Mike Paugh (centre) takes command from his homemade replica of Capt. Kirk's chair. He is flanked by his wife Barb Paugh and former actor Peter Duryea, who appeared in the original Star Trek pilot. Wanda Caven photograph.
By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
July 15, 2009
At the time, the suggestion seemed so innocent, so innocuous.
For years, the hard-working volunteers of the local Kinsmen and Kinettes club in Cranbrook played host to a dinner theatre with a murder mystery theme.
Club members got to wear costumes, while displaying their thespian chops. Money was raised for charity.
But after a while the Colonel-Mustard-in-the-conservatory-with-a-candlestick schtick became old hat. The annual fundraising dinner needed a new theme.
Someone suggested Star Trek.
Mike Paugh liked the idea. He remembered watching the original television program in repeats on KVOS, the station based in Bellingham, Wash., that seemed to best appreciate the viewing habits of a teenaged boy in the early 1980s.
He hadn’t seen the show in years, so went in search of details on the Internet.
Before too long, he had instructions on the construction of the command chair used by Capt. James Tiberius Kirk on the bridge of the original Starship Enterprise. He decided to build one for himself. Then came the treks to conventions; a tour of the rides at Star Trek: The Experience, a tourist attraction in Las Vegas; and, a pilgrimage to see an original chair at the Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame at Seattle.
He also bought a snazzy gold captain’s uniform for himself and one of those sweet mini-skirted blue uniforms for his wife. Both boys got a uniform, too.
“It got a little crazy,” he admits. “My wife wishes I didn’t spend so much energy, time and money on this. But she’s a good sport about it.”
Hey, he was in Vegas and doesn’t gamble. “Come on, what’s 800 bucks?”
The uniforms are cool, but the replica of the captain’s chair is the piece de resistance. He bought foam, plywood, a swatch of naugahyde. He placed queries on “A Site About Props,” an online discussion board specializing in details on movie replicas. He learned a bit about upholstery, about woodworking, about how true is the statement “measure twice, cut one.”
At long last, the chair, which swivels 359 degrees, was complete. It was the hit of the fundraising dinner.
To sit in the command chair was to be transported from the mundane reality of everyday life into the fantasy of exploring strange new worlds, seeking out new life and new civlizations, boldly going where no financial consultant has gone before.
Plus, it was comfortable.
Mr. Paugh (pronounced “paw”) is a much skinnier version of William Shatner’s Kirk. At 42, he’s got the boyish look of Ron Howard with a William H. Macy haircut. A banker’s son, he spends his days crunching numbers and juggling RIFs, LIFs and RSPs.
“As a kid everyone wants to sit in the captain’s chair,” he said. “I guess that’s how I ended up with one.”
The chair helped him gain a new friend.
A retired actor living nearby heard about the fundraising dinner. He offered his services.
Peter Duryea was born in Hollywood to a Hollywood family. In the 1960s, he appeared in the television shows that later aired in perpetual re-runs on stations like KVOS. His credits include “I Spy,” “Adam 12,” “Dr. Kildare,” “Bewitched,” “Family Affair,” “The Outer Limits,” “Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.”
In an episode of “Daniel Boone,” he died in his real-life father’s arms. Dan Duryea was an actor movie-goers loved to hate, as he mostly portrayed charming villains.
The younger Duryea lost some of his ardour for the profession after his father’s death in 1968, eventually resettling in the West Kootenays and becoming a Canadian citizen.
Of all the shows in which he appeared, only one continues to animate fans.
In the original 1966 pilot of “Star Trek,” known as “The Cage,” he portrayed Starfleet officer Jose Tyler, a boyish navigator. The character was not included when the show became a series on NBC in the fall of 1966.
That has not stopped the show’s fanatics from celebrating a performance otherwise relegated to trivia.
These days, Mr. Duryea operates a boat tour company and a wilderness camp from his home in Gray Creek. He also heads an eldercare cooperative that is building a facility next to the new school in nearby Crawford Bay.
While happy to indulge “fans who cherish old memories,” he is glad he never became “entranced by the glamour” of Hollywood. He has found a more rewarding life in the Kootenays, he said yesterday on his 70th birthday.
Back in Cranbrook, Mr. Paugh placed his captain’s chair in the lobby of the Columbia Theatre for the premiere of the movie “Star Trek.” Fans got to take a spin in the chair and have their photo taken flicking switches and pushing buttons on the arm rests.
You can buy an officially licensed replica of the chair from an online company for $2,717.01 US (plus $400 shipping), but Mr. Paugh finds itself more satisfying to have built one with his own hands for about a third the price. In fact, he has enough material left over to construct a second.
He’s got ambitions.
“I haven’t put any sounds in it yet, but maybe some day,” he said.
Earlier this year, the New York Times profiled fellow Trekkers who got in touch with their inner Capt. Kirk by placing command chairs in their homes. The online response ranged from ridicule to acknowledgement of a “sweet piece of geek candy.”
The best posting came from someone imagining a pretend captain sitting in the chair while calling into the kitchen.
“Hey, honey, get me a beer. Kirk, out.”