TV URBAN LEGEND: Spock was originally going to have red skin on “Star Trek.”
Few characters in television history have as many myths and rumors built around them than “Star Trek’s” Mr. Spock (portrayed by the great Leonard Nimoy, who passed away last week at age 83). Articles about the legends surrounding Nimoy and Spock date all the way back to the 1970s (from The Associated Press in 1978: “Leonard Nimoy shoots down myths about him, Mr. Spock”). In fact, I’ve debunked a few myself over the years, like whether Spock was originally going to kiss Uhura or Nimoy requested that the character be killed off in “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.” Of course, that’s not to say every Spock has been false. For instance, there’s 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 initial concept for “Star Trek,” 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’d wear a black leather skull cap (as shown in concept art discovered by StarTrekHistory.com).
Roddenberry’s idea was that Spock would appear as drastically different from humans as possible to highlight that looks can be deceiving. So along with his pointed ears, Spock was going to have red skin. That also tied into the initial plan for the character to originate from Mars, not the fictional Vulcan.
The problem arose when they began to test out how the red makeup looked on camera. You see, when “Star Trek” debuted in 1966, many American televisions 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 they would create their own pigment for Spock, limited by whatever makeup was available at the time. A popular makeup for television was Max Factor’s “Chinese Yellow” (yes, there was actually a pigment called “Chinese Yellow”; 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, “Star Trek’s” makeup artist, went to the Research Council of Make-Up Artists (RCMA), which would create custom colors based on unique formulas shows would come up with so they wouldn’t have to re-mix the same thing each time. The RCMA color from 1965 (the show was developed in 1965, ahead of its 1966 TV debut) is actually called L-N #1, as in Leonard Nimoy #1. It still exists; you can buy that same pigment, if you like.
So Spock had his makeup, which was just subtle enough that you might notice it if you weren’t paying attention. However, amusingly enough, early on network color technicians tried to adjust the hues when Spock was on, to make him appear more natural, as they didn’t realize he was supposed to look different from the rest of the cast!
The legend is…
Thanks to StarTrekHistory and the Trek BBs for the information!
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Be sure to check out my Entertainment Urban Legends Revealed for more urban legends about the worlds of TV, Movies and Music!
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