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

Wilbur Lee Clingan once worked with Gene Roddenberry.

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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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timothyclingan 12 months ago
Hi! I'm Wilbur Clingan's grandson. It's so exciting to see an article about him! I'm happy to answer any questions about the man!
Zyphel timothyclingan 4 months ago
Tiiiim, I am your father!
Or maybe Uncle...lolz
'Cause W.L.Clingan was my dad!
I am John Clingan, son of Wallace Lee Clingan of the Ohio Clingans. Pleased to meet you :)
Do you know how your grandpa felt about the connection? I've had a couple of opportunities to name drop it myself to impress a couple of coworker ST fans over the years :)
F5Twitster 13 months ago
"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."

Nope. "Dragnet," or as it was initially titled, "Dragnet, 1967," a mid-season replacement for the failed sitcome "The Hero," immediately followed "Star Trek" at Thursdays at 8:30.

As for

"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 wasn't that young or wet behind the ears, as he was LAPD Sergeant Eugene Roddenberry.
MarkSpeck 13 months ago
I've been watching Batman via my Roku. The actor who played the killer in this episode, Jeff Burton, also played one of Zsa Zsa Gabor's henchmen in the final episode of Batman.
JHP 13 months ago
I swear some or most of the Klingon language sounds a lot like Native American - of some tribe - not to slam on Native Americans
TheDavBow3 13 months ago
Not a Dragnet fan but that is a really cool story. R.I.P and thank you for your service, Mr. Clingan.
Pacificsun 13 months ago
Per Wikipedia the name is indeed attributed to W.L.Clingan.
Here's an added note: The production crew never came to an agreement on the name "Klingon"; Coon was adamant about keeping the name, and it persisted because no one else offered up a better name.

I could never understand how (or why) the appearance of Klingons in TOS changed radically in TNG. Of course the budget would be expanded to permit it. But to me the excessive makeup overwhelmed the character personalities that would've otherwise been possible.
CelticTwilight Pacificsun 13 months ago
Blame Star Trek: The Motion Picture in '79 for the new look Klingons. Next Gen was just following the movies lead. Blame the movies too for giving the Klingons attributes that were originally Romulan such as cloaking technology and not taking prisoners.
Pacificsun CelticTwilight 13 months ago
Very true! Thank you for the comment!

I always enjoyed the TOS episodes with Romulans.
bnichols23 Pacificsun 13 months ago
I read an article in, I believe, Starlog, not long after TNG came out, where The Great Bird of the Galaxy said baically that "Klingons always looked like that," but that the budgets & FX of the time prevented them from doing more than they did. Frankly, I liked the look of TOS Klingons like Kang, Kor, & Koloth better, but it just wouldn't have been realistic to have them look too humanoid. :(
Pacificsun bnichols23 13 months ago
Appreciate the comment.
The reality is, once Star Wars premiered, it changed the expectation of visuals. The presentation of more exotic aliens of course. Which when contemporary viewers look back at a Show like TOS, it's seems too bland (mainstream) for them. Being old school, I prefer the relationship driven Shows, while many prefer the unexpected adventures of more imaginative entertainment!
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