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Star Trek sound designer Doug Grindstaff, creator of iconic Tribble noise, dies at 87

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Jul 30, 2018

Douglas Grindstaff, an Emmy Award-winning sound designer/editor on the original Star Trek TV show in the 1960s, has died at the age of 87, The Hollywood Reporter has confirmed. According to his family, Grindstaff passed away on July 23 in Peoria, Arizona.

Born in Los Angeles in April of 1931, Doug graduated from the California Institute of the Arts and fought in the Korean War. He became involved with the entertainment industry thanks to his brother, who worked in radio. He was working on a show called Swinging Summer (a so-called "precursor to Charlie's Angels") in 1965 when Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry rang him up with a job opportunity. 

"Gene had heard about me, and they needed someone to come over and help them on Star Trek. Gene was really into sound," Grindstaff said during a 2016 interview with Audible. "On one episode that Gene liked very much, he sent me a memo with 11 pages of notes handwritten about the sound.”

Among many accomplishments in the world of television, Grindstaff is perhaps most famous for his creation of the instantly recognizable Tribble coo noise from an iconic 1967 episode from Star Trek's second season, "The Trouble With Tribbles." In the comical storyline, the Enterprise crew finds itself dealing with an infestation of fuzzy little aliens known as Tribbles, which begin to multiply out of control. The Tribbles' sound was based on that of a dove. 

Grindstaff is also credited with creating the sliding noise that the doors of the Enterprise make when opening and closing. Grindstaff achieved this particular sound effect simply by using the squeaking of his sneakers, said Star Trek: The Next Generation sound editor Bill Wistrom in a featurette on the franchise's famous sounds on TNG's Season 6 DVD.

Grindstaff's original team on the first season of the '60s-era show was more like a skeleton crew than anything else, which suited him just fine.

“I said ... 'I can do it with three editors if you give me good men and myself. That’s all I need. Get the others out of here,’ ” he told Audible. “Then I had three editors and myself and we did the show. But what I would do is create the stuff and then they would put it in. It just worked.”

In addition to Star Trek, Grindstaff worked on other classic TV programs such as Mission: Impossible, MannixThe Odd Couple, The Brady Bunch, and Max Headroom. His earliest Hollywood credit is for the Three Wise Boys in 1963, a Christmas-themed TV movie. A year later, he worked on the groundbreaking One Potato, Two Potato, a film about an interracial marriage. 

Grindstaff is survived by his wife Marcia; children Marla, Chuck, and Dan; stepchildren Dean, Felicia, and Eli; 16 grandchildren; and 13 great-grandchildren.