Sound designerDoug Grindstaff

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Born in Los Angeles, Grindstaff was schooled at the California Institute of the Arts, but his career plans were interrupted by the Korean War: he served in a U.S. Army combat unit. Once back, his brother, who worked in radio, suggested he go to Hollywood, and he quickly found work as a sound editor and sound designer, working on shows like Mission: Impossible, The Odd Couple, Dallas (and Knots Landing and Falcon Crest), Max Headroom, even The Brady Bunch and Fantasy Island. But he’ll forever be known as the man who created the iconic sounds of Star Trek. Series creator Gene Roddenberry recruited him for the pilot of the original Star Trek TV series — and the second pilot, when the first one was deemed “too cerebral” by studio executives. “The first season we had about 10 editors,” Grindstaff said. Far from a sound editor’s dream, he told Roddenberry, “This is ridiculous. I can do it with three editors if you give me good men and myself. That’s all I need. Get the others out of here.” The other two: Jack Finlay and Joseph Sorokin. There was a minor hitch along the way, though: no one gave Grindstaff a parking pass for the Desilu studio lot — so he had the art department forge one for him. When studio exec Herb Solow found out about it, he exclaimed, “You guys are really creative.”

Grindstaff and Rodenberry in 1986 (family photo).

Roddenberry “wanted to paint the whole show [with sound] like you were painting a picture,” Grindstaff said, and “he wanted sound for everything. For example, I worked on one scene where [Dr. McCoy] is giving someone a shot. Gene says, ‘Doug, I’m missing one thing. The doctor injects him and I don’t hear the shot.’ I said, ‘You wouldn’t hear a shot, Gene.’ He said, ‘No, no, this is Star Trek, we want a sound for it.’ So I turned around to the mixing panel and said, ‘Do you guys have an air compressor?’ And they did. I fired up the air compressor, squirted it for a long enough period by the mic, went upstairs, played with it a little bit and then put it in the show. And Gene loved it.” In addition to the “hypo spray” sound, Grindstaff created coos tribbles made by manipulating the sound of doves. But that wasn’t the end: tribbles were known as prolific breeders, and they multiplied quickly. “I had to go from a single tribble to the sounds of thousands of them filling the ship,” Grindstaff said.“I ran them backwards and forwards, put them on the variable speeder and edited loops, so I could have multiple tracks and mix them at different levels for different spots in the ship.” He made the “whoosh” of the doors opening and closing, and created or supervised the creation of the sounds of phasers, photon torpedoes, warp drives, transporters, computers, tricorders, medical devices, the beeps communicators made, and more and more and more — whatever was needed. The ship goes on “Red Alert”? They needed a sound for that. “I think the sound effects for the original Star Trek are probably the most memorable and iconic ever produced for television,” says Jeff Bond, author of The Music of Star Trek. Roddenberry was inviting viewers to imagine a gigantic ship with a crew of hundreds: the ship itself needed to be a living, breathing, active place to make it all believable. And Grindstaff, with Finlay and Sorokin, made it happen with analog tape recorders, not computers.

But most of the original sound effects were lost over time: even Grindstaff didn’t realize just how iconic the sounds would become. “If I had only known, I would have kept stuff like you wouldn’t believe!” he said in an interview. “But I didn’t realize it. No one did.” Grindstaff was nominated for 14 Emmy awards, including one for Star Trek, and won five. He also received the Lifetime Achievement Award from Motion Picture Sound Editors, the technical society for professionals in the field, and served as its president. He died in Peoria, Ariz., on July 23, at 87.

From This is True for 29 July 2018