Sean Kenney Interview:
From Star Trek - The Original Series to The Corpse Grinders!
Sean Kenney is an actor/photographer who also added author to his many accomplishments with his book Captain Pike Found Alive! Kenney was on four episodes of the original 1966 TV series Star Trek, including famously playing the physically disabled, aged and scarred Captain Christopher Pike in the first season two-part episode, "The Menagerie." He then went on to appear in numerous low budget exploitation movies, the most famous of which is Ted V. Mikels' The Corpse Grinders (1971).
Lee Sobel: When you played Captain Christopher Pike on Star Trek, how old were you at the time and how excruciating was it to have that makeup make you look old and scarred?
Sean Kenney: I was 24 and I went in to meet with Gene Roddenberry because he liked my picture. I didn't have any film experience, just theater. And actually Gene really preferred actors with theater experience. He didn't like film actors - he liked stage actors because they had to play to the tenth row and he liked actors who had presence. He looked at me and said, "Hmmm....hmmmm....your eyes...they look just like Jeffrey Hunter's." Also he liked that I was an ex Navy guy because Gene had also been in the Air Force. He asked me where I had been and I said Okinawa and he said he bombed that damn place. Gene was in World War II and had flown B-17's and he bombed the Krauts. He actually crashed his planes twice and survived and he became a safety officer because of it.
Then he asked me if I was allergic to latex or was I claustrophobic because they were going to make a face mask of me to create the makeup for the role on Star Trek. I told him, no I wasn't claustrophobic. Then he told me I would have to eat through a straw for a week and I said I could do that. So that's how I got the job. Then when they put me in the electronic wheelchair, they told me when I had to go to the bathroom that I could get out through a door in the chair by hitting the back of it with my foot to open it.
I had to show up every day at 5:30 in the morning for makeup. Fred Phillips, the makeup man for Star Trek, put the makeup on with this purplish mercurochrome, like the stuff they used to put on you when you were a kid and had a cut. They finished doing the makeup and
then put on the 5K lights to shoot the scene and the makeup just melted down the side of my face. Freddie Phillips had this young guy who was his assistant who said, "Hey, Fred, look." And he lifted his leg on a table, drew what looked like a dog leg on it with a white pencil, got out scissors and cut out a piece of his jeans and put it on the side of my face. And Freddie goes, "Oh my God, man, that's fantastic!" It was perfect because it lifted a little when you stuck it to a surface with spirit gum. Every night they'd take the scar off and put it in a drawer. They couldn't believe that this young kid solved their problems. We shot "The Menagerie" in eight days and on the last day they put it on and it was 5:30 in the morning and we were all beat and I looked in the mirror and said, "Hey, guys, come over here. Isn't the scar on the wrong side of my face?" And they went, "Oh shit! We would have been fired." So they flipped the scar to the other side of my face.
Lee Sobel: How did the shooting of the episode go? What was it like to work with William Shatner?
Sean Kenney: I have two stories about that. Because I didn't have any lines and was stuck in the chair in "The Menagerie," it was almost like I was invisible so I would overhear the actors talk about him behind his back. James Doohan (Scotty) and DeForest Kelley (Dr. McCoy) did not like Shatner. De Kelley was complaining that Shatner moved his marks so when the director Marc Daniels called all the actors back in to shoot the scene and hit their marks, De Kelley said "Look, that asshole moved his marks so he could get better lighting." Jimmy Doohan was someone you didn't mess with. He had four bullet holes in him from landing in Normandy in World War II and had his middle finger blown off. Jimmy was one of the nicest guys on the show and he and I became great friends and I used to go to his house. After "The Menagerie," they were so happy with the job I did that they cast me in two other episodes as Lt. DePaul, "A Taste of Armageddon" and "Arena." Director Joseph Pevney in one of the shows directed me to get up from the chair I was sitting in and cross the
room to get something and when I stood up I was two inches over Shatner and he didn't like that. Shatner pointed to the director and made an up and down movement with his hand, like sit him down and I'll go get that thing. It was weird, man.
Roddenberry wanted to keep me on the show but in the second season the network wanted a Russian guy so they added Chekov to the show. Roddenberry told me that because of me they got a 40 share for "The Menagerie" so he called all over town to help me get acting jobs. Next thing I know I get cast in "Get Smart" and I didn't even have to read it for it, all because of Gene. I've heard people say he was a mean guy but he was nothing but nice to me.
