Trouble Keeping Her Green

Susan Oliver
Susan Oliver prepares for a take during filming of "The Cage" (Bird of the Galaxy)

The Orions were among the first alien species introduced in Star Trek. A slave girl, or rather the illusion of one, was played by Susan Oliver in the ill-fated pilot episode “The Cage.”

The “green girl” was the creation of Fred Phillips who also made Spock’s Vulcan look for the original Star Trek television series. Stephen E. Whitfield and Gene Roddenberry recalled in The Making of Star Trek (1968) how Phillips grew increasingly frustrated as three consecutive makeup screen tests, in which Roddenberry’s future wife Majel Barrett had been painted green, came back negative.

Now, Fred Phillips is an exceptionally fine makeup artist and recognized as a top pro in the business. He did a thorough job with the makeup and was quite satisfied with the results.

Imagine everyone’s surprise, upon viewing the developed film the next day, to find the actress’ face just as normally pink skinned as ever! There was no trace of green.

Gene’s orders to Fred Phillips: “Paint her greener!” The following day the test film again showed her as pink skinned as ever. Even Fred was dumbfounded. Recalling the incident, he says, “We did this three days in a row. We had her so green you couldn’t believe it and she kept coming back pink! Finally we figured out what was happening. The technician over at the film lab would receive the film every day and run it through the development solution. As the image formed on the film, he kept saying to himself, ‘My God, this woman is green!’ And so he kept correcting the film developing process in order to turn her back to normal skin color again!”

Whitfield and Roddenberry shared another amusing anecdote about the shooting:

The accomplished actress Susan Oliver later played the part of the alien woman in the pilot and was almost totally covered with green body makeup. During filming she became very tired and a doctor was called in to give her a vitamin B shot. The doctor arrived but no one bothered to tell him what his patient looked like. He went over to Susan’s dressing room, knocked, the door swung wide and suddenly he was confronted with an all green woman! He was so flustered that it took him almost five minutes just to find a spot to administer the shot.

The Season 2 episode “Journey to Babel” featured another Orion even if he was disguised as an Andorian. It was not until “Whom Gods Destroy” that a genuine Orion female appeared on screen. The first Orion male appeared in The Animated Series‘ “The Pirates of Orion.”

While references were made the “Orion Syndicate,” a criminal organization, throughout Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, it wasn’t until the fourth and final season of Star Trek: Enterprise that they reappeared. But they reappeared in plenty then.

Text adapted from Stephen E. Whitfield and Gene Roddenberry, The Making of Star Trek (1968)

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