Harve Bennett: A Reminiscence

There is a generation for whom their Star Trek isn’t one of the television series. It’s the movies. Maroon jackets. Admiral Kirk. James Horner. “Of all the souls I have encountered…” Protomatter and Project Genesis. “My god, Bones, what have I done?” Humpback whales. “A double dumb-ass on you.” Born too late for the animated series, already into teenage years when Star Trek: The Next Generation debuted, the Star Trek films hit at just the right time.

I’m part of that generation of Star Trek fans. The Star Trek movies are my Star Trek. Everything else is just prologue or footnotes.

The man who shaped that era of Star Trek was producer Harve Bennett. Bennett died today, aged eighty-four, less than a week after his friend and colleague Leonard Nimoy.

Nimoy’s death saddened me, but Bennett’s breaks my heart.

I wouldn’t be a Star Trek fan today were it not for Harve Bennett. And, were it not for Bennett, there wouldn’t have been the four television series from the mid-eighties to the mid-aughts; people who came to Star Trek through Voyager or Enterprise would not have done so had Bennett not rescued and reinvigorated the franchise in 1981 and 1982.

I’m not overstating this. Bennett, a well-regarded television producer, was brought on to salvage the mess that Gene Roddenberry had made of the property with Star Trek: The Motion Picture. He made three well-received films and showed Paramount that there was still life in the Star Trek name. Because of Bennett’s work, Paramount decided to begin production on what would become Star Trek: The Next Generation, returning the property to television with four series and a combined twenty-five seasons.

I met Bennett at a convention. Between 2006 and 2009, Bennett attended the Farpoint convention, usually held in the vicinity of Valentine’s Day weekend, in Baltimore. His first appearance, in 2006, was his first convention appearance in almost thirty years. I made a point of going, and I made a point of attending his talks. He talked about his career, he read from his unpublished memoir. (And it’s still unpublished. He had a publishing deal for it, but the publisher went out of business.) And he talked about his relationships with people, some famous, some not.

I found an e-mail I wrote, dated February 20, 2007. Let me quote from it:

I loved both of Mr. Bennett’s talks this year.

The first, on Saturday, was not especially well attended, but it felt very intimate. He spent an hour talking about working in radio, and it was absolutely fascinating.

The second, on Sunday, was a great way to close out the convention. His stories of his encounters with people like Sammy Davis, Jr. and Ted Williams were very well told. The emotion in his stories of Ingrid Bergman and Leonard Nimoy was very real and very touching. I’m glad I was there to hear those stories. He’s a fantastic speaker.

At the span of eight years, I do not remember what he said about Sammy Davis, Jr. or Ted Williams. I remember a little bit about his story of working with Ingrid Bergman on a movie about the life of Golda Meir. (She was emotionally distraught during the filming, it looked like she was going to cause the film to go over schedule and over budget, and she found it in herself to turn in a marvelous performance.)

I remember his story of Ricardo Montalban. He first saw Montalban, as a young man, on stage. He was in a musical, the name escapes me. He had a fine signing voice, and there was a magnificent dance number. It just so happened that one of Montalban’s legs was shorter than the other, by about an inch, due to a childhood accident. It sometimes caused him great pain, and he often walked with a pronounced limp. Bennett asked him about this, how it was that he could dance so beautifully when he was in so much pain, and Montalban’s answer ran something like this: “I may have a limp and suffer pain, but my character does not. When I’m in character, I feel no pain and the limp vanishes.”

The story of Leonard Nimoy. I’ve told it, but I’m not really sure that it’s mine to tell. It was a story of personal failings, professional misunderstandings, a strong relationship that fell to tatters, and the more powerful friendship that emerged, to Bennett’s surprise, from the wreckage. When Bennett began the story, his voice was strong and assured. When Bennett finished, he was in tears, and I doubt there were many in the audience who were not likewise in tears. It was a powerful moment, and I will cherish that memory forever.

I had the opportunity to speak with Bennett for a few minutes. Again, from that 2007 e-mail: “I told him Sunday afternoon in the autograph line that I’m anxious to read his memoirs whenever they’re published, and he said that the Farpoint convention has motivated and inspired him to get them finished.” But that wasn’t all we spoke about. I thanked a man for the difference he made in my life. I told him I wouldn’t have been a Star Trek fan were it not for him. I told him he did good work.

Star Trek wasn’t the entirety of his work. Far from it; his association with Star Trek lasted just a decade. But that decade touched me and millions of others, and it kept Star Trek alive and in the public eye until another generation could boldly go.

The joy I feel in my memories is tempered by the feeling that, today, a light has gone out. Thank you, Harve Bennett. I’m glad I got to meet you.

A Correction: Though Bennett’s death was revealed today, March 5th, he actually passed away last week, on February 25th, two days before Nimoy.

Published by Allyn

A writer, editor, journalist, sometimes coder, occasional historian, and all-around scholar, Allyn Gibson is the writer for Diamond Comic Distributors' monthly PREVIEWS catalog, used by comic book shops and throughout the comics industry, and the editor for its monthly order forms. In his over ten years in the industry, Allyn has interviewed comics creators and pop culture celebrities, covered conventions, analyzed industry revenue trends, and written copy for comics, toys, and other pop culture merchandise. Allyn is also known for his short fiction (including the Star Trek story "Make-Believe,"the Doctor Who short story "The Spindle of Necessity," and the ReDeus story "The Ginger Kid"). Allyn has been blogging regularly with WordPress since 2004.

One thought on “Harve Bennett: A Reminiscence

  1. For history’s sake, two posts from TrekBBS.

    From April 1, 2009:

    I spoke with Bennett at Farpoint this year briefly, but sadly I neglected to ask him about the autobiography. Though I didn’t have the chance to attend either of his talks at the convention this year (Saturday I was occupied, and Sunday I was a tired-trippy), I did pay my respects at the autograph table. I was, to be honest, shocked at how frail he looked this year as compared to two years ago. (Bennett cancelled his appearance at Farpoint last year.)

    He said at Farpoint 2007 he had a book deal for his memoirs, but his publisher was the same outfit that collapsed in the wake of O.J. Simpson’s If I Did It debacle.

    Even if the book is never published, I’m glad I got to hear him read from it in 2006 and 2007. He read the story of how he was hired to produce Star Trek II (which is nearly verbatim the account in Shatner’s Star Trek Movie Memories), but honestly it was the non-Trek stories that I found more interesting — and far more moving. His story of working with Ingrid Bergman on A Woman Named Golda would move anyone to tears.

    I suspect that there’s not really a market for his memoirs, which I think is unfortunate. If it weren’t for Bennett and the people he surrounded himself with on Star Trek II, like Nick Meyer, I doubt I would be a Star Trek fan today. I would gladly give up any of the Roddenberry biographies that have been published for the chance to have Harve Bennett’s autobiography on my shelf.

    From November 29, 2009:

    Getting to meet Harve Bennett at Farpoint a few years ago is a high point in my fandom. 🙂

    His talks were never well attended; there was one where they gave him this massive ballroom, and he had about eight people show up. He sat in an armchair, read a little from his autobiography, and answered questions. It was the things that weren’t about Star Trek that I found the most interesting, and he wept while talking about working with Ingrid Bergman on A Woman Called Golda.

    I never knew that he had an alcohol problem — or that Nimoy had an alcohol problem, for that matter — and I found it touching that while the two men had professional differences, they still had a personal bond.

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