Happy birthday, Jackson DeForest Kelley !
But lo and behold, 2020 marks De’s 100th birthday.
A century! His centennial!
And while there’s no postage stamp, or no historical marker anywhere — either in Hollywood, or in Georgia — there is his star on the Walk of Fame (above).
I wish De could’ve seen all this. Funny how back in the day he was the “nice guy” of the cast who linked the Big Two —as the Big Three—to the Little Four (or Five). And not so much a Typical Hero, without that scale of fanbase.
Well, I knew he was my fave, but in those days it felt pretty lonesome. I know newcomers to TOS and younger fans of De — and boy, I met a lot of them when I had the honor to portay McCoy for the opening dos of Star Trek Continues — have no concept how odd it feels us first-gen fans that they are so numerous, and a recent phenom. At least, new in an era when social media makes everything obvious and known. It wasn’t so, pre-Facebook.
And it struck me this year— not to take away from all the heroics of Nichelle and George, repping women, blacks, Asians and eventually LGBTQ folks in the Trek future… or Kate, or Avery, or Wilson and Anthony who have all meant so much to each new generation being able to see themselves in this famously positive, inclusive future— a pillar of what the whole franchise is about.
No, not to take away from any of that, but as this middle-class white kid-turned-guy reflects back on where his favorites in the TOS generation came from … I guess it dawns on me that De, and McCoy, were repping something onscreen for me, too.
I mean, sure: Kirk and Spock were The Heroes, right? Each in their own way in the drama — and each in their own way as the actors behind them got the attention and the crowds, too. The Little Four would have loved that scale of affection, but even so— Sulu was a swashbuckler, Chekov got the girl a lot too, Uhura was just super-efficiently glam, and Scotty knew best the ways of the tech and the shore leave.
Sure, Bones was an uber-amazing doctor and medical-researcher-in-a-24-hour-crisis … but McCoy, if noting else, was the anti-hero of the Triad— as well as its cynical humanist.
And maybe I didn’t realize it in junior high, but boy!— that was sure as hell representing me on that screen.
Back then, I didn’t know any of these guys personally, including De. My Grandparents Reynolds were the Gunsmoke devotees; Westerns were not big in our house, so I had no clue to De’s main pedigree as exquisite Western bad guys until I got to the deep-diving stage of my Trek. Then to go and later read Terry’s bio on De, his full life and career all make such sense… and I don’t know if I’d ever felt the same way about his craft, in a galaxy of actors out there, had he not landed McCoy and practiced in the Trek universe.
So, science and future tech and world-building and Future Progressive Sanity are all the hooks that snared me into Trek — and De was the human face of the emo side, for me—not just its “humanity,” but its grit and texture. A fact that no one really put into words until recently — me included!
So what if there’s no stamp for De? To paraphrase a famous fictional future doctor, I guess he’s really not un-commemorated, as long as we remember him.
And fat chance of that ever stopping.
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