Today Hero Collector releases Star Trek – A Celebration, their new book looking at the making of Star Trek: The Original Series. We previewed the book last month and today we have an exclusive chapter all about the iconic phaser rifle designed by legendary game designer Reuben Klamer, who passed away last week.
A message from the co-author
Co-author Ian Spelling had this to say about the chapter and Reuben Klamer:
“The story of the phaser rifle fascinated me and I wanted to be sure we included it in TOS – A Celebration. Mr. Klamer’s prop really and truly helped convince NBC that Star Trek could deliver action in addition to thought-provoking ideas, and so they gambled on picking up the show. Then, the prop was never seen again on the show and it seemed to disappear in a real-world context as well. Mr. Klamer had it for decades, and he sold it at auction for a small fortune a few years ago. It took me several weeks of old-school sleuthing to track him down earlier this year. He was in ill health, but on a good day a few months back his assistant called and said he could speak to me. We chatted right then and there. If this isn’t the last interview that Mr. Klamer gave, it’s one of the last, and I’m so grateful that we got him and could let him comment on his place in the Star Trek phenomenon.”
Excerpt from Star Trek – A Celebration
T H E P H A S E R R I F L E
After its appearance in the second pilot, one of STAR TREK’s most memorable props disappeared from view for the best part of 60 years.
Gene Roddenberry, Matt Jefferies, and Wah Chang get the lion’s share of credit for creating the look of STAR TREK and inventing its iconic props. However, there’s another crucial figure, a man rarely mentioned in the same breath as the headliners above, who merits recognition. That man is Reuben Klamer.
In 1965, Klamer designed/created the phaser rifle that Kirk wielded in the second STAR TREK pilot, ‘Where No Man Has Gone Before.’ Kirk utilized it to weaken his god-like old friend, Gary Mitchell, and then to topple boulders that buried Mitchell in a grave meant for Kirk. The episode’s action – exemplified and amplified by the phaser rifle – helped nudge NBC to commit to STAR TREK as a series. Also, in 1966, a few months before STAR TREK premiered, network publicists arranged a photoshoot with Shatner, Nimoy, Grace Lee Whitney, and unwittingly, the phaser rifle. The resultant images stoked viewer anticipation about the upcoming sci-fi series – and triggered a mystery.
After ‘Where No Man Has Gone Before,’ the weapon disappeared from the show. The prop itself seemed to vanish, too, until it went under the gavel in 2013. It generated 23 bids and fetched $240,625, the highest price ever paid for a hand- held STAR TREK prop. The seller? Reuben Klamer.
A veteran inventor and toymaker, he developed the classic board game, The Game of Life, and created such products as Busy Blocks and Fisher-Price’s training roller skates. Klamer’s company, Toy Development Center, Inc., also devised props for the entertainment industry. One such prop, a gun produced for The Man from U.N.C.L.E., wowed audiences – and Gene Roddenberry – and became a bestseller when Klamer licensed a toy version. Roddenberry, deep into preproduction on STAR TREK’s second pilot, got Klamer’s name from U.N.C.L.E. producer Norman Felton.
“I had no clue I was going to get a call from Roddenberry,” says Klamer in 2021, aged 99. “I was surprised. He said, ‘My name is Gene Roddenberry, and I have this show called STAR TREK. I’d like you to come in and talk about an idea we have.’ I said, ‘Of course, I’ll be out there any time you say.’ And we met.” Roddenberry and Klamer agreed that Toy Development Center would construct a phaser rifle in exchange for the merchandising rights to toy phaser rifles and potentially to other STAR TREK products.
Klamer and his design associates, Dick Conroy and Ab Kander, spent two weeks toiling around the clock to build a long, sleek weapon with a trio of transparent tubes in its body and a minisatellite dish at the barrel’s end.
“We had to get the looks of it right first, so we worked on that for days,” Klamer recalls. “Once we got that right, then we could get down to brass tacks. We did the whole thing in two weeks, but it would’ve taken two months under normal conditions. I was willing to do it, though, so I could get the merchandising rights. Our U.N.C.L.E. products were very successful. One of the guns sold over a million pieces and had its own fan mail.”
Everyone loved the rifle, including Shatner, who’d attended an early meeting about the prop. Roddenberry, on seeing the nearly finished version, declared, “This is it!” Next, lawyers negotiated and letters were exchanged, but ultimately, “Gene didn’t follow through” with granting Klamer the merchandising rights to the phaser rifle or any other STAR TREK toys. “I was disappointed,” Klamer concedes, “extremely disappointed.”
NBC, unaware the weapon would never be used again, included it among the props that Shatner, Nimoy, and Whitney posed with for a photoshoot. At some point thereafter, the phaser rifle wound up back in Klamer’s possession. He kept it in its case at his office in Culver City and then in San Diego. “We’d open the box once in a while to show somebody, but it was perfectly preserved,” Klamer says. “The funny thing is we tried to hide the box so that if our office ever got broken into, no one would find it.” He watched ‘Where No Man Has Gone Before,’ and was impressed. “The phaser rifle looked great on- screen, especially with the special effects added,” Klamer says. “And I thought Shatner did a really good job.”
Decades went by. Finally, one of Klamer’s sons suggested selling the rifle. Klamer agreed, and sold it with a design sketch sheet, Polaroid photos, and correspondence from Roddenberry. “I didn’t imagine the bidding would hit $240,000,” Klamer says. “That was great.” Though he no longer owns the prop, he owns something maybe of higher value: a unique place in STAR TREK lore. “That prop was more than a phaser rifle and more than a model,” he claims. “It looked like something special. It was something special. It gave the show some pizzazz.”
More from Klamer
As noted above, Reuben Klamer sold the original rifle prop at an auction a decade ago. He appeared in a video ahead of the sale by Julien’s Actions.
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