Arlene Martel guest starred in “Star Trek: The Original Series” as the austere but sensuous T’Pring, the betrothed of Leonard Nimoy’s Mr. Spock in “Amok Time.” Decades later, the actress was well aware that she’d helped more than a few boys mature into men with her performance.
“I’ve had many men saying, ‘Do you know how my erotic fantasies were stirred by seeing this kind of woman?’” she said in 2010 during a conversation with StarTrek.com “You were given such pap about the blond, blue-eyed, giggly girl, and T’Pring was a woman that would be a challenge, they said. Men say to me, ‘When I was in my teens, I used to really fantasize about you.’ Well, that’s really nice to hear. I’m glad that they survived their fantasies and, more importantly, that I did.”
Martel Made One Appearance as T’Pring, in the ‘TOS’ Episode, ‘Amok Time’
Martel chuckled at the memory. The story, which she’d articulated dozens, maybe even hundreds of times before her unexpected death in 2014, continued to amuse her. Beyond that anecdote, however, “Amok Time” was no laughing matter, at least on screen, in the best possible ways. The episode, always a Top 10 favorite among fans, was a serious affair. In it, Kirk (William Shatner) defies orders in order to bring Spock – suffering from the effects of pon farr — home to Vulcan and to his fiancée, T’Pring. She, however expresses disinterest in marrying Spock, and promptly invokes a Vulcan ritual that results in a fight to the death between Spock… and Kirk. In addition to representing Walter Koenig’s debut as Chekov, “Amok Time” marks Spock’s first utterance of the signature line, “Live long and prosper.” For the record, he officially said, “Live long, T’Pau, and prosper,” to which T’Pau replied, “Live long and prosper, Spock.”
Martel, who grew up in the Bronx, New York, attended the High School of Performing Arts, which will be familiar to those familiar with the movie “Fame” and its long-running TV adaptation. According to the Internet Movie Database, she had already acted in more than 20 shows and movies – including two episodes of “The Twilight Zone,” an episode of “The Outer Limits,” and the film “The Glass Cage” (written, produced by and starring “Trek” actor John Hoyt, with Martel credited as Arline Sax) – and was gaining a reputation as a chameleon for her ability to alter her look, when she auditioned to play Dr. Elizabeth Dehner in the second “Star Trek” pilot, “Where No Man Has Gone Before.” The role required contact lenses, but Martel’s “very sensitive” eyes precluded her from wearing them, she said, and Sally Kellerman, who passed away in early 2022, landed the part. The powers that be at “Star Trek” assured Martel that “Something else is coming up,” and that turned out to be “Catspaw,” or almost.
“So, I went up for ‘Catspaw,’” Martel told the official “Star Trek” site. “I heard the buzzing and whispering and someone saying, ‘Well, let’s save her for that.’ I didn’t know what they were talking about, and what I didn’t know was they were talking about ‘Amok Time.’ So, when that came up and I read for it, that was it. I think there were eight decision-makers in the room – Gene Roddenberry and Herb Solow and Robert Justman and others. And I got the part.”
Gia Sandhu Played T’Pring on ‘Strange New Worlds’
Martel said that she loved everything about T’Pring, whom she called a “flawlessly logical exotic” who got what she wanted, “not because she was calculating and manipulative, but because she was smart.” The character orchestrated her own future to such a degree that Martel considered T’Pring “one of the first really powerful feminists to emerge out of the sci-fi world.” The shoot itself was “a hoot and a howl” thanks to William Shatner’s “proclivity for colorizing phrases with his own inimitable, risqué humor.” Leonard Nimoy, on the other hand, “was very isolated and very to himself, probably keeping in character.”
Martel shared one, and only one, regret about the episode that made her a beloved “Star Trek” convention guest for decades and decades after it aired in 1967. “I was utterly surprised that they didn’t bring her back,” the actress said. “To just dispense with a character that was so iconic didn’t make any sense to me.” Post “Star Trek,” Martel appeared in “The Monkees,” “Hogan’s Heroes,” “The Six Million Dollar Man,” “Battlestar Galactica,” “The Love Boat,” the independent “Star Trek” film, “Of Gods and Men,” and “Brothers & Sisters.”
Nimoy Remembered Martel as “a Lovely Talent’
Upon her death, Leonard Nimoy – who himself would pass away six months later — tweeted, “Saying goodbye to T’Pring, Arlene Martel. A lovely talent.”
Decades after “TOS” and eight years following Martel’s death, T’Pring did return to “Star Trek.” Actress Gia Sandhu played the character in three episodes of the newest “Star Trek” series, “Strange New Worlds.” According to Memory Alpha, she appeared in the episodes “Strange New Worlds,” “Spock Amok,” and “The Serene Squall.”