This year marks the 50th anniversary of Star Trek first hitting our screens, and the franchise has most definitely lived long and prospered. Far from being a nostalgic classic, fifty years on the series is still as relevant as ever – with a new movie hitting theaters this month, and a brand new television series starting next year.
Although the franchise has come a long way over the past five decades, the Original Series is still very much worth watching. Not just as the show that started it all, but because the storylines and characters are still as captivating now as they were in the '60s. While every member of the original cast has their own charm, an oft-overlooked major player is Dr ‘Bones’ McCoy. While most think of Kirk and Spock as a duo, Bones was actually a third point to their triangle: the emotionally-driven human to balance out Spock’s logic, to act as a confidante to Kirk, and to act as a foil to reveal the Captain’s moments of restraint which would otherwise be lost against the coldly logical Vulcan first mate. Originally brought to life by DeForest Kelly, our latest Bones is played by Karl Urban, and both bring something of their own to the incredible doctor of the Star Ship Enterprise.
Here are 15 Things You Didn’t Know About Dr. ‘Bones’ McCoy.
It’s hard to imagine any other actor as the iconic half-Vulcan second-in-command, but Leonard Nimoy wasn’t the only one considered to play Spock when the series was just getting started. A few actors were considered – all of whom had been involved with TV Westerns in the past, partially due to Roddenberry’s description of his new series as “Wagon Train to the stars." Rex Holman and Michael Dunn were both considered, and both did appear in the franchise at some point. Holman played J’onn in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, while Dunn appeared as Alexander in the episode "Plato’s Stepchildren".
DeForest Kelley was the fourth actor considered for the role, and would have made for a very different Spock had he been cast! Of course, the version of Spock that Kelley was considered for was not the same one we now know, but a red-tinged, devilish alien, possibly with some Martian blood in him, and much more emotional and hot-headed. Although Kelley (obviously) didn’t get the part, he brought that same level of emotional connection and energy to the role of Bones when he (eventually) joined the series, a few years after he was initially considered.
Unusually, Star Trek’s original series actually produced two pilots before being picked up for a season – and the Bones we know and love didn’t appear in either of them. The first pilot for the series, "The Cage", featured a very different cast from the final product (and some very different characters, too). Although Spock was played by Leonard Nimoy from the get-go, he wasn’t the emotionless second in command that we now know. The role of Captain Pike (not Kirk) was also different, played by movie actor Jeffrey Hunter.
In this first outing, the ship’s doctor was named Phillip Boyce, although his nickname remained ‘Bones’. Although DeForest Kelly was considered for the role, the part eventually went to John Hoyt. However, "The Cage" was considered too “cerebral” for television at the time, and when Roddenberry was given a second chance, he made several changes to the cast. Nimoy stayed on as Spock, and William Shatner was brought in to play the Captain, but Kelley still didn’t make an appearance. In fact, the doctor’s character was given only a very minor role in the re-written outline, and Bones didn’t make an appearance in the second pilot "Where No Man Has Gone Before". It wasn’t until the show was picked up for a first season that Kelley was brought on to complete the trio of Kirk, Spock and Bones.
If you’ve ever wondered about Kelley’s unusual name, you aren’t the only one. The actor was actually born Jackson DeForest Kelley in 1920, but used his middle name for his film career. The decision to work as "DeForest" makes a lot of sense, considering that his name was a tribute to Lee de Forest, the ‘father of radio’ and a pioneer in the field of sound-on-film recording for motion pictures. Clearly, DeForest was meant to be an actor!
However, his unusual name did cause some difficulties when it came to billing. In several of his earlier roles, Kelley had his name misspelled in the credits; in episodes of Public Prosecutor and The Lone Ranger he was listed as ‘De Forest Kelley’, in Gypsy Holiday it was DeForrest Kelley, and in The Pepsi-Cola Playhouse it was Deforest Kelley. Even after he hit the big time as Bones in Star Trek, he was routinely billed under the wrong name, often having his names inverted, so that he appeared in promotional materials and publications as Kelly DeForest.
The McCoy name is common one, and you may have heard of the Hatfield/McCoy rivalry – one of the most famous family feuds in American history. In the late 1800s, these two families lived in the Tug River valley, separating West Virginia and Kentucky. Over the span of a decade, the two sides became embroiled in a vicious rivalry, with several members of the families ending up dead before all was said and done.
It’s a story that has captured the imagination of Hollywood and television, even acting as the inspiration for the popular game show Family Feud. Bones is said to be related to this famous branch of the McCoy family, connecting the fictional character to American history, even though they are separated by dozens of generations. Although this is a tiny detail in the vast scope of the Star Trek universe, it speaks to the level of detail that went into creating these characters and developing them over the years.
