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Bit by Bit 

How Victor Lundin scaled the ladder of semi-success.

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In the back room of a Logan Square art gallery, Victor Lundin takes the mike for a couple of songs. He's already spent a full day meeting fans and signing autographs at a Star Trek convention in Rosemont, where he's known for being the TV show's first Klingon. Tonight Lundin's playing a different role--"singing spokesperson" for the Child Welfare League of America.

A little over a dozen people are scattered around the room, nibbling hors d'oeuvres and checking out the art on the walls. They're mainly in their 30s and 40s, though Lundin's most attentive audience is a nine-year-old boy named Andre, who's just told him he has a chihuahua named Gitana.

"Do you remember a movie called Two for the Seesaw with Robert Mitchum?" Lundin asks. "I had a featured part as a kind of hippie guitar player and I wrote a song for the movie called 'Gitana.'"

It's unclear whether Andre knows anything about the 71-year-old Lundin, except that he's been on TV--or about the lesser-known 60s-era movies referred to during his intro--but the boy waits excitedly for the song Lundin's been promising for the last 45 minutes.

"We're gonna do 'La Esperanza,'" Lundin says. "It's in Spanish and English." He dedicates the song to Arturo Hernandez, author of the book Peace in the Streets: Breaking the Cycle of Gang Violence. "The one word missing in the lives of gangs is the word hope.

"Andre, this is for you. Always have hope."

As a kid growing up in Chicago, Lundin says, he'd always wanted to be an actor. "I saw people up on the screen and I said, 'Someday I'm gonna work with you'--people like John Wayne and Lucille Ball."

He "got the bug" spending every Saturday in a movie theater. His father, he says, worked for the outfit and used the matinees as an alibi. "He'd give me dimes to go to the show and then he'd quiz me afterwards so he could tell my mom, 'Oh, we saw this, we saw that.'"

The son of a German-American father and an English mother--whose dad, he says, was "court tailor to Queen Victoria"--Lundin grew up all over the city. Back then Chicago was the radio capital, and he took bit parts on shows like Captain Midnight and Mystery Theater. In 1948 he graduated from Lane Tech, where he pitched on the school's baseball team. He says the next year he got a chance to join the semipro Skokie Indians, but he hurt his arm on his second outing. Then he studied music at Roosevelt University for a year and later won a small role in the 1954 Lyric Opera production of Don Giovanni. That led to an opportunity to study music in Italy. "I always had this split thing: music and acting."

Torn between Italy and Hollywood, he decided to flip a coin. Heads he'd go to Italy, tails to California. "It came up heads, but I said, 'Nah, I'll follow my heart to Hollywood'--in spite of the coin.

"I don't regret it," he says. "I knew I had to be in California. I met my ex-wife there, a Miss Universe finalist. Flipped a coin and then went against it. But I'm not unhappy about that."

As it turned out, Lundin found his first work in Hollywood as a singer. Billed as a folk musician, he appeared on Hootenanny and became a regular on Red Rowe's television variety show ("24 times"). He recorded some songs--most notably, he says, a 1959 single called "The Dream" and a 1964 version of "Kumbayaa." The songs got airplay, he says, yet sold little. "We had a couple turntable hits, but the distribution was poor. They didn't get enough going in sales to do an album."

In the late 50s Lundin began to land supporting roles in cop shows and westerns. "I played a lot of villains, heavies," he says. "And the Native American--a little makeup, my high cheekbones, put a wig on me, and I looked like Tonto."

Lundin says that over the next ten years he racked up more than 100 credits. "I did probably every TV show," including Batman as the Octopus and Get Smart as "Raymond the Knife Thrower." "As I built up in stature I became guest star on a whole bunch of shows."

He also started appearing next to his big-screen idols, even, he says, giving Lucille Ball voice lessons. "I'd actually go to her house on Roxbury Drive next to Jack Gleason," he says. "But I couldn't teach her anything. She was such a heavy smoker--she was like a basso profundo."

In 1964 Lundin was cast in his first starring role--as Friday in the film Robinson Crusoe on Mars. Yet he'll always be remembered for his 1966 performance as a Klingon lieutenant in the Star Trek episode "Errand of Mercy."

He had originally auditioned for the part of Spock. "If you look at my ears you can see why," he says. "I would've saved them millions in makeup." But the people at Paramount wanted a smaller, more cerebral actor, he says, and hired Leonard Nimoy instead. "I was very buff in those days." Still, he's quick to give Nimoy credit. "I don't think anybody could have done it better. He was Spock when he was born. There's that look, you know."

Lundin kept busy through the 70s and 80s, raising three kids, writing, and taking the occasional acting job. He wrote an episode for Hawaii Five-0 that was in development when the show was canceled, and he penned a screenplay for a western called "Red, White, and Blue." That project went through a series of producers who, he says, kept dying just as it was getting off the ground.

He continued to go on auditions, but he had a tougher time getting cast. "If you're going to work at all as an actor you gotta know somebody," he says. "I've read for some parts in recent years and I know from what they told me I was the best, except I wasn't the director's brother-in-law." In 1997 he was featured on Babylon V, and he recently played a vampire killer in a pilot called Kiss of Death. "I play Professor Van Helsing. I get the spike and mallet and do the number on him." He says a producer has approached him about doing a sequel to Robinson Crusoe on Mars.

He's a regular on the Star Trek circuit. "I like doing the conventions," he says, "'cause I have a chance to interface with the people. If you listen to people they tell you a lot. If you're here to display your ego and just sign autographs, you don't learn anything." In Baltimore, a fan put him in touch with the Child Welfare League, and now Lundin's planning to donate a portion of the proceeds from his latest CD, Loyalty. He notes the songs make "important statements" about social issues.

"I just made up my mind I was going to get a CD out," he says. "A lot of songs were bouncing around in my head. And now I have the time and fortunately the financial structure to do it."

In September he's going to Europe to sing on a cruise.

At the gallery a boom box is playing Lundin's CD. He belts out the lyrics as he swings to the music, chatting between lines like a lounge singer. He launches into his antiwar song, "If a Woman Were King."

"'Man has yet to come up with a solution for war and revolution. / But it's time for a change that women arrange / Affairs of state and promulgate'--Promulgate? You gotta look that one up--'A peaceful world without hate. / A peaceful world before it's too late.'"

Between numbers, he reflects, "I love to sing, I love to act--whatever comes along. That's my purpose. I want to be able to say what I think needs to be said--without preaching. I don't say, 'Don't buy guns. Don't do this.' This is my opinion, and if you accept it, fine. You're not supposed to sing at my age. They say, 'It's over.' And I say, 'Bull.' Does that sound like an old guy?"

To the strumming of Spanish guitars, Lundin slips into an upbeat tempo. "'You cannot change the past,'" he sings, "'but you can change your name. / Paso, paso. Paso, paso'--it's over, it's over. That's street talk--'Hey man, it's over.'"

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jim Newberry.

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