As the anniversary approaches of Star Trek’s first broadcast on NBC 50 years ago in September, Kristine M. Smith has just released a greatly-expanded edition of her 2001 book now retitled “DeForest Kelley Up Close and Personal, A Harvest of Memories from the Fan Who Knew Him Best.”
“The enhanced version has more than 40 additional photos and 55 additional pages of anecdotes,” said Smith from her home in Tacoma, Wash.
Kelley died in 1999 and is best remembered as the sometimes crusty but always compassionate Dr. Leonard McCoy on the iconic 60’s TV series and subsequent six films. As a “Star Trek” fan-turned-family friend of Kelley and his wife, Carolyn, for over 30 years, Smith grew to know “De” well, eventually becoming his non-medical caregiver in the final year of his life.
“He was just a salt of the earth guy and incredible human being in so many ways,” said Smith.
The two first met in 1968, after Smith drove two hours to Washington State’s Wenatchee Apple Blossom Festival where the actor was appearing and she approached him for an autograph.
Impressed by his gracious interaction with fans, 17-year-old Kris wrote about the experience for a high school creative writing class and sent her essay to Kelley at her teacher’s suggestion.
“The Kelleys liked it so much, they submitted it to a New York publication, ‘TV Star Parade’ where it was printed in 1969 with only one line changed. So De actually launched my writing career!”
Over the next two decades, the bond between Smith and the Kelleys strengthen as they met at fan conventions across the country, exchanged letters and gifts, and even visited each other’s homes.
Encouraged by the Kelleys to move from Washington to Los Angeles, Smith arrived in California with Deaken, her knee-high African serval cat.
“De and Carolyn actually went out knocking on doors trying to find a landlord who would let me keep Deaken in the back yard,” said Smith. “That tells you the type of people they were.”
Smith remembers Kelley’s encouraging sense of humor which was never mean-spirited.
“If he ever corrected you, you felt blessed rather than criticized,” she said. “At a ‘Star Trek’ convention once, someone asked if William Shatner was hard to get along with. De said he absolutely loved Bill, but had to straighten his ass out a time or two!”
After a diagnosis of stomach cancer in the mid-1990s, Kelley never complained preferring to shield friends from the severity of his illness.
“My own mother was dying from brain cancer so he didn’t reveal how sick he was to spare me the additional worry,” said Smith. “He only told me it was terminal after he ended up in intensive care in March, 1999. Unfortunately, Carolyn fell and broke her leg a year before that and it never did heal.”
With no children of their own, the Kelleys relied on Smith to help with house maintenance and personal business. And today, 17 years after Kelley’s passing, Smith is still amazed by the close relationship she forged with a legendary actor.
“You just don’t go from being a fan to being at the bedside of a star when he dies – it just doesn’t happen,” she says. “But it did for me and that’s what my story is all about.”
Smith’s book is available in print at http://hireme.wordwhisperer.net/books
Nick Thomas teaches at Auburn University at Montgomery, Ala., and has written features, columns, and interviews for over 600 magazines and newspapers.