(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.
She filmed her scenes for "The Cage" on Friday 4 December 1964, and between Tuesday 8 December 1964 and Friday 18 December 1964 at Desilu Culver Stage 15, Stage 16, and on location at the "Arab Village" section of the 40 Acres backlot.
Initially, Oliver was not of a mind to accept the role, as she, exhausted from a previous filming assignment, was looking forward to a well-earned holiday on Hawaii. However, Gene Roddenberry adamantly wanted her for the part of Vina, and to this end he asked Studio Executive Oscar Katz to put the pressure on her, "Although I'm usually not that charming with women, I talked her into taking the part. Part of the appeal was that it was going to be very easy," Katz said, snapping his fingers, "she could knock it off "just like that"." Yet, Oliver's part was anything but a snap of the fingers, due to the elaborate makeup sessions she had to undergo in order to show Vina's various manifestations. Realizing that she was not to go on holidays after all, she sought a serious heart-to-heart with Katz, who already suspected as much, "I knew that she would not be kindly disposed towards me." Katz subsequently stayed "religiously" away from the soundstage. (Star Trek Creator: The Authorized Biography of Gene Roddenberry) Oliver however, not to be outdone by Katz, had a sign made, reading "OSCAR Where are You?", consistently showing it on her dailies (shot footage shown unedited on a day-to-day basis to producers and executives) at the end of her shoots. It became a running gag for the production team and more than one staffer and performer had their picture taken with the sign.
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."
Oliver was aware that she had to play several incarnations of of Vina, including that of the Orion slave girl, "One of the unique things about this job was I wasn't really a dancer,", Oliver recalled, "They had a choreographer work with me a solid week, every day, before I began filming. There were different facets in this role, and the green girl was most challenging." A bit to her surprise, it was not her lack of dancing skills that gained attention, but rather her appearance, when she for the first time appeared on set in her Orion slave girl attire, "The usual "hi, Suse" banter was gone; the guys stood back and stared or averted their eyes as though it were immoral to look at such a woman. There seemed almost a sense of their whispering, "Wow, Susan's not such a nice girl after all, she's maybe wild, evil." Even before the dance began and I was just standing demurely to the side, this feeling was in the air. Gene has touched on something dark in man's subconscious; one could imagine doing things with a green mate that he would never dare with someone his own color."
Still, despite this unexpected unease and associated makeup problems, Oliver reveled in doing the scene, "But the show was a very special experience and it was fun to do the wild dance; It also meant hard work. Believe me, it was not easy to be green. There were many experiments with makeup. Fred Phillips, head of the makeup department, couldn't get the green girl's makeup. They couldn't find any green makeup that would stick to skin, so they tried many, many things on me until they finally sent for help from New York where they found what they wanted."
The green makeup problems did give rise to one of Star Trek's more enduring (and endearing) legends. When applied to Majel Barrett as camera test, post-production editors were confused at seeing a green girl and tried to compensate by chemically reconverting the green color tone to flesh color tones, until Roddenberry explained to them that it was actually intended to be such. (Starlog, issue 135, p. 78)
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.
Star Trek interview Edit
- "First Trek", Frank Garcia, Starlog, issue 135, October 1988, pp. 78-80, 88