Mastermind behind de Forest Research dies at 94
The Enterprise couldn’t have gone to warp without him.
Kellam de Forest, the man known for ensuring the accuracy of “Star Trek” and other TV shows and movies, died earlier this week in Santa Barbara due to complications from COVID-19. He was 94.
The Santa Barbara native and renowned researcher, who attended Crane Country Day School in Montecito, The Thacher School in Ojai and eventually Yale University, was well-known in show business through his company, de Forest Research.
The company was established after he and his wife, Margaret, married in 1952 and moved to Los Angeles. It was there he started the business to conduct legal and historical research for writers, producers and directors in the television industry.
Mr. de Forest helped work on hundreds of productions over four decades, including movies like “Chinatown” and “All the President’s Men,” as well as TV shows such as the “The Untouchables” and the original “Star Trek” series. Creator Gene Roddenberry depended on him for fact-checking beginning with the first “Star Trek” pilot, “The Cage.”
His firm would conduct historical, legal and scientific research to ensure that TV shows and movies were accurate. In the case of “Star Trek,” the producers asked Mr. de Forest to help them bring the science fiction show to life in the most realistic way possible.
“What he was committed to and what his firm was committed to was providing producers, art directors and writers with information and images, historical facts and scientific facts that would really make a piece come alive,” Ann de Forest, Mr. de Forest’s daughter, told the News-Press by phone from her home in Philadelphia.
According to Ms. de Forest, her father always adored his work in Hollywood and loved the opportunity to collaborate with producers to make compelling and accurate films and TV shows.
“He was someone who taught me early the value of work and how work was something to be enjoyed,” Ms. de Forest said. “He loved the work he did.”
When Mr. de Forest retired in 1992, he and his wife returned to Santa Barbara, where he spent the rest of his life dedicated to advocacy and public service.
As an active board member of the Pearl Chase Society, Mr. de Forest attended monthly civic meetings and provided historical preservation advice for a number of local organizations, including the Mission Canyon Association and the city’s Planning Commission. He attended these meetings in person for years until managing his wheelchair became too tiresome.
In 2018, Mr. de Forest was invited to be a part of the graduating class at Crane School and received a diploma. When he initially finished his education at Crane in 1940, he was the only one in his class, and therefore, the school did not hold a commencement.
Mr. de Forest also hosted Preservation Watch meetings for community residents at Wood Glen Hall in Santa Barbara until COVID-19 canceled all in-person gatherings.
Throughout the pandemic, he continued to write all of the Pearl Chase Society historic preservation letters. At the time of his illness, he was writing his January Preservation Watch column.
For Mr. de Forest, service to Santa Barbara was highly personal.
After the 1925 earthquake destroyed infrastructure across the city, Mr. de Forest’s parents played a leading role in rebuilding the city after the devastating disaster.
According to Ms. de Forest, her father saw his work for the city as a way to preserve his parents’ legacy. Even though the majority of his family lived far away, Ms. de Forest said Santa Barbara was the place where her father wanted to leave a lasting impact in his final years.
“We knew we couldn’t take him away from Santa Barbara,” Ms. de Forest said.
Mr. de Forest was born on Nov. 11, 1926 at Cottage Hospital to landscape architects Lockwood and Elizabeth Kellam de Forest. He was born eight weeks premature and weighed only 2 pounds. At the time, he was the smallest baby to ever survive at Cottage.
In 1949, after serving in World War II stateside for a year, he finished his degree and graduated from Yale.
Mr. de Forest is survived by his three children — Ann, Carmaig and Elizabeth de Forest — and their spouses, along with his six grandchildren and a great-grandchild.
The de Forest family is requesting donations in Mr. de Forest’s name be made to the Pearl Chase Society, P.O. Box 92121, Santa Barbara 93190 or to The Cottage Hospital Foundation (www.cottagehealth.org/donate).