Qapla’! Boomers Were the First to See Klingons, Not Speak the Language

Klingons, aliens from the planet of the same name, appeared in the first season of the original Star Trek TV series in 1968. However, Klingon characters spoke only English in the TV series. Klingon, the language spoken by these aliens in the Star Trek universe (first referred to as Klingonese in the TV series), made its debut in Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979). In the movie, the actors improvised and wrote their own guttural sounds that were later “translated” into subtitles to let the movie audience in on the conversation.

In the third Star Trek movie (Star Trek: The Search for Spock, 1984), Paramount Pictures decided to make the language more formal, to add realism to the dialogue. The producers enlisted the services of Dr. Marc Okrand, a professional linguist, to create speech that sounded more like a real language. Okrand had assisted Paramount in the second Star Trek movie by coming up with a few lines lines of Vulcan dialogue for a scene between Captain Spock (Leonard Nimoy) and Saavik (Robin Curtis). The good doctor honed the sounds of Klingon to match mispronunciations by the actors, and in 1985, published The Klingon Dictionary. A second edition of The Klingon Dictionary was published in 1992. Okrand has remained active in updating grammar for fan groups that have adapted the language into Internet conversations. Aficionados of the language have gone so far as to translate classic literature into Klingon, including Hamlet, The Epic of Gilgamesh and a Klingon adaptation of A Christmas Carol. There have even been live performances of Hamlet in Klingon.

Now we see a lawsuit is making its way through the courts that may decide if Klingon can be classified as an official language — and as such cannot be copyrighted — or remains the intellectual property of Paramount Pictures. Paramount sued Axner Productions, Inc. in December of 2015 for “innumerable copyright violations” when the company produced a crowd-funded, unauthorized Star Trek-like movie. The suit was amended in March 2016 to specifically name people, places, planets, props and other copyrighted items, including the Klingon language. Axner’s attorneys have claimed that the language has taken on a life of its own, separate from the movies, and is therefore available for use by anyone.

Sure to appear in the upcoming court battles on the usefulness of the language in the real world is the fact that in May 2003, a hospital providing mental health services in Portland, Oregon, advertised for an interpreter fluent in Klingon. A hospital spokesperson remarked that the county had an obligation to provide services in all the languages spoken by the population they serve.

Also sure to appear is the fact that true users of the Klingon language rely on Marc Okrand to answer all questions of grammar and usage, and will only accept changes to the language by its creator. This is in direct conflict to the formation of real-world languages, which are constantly being shaped by its users over time.

At stake are the potential uses of other fictionally-created languages, including those of the Harry Potter series, Avatar and TV’s Game of Thrones.

Mister Boomer has been a Star Trek fan since the original series aired. He has enjoyed watching the evolution of Klingons from the TV series through the Paramount movies. Though Mister B has never spoken Klingon, he believes this ongoing court struggle is shaping up to be a battle worthy of a Klingon warrior.

How many words of Klingon do you speak, boomers?

Boomers Became Big Fans

There have been fan clubs around almost as long as there have been celebrities. Some historians point to the 1800s as the time when the term became synonymous with people who followed a particular sport. By the time professional sports, record distribution, radio and movies became nationally popular in the early part of the twentieth century, fan clubs emerged in many forms to follow this new celebrity class. Very quickly, savvy public relations people at record companies and movie studios saw the burgeoning fan scene as a marketing opportunity to control a celebrity’s image and launch new ventures to a group eager for any news from their idols. Then, as now, some celebrities chose to be greatly involved with their fan base, while others had a fictional life created about them, conjured up by people looking to profit from the star’s talent.

Some celebrities eclipsed others as the kings and queens of fandom. For our parents, Frank Sinatra was certainly one, as was Babe Ruth before him. Yet it was the Boomer Generation that took the idea of fan clubs to a whole new level. While traditional methods of reaching a fan audience were still in place — namely, magazines, radio and direct mail — television, portable transistor radios and a blossoming advertising industry targeting boomers kicked things up a notch. This was decades before the Internet would allow for instantaneous delivery of information.

