Friday, October 14, 2011

Dexter Clay, a 'redshirt' who survived to write about leadership

Let's face it: it didn't pay to wear a red shirt on the original Star Trek series.

Red, the uniform color of security officers (and engineers) on the show, was a practical death sentence. One estimate showed about 1 in 7 of the Enterprise's crew was killed in Star Trek, the original series. Of those corpses, a staggering 70 percent wore red shirts.

The "red shirt" phenomenon -- when a bunch of main cast members and a guy in a red shirt face a deadly situation, it's the guy in the red shirt who dies -- became a TV trope, even parodied to great success in Galaxy Quest. So it's no surprise that when Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG) began in 1987, they gave security officers another color (yellow) to wear. Still, security was a hazardous job and you kept expecting security officers to die with regularity. And, informally, us fans still called them "redshirts."

So it was somewhat unexpected during the first two years of the show when a certain officer kept reappearing. He got into a number of scraps, for sure, but the tall African-American security officer made appearance after appearance. He never got a line. He was never named. But he was never killed, either.

My real name is Dexter Clay, but my Star Trek
character never got one.
Flash-forward 20-something years, and we now have the Internet (and DVDs of the entire series). After two decades of exposure to his face, I finally got curious enough the other day to try and find out the security officer's name.

It was no easy task, even for an accomplished Googler such as myself. No name, either for the actor or the character? Enter Memory-Alpha, the Star Trek wiki. The security officer didn't make an appearance in any credits, making my job difficult. I first tried perusing a list of Enterprise-D crew members with no luck. Then, finally, I decided to examine entries for episodes he was in, in an attempt to get a name. Sure enough, in the entry for the pilot, "Encounter at Farpoint," there he was in the uncredited co-stars list: Dexter Clay -- Security Guard.

A quick, conventional Google search helped from there. With the IMDB showed only a couple credits (one episode of TNG and a bit part in a movie), Memory-Alpha showed that Clay had actually appeared in 29 episodes! That's more than such "regular" crew members as Guinan or Pulaski.

And no, he never was named or given a line.

It turns out that, prior to acting, Clay had been a professional football player, for both the 1980 Houston Oilers and the 1981 New York Jets, although he apparently never got into a game due to injuries. Besides playing the security guard in two TNG seasons, Clay also served three years as a stand-in for Michael Dorn (Worf).

Since his time on Star Trek, Clay has become a writer. His 2007 book about a high school football team, KatyNation, got good reviews on Amazon, as did his 1998 look into race relations, Black Eye on America.

Clay has apparently made it a goal of his to find out what makes good a good leader (although looking at Capt. Picard's thoughtfulness might be a good place to start), and has made numerous radio appearances in support of his book and philosophy.

While there are no copies of Clay's books at local libraries for me to review, it's sure gratifying to see at least one "red shirt" who didn't succumb to curiosity.

Unlike these guys:


Rob Roy said...

Wow, you should get a Cochrane Award or something for your research. 29 appearances? I don't remember this dude at all.

That video was hilarious.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Baker such a great post, I too was wondering about that unknown character which is why I am at your blog this early morning. Mr. Dexter Clay's only line came about during the 2nd season of Star Trek: The Next Generation in an episode called "A Matter of Honor". Ensign Mendon was browsing towards the tactical station on the Enterprise bridge and Mr. Clay says to Mendon, Can I help you sir?. Such a shame that the writers at that time could not write him in somewhere, he was such a fixture of the community on that ship.

Good Post!