Like most of the characters in Star Trek, the fictional biography of Dr Leonard ‘Bones’ McCoy has been thoroughly fleshed out over the years, right down to his date and place of birth. He was born in Georgia, in the year 2227, over two hundred and sixty years in the future at the time that Star Trek first aired. His father was David McCoy, and his mother is not known. His relationship with his father, however, is well-documented, and adds an element of tragedy to Bones’s life. Late in life, David McCoy was diagnosed with a painful and supposedly incurable disease, and begged his son to help him die, rather than continuing to suffer. Bones chose to help his father out of love, but was left regretting his decision when a cure for the disease was found soon after.
His father may also have been instrumental in Bones’s decision to go to medical school, as it is inferred that David McCoy was also a doctor (this is also outright stated in the Star Trek: Ongoing comics series).
The most famous middle name in the Star Trek franchise has to be Captain James Tiberius Kirk’s, but it’s not the only one that has been mentioned. Dr. Leonard McCoy, although usually referred to only as Bones, was revealed to have a middle initial in Star Trek III: The Search For Spock, when he is called Leonard H. McCoy. It was later revealed that the "H" in his name stands for Horatio in the novel "Provenance of Shadows", published in 2006.
However, there is often confusion over his middle name, thanks to a different novel series published in the ‘80s. Although The Search for Spock came out in 1984, in 1987 a spin-off novel ("The Romulan Way") included Bones… with the middle name Edward. This name also appeared in the 1988 novel "Spock’s World". As all three novels (and the movie, obviously) are considered canon, this has created an unusual situation where Bones has two different middle names – although Horatio is more often considered “correct” because the letter "H" was confirmed as a middle initial in one of the films.
Starfleet Academy is the famous military academy where recruits train to become Starfleet officers, and which involves several years of intense study. Only the best become Starfleet recruits; passing a series of rigorous entrance exams followed by a prep program is required before a cadet can even fully enroll. It’s often assumed that every crew member has to be a Starfleet graduate, but there is evidence to suggest that Bones did not attend that specific academy in the Prime Universe.
His history is as a doctor who was granted a commission in order to work with Starfleet. When he signed up for Starfleet he was already qualified, having received his medical degree from the University of Mississippi. Although he took courses after joining Starfleet to allow him to function within the organization, he did not attend the academy as a standard cadet. This was confirmed in the episode "The Ultimate Computer", where McCoy didn’t understand a reference to ‘Captain Dunsel’ – a term known by everyone who attended the Academy. However, in the new alternate reality (dubbed the Kelvin Timeline), McCoy’s past has been altered to make him a StarFleet Academy graduate.
Bones’s love life isn’t a major plot point in the way that Captain Kirk’s is, but he did have his fair share of romance. Before he entered Starfleet, Leonard McCoy met and married a woman named Jocelyn, and the two had a daughter named Joanna. However, Jocelyn ended up reuniting with an old flame, Clay Treadway, and she and McCoy separated. It was a difficult time for Leonard McCoy, and their divorce wasn’t easy on the young doctor. However, it was during this time that he saw an advert from Starfleet looking to recruit medical officers, and he decided to take to the skies to escape his unhappiness at home.
Later, while on a mission with Starfleet, he met the beautiful Natira, a high priestess aboard a world that turned out to be an enormous spacecraft. He decided to stay with Natira and her people at first, wanting to stay with her until his death (which he believed to be imminent, due to a fatal illness). However, when a cure was found, he left Natira to continue his mission with his pals aboard the Enterprise.
Bones is well-known for the catchphrase “He’s dead, Jim”, something that he said twenty times in the original series. Star Trek wasn’t actually the first time Kelley delivered this line, though. In The Man In The Grey Flannel Suit, Kelley had a bit part as a medic, where he said “this man’s dead, Captain.” It’s not too unusual for two medical characters to declare a death, of course, but it’s interesting given how iconic this line would eventually become.
It ended up being so popular that Kelley joked in an interview that one of his biggest fears was that it would end up on his tombstone! The second line from Star Trek that became a catchphrase for the Enterprise medic was “I’m a doctor, not a… (insert any other profession)" – something that Bones usually said with some frustration. Although this became arguably more iconic than “He’s dead, Jim”, it was actually used less in the original series, where it was said only eleven times.
