WHAT PRICE SUCCESS?
A Recounting of the True and Shocking Circumstances Behind the Cancellation of Star Trek: The Original Series
by JL Malkston
Thank you for this prestigious award. It means so much to me that my peers selected my advertising agency as 2025’s Advertising Agency of the Year. I gave considerable thought to what I might do to thank all of you for this latest of so many splendid testimonials. I decided that the best way to thank you is to give you what you’ve asked of me for lo these many years—the secret of my success.
The world is my plaything now, but because that wasn’t always the case you must hear the story of my life to appreciate the significance of my amazing success—and the extraordinary secret behind it. As you will see, they are inexorably entwined.
I was born in the 20th century, quite some time ago, in the year 1946.
Yes, I’m that old. Oh, it is so sweet of you to say I don’t look it. Not a day over 21? You’re much too kind. Thank you.
To continue, I had three strikes against me from the beginning. Strike one: I was born female before women’s liberation came to the fore. Strike two: I was born female and extremely bright. Strike three: I was born female and coyote ugly.
Oh, yes—incredibly ugly. Now aren’t you a dear for saying that it can’t be true? It was most assuredly true a long time ago, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
Suffice it to say that I was an extremely unappealing infant. My parents took one look and sued the hospital and the obstetrician for malpractice. They claimed their baby had been exchanged for someone else’s in the nursery. Mom actually tried to check out without me.
Dad eventually developed a sense of humor about having a daughter who looked as if she was trick-or-treating year round. Mom never did but she tried at first, she really did, poor thing. Sometimes she laughed till she cried, usually after I found my way home when she played hide and seek with me.
In my teens, I never had to chase boys. They chased me—throwing rocks, the little dears. So, I stayed home night after night, studied voraciously, and graduated as valedictorian of my high school class, the Class of ‘64.
My classmates were rather cruel to me. In addition to the vicious pranks they played on me daily, they voted me “Most Likely to Die a Virgin” in our high school yearbook. Did I mention that the Class of ’64 became known as “The Hard Luck Class”? So many calamities befell them after graduation—except for me, of course. Terrible, just terrible calamities, but more about that later.
After high school, my parents insisted that I go on to college so I could get a good-paying job and support myself. They knew spinster material when they saw it and refused to buy me a trousseau. To quote Dad: “Why throw good money after bad? Get a scholarship, get a degree, get a job and get lost.” He’s still an inspiration to me.
Dad wasn’t my only inspiration. During my senior year in college, I discovered Star Trek. More to the point, I discovered Mr. Spock, a male from another world who believed that intelligence and logic were qualities to be prized more highly than physical beauty.
I developed a massive crush on Mr. Spock. I knew he was the only male in the universe who could truly appreciate me, and I wrote often to tell him so. I had no social life, so writing to Mr. Spock became my only emotional outlet. He received lots of letters from me. I received lots of autographed eight by ten glossies from him.
By the time I graduated and set out job-hunting in June of 1968, I was determined to be a professional writer. I travelled to New York City and I made the rounds of every newspaper, magazine, publishing house and advertising agency in The Big Apple. Every interviewer insisted that I wasn’t exactly what their company was looking for.
I pounded the pavement for two unsuccessful months. I was close to giving up when the employment agency sent me to Dante, Inc., Advertising and Public Relations, to interview for a junior copywriter’s position. My instructions were to use the elevator marked “Out of Order” and descend to the sub-basement level of the building, which I did. Oddly enough, that out of order elevator worked just fine.
I found Dante, Inc. at the end of a long dank hallway. The door, a huge slab of marble, reminded me of the entrance to a crypt. There was no doorknob, only a tarnished brass knocker encrusted with cobwebs. Before I could knock a second time, the massive slab began to creak open. I was certain I was about to enter the armpit of the advertising world.
Against my better judgment, I stepped in. Dante Inc.’s reception area was as oppressively hot as a sauna and lavishly decorated in Early Dungeon. A pale slinky blonde, with mountainous mammaries and a plunging neckline to set them off, sat at the receptionist’s desk smoking a Tipparillo.
The blonde gave me the once-over with the world’s chilliest blue eyes and spotted my portfolio. “Deliveries at the rear door.”
“There is no rear door.”
“But I’m here for an interview not a delivery.”
She arched a brow in disbelief.
“For the junior copywriter’s position you advertised. The Last Resort Employment Agency sent me. I’m Imogene Oglesvy.”
