The Legacy of Ficus Fendorota, Sci-Fi TV’s first and only Vegeton

I finally got a chance to watch all the episodes on DVD of the great old failed space sitcom, Quark, which lasted a few episodes back in the late 1970s. (A strange phenomenon: all late boomers, teens in 1977, remember this show. What human of my age didn’t watch Quark when he was a kid? If 1970s teenagers actually had an impact on Nielson ratings, Quark, When Things Were Rotten, and Kolchak the Night Stalker would have been the biggest hits around.

Richard Kelton Quark

What is a vegeton?

I didn’t remember the show too clearly, which was about an intergalactic garbage ship, commanded by Adam Quark, played by Richard Benjamin. I did remember that there were a couple of pretty, “scantily-clad” (as we said in the 1970s) clones, and I remembered that there was a funny plant who was a member of the crew.

I couldn’t have told you anything else about the funny plant. I didn’t remember the name of the actor who played the funny plant, or whatever happened to him. I vaguely remembered that, in one episode, the funny plant taught a beautiful woman how to “pollinate,” and that this was hilarious, but I didn’t remember what the act of pollination entailed, or why it was so amusing.

Well, the plant was named “Ficus Fendorota,” played by an actor named Richard Kelton, and WOW, what a funny plant he was. (A “vegeton,” to be exact, but I remembered only a funny, funny plant.) My recollection of him, though, got mixed up with Mork, so I remembered some kind of unrestrained wackiness. In reality, his performance was a beautiful, subtle thing to see, a graceful portrayal, and the driest of wit, equal parts Spock (minus the human half) and Garrison Keillor. What would a plant really be like, if a plant could talk, and walk, and work alongside humans? Morally, plants are neutral, and Ficus Fendorota was decidedly morally neutral, neither good nor bad; but who doesn’t love plants? As Ficus, Kelton embodied morally neutral lovableness.

Grace and earnestness

There was a kind of earnest curiosity to Ficus that would never quite spill over into emotion. No one could ever quite reach him, and while he intellectually understood why his human crew loved him, he couldn’t share it, or even want to.

“Are we have a warm moment, Captain?” Ficus asks Captain Quark, after a particularly close call.

“Yes, Ficus, we are,” Quark responds.

“Good,” Ficus replies. “I know you like those.”

On another occasion, Ficus finds himself in an unexpected dalliance with a galactic villainess named Princess Libido (who was played by Joan van Ark). Ficus explains that vegetons lack any sense of romance, but that they do “pollinate”; well, the Princess is game, to say the least, and she joins Ficus in some rather ridiculous role-play. Finding herself on the floor of her space ship next to Ficus, her arms and legs waving in the air, the princess finally asks, “What do we do now?”

“Now,” Ficus replies guilelessly, “we wait for the bee!”

I am not sure how that reads, in black and white, on a computer screen, but uttered with Ficus’s trademark sincerity, it brings down the house.

An ascendant career and early tragedy

In spite of Quark’s cancellation, Kelton’s career was ascendant, and he was quickly signed to a major role on a major miniseries, NBC’s Centennial, where a stupid on-set accident killed him. He died at the age of 35; had he lived, he would today be 76, and he’d be Hollywood royalty.

Look, someone else can write an elegy to Johnny Carson’s legacy. You know, Carson entertained millions for decades, we all know what his legacy is. So at Oblivioni, we prefer to remember Richard Kelton.

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