One Of Star Trek's First Deaths In The Original Series Had William Shatner Cracking Up

In the "Star Trek" episode "The Deadly Years" (December 8, 1967), an away team beams down to the planet Gamma Hydra IV to investigate a seemingly disused research station. They find several people who have died of old age and a 60-something couple who claim to be in their 20s. The away team returns to the Enterprise, not knowing they have contracted a kind of radiation sickness that causes accelerated aging. Kirk (William Shatner) begins going gray, while Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelley) and Scotty (James Doohan) quickly develop wrinkled, craggy faces. Hit hardest is Lieutenant Galway (Beverly Washburn), a science officer not previously seen on the show. She ages the most rapidly, moving from her early 20s to her late 90s in a day. Before the end of the episode, Galway will have died of old age.

Washburn was interviewed by back in 2013, and she remembered shooting "The Deadly Years" quite well. Firstly, she remembered the extensive makeup process she had to undergo to make her look like a woman in her 80s when she was, at the time, only 24. In classic fashion, the makeup artists had to wrap Washburn's face in plaster and let it dry for an hour while she breathed through a straw. They would then use the plaster mold to extrapolate an old-age mask made of rubber. It was the 1960s, so the rubber mask was glued to Washburn's face with spirit gum. The whole process took four and a half hours.

Shatner had to go through a similar process, although he was having a ball. Even while Washburn was acting out Lieutenant Galway's death scene, Shatner was making old man jokes and horsing around on set. Despite the drama of the scene, Washburn recalls a very lighthearted day of filming.

Dying is easy, comedy is hard

Washburn recalled well the drama of Lieutenant Galway and even was a little bummed out that her character had to die:

"I was the first to die and I was the youngest. As you watch the episode you progressively see the others getting older. Then, of course, Chekov found the cure, but too late for me. I was hoping I could have gotten cured, but that didn't happen. But it was a very special role and it's still one of my favorite roles that I've done."

She also recalled the scene wherein she had to die of old age, a tall order for an actor in her 20s. It was very dramatic and tragic, with the young character pondering her wasted potential. She got to look directly at her reflection, seeing how she was supposed to look in 70 or 80 more years and played the scene with a combination of panic and weary acceptance. While Washburn was digging deep, however, William Shatner was giggling:

"William Shatner was a very funny guy and he was just cracking up the whole time because they had him with his grey hair, starting to age. So he was doing all this funny shtick on the stage. It was a really lighthearted, fun set to be on and then we'd try to get right into the moment when we had to shoot it. People remember the scene, so I guess we did a good job of it."

It seems that lightheartedness on set was vital for Washburn to perform the scene. She was feeling the weight of her character's drama and everyone's giggles and jokes allowed her to loosen up.

The Star Trek blooper reel

Any Trekkie worth their salt has likely seen the infamous "Star Trek" blooper reels that were once only passed around on VHS tapes at conventions. Thanks to the modern internet, the blooper reels are now readily available for all seekers, but for many years, the videos were deep-cut, inside baseball. Washburn, one might note, made her way onto the blooper reel for a scene from "The Deadly Years." She forgot her lines and everyone giggled at her flub. Washburn was not the least bit embarrassed, however, able to laugh along with everyone else. Sometimes, she found, it's okay to let your professionalism slip for a moment:

"As an actor, you try to come prepared and be on time and do everything right, but it was such a fun set that when I forgot my line it became a joke. I was supposed to say something like, 'There's something wrong with my hearing. I don't feel well.' And, instead, I said, 'I feel like hell. I can't remember my next line.' Everyone just cracked up and it was such a release to me. No one got upset. No one said, 'You need to be a professional.' Everybody was laughing and it was a fun moment."

That same blooper reel featured a few golden moments of Shatner messing around — and even dropping an f-bomb — while wearing his old-age makeup. There's even a creepy scene of the actor peeling the rubber mask off. From the looks of it, there was a lot of giggling all around.