Star Trek: Kris Smith on DeForest Kelley's Fondest Western Memories

While most associate actor DeForest Kelley as the U.S.S. Enterprise chief medical officer in Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy in Star Trek: The Original Series, he took the fame that came with the franchise in stride, according to friend Kris Smith. The writer contributed a lock of his hair to join the ashes of his cast mates Nichelle Nichols, James Doohan, and Majel Barrett Roddenberry, along with franchise creator Gene Roddenberry on an "Enterprise flight" for Celestis Memorial Spaceflights. Smith spoke to Bleeding Cool about how so many passionate Trekkies might not have realized Kelley had a career before Star Trek, particularly in Westerns.

Star Trek: DeForest Kelley's Remains to Join Memorial Space Mission
DeForest Kelley in Star Trek: The Original Series. Image courtesy of Paramount

Bleeding Cool: Different actors have gone through their relationship with the franchise. A lot of times, it becomes a love-hate thing, but it's kind of a general acceptance. DeForest's career benefited because before 'Star Trek,' he was mainly associated with Westerns. Has he told you anything about his acting career other fans might not be aware of?

Smith: We talked little about his career, which may be one of the reasons why he kept me around. I didn't look like a Star Trek stalker in that way. Usually, whenever we talk about his career, it was about his career in Westerns because he really enjoyed doing that and being a badass cowboy and scaring people. One of the stories he told was a very dear friend of theirs had never seen him in a Western, and when he asked her why, she said, "I could just never believe he was a bad guy," at which time…don't ever tell an actor you can't. I couldn't believe you. He turned on her and did a really mean-looking, badass cowboy thing to her. Scared her so bad she started to cry. Then he started to cry because he said, "I didn't mean to scare you. I just wanted to show you how I could do it." I heard anecdotes like that where he was trying to convince people, "I really can act."

When you knew DeForest Kelley, this mild-mannered, soft-spoken, true gentleman, and then see him in some of the Westerns, you swear he deserves an Oscar for those roles he played because he was so not the bad guy. He said he was actually channeling a Georgia sheriff he knew as a boy who just kind of looked at people like that. He couldn't wait for them to step out of line so he could shoot them. He channeled that kind of thing when he was a bad guy. Most of the anecdotes he told me were actually Western-related.

What was his fondest memory of those Westerns, or was there a favorite project of his?

De said his portrayal in 'Apache Uprising,' where he was Toby Jack Saunders… he said, "That S.O.B. kept me up at night." I mean, the more I thought about him, the more one of the things AC Lyles wanted him to do in that was to establish his character. First off, De was a huge animal lover before I tell you this. AC wanted him to ride into town and have this dog barking at the horse's heels. He wanted De to pull out a gun and shoot him. Obviously, it would have been a fake shoot, but it would have looked on the Western like he killed a dog. De said, "Absolutely not! I will establish his character another way. I'm not going to shoot a dog." If you've ever seen 'Apache Uprising,' he is an absolute snake. He told me while he was in the hospital, "I've been thinking about that. He was a real S.O.B. [laughs]. I've been thinking about him.

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About Tom Chang

I'm a follower of pop culture from gaming, comics, sci-fi, fantasy, film, and TV for over 30 years. I grew up reading magazines like Starlog, Mad, and Fangoria. As a writer for over 10 years, Star Wars was the first sci-fi franchise I fell in love with. I'm a nerd-of-all-trades.
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