Thursday, 14 August 2014

The Late Great Arlene Martel

To many Star Trek fans she will always be T'Pring, Spock's betrothed in the episode "Amok Time", but anyone who has watched a number of American TV shows from the Fifties to the Seventies would recognise the face of actress Arlene Martel. While T'Pring may be her best known role, she guest starred on many TV shows throughout the Sixties, playing everything from Montenegrin princesses to Russian spies. She appeared on some of the best known shows of the era, including Have Gun--Will Travel, The Twilight Zone, Route 66, The Outer Limits, and The Monkees. Sadly, Arlene Martel died 12 August 2014 at the age of 78 from a heart attack.

Arlene Martel was born Arline Sax in The Bronx, New York on 14 April 1936. Her parents were Austrian Jews. She spent her earliest years in extreme poverty, living in one of the poorest slums in The Bronx. When she was around eight years old her mother's boss noticed the extreme poverty in which the family lived. He then paid for young Arline's education at Cherry Lawn School, an upper class boarding school in Datien, Connecticut. It was there that her talent for acting was discovered. When Miss Martel was twelve years old she auditioned for the New York High School of Performing Arts. Among her classmates was another dark haired beauty, Suzanne Pleshette. In the summers she performed at the Berkshire Playhouse, lying about her age to do so (one had to be at least 18 to act there). While still in school she had an affair with James Dean, which led to her appearance in Robert Altman's documentary The James Dean Story in 1957. 

For the first several years of her acting career she would be credited under her given name of "Arline Sax", and it was with that name she  made her debut on Broadway in the play Uncle Willie in 1957. She made her television debut in 1958 in an episode of Behind Closed Doors. In the late Fifties she guest starred on the shows The Restless Gun, This Man Dawson, G.E. Theatre, Death Valley Days, and The Rebel (in which she played opposite Leonard Nimoy for the first time).

The Sixties would see Arlene Martel at the peak of her career. Able to do a number of accents and dialects, she was very much in demand throughout the decade. In fact, she would appear in some of the best known episodes of a number of classic shows. On Have Gun--Will Travel she played Princess Alisna Serafina of Montenegro, one of the women to actually win Paladin's heart. On one of two episodes she did of The Twilight Zone, "Twenty Two", she played both a nurse in a morgue and a stewardess at the door of plane, uttering the sinister line, "Room for one more, honey." Billed for the first time as "Arline Martel", she played Consuelo Biros in the classic Outer Limits episode "Demon with a Glass Hand", written by Harlan Ellison. She played the Russian spy Madame Olinsky in the Monkees episode "The Spy Who Came in from the Cool" (the first of her two appearances on the show).

Of course, her best known appearance would ultimately be as T'Pring on Star Trek. She was one of the actresses considered for the role of Dr. Elizabeth Dehner  in the show's second pilot, "Where No Man Has Gone Before", but lost the role because her sensitive eyes could not handle the silver contact lenses she would have been required to wear. She auditioned for the role of  Sylvia in the episode "Catspaw", but failed to win that role. Arlene Martel was disappointed that she did not get the role, but what she did not know at the time was that she was being considered for a bigger and more important role, that of T'Pring in the upcoming episode "Amok Time" Airing as the first episode of the second season of Star Trek, "Amok Time" would become one of the show's most popular episodes and provided Arlene Martel with her most famous part.

While best known as T'Pring on Star Trek, Arlene Martel played many more roles on other TV shows of the Sixties. In fact, she had a recurring role on Hogan's Heroes as French resistance leader Tiger. She also guest starred on such shows as Hong Kong, The Detectives, Route 66, The Untouchables, Ben Casey, Bus Stop, Cheyenne, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., My Favourite Martian, I Dream of Jeannie, Perry Mason, The Fugitive, The Wild Wild West, and Mission: Impossible. Although primarily a television actress, Miss Martel also appeared in movies during the Sixties. She made her film debut in 1964 in The Glass Cage, playing the female lead opposite John Hoyt. Miss Martel also appeared in the biker film Angels from Hell (1968).