Smirking, she picked up the phone and pressed the intercom button with the tip of an elegantly long fingernail and cooed into the mouthpiece. “We have an applicant for the junior copywriter’s position.” She glanced up at me and wrinkled her nose. “Female, I think.” She sighed, hung up and resumed smoking her slender cigar.
I couldn’t resist the impulse; I had to ask. “Did a gentleman offer you that Tipparillo?”
“He was no gentleman, believe me. Have a seat over there. No, not there. In the corner behind the cactus.”
I sat and fanned myself with a horror magazine while I waited. I mopped my brow with Brand X tissues and berated myself for using the wrong deodorant. My clothes were sodden when I finally asked the blonde if the air conditioning had malfunctioned.
She looked askance at me and shook her head. “We don’t have air conditioning. We like it this warm and cozy.”
The door to the inner office creaked open and a tall, sallow brunette in a sprayed-on jumpsuit slithered out and beckoned me to follow. She was even more generously endowed than the blonde. I cringed.
I followed her, tugging on the strap of my training bra. The inner office was so dimly lit I tripped over the doorsill. “Are we in the midst of another brownout? I can’t see a silly millimeter in front of me.”
She snickered at my complaint. “Dahling, someone with your looks should welcome subdued lighting.”
“Looks aren’t everything. Intellect and character—”
“Sour grapes, dahling, but who can blame you. Park it over there and fill in this application.”
Filling in Dante Inc.’s job application was an eye-opening experience. The questions were the most unusual I ever encountered. For example:
#1. Would you be willing to kill to get this job?
#2. If you answered yes to #1, whom would you be willing to kill?
The rest of the questions followed in the same vein. I was so desperate for a job by then that I decided to go with honesty and hope the application would never fall into J. Edgar Hoover’s hands. I returned the completed form to the brunette along with the portfolio of the publicity campaigns I worked on at college.
The brunette took both into yet another office and returned almost immediately.
“Mr. Mephisto will be with you shortly, Miss Oglesvy.”
She was right. Mephisto burst out of his office, nearly startling me out of my acne-ravaged skin. He was a sinister but lean Telly Savalas type. The only thing missing was the lollipop. We eyed one other, sizing each other up. Mephisto finished first.
He ushered me into his office and into the most unsightly and uncomfortable chair in the room, the one trimmed with leather straps and electrodes. Mephisto’s desk wasn’t all that attractive either. It could have passed for a medieval rack.
He held up my application and his lips curled in a sinister smile. “This is the most promising job application I’ve ever seen.” He then indicated my portfolio. “And this material is impressive, very inventive. However, since you have no previous job experience, I’ve recommended that we hire you on a trial basis. Mr. Lucien, our agency president, agrees.”
I had a job. I gasped in disbelief but managed to find my voice. “Thank you. Thank you, very much. I promise you won’t be disappointed.”
“Excellent. You’re on the payroll as of this moment and you are to begin work immediately on a PR project that is of vital importance to Mr. Lucien.”
I was so excited, I didn’t even ask about my salary. “Wonderful. I love a challenge. What does the project involve?”
“You are to undermine the popularity of a certain weekly television program with the long-range goal of bringing about its cancellation.”
“That’s it? That’s the vitally important project?”
“It’s kind of lame, don’t you think?”
Mephisto cleared his throat. “Not according to Mr. Lucien, or to anyone who works for him.”
“Oh. Right. Which TV program?”
“I’ll have to write it down for you.” He lowered his voice to a whisper. “We’re not permitted to speak the title aloud.”
He scribbled on a piece of paper and handed it to me.
My blood ran cold. “Star Trek? Cancel Star Trek? Are you insane?”
“Weren’t you listening to what I said? Never speak those two words again!”
“But I love Star Trek.”
“Shush! He’ll hear you. Say you hate it.”
“No. I love Star Trek. It’s my favorite show.”
“I’m sorry, Mr. Mephisto. This job is not going to work out. I quit.”
The intercom buzzed. Mephisto quickly lifted the receiver. “Yes, sir? . . . Oh, I strongly recommend against it, sir. It’s much too soon. Please let me handle . . . I understand. Whatever you say, sir.”
Mephisto replaced the receiver and rounded his desk. “Mr. Lucien wants to see you. Now.” He seized me by the elbow, lifting me out of the chair, and ushered me into his private elevator. He shocked me when he pressed the Down button. Any farther down and I knew we’d hit bedrock.
Bedrock proved not to be a barrier to our descent. The elevator picked up speed and descended so rapidly I began to worry about the bends. After what seemed an eternity, the elevator began to slow.
