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Last Updated: Friday, 2 November 2007, 13:13 GMT
Voyage from Star Trek to Lampeter
Herb Solow

During the 1960s and '70s, Herb Solow was arguably one of the most influential people in Hollywood.

As a studio chief, he oversaw two of the most successful and enduring shows in TV history - Star Trek and Mission Impossible.

Not only that, but he produced an award-winning documentary about Elvis, and worked with Frank Sinatra and Clint Eastwood, among others.

So it may come as a surprise that he now lives quietly in mid Wales.

The market town of Lampeter, Ceredigion, may be a long way from Captain Kirk's journeys to the far reaches of the universe, but Herb and his wife Harrison seem to love it.

They have lectured part-time at the town's university for the last three years. Mrs Solow works part-time at Trinity College Carmarthen too, but she primarily moved to Lampeter to study a PhD - where she is also learning Welsh and singing in two choirs.

Frank Sinatra and Herb Solow on the set of Dirty Dingus Magee (picture: Herb Solow)
Frank always turned up on time and knew exactly what he had to do
Herb Solow, with Sinatra

Her husband maintains contact with his previous life as a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and is currently reviewing movies for next year's Oscars.

Star Trek remains one of the best-loved series in TV history, but he recalled how worried he had been that - going boldly or not - it would fail to make it to air at all.

He also had to convince creator Gene Roddenberry to alter Mr Spock's original look, which he described as satanic.

"I had been working for the US network NBC and was offered a job at the Desilu Studios (later to become part of Paramount) which was owned by TV star Lucille Ball and her husband Desi Arnaz," said Solow.

"I was keen to start making programmes for the studio and put the word out that I was looking for ideas.

The original series was cancelled after only a three-year run on NBC in 1969
It is now broadcast almost continuously on over 120 stations in the USA and in over 100 countries worldwide
There have been 10 subsequent films
A 1993 study found that children in the US learn more about science from Star Trek than from any other source

"I was soon approached by Bruce Geller, who I made Mission Impossible with, and it was a huge hit around the world.

"But Star Trek was a slightly different story. I was approached by this softly-spoken Texan who was nervous, sweating and was holding a crumpled piece of paper. This man was Gene Roddenberry.

"On the crumpled piece of paper he had the outline of a story which was to become Star Trek.

"He wanted to create a new version of Buck Rogers, but we had to change a few things. Initially, Gene had Spock with a red face, pointed ears and a tail, and he looked just like Satan."

A pilot made in the mid-1960s was mauled by the critics. A second with a new cast, apart from Leonard Nimoy as Spock, led to a three-series run between 1966-69.

Leonard Nimoy as Dr Spock
Leonard Nimoy is devoid of any ego and remains a close personal friend
Herb Solow on the Spock actor

By then Solow had quit Paramount to become MGM's vice-president of worldwide TV and motion picture production.

He also headed MGM's studio in California and its set-up at Borehamwood in England.

This led to work with legendary British director David Lean on the Oscar-winning Ryan's Daughter, and at around the same time he also worked with two 20th Century icons in Sinatra and Elvis.

Solow commissioned the comedy western, Dirty Dingus Magee, starring Sinatra.

"I found Frank Sinatra to be a very pleasant and professional performer," said Solow.

"Frank always turned up on time and knew exactly what he had to do, he didn't interfere and just got on with it."

Solow was called on next to produce the documentary Elvis: That's The Way It Is.

"Just like Sinatra, he was an absolute delight. He had stopped performing for a bit and the documentary showed him on the comeback trail and finally ended up with him performing in Las Vegas.

"Everybody loved Elvis - that's the way it was."

Solow was also responsible for commissioning the WWII comedy caper Kelly's Heroes, which starred Clint Eastwood, Telly Savalas and Donald Sutherland.

"I've enjoyed my life and I've worked with some great people. On Star Trek there was DeForest Kelley (Dr McCoy), who was a lovely guy.

"Leonard Nimoy is devoid of any ego and remains a close personal friend, and so does George Takei (who played Sulu in Star Trek)."

As for his work at Lampeter University, his lectures focus on Jewish/American influences in Hollywood, a topic close to his heart as he is descended from a Russian/Jewish family.

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