Sean Kenney in The Corpse Grinders
Lee Sobel: Anything else happen on Star Trek that was memorable?
Sean Kenney: Yes. One time when we were shooting, William Theiss who was the costume director brought Lucille Ball onto the set. Her company with Desi Arnaz, Desilu Productions, produced Star Trek. She was smoking and she said, "Billy, Billy, I love what you're doing. Keeps the skirts really high and push up the ladies, you know where I mean." She loved the show. Her son and I later were in Police Story and he told me that Lucy thought Star Trek was a comedy for the first eight episodes. She didn't know it was a serious show. She thought it was like Lost in Space!
Sean Kenney in The Corpse Grinders
Lee Sobel: After you were acting in television, you made a bunch of exploitation movies that played drive-in's and grindhouse movie theaters. A lot of these films were kind of forgotten about for years and then Quentin Tarantino started to create more of an awareness of them by rereleasing Jack Hill's films and making the movie Grindhouse. Do you look back at any of these movies you made with any kind of fondness?
Sean Kenney: I liked doing them because when we were on the set of Star Trek and other TV shows there were too many restrictions. If one word was off, the script supervisor would correct you and make you say the line again because otherwise it had to be approved by the network. When I made the first movie, The Corpse Grinders, I liked it because Ted V. Mikels was such a cool guy with the handlebar mustache. These guys would spend a lot of time looking at their watches because the movies were shot quickly because they were low budget. When we started the movie we were all having nice lunches but later when we were making the movie and the budget was running low we ate McDonalds, which is what happens on low budget movies.
Ted had a house up on a hill in Glendale, CA that looked kind of like a Tudor mansion and that's where we shot the exteriors of Corpse Grinders - all those
scenes like the backyard with the gravestones. We shot the interiors on a soundstage in Santa Monica. Ted had a wife back at his house but Ted was banging his A.D.'s sister girlfriend, so he had a little something on the side and his wife stayed at home and never came to the studio. So at one point Bill came running out and his sister had had a fight with Ted and she stole all the sound tapes for the movie - the 1/4" tapes from the Nagra. He said, "She's pissed at Ted and she gonna flush 'em down the toilet!" I'd already been on the movie for two weeks. She was in the bathroom running the toilet and Ted was banging on the bathroom door, begging her to forgive him for calling his wife and she
Sean Kenney in Terminal Island
had walked in on him making the call. He's gone so I can tell that store. I loved Ted.
I loved making the movie Terminal Island (1973) with Don Marshall from Land of the Giants and he was also a guest star on Star Trek. I played a real heavy and Tom Selleck lit me on fire at the end of the movie. Stephanie Rothman was the director and she was great. She let us improv. There was one scene that she really loved where I had to shoot the guy and I become maniacal. She was asking me, "How would you do it?" Sometimes women directors are more intuitive. She brought in a French cinematographer (Daniel Lacambre) and they didn't have steadicams back then so he hand held a lot of scenes and he was a gift. He brought a lot to the look of the movie.
Sean Kenney in The Toy Box
I made a movie called The Cult aka The Manson Massacre (1971). I was kind of creeped out by it but I got to play a good guy. I wasn't one of the crazy guys who went along with Manson. I played an undercover cop. I had to get up in the middle of a party and give a big speech. I remember when we were rehearsing it everyone thought it was really good. I really don't remember much about that movie.
I also liked biker movies and I made one called The Bloody Slaying of Sarah Ridelander (1973 - also released under the title Savage Abduction) with Steve Oliver who had been in the Peyton Place TV series and I had to learn how to ride a Triumph motorcycle with a long extended fork in the front. Then I went to New Mexico and made the western Machismo: 40 Graves for 40 Guns (1971) and I love Westerns and I had to learn how to ride a horse. What I liked a lot about those movies was that I could improvise and come up with my own stuff to do and the directors liked me so they would let me try things. Those movies today still stand up. I ran into Jack Nicholson at the funeral of a friend of ours and we were talking about the biker movies and how Easy Rider made his career. Most of the actors I knew liked making those kinds of movies because we felt more free in them.
Sean Kenney in The Cult aka The Manson Massacre
Want to know more about Sean Kenney's career? You can order an autographed copy of Sean's book, Captain Pike Found Alive! directly from him at