“If Albert Einstein was around, I’d like to have his autograph,” Lee Delano once admitted. “We all have heroes or people we appreciate.”
Delano made that comment during an interview with StarTrek.com in 2013, explaining that he had come to embrace “Star Trek,” “Star Trek” conventions, and the fans who love the franchise and attend conventions. For many years, until he died in 2017 (at the age of 86, according to Memory Alpha), Delano attended his share of such events, often engaging admirers in a game of fizzbin. Captain Kirk invented the fake card game on the spot to distract Delano’s “Star Trek: The Original Series” character, Kalo, and his gangster cronies, in the unusually comedic second-season episode, “A Piece of the Action.”
Prior to landing his “Star Trek” role, the actor routinely played cops and crooks in films and on television, and he continued to do so long thereafter as well. According to his official biography, it was movie icon Steve McQueen who convinced Delano to try his luck in Hollywood. His many credits, according to Internet Movie Database, included “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.,” “Mission: Impossible,” “Executive Action,” “Police Story,” “Charlie’s Angels,” “Splash,” “The Birdcage,” the Mel Brooks movies “Silent Movie,” “High Anxiety,” and “History of the World, Part I.” He also, his site notes, toured for decades with Sid Caesar.
Check Out The ‘A Piece of the Action’ Trailer
No other credit on his resume, however, proved to be as popular as “Star Trek.” Delano, according to the Internet Movie Database, had guest-starred in an episode of Gene Roddenberry’s series “The Lieutenant” in 1964. Later, he explained to StarTrek.com, he received a call from his agent informing him, “They want to see you for ‘Star Trek.’ He performed a cold reading of script pages for director James Komack and others in the room, and, after at first thinking he was up for a smaller role, snagged his part as Kalo.
“I was born and raised in New York City, and I used to see people there just like Kalo, even when I went to high school,” he said. “And it was fun to duplicate the characters I used to see. So, I kind of had that swagger, because I’d hear and see these guys.”
Delano shot his scenes in early November 1967, according to Memory Alpha. Speaking to StarTrek.com, he described his episode as a “very fun, very pleasant” experience. It helped that he was familiar with several of the show’s main players. “First of all, I knew Walt Koenig before he got the show,” Delano told the site. “I’d known Leonard (Nimoy). It was like homecoming week because I knew some of the people. An interesting thing that not too many people know is that Jimmy Doohan was one of my teachers at the Neighborhood Playhouse when I was in New York. Jimmy was the assistant to Sanford Meisner, and sometimes when Sanford would be explaining something difficult, we – the students – would go up to Jimmy after the class and say, ‘Jimmy, what the heck did he say?’ We’d have him interpret for us, because Sanford was kind of an intellectual. So, I had an interest in doing ‘Star Trek’ because of Jimmy, Walt, and Leonard. The director, Jimmy Komack, was a very good director.”
Delano also got to utter some of the episode’s best, funniest lines of dialogue. “That’s true, I did,” Delano told StarTrek.com. “I loved it. I loved it.” His favorite, and the one everyone asked him to repeat during convention appearances, was, “Put your hands up over your head, or you ain’t gonna have any head to put your hands up over.” And fans loved the fizzbin game, too. “Actually, when I go to the conventions, I have a game with cards that I call fizzbin that I’ll do for them,” explained Delano, who was a proficient magician and, he said, a longtime member of the Magic Castle in Hollywood. “Everyone has fun with that.”
Kalo & a Couple of Gun Molls from ‘A Piece of the Action’
At the time of the conversation with the official “Star Trek” site, Delano was 81 years old. Healthy for most of his life, he’d had a hip replaced, and just the year before, an aortic valve replaced. Though family and friends expressed concern, Delano let nothing scare him. “People would say to me, ‘Oh, my God, are you going to be OK?’” he recounted. “I’d say, ‘Listen, I’m 81. I’ve had a great life. I live in the greatest country in the world. I have great friends and a wonderful wife and stepchildren and grandchildren. I hope it all continues. I’m blessed.’ Then I thought of a line from one of my favorite movies, ‘Body and Soul,’ with John Garfield. At the end, because (Garfield’s boxer character) didn’t throw the fight, the gangsters say to him, ‘You’re not going to get away with this.’ Garfield looks at the gangsters and says my favorite lines ever. He says, ‘What are you going to do, kill me? Everybody dies.’
“And that’s really the philosophy I have,” Delano continued. “I mean, come on. You can’t be afraid of living and you can’t be afraid of dying. God willing, we’ll all have peaceful deaths, but we’re all going to die. That’s the way it goes. Everyone dies. So, what’s the fear? We’re here for a short time. Enjoy it. So, I’m a very grateful person.”