Certain things come to mind when you think of the original Star Trek series: Kirk and Spock, of course, and the Enterprise, as well as the Gorn, Klingons, Tricorder, the Vulcan nerve pinch, and, of course, Tribbles. Those cute, cuddly and iconic creatures – as our guest bloggers Jordan Hoffman and Larry Nemecek noted in their most recent columns; click HERE and HERE – are celebrating their 45th anniversary… today. That’s right: “The Trouble with Tribbles” aired on December 29th, 1967
To celebrate the occasion, StarTrek.com reached out to Leonard Nimoy, Nichelle Nichols and Walter Koenig, to ask about their memories of making “The Trouble with Tribbles” and to ascertain their thoughts on the creatures’ enduring legacy. We also dug into our archives, to our interview last year with Tribbles creator David Gerrold, for some additional perspective.
“When I read the (“Tribbles”) script, I thought it was lightweight and rather frivolous,” Nimoy told us. “Later, I came to appreciate the episode as a change of pace from the heavier material we were producing. It played very well and became a fan favorite. I thought the ‘prop’ department did a great job providing the creatures. And I did (keep) one -- which has gone to one of my children.”
Nichols and Koenig had fun responding to three quick questions about their Tribbles experience.
Actors "act" opposite inanimate objects all the time, but how was it working with… Tribbles?
Nichols: Tribbles are not inanimate.
Koenig: I was concerned as to whether it felt that we were playing the scene moment to moment.
Why do you think Tribbles became such a phenomenon?
Nichols: There was never anything like them before or since. They were and are unique -- AND born pregnant!
Koenig: I think the answer lies with Freud. There is obvious sexual symbolism in Tribbles.
Be honest... did you steal a Tribble once the shoot wrapped?
Nichols: I didn't wait until the end. I got mine the first day!
Koenig: I didn't steal a Tribble. I did, however, have several of them burned in what can only be described as a heretical cult ceremony.
And now, here are the Tribble-centric comments from David Gerrold, which originally appeared in our two-part interview in January 2011.
Let’s talk Tribbles. You’d originally called them Fuzzies…
Gerrold: I made the name change, and in retrospect Tribbles is a much better name because Fuzzies is too cute. I don’t think Fuzzies would have developed the same kind of cultural recognition. You wouldn't have had people referring to Fuzzies the same way they refer to Tribbles. And I think because Tribbles was a neutral word – “Here’s this nice little creature and it’s called a ‘Tribble’” – we added a word to the English language. I made a list of silly-sounding words you could call such a creature and crossed off all the ones that were too silly. I wanted people to take them seriously.
If the crew had not figured out a way to nip the Tribble threat in the bud, they really could have taken over the world. Yet most people think of “The Trouble with Tribbles” as a comedy episode. Was there a part of you that thought, “Hey, guys, there’s a serious story in here and…”?
Gerrold: Oh, yeah. I wanted to do a sequel where, in order to control the Tribbles, we bring in a predator from their homeworld. And the next thing that happens is that crewmen start disappearing because we have swarms of predators on the ship. But we never got around to doing that.
To this day, fans still love the episode. It’s considered one of the most popular Star Trek episodes of all-time…
Gerrold: Paramount says it’s the most popular episode of all time.
Some people would argue that the best episode is “The City on the Edge of Forever…”
Gerrold: Harlan Ellison and I have an agreement. “City on the Edge of Forever” is the best episode, and “Tribbles” is the most popular.
OK, most popular. So, why? Why is “Tribbles” so popular?
Gerrold: First of all, there’s a visceral level. We like babies, kittens, puppies, white mice, panda bears, rabbits, Teddy bears. We like cute, small, fuzzy creatures. A Tribble is this creature with no face, though it’s got a mouth, right? And it purrs. So it’s the ultimate cat. Even better, it doesn't even give you the snotty look. I think it appeals to that very mammalian instinct to take care of something small and cute, like a child. In fact, I am convinced that the reason we don’t strangle our children in their beds is because they’re cute. Otherwise, they behave like little psychopaths. No, I’m kidding.