LOS ANGELES - I grew up listening to radio dramas. As a child, I memorized and recited the cheery jingles from children's shows like "Happy Theater." As I grew older, I thrilled to the adventure on shows like "Bobby Benson and the B-Bar-B Riders" and "Sergeant Preston and His Yukon King." The big city kid in Los Angeles listening only to the sound of actors' voices coming out of a box was transported to the dusty excitement of the old West by "The Lone Ranger" and "The Cisco Kid." I listened to film dramatizations on "Lux Radio Theater" to relive movies that I had enjoyed before or to "see" those that I had missed. Radio was my magic transporter. And my conjurors were the actors that brought the stories to life - with only their voices, accompanied by sound effects, they magically took me to another place, another time and new sensations. I loved radio.
Radio was wonderful story telling. It was the ancient tradition of sharing a tale around the campfire - except that my campfire was a radio in our living room. It was the technological campfire of the times. The whole family gathered around the radio to be chilled by thrillers like "The Shadow."
Vocal storytelling still exists today. But it's not all on radio anymore. It's called "books on tape." There are superb readings of novels on audio tape. For those who commute long distances in their cars, it's a great way to "read" a novel as they drive. People taking public transportation can listen to them on their way to work. Hospitalized people can listen as they recuperate. I love audio tapes as I used to love radio dramas. They keep alive the wonder of spoken storytelling. And now that I am a professional actor, I am among those storytellers. I've enjoyed reading many novels onto audio tape. Of course, there are the Star Trek novelizations, but I've also read onto tape such classics as the "Sherlock Holmes" novels. I particularly enjoyed reading my own autobiography, "To The Stars," on tape. I'm happy that there is a medium where the simple sound of an actor's voice can stimulate the imagination and vicariously take the listener on fictional as well as autobiographical journeys.
After the cancellation of the "Star Trek" television series, we worked on the voices of our characters on the animated version of "Star Trek." It became another unexpected extension of the "Star Trek" phenomenon. I must confess, however, that working on the cartoon version was not as satisfying as acting in the television version because the scenes weren't read with the other actors. I did the voice of Sulu solo without my colleagues to bounce off of. It wasn't as much fun. But it was still using our vocal tool to give life to our characters. Actually, voice acting could be more challenging because that tool alone -- with only the rather stiff animation as the visuals -- had to tell the story. I'd like to think that the voice of the actor is still essential to the recounting of a good story.
Indeed, accelerating advances in technology have shot up the use of the vocal tool for Star Trek storytelling to amazing heights. For the last few years, I've been working with Interplay Entertainment Corp. on a series of Star Trek CD Rom games called Starfleet Command and another called Klingon Academy. This is no longer sitting around the old campfire merely listening to a story as it is told. CD Rom games suck the listener directly into the narrative as active participants in Star Trek adventures. And there I am as Captain Sulu, blazing across astoundingly real galaxies blasting away at Klingons - and the "listeners" are right there engaged with me as wily adversaries or full, decision making partners. My next one for Interplay, "Star Trek: Shattered Universe," will have Captain Sulu on the USS Excelsior caught in the mirror universe from the television episode, "Mirror, Mirror." My vocal chords are already aching to become the viciously scarred Sulu and then the heroic Sulu that we all know and love. The vocal challenges will be bracing.
This medium of work also provides the relief of greater scheduling flexibility than does acting on film or television. Voice work has granted me the blessing of maintaining my career, and, at the same time, managing the unpredictable needs of my mother's continuing illness. If problems should crop up at home, recording calls could be rescheduled without causing too much inconvenience to too many others. With film or television work, rearranging shooting schedules would be well nigh impossible. So, over the past month, I've been able to do voice work on Disney's new CD Rom game, "Freelancers," and animated shows such as "Team Atlantis" and "Samurai Jack." Yet to air are such animated shows as "Jackie Chan" and another episode of "The Simpsons."
From the kid listening to that radio so long ago in Los Angeles and transported to adventures in the old West to the professional actor who now transports fans soaring into galactic explorations, the sound of the human voice has always been my charmed vehicle of transport.