This Wednesday at 3pm, Denton’s Emily Fowler Central Library celebrates this year’s 50th Anniversary of STAR TREK with Trekkie-themed activities and costumes, and no doubt lots of discussion about the recently released STAR TREK BEYOND. But this got us remembering the Denton student who appeared in several episodes of the original 1960s TV series.
A native of Dallas, Bruce Hyde travelled to California to pursue an acting career and made a pretty good run of it during the swinging 1960s. Hyde appeared in television shows like Dr. Kildare, That Girl, and The Beverly Hillbillies as well as acting in Broadway theater productions of Absence of a Cello, The Girl in the Freudian Slip, and a musical interpretation of Canterbury Tales. Yet Hyde is probably best remembered for his role as Lt. Kevin Riley in two episodes of the original STAR TREK series. In “The Naked Time,” the fourth episode of the NBC series, Hyde’s character is infected with a mind-altering disease, deactivates the engines of the USS Enterprise, and annoys the crew with off-key renditions of the Irish ballad, “I’ll Take You Home Again, Kathleen.” The character Lt. Riley appeared again in episode 13, “The Conscience of the King,” which aired in December 1966, when Hyde’s character survives poisoning and learns that Kodos the Executioner, who had murdered his family 20 years ago, might be aboard the Enterprise… leading to a showdown with Captain Kirk. “There is something profound about Star Trek,” Hyde once said. “People are moved by the idea that, out there in the future, we came in peace, we didn’t try to blow people up.”
Sometime after performing in a San Francisco production of Hair, however, Bruce Hyde changed course and came to Denton’s University of North Texas to study Communication and become an educator. He earned his Communication Studies MS in 1984, then a PhD from the University of Southern California in 1990, and went on to become a distinguished Professor of Rhetoric and Communication at St. Cloud University of Minnesota as well as Artistic Director for St. Cloud State’s summer theater Theatre L’Homme Dieu until his death in 2015.
Dr. Hyde occasionally traveled to speak at STAR TREK conventions to meet fans. Of his enduring Star Trek connection, Dr. Hyde once said: "I’m honored to have my little toe in pop culture history. I only made a living as an actor for six or seven years, and Star Trek, these two episodes, were about three weeks of work. So I’m dumbfounded. I think it’s a good thing. Star Trek is certainly a good thing. I have the sense that Gene Roddenberry had a vision, a kind of “We come in peace” vision of the world. Even if these people at the convention today don’t know that – because I’m not sure how many people talk about Star Trek at that level – it’s there."
During Hyde’s time in Denton studying Communication and Performance, locals remember him as a friendly instructor and a passionate graduate student who also acted in local projects. Hyde was also a musician, and some recall him drawing funny caricatures for friends at parties. It’s pretty cool to think that Denton had its very own crew member of the legendary Starship Enterprise, and a brief brush with STAR TREK history from back in the day.
Shaun Treat is a former professor at the University of North Texas and founder of the Denton Haunts historical ghost tour. Doc has written about numerous local places and personalities at his Denton Haunts blog, and is forever indebted to the great work of our local keepers of history like Mike Cochran and Laura Douglas at the Emily Fowler Library for their tireless work in helping preserve Denton’s intriguing past. Be sure to check out our local museums curated by the fine folks at the Denton County Office of History & Culture, and follow @Dentonaut on Twitter for local happenings.