Star Trek's Klingons were named after this LAPD officer seen on Dragnet

By: H&I Staff     Posted: September 18, 2020, 8:00AM   

If Star Trek fans happened to be watching Dragnet in 1967, they likely did a double-take. The two shows aired a day apart on NBC, but existed in two entirely different universes and appealed to two entirely different demographics. One was a conservative police procedural, the other a progressive sci-fi spectacular.

Still, Dragnet and Star Trek had one unlikely thing in common — "Klingon."

Wait, what? You correctly do not remember militaristic aliens battling against Sgt. Joe Friday. But there is a fascinating link from the LAPD to Klingons.

In the second season episode of the color Dragnet series, "The Missing Realtor," Friday and Bill Gannon bring a murder suspect to the station. They hook him up to a lie-detector. A trained police technician operates the machine.

"8:05 p.m., the suspect agreed to undergo a polygraph examination," Friday narrates. "It was conducted by Lieutenant W.L. Clingan."

And that's where the alarm bells ring in the ears of Trekkies. W.L. Clingan is mentioned in several episodes of Dragnet 1967. In this particular case, he is played by Dennis McCarthy. That's him with the white coat and gray hair in the top picture.

It just so happens this character was based on a real Los Angeles police officer, Wilbur Lee Clingan. He worked for the LAPD and the Pasadena police department for three decades. He was also, reportedly, a consultant on Dragnet. Which would explain the little nod Jack Webb worked into his TV show.

In his LAPD days, Clingan happened to work with a young man named Gene Roddenberry. Roddenberry's pop was a cop and he had followed his dad's footsteps in the LAPD. Roddenberry first worked in the traffic division before ending up penning speeches for the chief of police in the Public Information department. It was there he honed his writing skills.

Of course, Roddenberry would go on to create Star Trek years later. He named "Klingons" in honor of Wilber Lee Clingan.

If you listen closely to the Klingon commander in "The Trouble with Tribbles" — which aired a few weeks after "W.L. Clingan" appeared on Dragnet — he even pronounces his own race more like "Clingan" when first meeting Kirk. 

In 2012, Clingan passed away. His obituary made no mention of his influence on Dragnet and Star Trek.

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