When the doors opened, I got a whiff of foul air and gagged. I heard faint sounds of moaning and wailing. By that point, I was very, very nervous.
I pressed myself against the back wall of the elevator, reluctant to exit. “Mephisto, where in hell are we?”
“Very amusing, Imogene. Come this way.” Mephisto dragged me out of the elevator and led me into Mr. Lucien’s private office.
Lucien was seated behind his lava rock desk with the back of his throne-like chair turned to us.
Mephisto nudged me forward toward the nearest chair. “Here she is as you requested, sir.”
Still keeping his back to us, Lucien waved his hand in a dismissive gesture. “Leave us, Mephisto.”
Mephisto complied instantly leaving me to face Lucien alone.
Lucien whirled about in his chair and I nearly went into cardiac arrest. He was Mr. Spock and Ming the Merciless all in one neat, sensuous package. Never was a face so perfectly suited to a mustache and goatee. I would have expected his jet-black hair to be slick and villainously greasy but he had wisely adopted the dry look. He appeared human except for the pointed ears and tiny horns that jutted out from beneath his long, stylishly razor-cut hair.
I gasped and stared at him wide-eyed. “I’ll be damned!”
“I certainly hope so.”
“Has anyone ever told you that you look exactly like—”
“Don’t say it!”
“I do not look like Mr. Spock. Mr. Spock looks like me.”
“I believe it’s a wash.”
Lucien glared at me. “I’m nothing like him. Spock is truthful, kind, honest, non-violent, loyal to a fault and completely logical—and he has the gall to look like me. Have you any idea what an insurmountable obstacle that is in my line of work? He is destroying my image and reputation.”
“Pardon me for stating the obvious, but your image and reputation were pretty bad to begin with. If anything, Spock has improved them.”
“That’s the problem, Imogene. I don’t want them improved. I want my image and reputation the way they were before—damned evil, like me. You do know who I am, do you not?”
“I have a fairly good idea, yes.”
“Keep it in mind the next time you open your mouth.”
Lucien slammed his hand down on his desk. “I need to counteract all that sickening Vulcan truth and honesty. It’s the reason I established this advertising agency.”
I nodded my approval. “Good plan. If you need to counteract truth and honesty, advertising is definitely the way to go.”
Lucien frowned. “Yes, but thus far I’ve been unsuccessful. I need someone with your fresh talent and ruthless ambition to reverse what Spock has done to my image. I’m counting on you to get that vile Star Tripe cancelled, Imogene.”
“But I love Star Trek. You can’t possibly expect me to help you get it cancelled.”
“Expect it? I demand it.” He leaned forward and arched a brow. “Have you forgotten with whom you are dealing?”
I shook my head—and the rest of my body followed suit. As fiery hot as it was down there, the look in his eyes chilled me to the bone.
“Then get to work, Imogene.”
There was no way out and I knew it, but I decided to stand my ground. I folded my arms defiantly. “I’m not getting to work until we get a few compensatory details settled.”
Lucien scowled at me. “You dare to negotiate terms with me?”
“If I’m to lose my favorite television show, I deserve sufficient compensation. I have a list of demands.”
He snorted. “Such as?”
He was grinning by the time I got to the last of my demands. “Imogene, you’re even nastier than I am. It is truly a delight to do business with you.” He held his hand out to me. “Shall we shake on it?”
“I prefer to have it in writing.”
Actually, that’s who I am now—his girl, I mean. We’re sort of engaged to be engaged. Lucien has commitment issues that we’re working on, but I digress.
As my reward for getting Star Trek canceled before the end of its third season, Lucien made me immortal and eternally young, drop dead gorgeous, powerful and filthy rich, and the most successful ad agency president in the history of Madison Avenue—and he delivered on all my other demands as well.
Until the day she died, Mom hobbled about painfully on her crutches telling everyone at the nursing home that her daughter turned out to be a late bloomer after all. Whenever Dad was lucid, he bragged about me to anyone who would listen at the asylum for the criminally insane. Unfortunately, he bragged to the wrong inmate one day and, well, I won’t bore you with the gory details.
Occasionally—on purpose, actually—I bumped into my former classmates down through the years as they staggered out of seedy bars, Weight Watchers meetings, STD clinics, halfway houses and houses of ill repute, psychiatric wards, welfare offices, homeless shelters, jail or whatever. They’re all dead now, of course, but whenever they begged me to tell them the secret of my success, I offered them the same sage bit of advice I offer to all of you tonight.
Go to Hell.
© 2014 Jolana Malkston