There aren’t many 60’s Star Trek The Original Series fans who don’t already know author Kristine M. Smith. For those who don’t, Smith has an enduring, unusual Star Trek connection. Kristine first met DeForest Kelley (Doctor McCoy) in 1968 just before her senior year in high school began. Smith and a classmate drove to Wenatchee, Washington simply to watch the actor pass by in the Apple Blossom Festival Parade but ended up parking (fatefully) near the Kelley’s hotel. As she explains it: “I spotted the white car with his name and Star Trek on it and figured if we loitered shamelessly, maybe we would actually have a chance to meet him, not just watch him go by!”
Smith met DeForest Kelley and his wife Carolyn that day then went home and wrote an essay about her experience. Her high school English teacher was so impressed with the essay that she insisted Smith send it to Mr. Kelley, which she did (hesitantly but obediently). Little did she know that her story would be published in a national celebrity magazine and that it would open the door to a 30-year plus association with the Kelleys—with Smith eventually serving as DeForest’s personal assistant and caregiver at the end of his life.
As an author Smith has penned seven books including two on Kelley: DeForest Kelley: A Harvest of Memories (Sept. 2001)which explored her friendship with the couple and how it changed her life. The book also recounts the actor’s final weeks (Cancer claimed him on June 11, 1999). Smith has recently revised and enhanced the book with scores of never-before seen and rarely-before-seen photos, now titled DeForest Kelley Up Close and Personal: A Harvest of Memories from the Fan who Knew Him Best. Her other Kelley tome is an eBook: DeForest Kelley: Actor Healer, Friend, a recounting of the many ways in which Kelley touched the lives of other fans around the world.
Smith was voted into the 2012-2013 edition of “50 Great Writers You Should be Reading”. In this exclusive interview, The Mac Wire catches up with the author about her time with the Kelleys, her updated book, and various other writing projects.
From what I read you have been writing self-help and animal books most recently. How did it come about that you wrote the first book on DeForest?
De launched my writing career. He submitted my first national article for publication when I was 18. And he gave me permission to write a book about him so I wanted my first book to be about how he “raised” me from a timid, uncertain writer to a more confident, robust individual and human. The funny thing is that I probably never would have written it had not De’s biographer, Terry Rioux, asked me a question I couldn’t answer! She asked me, “How did you go from being a fan on the outmost reaches of fandom to being at his bedside when he died?” I told her, “That’s something you would have had to ask De. I honestly have no idea how that happened.” She refused the response. She said, “You know the answer. You just have to connect the dots.” That’s when I remembered that I had been writing journals all my life, and had documented every interaction we ever had–in person, by mail, and on the phone. So I dove into my past and connected the dots! And wow…there were so many incidents and anecdotes that I had entirely forgotten about! It’s SO important to keep journals. One day you’ll be able to look back over your life and see how far you’ve come!”
How different is this revised edition?
I’m a better writer than I was twelve years ago (since I’ve been a professional copywriter since January 2007) so I’ve gone carefully through and enhanced the original manuscript to make it more succinct, concise and compelling. My publisher (who is also an author) has gone through it, too. It’s a faster read and the end times (De’s hospital days) are truncated considerably. The fans who bought the first version and loved it will love it even more for the following reasons: The enhancement version has lots of additional photos of the notes, letters and other artifacts that are in my Kelley archives. So this new edition will feel almost like sitting on a couch beside me as we go through my many memories of De. There will also be a bibliography with links to places online where people can see De and/or me in action at conventions, during interviews, and the like. Why do it now? My publisher wanted to get this ready in advance of the 15th anniversary of De’s passing (June 11, 2014) and Star Trek‘s 50th anniversary (Sept 8, 2016), so that’s why we’re doing it now.
How did working with DeForest Kelley change your life?
I didn’t work with De until he fell ill and was confined to a hospital the last few months of his life. He kept his illness a secret from me for as long as he could because I was going through my mother’s terminal illness up until five months before he finally let me know his status. I’m sure he did that to protect me from feeling torn between two very great needs; he didn’t want to burden me further. In fact, all through mom’s illness, De sent mom notes, cards and candy to help keep her spirits up, even though I soon learned that he was facing the same fate!
I can’t even imagine how tough that must have been for you. First your mom and then De.
