Was It 1930?


It might seem a stupid question. The dialogue in TOS “City on the Edge of Forever” makes it quite clear:

“February 23rd, 1936. Six years from now.”
“A few moments ago, I read a 1930 newspaper article.”
“We know her future. Within six years from now, she'll become very important.”
“Edith Keeler will die this year. I saw her obituary.”
“This looks like old Earth around 1920 or 25.” “Would you care to try for 30?”

It’s 1930, sometime after February, when the citizens of New York are wearing heavy overcoats, but there’s no snow or ice anywhere. Except that doesn’t quite work.

“Goodnight Sweetheart”

As “Star Trek 365” (by Paula M. Block with Terry J. Erdmann, published by Abrams in 2010) points out, the problem with this song is that it wasn’t published until 1931. It features quite prominently in the storyline, becoming “Jim and Edith’s song.” It was a big hit, with Guy Lombardo’s recording becoming a number one in the US, but not until 1931. The song itself is copyrighted 1931. The fact is, no-one in 1930 was listening to “Goodnight Sweetheart”.

Clark Gable

I think it was one of the old “Best of Trek” books that first pointed out that almost anyone would have responded “who?” when Edith says she’s going to a Clark Gable movie. The annoying fact is, that like “Goodnight Sweetheart”, the reference is a year too early. Clark Gable was certainly a working actor in 1930 (he was signed up as a contract player by MGM that year), but he wasn’t a star. It wasn’t until “The Painted Desert”, released in March 1931, that Clark Gable became a big name. After that film, everyone knew who Clark Gable was. Unfortunately, I don’t have the cinema listings for New York in 1930 and 1931. My best guess is that the first opportunity Jim and Edith would have had to go to the Orpheum (if you’re paying attention, Edith names the movie theater) to see Clark Gable in a major role, would have been “Dance, Fools, Dance!”, a gangster picture that went on release in late February, 1931. It even played the Loew’s theaters, so they might have seen the film at Loew’s Orpheum on 86th Street, the only “Orpheum” I’ve been able to find in 1930s New York.

The 21st Street Mission calendar

This is something I only noticed recently, thanks to the Star Trek History website. Hanging on the wall of Edith’s soup kitchen is a big calendar. The image is at this link (scroll down) http://www.startrekhistory.com/DS6.html.


Thanks to high definition, it’s possible to see that in addition to being a 30 day month (I’m afraid you have to go and look at the Star Trek History website for that, not the clipping from a TrekCore screencap I’ve used above), the first day of each week is highlighted in red, along with the 14th. Since the first weekday is highlighted, I think it’s very likely that the calendar begins each week on a Sunday, making the first a Thursday. It’s not a 1930 or a 1931 calendar. It’s difficult to be sure, but it looks very much as though the year and month information has been deliberately obscured. I don’t doubt that it really is a genuine 1930s vintage calendar, but if we’re assuming that the calendar is current, then the first month I can find that fits is September 1932. Great for Clark Gable, and “Goodnight Sweetheart”, but no use at all for all those very clear dialogue references to 1930.
Please note that the image I’ve used is the copyrighted property of CBS, and used here without permission, for strictly non-commercial purposes. The image itself is a modified version of a screencap at TrekCore. As a side-note, Star Trek History has had problems with uncredited use of their images. I’m playing safe. Please go to their site to look at the picture.

So when was TOS “City on the Edge of Forever”?

The smart-aleck answer to that one is “1967.” In the end, it’s always going to be the case that the needs of the story will overrule strict historical accuracy. I cannot possibly know why the production team on “Star Trek” didn’t shift the date forward a year to 1931, or use background details appropriate to 1930. They just didn’t. I doubt they ever really thought about it that much, to be honest.

I have to pick a date. Not because I think it’s up to me to decide, but after poking about in the Internet Archive scanned texts for information about films and film stars in 1930 and 1931, and learning more than I ever needed to know about “Goodnight Sweetheart”, I can’t just throw up my hands and walk away from it.

My conclusion

It’s 1930. When all else fails, go with what the characters actually tell us. They must know. Unless absolutely all the evidence pointed to a specific time in 1931, then I don’t feel at all justified in shifting the date. After all, it’s my word against Spock’s.
Where does that leave us? As I’ve explained above, “Goodnight Sweetheart” just has to go down as wrong. As Star Trek History explains at the link given above, a version of the show exists in which the song has been completely removed, one (inadvertent) way of getting rid of the anachronism.

What about Clark Gable? Take a look at this short “news” article from the Friday 29th August, 1930 issue of “Film Daily”:

Young Veteran
Although Clark Gable, who has been cast as the heavy in William Boyd’s forthcoming picture, “The Painted Desert”, is only 29 years old, he estimates that in his brief career he has played in 250 stage plays. These include two plays a week for a year with the Ross Players in Wheeling, W. Va., a season in repertoire in Houston, Texas; two years with a traveling stock company in the Northwest during which 40 different plays were presented and several active seasons on Broadway.

Clark Gable was already being built up as “the next big thing” in 1930. I’m the first to admit I don’t really know how likely it was people might have heard of him. It’s not like I have any first-hand knowledge. It’s even possible for Jim and Edith to see him at the movies, although it would be in a minor role. He was definitely in the cast of “Du Barry, Woman of Passion”, first released on Saturday 11th October, 1930, and on at the Rivoli (not the Orpheum, as far as I’ve been able to determine) in New York from Thursday 30th October, 1930.

Based on that, I’ve rather arbitrarily decided that TOS “City on the Edge of Forever” is set in early November 1930. It’s cold enough that everyone needs to wrap up when they go out, but not yet the depths of winter. What about the calendar? Star Trek History suggests it’s showing November 1928, but what’s the red-letter day on the 14th, and where’s Thanksgiving? The options are limited for a thirty-day month; it could be Flag Day (14th June), but the highlighting of all the Sundays in the month points my thoughts in the direction of a religious festival. My own theory is that it’s September, and the festival on the 14th is the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, making the year either 1927 or 1932. Under the circumstances, I think it has to be September 1927. Why Edith’s Mission has a completely out of date calendar hanging on the wall is obviously a story in itself, but it isn’t one that we get told.

1901 to1965

by StrauchiusStrauchius on 06 Jun 2014 12:12, last updated on 10 Sep 2017 09:27