when they began to test out how the red make-up looked on camera. You see, back when Star Trek debuted in 1966, many televisions in America were still monochromatic (or “black and white,” as they were commonly referred to). So dark hues would come off as basically just black. Nimoy recalled to the Los Angeles Times, “I was going to be black on a black-and-white set.” It would practically look like Nimoy was wearing blackface!
So they decided to instead go with a lighter shade of makeup. They decided that they would make up their own pigment for Spock, but they would have to use whatever makeup was available at the time. A popular makeup for television at the time was Max Factor’s “Chinese Yellow” pigment (yes, there was actually a pigment called “Chinese Yellow” back then. Yikes). So Star Trek used that as a base and mixed in other pigments to come up with the Vulcan pigment – a sort of yellowish-greenish hue.
Fred Phillips, the make-up artist on the show, went to the Research Council of Make-Up Artists (RCMA), who would make custom colors based on unique formulas that shows would come up with, so that you wouldn’t have to re-mix the same thing every time (besides how time-consuming that would be, there would always be an issue of whether you mixed it the same way every time). The RCMA color from 1965 (the show was developed in 1965, ahead of its 1966 TV debut) is actually titled L-N #1, as in Leonard Nimoy #1. It still exists. You can buy that same pigment, if you’d like.
So Spock had his makeup, makeup that was JUST subtle enough that you might notice it if you weren’t paying attention. However, amusingly enough, early on, network color technicians would try to adjust the colors when Spock was on, to make him look more natural, as they didn’t realize he was SUPPOSED to look different than the rest of the cast!
The legend is…
Thanks to StarTrekHistory and the Trek BBs for the information!
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