From Sawdust to Stardust
The Biography of DeForest Kelley

Author: Terry Lee Rioux
Pocket Books
RRP 9.99, US $14.00, Cdn $20.00

ISBN 0 7434 5762 5
Available 07 March 2005

In the 40 year history of
Star Trek, none of the television show's actors are more beloved than DeForest Kelley. His portrayal of Leonard "Bones" McCoy, the southern physician aboard the Starship Enterprise, brought an unaffected humanity to the groundbreaking space frontier series. After years of struggle his lean, weathered look became well known in notable westerns and television programs such as You Are There and Bonanza. But his work on several pilots for writer-producer Gene Roddenberry changed his destiny and the course of cultural history...

DeForest Kelley may have been much loved for his portrayal of McCoy in Star Trek, but the truth is, if From Sawdust to Stardust is to be believed, that the man lived a very private life. So it must have been something of a nightmare for author Terry Lee Rioux to research this star's life story.

Sadly it would seem this was the case, as Rioux races through his early years without lingering too long. Even when we get to Trek, there is never that much detail on the episodes or DeForest's relationship with the other actors. There is no mention of Star Trek VII and whether Kelley was asked to participate. Rumours at the time suggested he turned Paramount down and it would have been interesting to hear whether this was the case and why (ill health?).

More time is given over to sugary tales about the Kelley's animals - anecdotes which a million people could recount about their own lives. In fact it was one tale in this collection that had me worried as to the editor's qualifications and the thoroughness of Rioux's research. Murtle is described as a turtle and a tortoise in the same breath. Which is she? I assume it's Murtle the turtle. It took me two minutes to research the difference myself on the Internet. According to The Tortoise Trust the best way to tell the difference is to examine the creatures back legs. If they are webbed, it's a turtle. If they are stumpy (like an elephants) it's a tortoise. So if such an obvious mistake got through, whose to say how many other inaccuracies litter the pages.

But it was page 310 that really made me worry about how accurate this book was:

  1. It had been a long, hard career for Kelley. No one really knew the whole story, or ever really would.

So is Rioux admitting that this book doesn't really tell the whole story? And then Rioux goes on to tell us things no one would ever know... which as I've now read them at least one other person knows... and soon a lot more will too.

DeForest's loving wife, Carolyn Kelley, recently passed away (12 October 2004) and I found it a little strange that there was no mention of this in the book - especially as it's theme is the love story between DeForest and Carolyn.

This book has many faults. There are too many romantic passages that have simply materialised straight out of Rioux's head - there's no way they could have come from any source. And she has a knack for stretching what appear like unimportant passages for pages and pages, and then skirting around things fans want to know. For example, there is no mention of any of the main cast of Trek when DeForest was dying (other than William Shatner and Nichelle Nichols) did none of the other cast know, or care? And what about his memorial?

Despite the book's faults I have to admit to enjoying reading it. While it is very flowery in places, the end result is satisfying. I truly felt that I had gotten to know DeForest Kelley a little more. The final few pages left me with a lump in my throat - and I'm sure will leave many fans in tears.

An interesting account of the life of a much underrated actor and a very private and down to earth man.

Ray Thompson

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