this sad news: the death Saturday at age 88 of our own tragic Matt Decker, William Windom.
Gene and Jonathan, each in their own way, were remembered by fans all over on their day Sunday. But I have to stop and say this:
I envy Doug Drexler, Jack Marshall, James Cawley and the Phase II "fan film" crew who worked with Windom, incredibly, ca. 2004 on their episode "In Harm's Way." Doug and Dorothy relate on Facebook here how the retired actor drove eight hours down to L.A. from NorCal to reprise Decker in an older visage for that story. It was a great tale behind a sweet moment in all the fan-generated episodes we have today.
Now, I have no similar story; I saw him at cons and signing shows and really only had one real conversation—in fact, I'm pretty sure it was just about the last time I ever really bought an autograph. Reflecting on it here, I think it's a sign of how even now there are some lingering occasions where you just can't shake "fanboy mode," even after all these years working in Trekland.
Because I mainly saw William Windom where it really mattered: right there, unshaven and unsteady, wearing his gold shirt with the Constellation insignia. For you see, Windom's Matt Decker was the TOS guest star that easily made the greatest dramatic wallop on me back when the term "Star Trek" referred only to those 79 one-hour TV episodes you watched after school. So many great ones, but it was the gripping background of a wrecked sister ship, the Big Four all with screen time doing their jobs under stress, the biggest amount of custom FX shots in TOS, and that great Sol Kaplan score I swear John Williams ripped off for Jaws—in fact, I'm playing the suite as I write this. It all made "DMa" easily the most impactful for me, Windom's broken Decker being the icing on the cake.
That's the show I recite the most lines from, the most entire scenes from. So much so that, even in recent years, Windom gave me a look that day at Bill Campbell's old Fantasticon charity cons of the late 90s when I asked him to sign his only Decker photo option a certain way.
Now, I admit I do recall, barely, seeing he and Inger Stevens in the sitcom The Farmer's Daughter (they had that cool stair-chair that went up and down the treads, along a wall track). And I recall enjoying the Thurber-based cult classic My World and Welcome To It that nabbed him an Emmy even though it was cancelled, even before I understood what that all meant and why that was karmic payback for the injustice of it being axed (as so many cool shows would come to be mourned when cut down too soon). Not so much with Windom as the doctor on Murder, She Wrote, personally not being a regular viewer—but it didn't matter: By the 1980s, Windom was simply one of those great fixture faces of TV you could always count on.
Yep ... he's a big reason—though hardly the only one—why "The Doomsday Machine" remains one of my two favorite Treks of TOS, and why I can still recite two entire scenes of his. One, Decker's usurping of the Enterprise conn from Spock, which inspires one of De Kelley's best scenes ever (and clearly the Best McCoy Go-To-Hell Look in the whole franchise). I had to be a little older before I realized Windom's one-handed fidgeting with the two microtapes as Decker under siege was an homage to the metal balls Bogie's Captain Queeg handled all through his hearing and breakdown in The Caine Mutiny.
And then, That Other Scene: perhaps the most difficult any early Trek guest was ever called upon to play: traumatic shock. Recite Decker along with me, won't you?: "Don't you know that? There was... but not any more!"
Either Windom had forgotten, or he got asked to sign that zillions of times....like the day *I* asked him. I suspect it was the latter ... but one way or the other, it was why I got The Look. And I wouldn't trade it—the autograph, or the memory—for all the quatloos in China.
(What? None of this conjures up the ghost, right out of hell? Then take a look at this legal demo clip; you need to see it—at least from 0:44 onward:)
So long, Mr. Windom. We really were stronger with you than without you.
Your thoughts? Please share with the crew, below— in comments:
For folks in SoCal, a memorial service for Windom will be at 2 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 15 at Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. West, Los Angeles.