The original series only lasted for three seasons, but there were plans for a fourth before the show was cancelled. In the 1968 book "The Making of Star Trek", creator Gene Roddenberry talks about a potential future plot line that would have brought Bones’s estranged daughter from his first marriage on board the Enterprise. The idea behind this inclusion was to expand on both the character of Bones and his relationship with Kirk, as the Captain would find himself attracted to Joanna McCoy, even potentially becoming romantically involved with her. This would obviously be something that McCoy would be less than thrilled about, and he would have to suddenly start seeing his friend from a very different perspective – and truly come to terms with being a father himself.
Although this storyline was never explored, it would have made for a very dramatic episode, and it’s a shame that we didn’t get to see more of Joanna McCoy on screen.
Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan ends with one of the most iconic scenes in the franchise; Spock sacrificing himself to save the ship’s crew. Coupled with his famous line about the needs of the many, Spock’s death scene is enough to reduce any Trekkie to tears… even though he didn’t actually die. Instead, when he incapacitates McCoy on his way to the engine room, he also performs a mind meld on the doctor, transferring his “living spirit” or “katra” to McCoy’s mind.
This becomes the starting point for the next film in the franchise, Star Trek: The Search For Spock. In this third installment, McCoy starts acting strangely, as a result of having Spock’s katra in his mind (something that he doesn’t realize has happened). When Kirk discovers what has happened, he disobeys orders in perfect Kirk style in order to save both of his friends. The film brings Spock back to the franchise, alive and well – something that could not have happened without McCoy acting as a backup for Spock’s mind.
One of the most useful gadgets in the Star Trek world was the medical tricorder – a little box carried by Dr McCoy that allowed him to diagnose any medical issue on the spot, simply by holding it over the body of the patient. This is so useful that multiple companies have since tried to develop a similar machine, in the hopes that it could become as much a part of our day-to-day technology as many of the other items seen on the show.
However, the tricorder also inspired a criminal, who was able to scam over $25 million from investors by selling a fictitious device. Calling it the “McCoy Home Health Tablet”, Howard Leventhal claimed that he had a contract with the Canadian Health Department to create a tricorder-style device to persuade companies to invest in his non-existent product. He was brought to trial in 2014, facing up to 22 years in prison and millions of dollars in fines.
When the Star Trek universe was rebooted for the big screen in 2009, re-casting was one of the most important elements of the new universe. JJ Abrams and his creative team were looking to find actors who could pay homage to the original characters, but still put their own twist on the classic crew, and multiple stars were considered for the new Bones McCoy.
In 2007, it was reported that Gary Sinese was in talks to play the Enterprise's doctor. The Oscar-nominated actor is probably best known for his long-running lead role in the crime drama CSI: New York, and many fans were thrilled at the idea of Sinese as McCoy. However, he was considered by many to be too old for a Star Trek origin story, with the rest of the cast in their mid-twenties. The role eventually went to Karl Urban, a man nearly twenty years Sinese’s junior.
Although Karl Urban is now established as the new, rebooted Dr Leonard McCoy, he nearly took on a very different franchise role: 007 himself, James Bond. When Pierce Brosnan left the role of the iconic British spy after the 2002 film Die Another Day, Urban was one of the actors considered to take over the role. However, he was filming another movie at the time, and scheduling conflicts meant that he couldn’t make the final screen tests. The role eventually went to Daniel Craig, which left Urban free to become Bones in the new alternate Star Trek Universe.
Now that it appears Craig's days as Bond may be behind him, however, many fans have been enthusiastic about the idea of Urban picking up the (shaken, not stirred) martini. It looks unlikely, however, as the actor has said that he is grateful that he didn’t get the role ten years ago, and that he would like to see Tom Hiddleston as the face of Her Majesty’s secret service.
The third film in the rebooted alternate universe, Star Trek Beyond, comes out this summer, but Urban nearly didn’t return with the rest of the cast. His contract was up after Into Darkness, and with another film offer on the table, the star was debating which way to jump. Speaking to IGN, Urban said that he was “on the fence” about doing the third movie at all, but it was the passion of director Justin Lin that made his decision to return.
“It was a breath of fresh air, and I really appreciated Justin's intimate knowledge and understanding of the character dynamics.” In the same interview, Urban jokes about seeing McCoy’s hippy phase in a fourth movie, so it looks like he is back on board the Star Trek wagon with this film, and we're glad to hear it. He’s doing an incredible job of bringing the Enterprise medical officer to life for a whole new generation of fans, and we can’t wait to see where Bones McCoy goes from here.
Know of any other fun factoids about Bones McCoy that Trek fans should know? Let us know in the comments!
Star Trek Beyond arrives in theaters July 22, 2016.