The Manchurian Candidate features three iconic Star Trek actors.
Part of the fun of watching classic movies as a Star Trek fan is spotting actors from the franchise in other roles. Recently, I saw not one, not two, but three iconic guest stars from the original Star Trek series in a single film: The Manchurian Candidate, which marks its 60th anniversary later this month (October 24).
Adapted from Richard Condon’s 1959 novel and directed by John Frankenheimer, The Manchurian Candidate is the story of a U.S. soldier who returns from the Korean War having been brainwashed by foreign Communists. His “operators” can activate him by instructing him to play solitaire. Once he sees the Queen of Diamonds, he can be ordered to do anything—even assassinate a presidential candidate.
The movie hit theaters at the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis, a real-world context that must have made it seem unbearably timely. Indeed, critic Bosley Crowther, in his review, said “it could agitate some grave imaginings in anxious minds these days” (The New York Times Book of Movies, page 683).
It didn’t perform well at the box office and won few awards, although one was a Golden Globe for the late Angela Lansbury in a bravura, deeply disturbing performance. Nonetheless, The Manchurian Candidate has become widely accepted as a classic.
The Manchurian Candidate has directly influenced Star Trek productions. The assassination attempt on the Federation President at the climax of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country pays homage to the attempted assassination in The Manchurian Candidate’s climax. And the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “The Mind’s Eye” revolves around a Romulan plot to reprogram Geordi La Forge as a killer. David Livingston, the episode’s director and “an unabashed fan of The Manchurian Candidate, tried unsuccessfully to get someone from the movie to appear … as an extra,” reports Larry Nemecek in his Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion (page 166).
Manchurian Candidate cast members Reggie Nalder, James Gregory, and Leslie Parrish all guested on Star Trek
Austrian character actor Reggie Nalder is renowned for the “icy touch” he brought to the often villainous roles he played. Nalder’s “gaunt face, expressive eyes, and soft, haunting voice never fail to absorb,” Shane Pitkin writes for IMDB. Nalder is known best for chilling turns in The Man Who Knew Too Much and the Salem’s Lot miniseries. But Star Trek fans remember Reggie him as the Andorian ambassador Shras in “Journey to Babel.”
Reggie Nalder plays an uncredited role in The Manchurian Candidate, a character named Gomel who watches the demonstration of the Communists’ brainwashing technique early in the film. He has few lines, but Star Trek fans will recognize his voice immediately. It’s the same voice that delivered only seven lines in “Journey to Babel,” the most haunting of which was: “Perhaps you should forget logic and devote yourself to motivations of passion or gain. Those are reasons for murder.”
Senator John Iselin is the Joseph McCarthy-esque politician stoking anti-Communist fear in The Manchurian Candidate—in the film’s world, not altogether without reason, though Iselin never recognizes how close the true threat is to him. James Gregory, whom IMDB calls “one of the most beloved actors of all,” plays Iselin.
A prolific performer on stage, small screen, and silver screen, Gregory may be best known to TV fans as Inspector Luger on Barney Miller. Among his many credits, he guest starred twice on The Twilight Zone: in the pilot episode “Where Is Everybody?,” and in “The Passersby,” alongside Star Trek’s female Romulan commander, Joanne Linville.
Star Trek fans will remember James Gregory played Dr. Tristan Adams in “Dagger of the Mind.” His work as the blustering, bumbling, but no less dangerous Iselin is an engrossing contrast to his turn as the methodically menacing mad at the Tantalus Colony.
Finally, Leslie Parrish plays Jocelyn Jordan in The Manchurian Candidate. She is the main character’s love interest and, briefly, his wife. In her most memorable scene, she arrives at a costume party dressed as the Queen of Diamonds playing card. It’s not quite as provocative a costume as the amazing Grecian gown she wears as Lt. Carolyn Palamas in “Who Mourns for Adonais?”—and likely didn’t need to be held up with double-sided tape, either!
Parrish began her career as a model but, as Star Trek fans know from her work as Lt. Palamas, she was a talented actor. Her filmography spans the years 1955-1978 and includes 77 film and television credits. She also was an associate producer of Jonathan Livingston Seagull. But Parrish’s true passion was her political activism opposing the Vietnam War and founding an early public television station.
As of this writing, Leslie Parrish is the only surviving Star Trek guest star in The Manchurian Candidate. The performances of all three will make watching this Cold War conspiracy classic all the more enjoyable for Star Trek fans.