Hollywood Lost and Found
Props and Artifacts
On December 29, 1967, an episode of the television show "Star Trek" aired that featured countless small furry creatures that threatened to multiply endlessly but ultimately helped uncover a plot by the treacherous Klingons to poison an important grain supply. "The Trouble With Tribbles" is widely regarded by Star Trek fans as one of the most popular episodes of the classic series.
The episodes author, David Gerrold, wanted to tell a story about the consequences of an ecological balance that is disrupted. He needed to invent a breed of small alien creatures that would be easy for the "Star Trek" artists to manufacture in large numbers. Using real living animals was out of the question.
Gerrolds girlfriend at the time, Holly Sherman, had a key chain that was a pink ball of fluff. Although pink was too garish a color to use, the fluffy ball of fur was the inspiration behind the creatures. Originally named "Fuzzies" in early drafts of the story, Gerrold played with a list of many other names he randomly created. After eliminating names such as "Shagbies," "Puffies" and "Goonies," he finally ended up with the name "Tribbles."
The Tribbles were designed by special effects genius Wah Chang, who also designed the shows most famous prop icons - the Tricorder, Phaser and Communicator. Irving Feinberg, Star Treks prop master, supervised construction of the creatures. They were sewn by Jacqueline Cumeré, who was reportedly paid $350 to make 500 of them.
Most of the Tribbles were brown in color, some of which were touched up with lighter or darker accents for variation. A few were white. Some of the earliest created were made of a softer, fluffier fur while they were still experimenting with materials.
"Star Trek" special effects man Jim Rugg made six Tribbles "walk" by using toy dogs. He cut off the toy's heads and fitted them with a Tribble skin. One of them can be seen in the episode walking across a railing on the bridge of the Enterprise for a moment before being scooped up by Captain Kirk (William Shatner). Rugg also made a few Tribbles "breathe" by placing a surgical balloon inside them, which was inflated using a plastic tube attached to a squeeze bulb.
After the episode aired, almost every fan letter the show received asked for a Tribble. The illusion that there were thousands of them convinced many fans that they could certainly spare one or two.
But what happened to all the Tribbles after filming? Quite a few remained at the Paramounts Star Trek stages for awhile, and turned up as the source of a laugh now and then. Supposedly once while DeForest Kelley (playing Dr. McCoy) was operating on a patient in a later episode, he pulled a Tribble out of his patients body during one take. "Heres the problem!" he said.
Some Tribbles were taken home by the cast and crew. A few were given to fans. Many were offered as donation premiums during an April 1969 fundraiser for Los Angeles Public Television station KCET, having been smuggled out of Paramount by prop man Irving Feinberg.
Trying to track down one of the original Tribbles is extremely difficult but not impossible. David Gerrold himself once auctioned off a few from his personal collection on eBay. When items from Star Trek Production Executive Herb Solow and Producer Bob Justmans collections were sold by auction company Profiles in History in 2001, many items from the shows history - including a few Tribbles - were auctioned off. And Hollywood Lost and Found sold one that had originally come from the KCET fundraiser.
On November 4, 1996, an episode of "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" aired that featured a plot where the characters traveled back in time and visited the characters of the original series and appeared along side them in scenes from "The Trouble With Tribbles."
For this episode, which was titled "Trials and Tribble-ations," portions of the "classic" Enterprise sets were recreated and a good number of Tribbles had to be found. They came from Star Trek merchandising company Lincoln Enterprises, which is now a part of Rodenberry.com. After filming, again the cast and crew took a few but most were returned to Lincoln Enterprises, and sold as Tribbles actually used in the episode.
Rodenberry.com continues to sell licensed, "Official" Tribbles. They can also be found at the gift store at the Las Vegas Hiltons Star Trek attraction.
- Steve Lee
24 December 2005
Gerrold, David. The Trouble With Tribbles. New York: Ballantine 1973.
Gerrold, David. The World of Star Trek. New York: Ballantine 1973.
Profiles in History. <http://www.ProfilesInHistory.com>
Roddenberry.com (The Official Gene Roddenberry Website). <http://www.Roddenberry.com>
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