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(written from a Production point of view)
Susan Oliver was the stage name of Charlotte Gercke (13 February 1932 – 10 May 1990; age 58), a New York native, who guest-starred in the Star Trek: The Original Series first pilot episode, "The Cage", as Vina.
Just before being cast as Vina, Oliver took on an acting assignment which exhausted her. She was looking forward to a holiday in Hawaii when Studio Executive Oscar Katz talked her into accepting the part of Vina, expecting she would easily manage it without any problems. (Star Trek Creator: The Authorized Biography of Gene Roddenberry)
Once signed, Oliver recalled her preliminary meetings; "It was a very nice company. All of us in the production enjoyed doing it. We went to Gene Roddenberry's house several times and just sat around the kitchen, had coffee and talked. Gene was very much present on the set during filming." (Starlog, issue 135, p. 78)
However, realizing she was not to go on holidays after all and that the makeup requirements of her role were extremely demanding, Oliver sought a serious heart-to-heart with Katz, who already suspected as much; "I knew that she would not be kindly disposed towards me." (Star Trek Creator: The Authorized Biography of Gene Roddenberry) Whereas Katz subsequently stayed "religiously" away from the soundstage, Oliver – not to be outdone by him – had a sign made, reading, "OSCAR Where are You?" and consistently showed it in her dailies (shot footage shown unedited on a day-to-day basis to producers and executives) at the end of her shoots. (Star Trek Creator: The Authorized Biography of Gene Roddenberry; Starlog, issue 135, p. 78) It became a running gag for the production team and more than one staffer and performer had their picture taken with the sign.
Oliver wasn't a dancer before playing Vina. However, since the part required her to perform a dance, she trained with a choreographer every day of a week, before she began filming. In common with Majel Barrett-Roddenberry, Oliver also worked as a test subject for the Orion makeup, later recalling, "They tried many, many things on me until they finally [...] found what they wanted." (Starlog, issue 135, p. 78)
Years later, Oliver wanted to direct an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation but never got the chance, the response being that she didn't know enough about visual effects, this despite the fact that a knowledge of visual effects was not a director's requirement for the series. Star Trek expert Larry Nemecek has commented that Oliver could very well have learned how to direct for the show and been fine at doing so. (The Green Girl documentary – see link below)
Susan Oliver was the daughter of Hollywood astrologer Ruth Hale Oliver. When her parents divorced around 1935, she was raised by her mother, although she lived with her father in Japan for a short time. She studied acting at the Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre in New York City, and in 1957 moved to Los Angeles to star in her first screen role, a film entitled The Green Eyed Blonde. A later movie role was Ginger in the Morning (1974), with Monte Markham as her ex-husband.
Most of Oliver's career consisted of numerous television guest star roles (well over 100 between 1956 and 1988). These included the "Prisoner of Love" episode of The Andy Griffith Show, the Michael Shayne episode "The Heiress", in which Celia Lovsky also guest starred, and "The White Birch" episode of The Name of the Game, in which Louise Sorel also guest starred. In 1960, Oliver, Byron Morrow and Vic Perrin played Martians in the "People Are Alike All Over" episode of The Twilight Zone, which also featured Paul Comi. (It's worth noting that this episode was similar to 1964's "The Cage" insofar as the aliens put the space-faring Earthman in a zoo and read his mind to create a familiar environment for him.) That same year, Oliver appeared in an episode of Wagon Train (with Leonard Nimoy). She also guest starred in a 1974 episode of Petrocelli, "Edge of Evil" alongside Susan Howard, William Shatner and Glenn Corbett, and in "The Night Dr. Loveless Died", a 1967 episode of The Wild Wild West with Michael Dunn, Anthony Caruso and Robert Ellenstein. She appeared in "Double Jeopardy", the 1970 pilot of the series Dan August, directed by Ralph Senensky and also featuring Ned Romero, Jerry Ayres and Fritz Weaver. Though they shared no scenes, Oliver appeared with Meg Wyllie, her co-star from "The Cage", in a 1973 episode of Cannon, which was directed by Lawrence Dobkin. Keith Andes also appeared in that episode.
Oliver was also a passionate pilot, winner of the 1970 Powder Puff Derby air race and the fourth woman to fly a single-engined aircraft solo across the Atlantic. She attempted to become the first woman to fly a single-engine plane from the United States to Moscow; she made it as far as Denmark but was denied entry into Soviet airspace. Her aviation exploits are the focus of her 1983 autobiography, Odyssey: A Daring Transatlantic Journey (ISBN 0025929208).
Oliver received an Emmy Award nomination for her performance in the three-hour 1976 NBC television movie, Amelia Earhart. Her co-stars in this movie include Stephen Macht, Jane Wyatt and Garry Walberg.
Oliver died in Woodland Hills, California, of lung cancer in 1990. A documentary about her life, entitled The Green Girl, was released in 2014, featuring interview footage from Larry Nemecek, Martha Landon actress Celeste Yarnall, and two-time Star Trek: Voyager director Nancy Malone, among other contributors.
Star Trek interview Edit
- "First Trek", Frank Garcia, Starlog, issue 135, October 1988, pp. 78-80, 88