Arlene Martel remained busy in the Seventies. On television  She appeared as the evil witch Malvina in a two part episode of Bewitched, as well as as the lover of a murder victim (played by Bradford Dillman) in the Columbo episode "The Greenhouse Jungle" (one of three appearances on the show). Miss Martel also guest starred on such shows throughout the decade as The Doris Day Show, McCloud, Mannix, The Delphi Bueau, The Six Million Dollar Man, The Rookies, Gunsmoke, The Rockford Files, and Battlestar Galactica. She also appeared in the television movies Indict and Convict and Conspiracy of Terror. It was in the late Seventies that Arlene Martel began being credited as "Tasha Martel". She would continue to be billed as such until about the mid-Eighties

Arlene Martel also appeared in movies in the Seventies, most notably in the cult film Dracula's Dog (AKA Zoltan, Hound of Dracula) in 1978. Despite appearing in the film for only a few minutes, Miss Martel received top billing above the actual leads of the film, and her name was actually in bigger letters. She also appeared in a small part in the low budget comedy Chatterbox (1977).

Arlene Martel's career slowed in the Eighties, and she continued to billed as "Tasha Martel" for the first part of the decade. She appeared in several episodes of the soap opera The Young and The Restless in 1986, and guest starred on the shows Knot's Landing and Berrenger's. She also appeared in the TV movies The Day the Loving Stopped and Eleanor: First Lady of the World.

For much of the Nineties she was absent from television and movie screens, making her first appearance on screen in years in the movie What Do Women Want in 1996. In the Naughts she returned to acting on a more regular basis, appearing in the feature film A Walk to Remember (2002), as well as as the film shorts "The Beat That Her Heart Skipped" (2013), "The Extra Mile" (2013), and "Matter of Family" (2012). She guest starred on the show "Brothers & Sisters" and appeared in the unofficial, web-based three part mini-series Star Trek: Of Gods and Men as a Vulcan priestess. In 2012 her book Mixed Messages, written with Jeff Minniti, was published.

There can be no doubt that Arlene Martel was beautiful. In fact, it was probably due in part to her striking, exotic looks that she was cast as T'Pring on Star Trek and as femmes fatales on so many other shows. While Miss Martel was incredibly beautiful, however, she was also an extremely talented actress. In fact, executives at Universal Studios nicknamed her "the Chameleon" due to her ability to transform herself into any different role she chose. Miss Martel was expert in an number of different dialects, and over the years played Native Americans, gypsies, Russians, Frenchwomen, and so on. She also was not adverse to wearing wigs or make up for parts. In fact, her skill at changing herself was so great that it was possible to see Miss Martel in two different roles on two different shows in the same week and not realise it was the same actress (for the longest time I did not realise that T'Pring on Star Trek and Madame Olinsky on The Monkees were both played by Arlene Martel).

Not only did Arlene Martel have a real talent for transforming herself, but she did as well playing comedy as she did drama. She was hilarious on My Favourite Martian as scatter brained silent movie star Viola Normandy. She also excelled as Dracula's niece Lorelei in The Monkees episode "Monstrous Monkee Mash". Of course, it may be her dramatic roles for which she may be best remembered, of which there were many more besides T'Pring. She played Princess Alisna Serafina in the Have Gun--Will Travel episode "The Gunfighter and the Princess", delivering a poignant performance. She was also touching a pregnant Pueblo woman on Route 66. While many actresses of the Sixties and Seventies tended to play the same sorts of roles consistently, Arlene Martel played a wide variety of roles in her many guest appearances, very few of them the same.

While Arlene Martel was often recognised for her beauty and her talent, many outside of Star Trek fandom might not realise that she was also a very nice woman. When fans talk of the honour of meeting Miss Martel, it is not her beauty (which she kept until the very end) that they talk about the most, it is how sweet and how thoughtful she was. She always had a kind word for her fans and would often have long chats with them as if they had known each other their whole lives. Arlene Martel had a gift for making other people feel that they were important, perhaps because she believed that they were. Quite simply, Arlene Martel was not simply an incredible beauty and a talented actress, but a great lady as well.

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