William Campbell, R.I.P
Actor William Campbell, perhaps best known for his roles on the original STAR TREK, passed away April 28th, 2011. He was 87.
Essentially a character actor, Campbell did play leads from time to time. One of his most notable parts was the starring role in the 1955 Columbia film CELL 2455 DEATH ROW. In it, Campbell won praise for his performance as death row prisoner Whit Whittier. a character based on the real-life Caryl Wittier Chessman, the alleged “Red Light Bandit” who became an author and cause celebre’ by insistently proclaiming his innocence and repeatedly appealing his case, as his own legal representative. Eventually, he was executed by the state of California.
Instead of being boosted to stardom, the film seemed to subject William Campbell to a kind of typecasting that limited him to supporting roles. often as a street-smart tough guy.
He was featured in LOVE ME TENDER as one of the train-robbing post Civil War Reno brothers, singing onscreen with first-timer Elvis Presley.
Playing a race car driver in Roger Corman’s THE YOUNG RACERS (1963) led to a role in Francis Ford Coppola’s DEMENTIA 13.
(Interestingly, THE YOUNG RACERS was written by Robert Campbell, William Campbell’s brother and CELL 2455 co-star.)
Also filmed in `63 was an art heist film named OPERATION TITIAN (aka Operacija Ticijan), shot in Yugoslavia, the beginning of a strange filmic saga. Unreleased in its original form, it made it to television in heavily re-edited form as PORTRAIT OF TERROR.
But this was not the end of it, as Roger Corman had new sequences filmed over the next three years in Venice, California by director Jack Hill (SPIDER BABY) and Stephanie Rothman (THE VELVET VAMPIRE). This became TRACK OF THE VAMPIRE (aka BLOOD BATH, 1966), in which Campbell’s tormented artist character transforms by night into another actor for his vampiric escapades.
What most genre fans remember William Campbell for are his roles on STAR TREK, In the first season (1966) he portrayed the juvenile but powerful Trelane in STAR TREK’s The Squire of Gothos. It took some persuading to cast the “tough guy” actor as the alien who has chosen the role of a foppish 18th Century gentleman, but Campbell proved more than equal to the task.
In the second season “comic” episode The Trouble with Tribbles, he played the clever and supercilious Klingon Captain Koloth. The producers, including creator Gene Roddenberry. enjoyed his performance, and reportedly the character might have recurred in the third season, if Roddenberry had remained the active producer.
The character of Koloth appeared on the animated `70’s STAR TREK series, but Campbell did not perform the voice. The Mego “Klingon” action figure was based on the cartoon’s Koloth, so in a way William Campbell became the standard public imaga of a Klingon, until the advent of STAR TREK: THE MONTION PICTURE, and subsequent films and series.
In 1994, Campbell finally reprised the role of Koloth in the DEEP SPACE NINE episode Blood Oath, which allowed the aged Klingon warrior to go out in one final battle.
Other genre roles include THE WILD, WILD WEST (1966), SHAZAM! (1976), THE NEXT STEP BEYOND (1978), THE RETURN OF THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN AND THE BIONIC WOMAN (1987) and KUNG FU: The Legend Continues (1996)