Children’s television began getting in on the act in a big way in the early boomer days, starting with The Howdy Doody Show (1947-60) and Davy Crockett (1954-55). Boomer kids were bombarded with fan merchandising on a level not seen previously, in addition to offering genuine fan club cards. Radio shows of the 1930s could not compete with the visuals in your living room supplied by television. Many boomer boys did not know the name Fess Parker, so they were not fans of the actor per se, but they knew he was Davy Crockett and wanted a hat just like his. TV went one step further with The Mickey Mouse Club (1955-59). Each show was designed as if it were a “meeting” of the fan club, led by Mickey himself.

Around the same time, the eldest boomers and their older siblings were becoming Elvis fans. Elvis became the subject of the largest number of fan clubs. He had legions of fans everywhere he went as they shared information of his appearances, conveniently provided by his managers. Hollywood celebrities each had fan clubs as a way of keeping the star in the public eye, especially those looking to inflate the popularity of an actor or get a fresh face out in front of an audience. Some fan clubs, however, where completely run by the fans themselves. They shared and traded memorabilia and stories about the object of their affection. In later years, the fan convention came into being. Celebrities totally involved with their fans often had a working relationship with the club’s staff, and would make an appearance. This was the ultimate photo op precursor to today’s selfie explosion, only in boomer days, the object was to be photographed with a celebrity, not be the celebrity.

Teen fan magazines (also known as fanzines), a spin-off of the Hollywood gossip magazines popular in the 1930s and ’40s, reached a welcoming baby boomer audience in the 1950s and ’60s, especially among girls. There were dozens of them, including Seventeen, Calling All Girls (later called Young Miss), 16 Magazine and Tiger Beat. Photos of stars (suitable to tape up on bedroom mirrors, doors and walls), application forms to join fan clubs, info on who was dating whom, answers to questions about stars’ favorite colors and foods, all kept eager fans reading and anticipating the next release of their idols, be it a movie, TV show or record.

By the time The Beatles toured the U.S. in 1964, the boomer-age fan machine was in full swing. The band was on U.S. radio a year before they played their first note on American soil. Fanzines stoked the embers of young fan love by publishing pictures of the Fab Four, going to the point of printing, “Sorry, girls, he’s married!” below a picture of John Lennon. The Beatles had a huge fan base before they had an organized, “official” fan club. When they finally broke up in 1970, there were dozens if not hundreds of fan clubs dedicated to The Beatles around the world.

16 Magazine boasts "Beatles: First Color Pin-Up" on this May 1964 cover from Mister B's collection of his sister's fanzines. Notice how Bobby Rydell and The Beatles headlines are at the top of the cover, with Elvis news relegated near the bottom as the new age of rock 'n roll and boomer celebrities slowly replaced the old.
16 Magazine boasts “Beatles: First Color Pin-Up” on this May 1964 cover from Mister B’s collection of his sister’s fanzines. Notice how Bobby Rydell and The Beatles headlines are at the top of the cover, with Elvis news relegated near the bottom as the new age of rock ‘n roll and boomer celebrities slowly replaced the old.

Fan clubs, created by marketers or by fans, covered the gamut from music to sports to movies. Troy Donahue had a fan club; so did Mickey Mantle, Brenda Lee, Connie Francis and Richard Chamberlain. TV shows also had fan clubs. American Bandstand had one for each of their featured dancers. Later they were combined into one, which is still active today.

Mister Boomer was part of only one fan club — to which he still owns the card, too. It was for the Soupy Sales Fan Club. The card was issued as a promotion from a dairy company, which was a local sponsor of the TV show.

In short, if you were popular in music, TV, sports or movies in the 1950s, ’60s or ’70s, you probably had a fan club. Today, fan clubs are still out there, but their impact is diminished or perhaps absorbed by social media.

Were you a card-carrying member of a fan club, boomers? Do you still have the card?