The buzz around Houghton’s newly acquired “Star Trek” guide sent some of us digging in the Theatre Collection for more sci-fi offerings. Thanks solely to a 1988 gift from Harvard alum Robert Fletcher ‘45, we were not disappointed.
Mr. Fletcher designed the costumes for four Star Trek films. The first installment’s director, Robert Wise, tasked him with overhauling the garish, improbable wardrobe of the original series, shot back when color broadcasts were a novelty and networks were eager to make their expensive equipment seem to pay for itself. Wise feared that the old bright uniforms would crowd out everything else on the big screen. Besides, he wanted the 1979 motion picture to look more “science fact” than science fiction. Fletcher answered with streamlined costumes in muted hues—and more of them—to add variety when a set change on the Enterprise was not possible. He militarized the Starfleet, outfitting the crew in dress attire, Class A and B uniforms, fatigues, and lounge suits; altered the familiar breast insignias; and created an elaborate system of shoulder tabs, emblems, and armbands (complete with “pips” and “squeaks” ) to denote rank, commendations, and years of service.
These he set down in an 18-page guide intended to prevent chaos in Paramount’s wardrobe department. Later it was released to “Trekkies” whose appetite for minutiae proved insatiable. Judging from the fan letters among Mr. Fletcher’s papers, he was all too happy to oblige. A companion jumpsuit construction manual by Jim Brooks—also part of the Fletcher collection—gives costumers the information necessary to make a suit which will be “for all intents and purposes . . . almost indistinguishable” from those on-screen. Fans went wild. They invited Fletcher to speak at sci-fi gatherings and costume-cons and inducted him into their clubs’ local chapters. One politely complained to Fletcher that his explanation of the Vuclan symbols on Spock’s costume was “not logical” and took him to task for giving Chekov four pips and Kirk only three. (This letter was not stardated or typed on franchise stationery like many of the others.)
Beyond the crew, Fletcher was responsible for peopling the Star Trek universe. He made over the Klingons at creator Gene Roddenberry’s urging, giving them their distinctive spiny forehead and feudal armor. In addition to finished designs in the collection, there are dozens of pencil sketches, costume patches, a draft script for Star Trek: The Motion Picture, a story concept for the third feature titled “Return to Genesis,” wardrobe budgets, production schedules, office memos, correspondence, fan magazines, and newsletters.
For three decades before his association with Star Trek up to the present day, Robert Fletcher has lent his prodigious energies to stage, opera, film, and television productions too numerous to list here. The Star Trek materials (call number *2004MT-81) represent a fraction of his generous gifts, and we would be amiss to neglect mention of his other credits—work which, though it circulates in narrower circles, has won wider acclaim. In 2008, at age 87, Fletcher was honored with the Theatre Development Fund Irene Sharaff Lifetime Achievement Award. He has also received three Tony and one Emmy Award nominations for his work in Little Me (1963), High Spirits (1964), Hadrian VII (1969), and “North and South II” (1986).
[Thanks to Dale Stinchcomb, Curatorial Assistant in the Harvard Theatre Collection, for contributing this post.]