Monday, July 25, 2016

Star Trek Keeps on Beaming

QUESTION: I was digging around in my attic the other day and found a box with some old toys belonging to my son who now has his own family. In the box were two Star Trek action figures—one of Captain Kirk and the other of Spock. Both are about a foot tall and in good condition. I realize these are collectible, especially with the release of the new Star Trek movie, but I have no idea what they’re worth. Can you tell me more about them and perhaps tell me their value?

ANSWER: It sounds like you have two of the original action figures produced by the Mego Corporation. Before discussing their value, let’s see how they came into being.

More than 30 years after it was canceled due to poor ratings, Star Trek has become a cultural phenomenon. The television show that only completed three years of its five-year mission has spawned 10 full-length films, four spin-off television series, five on-going book lines, a Las Vegas casino attraction, and a seemingly infinite series of collectibles.

Star Trek's remarkable transformation from ratings loser to one of  the world's most marketable properties began with its creator, Gene Roddenberry, a Hollywood writer and producer who had the foresight to go where no man had gone before in T.V. sci-fi dramas.

He drafted a premise for Star Trek and after being turned down by CBS, which was working on show, “Lost in Space,” Roddenberry sold the concept to NBC in 1964 as a “Wagon Train to the stars.” Star Trek featured a regular cast of characters aboard an interplanetary vessel, exploring the far reaches of space for the United Federation of Planets in the 23rd century. The original television pilot, "The Cage," bears little resemblance to the series. The Captain was Christopher Pike, played by Jeffrey Hunter, not William Shatner's familiar Captain Kirk. His first officer was a woman, a concept way ahead of its time, and Doctor McCoy, Engineer Scotty, Lieutenants Sulu and Uhura or Ensign Chekov were nowhere to be seen. In fact, the only regular cast member to appear was Leonard Nimoy as the alien science officer, Mr. Spock.

But after producing the pilot, NBC rejected it, saying that it was too intellectual and lacked sufficient action to keep viewers satisfied. NBC executives also felt that it bore little resemblance to the promised “Wagon Train to the stars” concept. That pilot cost $636,000 to produce.

Network executives also showed concerns about the Star Trek’s characters. Test screenings of the pilot indicated that both men and women disliked having a female first officer on the Enterprise. The network was also worried about Spock’s satanic appearance and wanted him removed from the show.

Cutting the budget in half, NBC gave Roddenberry the go ahead to produce the first episode of the series, essentially a second pilot entitled, “Where No Man Has Gone Before” in early 1966. After approving of this pilot, they gave Roddenberry the green light for the series, and he added the other regular characters.

Star Trek was T.V.’s first interracial show, where people of diverse backgrounds played non-stereotypical characters.

From a collecting standpoint, the production of Star Trek's ostensibly infinite "galaxy" of merchandise can be divided into the pre and post 1991 periods. This year is significant because it was the 25th anniversary of the original series and the year that Gene Roddenberry died. Roddenbery kept a tight reign on product licensing. After his death, however, Paramount granted licenses more liberally.

The Mego Corporation originally had the exclusive rights to produce Star Trek action figures. Given the beautiful sculpting on the crew action figures and the accuracy of their costuming, it’s no wonder they became an instant hit with Star Trek fans. 

While other companies released many other Star Trek products during the mid-1970s, including official blueprints, a set of Topps Trading Cards, a Hasbro board game, glasses and toys –it was the unexpected success of George Lucas' Star Wars that led Paramount to reconsider its on again off again plans for Star Trek, so it decided to produce the first full-length Star Trek motion picture.

Star Trek the Motion Picture was the most expensive movie ever made until that time. A commercial success earning more than $175 million, it brought forth a bounty of licensed products. Mego released both 12-inch and 3 3/4-inch action figures based on the movie. Neither was as successful as Star Wars figures, and the 12-inch figures' head vinyl tends to turn gray with time, producing a zombie effect.

Hollywood success, of course, breeds sequels and Star Trek has seen its share of them. Star Trek, the television show that NBC canceled due to poor ratings, has become a franchise property for Paramount, and the characters have become American television icons. Star Trek's concept of a hopeful future is still compelling in the 21st century, and its movies and spin-off series have produced a universe of collectibles, boldly going where no collectible has gone before.

Today, the original action figures of Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock from 1974 sell for $130 sealed in their original packaging while other character figures go for $20 or so. A playset from the first series sells for $120 to $150. Those produced to coincide with Star Trek the Motion Picture sell for about $100 in their original packaging. As with most toy collectibles, these need to be in their original boxes. Just ask the guys from CBS’s hit show “Big Bang Theory.”

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