What I learned from working with De and mom those last few months was that terminally ill people want to live until they die; some want to talk about their eventual demise, others don’t. They remain the fun, delightful, thoughtful people they always were. At least, this was my experience with these two individuals. Everyone is different, I’m sure, depending on how willing they are to ‘own’ their fates and gracefully (or not so gracefully) embrace it without undue fear or angst.
I never realized how loved he was by Star Trek fans. I never met him. I was fortunate enough to interview Leonard (Nimoy) and Bill (Shatner) years ago. That was fun. The one thing I remember reading about DeForest was that the was close to his mother and always held hands with his wife. I thought how sweet is that! For our younger readers who may not know DeForest Kelley, what kind of person was he?
De was gentle, fun, sassy, funny, astute, quiet, low-key, laid-back and utterly, utterly charming… by nature, not by artifice. He was a good-hearted prankster—none of his pranks were mean-spirited; all were meant to bring a smile. Hey, I wrote a whole book about this! You’ll be able to hold it in your hands soon. When you do, you’ll get to meet and know the DeForest Kelley I knew—and you will never, ever be the same, any more than I will for having known him.
I was pretty touched when I read how at one point you became the Kelley’s fulltime caretaker. I can’t even imagine how hard that must have been. I remember when he passed away; I was very sad and said a prayer. What life lessons have you learned from that experience?
Working with De also changed my life because I finally understood, to the bone, that he really did trust me; you don’t invite known people into your life, home and hospital in your final weeks and months unless you feel awfully confident they will be able to handle what’s coming and keep you comfortable and as upbeat as possible during the process. Being able to help him was more blessing to me than it was to him, I firmly believe, because I finally understood that the Kelley’s had real affection for me and weren’t just being kind to a fan all those years. (I’m not one to accept affection or love without question. It takes some doing for me to “get it.” But that’s a topic for another book, lol!)
Tell our readers a little bit about the other books you have written and a wild cat you once owned. Wow! How did that come about? Sounds like another really interesting story!
Mary Anne, you’re killing me! I’ve written a book about a wild cat I once owned! If I could tell only ‘a little bit’ about each of these subjects, they would have been essays or articles, not entire books! LOL!
The titles are:
Floating Around Hollywood and Other Totally-True Tales of Triumph, a book of humor (and some poignancy later on) about being a floating secretary in Tinsel Town and some other live stories. Endorsed by DeForest Kelley, AC Lyles, Clyde Phillips and other Tinsel Town luminaries
Let No Day Dawn that the Animals Cannot Share, a book of prose and poetry (mostly poetry) about the animals, tame and wild, that I have known, loved and advocated for. Foreword by DeForest Kelley
Purposeful Christianity, Sharing the Verve and Value of the Prince of Peace, my personal testimonial and lots of stuff I’ve learned about life and ‘loving your neighbor as yourself’ across the years
Settle for Best: Satisfy the Winner You Were Born to Be, a book loosely based on Napoleon Hill’s seminal ‘Think and Grow Rich,’ this is a motivational self-help book of insights and encouragement for entrepreneurs, unemployed folks who can’t find work no matter how hard they’ve been trying (hint: hire yourself!), and for people whose career ladders are leaning against the wrong walls. This title reached #1 for three days when it debuted at Amazon. (Publisher: Futureword Publishing.)
Serval Son: You are responsible for all you tame, a book about what it’s like to own—and be owned by—a wild cat for seventeen years. Foreword by Tippi Hedren. This title reached #2 and #4 in two niche categories (Nature/Fauna and Animal Rights/Welfare) when it debuted at Amazon.
The Enduring Legacy of DeForest Kelley: Actor, Healer, Friend, an eBook in which I compiled and edited the stories of other fans whose lives De touched and blessed in some way. I wrote intros for each of the sections. Available at Payloadz.com.
Any ideas what your next book will be?
I have several ideas and am waiting to find out which one of them grabs me by the scruff of my neck and insists on taking the stage…so stay tuned!
To purchase DeForest Kelley Up Close and Personal: A Harvest of Memories, visit Futureword Publishing. The book is available in softbound editions (full color or black and white inside, buyer’s choice). You can also visit the author’s official site here for more info.