Nimoy’s ‘Zombies’ Invaded Earth Nearly 70 Years Ago

Leonard Nimoy

Republic Pictures Leonard Nimoy as Narab in a scene from 'Zombies of the Stratosphere.'

More than a decade before Leonard Nimoy landed his career-changing role as Spock on “Star Trek: The Original Series” he co-starred as a Martian in a 12-episode serial called “Zombies of the Stratosphere.” According to the Internet Movie Database, “Zombies of the Stratosphere” was released by Republic Pictures on July 16, 1952, or 70 years ago next month.

According to the back of the box of the “Zombies of the Stratosphere” VHS that was released in 1991, the synopsis of the serial reads as follows, with punctuation in its original form: “Planet Earth is in trouble! A sect of maniacal martians has joined forces with the evil Dr. Harding, a traitorous electronic research scientist. Their plan: Use Dr. Harding’s expertise to build a hydrogen bomb and blow up the earth. Once the world is history, the martian’s dying planet will inherit the Earth’s life-supporting orbit. Only fearless space explorer Larry Martin can attempt to foil the aliens’ deadly intent. He must race against martians Marex and Narab (Leonard Nimoy, “Mr. Spock” of STAR TREK fame) in their relentless quest to secure uranium and electronic components for their weapon of destruction, hiding in a secret water-bound cave. Stap on our flying suit and prepare to blast-off in this interplanetary serial that’s out of this world!”


Before Nimoy Was Spock, He Played the Martian, Narab 

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According to the Internet Movie Database, “Zombies of the Stratosphere” cost $176,357 to produce, with parts of the serial filmed at Vazquez Rocks Natural Area Park in Agua Dulce, California. Numerous television shows and movies have been shot there, according to Memory Alpha, among them “Gunsmoke,” “The Wild Wild West,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey,” “24,” and “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” but “Star Trek” has made notable use of the exotic location over the decades. Memory Alpha notes that at least 10 episodes and two movies utilized Vasquez Rocks, including “The Original Series” episodes “Shore Leave,” “Arena,” “The Alternative Factor,” and “The Child,” “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home,” “The Next Generation” episode “Who Watches the Watchers,” the “Voyager” episodes “Initiations” and “Gravity,” the “Enterprise” episode “Unexpected,” “Star Trek Into Darkness,” and, most recently, the “Picard” episodes “Maps and Legends” and “The End is the Beginning.”

In 1958, six years after releasing “Zombies as the Stratosphere” as a serial, Republic Pictures, according to the Internet Movie Database, culled the episodes into a 70-minute movie. The resulting feature was called “Satan’s Satellites” and it opened on March 28, 1958.


The ‘Zombies of the Stratosphere’ Serial Was Edited into a Film Called ‘Satan’s Satellites’ 

Satan's Satellites

Republic Pictures The ‘Satan’s Satellites’ poster.

Nimoy, who was born in 1931, was about 20 years old when he made “Zombies of the Stratosphere”/”Satan’s Satellites,” and it would be the first of his many forays into the world of science fiction. In addition to “Zombies of the Stratosphere” and his long association with “Star Trek” as an actor, writer, producer, and director, his other genre credits, according to IMDB, were “Them!,” “The Brain Eaters,” “The Twilight Zone,” “The Outer Limits,” “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” “The Transformers: The Movie,” “The Pagemaster,” “Brave New World,” “Sinbad: Beyond the Veil of Mists,” “Atlantis: The Lost Empire,” “Futurama,” “Land of the Lost,” Fringe,” “Transformers: Dark of the Moon,” and “Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance.” He also produced the short-lived “Deadly Games” (1995) and directed the sci-fi show’s pilot.

At times throughout his life and career, Nimoy felt overshadowed by “Star Trek” and Spock, even calling his first memoir, “I Am Not Spock” (1975). However, he eventually made peace with it, calling a 1995 follow-up memoir, “I Am Spock,” and agreeing to play Spock again for J.J. Abrams in the films “Star Trek (2009)” and “Star Trek Into Darkness.” He also played the recurring character Dr. William Bell in 11 episodes of the Abrams-produced sci-fi series, “Fringe.” That show and “Star Trek Into Darkness,” were among Nimoy’s final screen credits, according to IMDB, before he died on February 27, 2015, at the age of 83.

In 2009, while promoting a then-upcoming appearance on “Fringe,” Nimoy explained to a group of journalists participating in a conference call that he appreciated his sci-fi work, including “Zombies of the Stratosphere.” He said, “It’s a good thing if you can find a niche as an actor and be able to support a family. Very early on, many years ago, probably 1950 or 1951, I acted in my first science-fiction project. I thought it was going to rocket me to stardom, if you’ll pardon the expression. And it didn’t quite work. It was a great project called ‘Zombies of the Stratosphere.’ I was third of a group of zombies that came to Earth to take over Earth’s orbit. It’s funny when I think about it now, but it was a way of making a living. I’m grateful for the niche that science-fiction has given me.”

 

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