Christie's Boldly Goes Into the 'Star Trek' Vault

By David Segal
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 5, 2006

NEW YORK -- First of all, do not call them Trekkies.

"We're Trekkers," says Matthew Drumm. "Trekkies is an insult and it's only ever used by the media."

Point taken. Drumm and a few thousand other Trekkers have descended this week on Christie's, the fine-art auction house, which has hidden the Picassos and Monets to make way for room after overstuffed room of "Star Trek" memorabilia. Starting today and ending Saturday with the sale of a scale model of the Starship Enterprise-A -- which was seen in several movies and is expected to fetch about $25,000 -- Trekkers will boldly bid where no Trekkers have bid before.

Since last weekend, all 1,000 auction lots have been on pre-sale exhibit at the Rockefeller Center headquarters of Christie's. If you wanted an acid trip but didn't actually want the acid, you couldn't do much better. The original TV series, which began a three-year run in 1966, spawned 10 movies and four television series, and each and every scene required a dreamed-up universe of clothing, furniture, weaponry, art, jewelry, musical instruments, books, toys, games and electronic gadgetry.

Here is Lot 24, a set of "four heavy wooden, loveseat-size benches with rough-hewn finish, all -- 54 x 26 x 43 in. -- used in the Klingon High Council set on Star Trek: Enterprise," as it says in Christie's impressively punctilious two-volume catalogue. (Estimate for those benches: $800 to $1,200.) Here is Lot 173, something called a Zefram Cochrane statue, a "prop statuette of latex and foam painted to simulate bronze, modeled as Star Trek scientist Zefram Cochrane" ($300 to $500).

Can we show you something in the "Next Generation"-style stun phaser, Lot 543, made of foam and rubber and valued at somewhere between $600 to $800? Or a Borg head ($600 to $800) or some Vulcan guards' ceremonial spears ($400 to $600) or perhaps a Starship Excelsior electronic clipboard, a relative bargain at an expected $100 to $150? How about a miniskirt uniform from the original series, "trimmed at the cuff with a single row of gilt braid indicating rank of Lieutenant"? Yours for somewhere between $700 and $900.

The price estimates are guesswork, of course, because nobody is quite sure how many bidders will turn up in Manhattan, nor how many more will bid through a real-time online system that Christie's started using this summer. The high end of the official estimate is $1.8 million, but $3 million sounds reasonable to Cathy Elkies, the Christie's expert in charge of the show.

"All of this comes directly from the studio archives," she says. "It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."

Christie's first approached Paramount Studios, which owns the "Star Trek" franchise, a decade ago but couldn't persuade the company to part with the booty. The expense of warehousing all this material apparently inspired a change of heart. The props and costumes were stored instead of dumpstered in part because various "Star Trek" spinoffs were forever recycling things, but now Paramount has no "Star Trek" plans for the foreseeable future.

Which brings us back to Trekker Matthew Drumm. He was walking around the exhibit rooms earlier this week in a bit of a lather.

"I consider this a wake," he fumes. "I'm disgusted by the whole thing."

Paramount is just milking the fans for money, he huffs, and without any "Star Trek" shows in the works, that is unseemly. Plus, they won't let visitors take photographs.

"I think they want to sell the catalogue."

Well, they do want to sell the catalogue, which costs $90 for both volumes and is a required purchase for anyone who'd like to watch or bid on the sale in person. Christie's won't say much about catalogue sales (it's in "the thousands," according to Elkies), but the point of this rather labor-intensive event probably isn't to make a fortune. It's to raise Christie's profile with a different stratum of buyers. The company can earn more in three minutes selling a Gauguin than it will earn in the next three days.

After winning the consignment in January, Christie's promptly dispatched the husband-and-wife team of Michael and Denise Okuda. They are former "Star Trek" production crew members who are also the co-authors of "The Star Trek Encyclopedia." The couple were cut loose on five Los Angeles warehouses, where for months they spelunked and catalogued what they turned up in hundreds and hundreds of boxes.

"We'd get there in the morning and work till the warehouse got too hot," says Michael Okuda. "We'd accumulate questions all day, like 'Are we sure where this control panel showed up?' And then we'd check the episodes on DVD and make sure we had it right."

The Okudas offered a tour of the collection on Monday, starting in the costume room where racks of colorful outfits hung on poles. It looked like Earth's biggest Halloween clearance sale -- psychedelic jumpsuits, wedding dresses, Vulcan robes, lots of fake armor. Adding celebrity wattage to all this camp styling were shmattes worn on the show by Whoopi Goldberg, Terri Hatcher, Kirsten Dunst and a giant, glittery silver number draped over Fleetwood Mac drummer Mick Fleetwood.

"A lot of people didn't realize it was him," says Okuda, "because his face was hidden under a big rubber fish head."

Given the financial constraints of weekly television, "Star Trek" was always sci-fi on a budget. Most of the props were given just enough character to look convincing on TV, but up close and in person, the seams shine through. Which is part of their charm. In a room dedicated to spaceships sits Lot 482 (estimate $2,000 to $3,000), a Klingon space station model, which Okuda says is the result of some very hasty improv.

"This was literally made from parts we bought at a hardware store." The special-effects people called and said, "We need a space station immediately," and the Okudas were in their car in a jiffy. "This is a hair curler, these are baby-proofing latches" he says, pointing. "We glued it together, painted it up and there you go."

Most of the vessels, he hastens to add, took months to build. But this whole berserk menagerie amuses most when it reminds you that TV is created by people struggling to meet deadlines, under budget.

In the wardrobe room, there is a shirt from the original "Star Trek" series that was later modified for use in, of all things, "Mork and Mindy." A big number "2" was simply stitched on the front and lo and behold, it was Morkified.

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