"I know, I know. A thousand questions. But first, the tranya."
During a mission, the Enterprise encountered an immense, highly sophisticated space vessel, the Fesarius, and its commander, Balok. Balok's appearance eventually yielded to Spock's determined efforts: a bluish, cat-eyed alien in an eerily-lit control center that wavered and rippled.
Balok condemned the crew as warlike because they had been forced to destroy a marker buoy. In fact, he had forced their hand, goading and threatening them with the device. Then, he advised the crew that they and their vessel, "obviously the product of a primitive and savage civilization," were to be destroyed.
A tense standoff followed, during which Captain Kirk sought vainly for a solution. Eventually, he bluffed Balok with corbomite – a ploy that apparently worked, for Balok decided not to immediately destroy the Enterprise. Instead, it would be towed to a planet of the First Federation, where the crew would be imprisoned and the Enterprise destroyed.
Kirk gambled again, as his ship was being dragged to its fate; he attempted to shear away from Balok's pilot vessel (a much smaller craft, launched from the Fesarius) and succeeded, apparently damaging Balok's ship in the process. At this point, Kirk could have attacked – certainly, he'd been provoked – or he could have fled. He chose instead to board the small vessel and offer aid. There, he learned the truth; "Balok," or at least the Balok he had seen, was merely a puppet.
Moving past this display, Kirk and his landing party discovered the real Balok, a diminutive alien. This Balok revealed that the entire encounter had been an elaborate test of character and ethics. The purpose of the puppet, "Mr. Hyde to my Jekyll", was to frighten and intimidate. Balok shared a drink of tranya with the landing party, and gave them a tour of his ship.
The Fesarius had a crew of only one, so Balok was the only representative of the First Federation seen, so far. Kirk left Crewman Dave Bailey with Balok, for an exchange of cultures and ideas. (TOS: "The Corbomite Maneuver")
Jerry Sohl conceived Balok while trying to devise the conclusion to the episode "The Corbomite Maneuver". He later commented, "How the hell were they [the Enterprise crew] going to get out of this one? And then we added the fellow at the end, which was so much like the end of many of my novels, where a little kid is behind the whole thing. That tickled Gene Roddenberry." (Starlog #136)
During a casting meeting for "The Corbomite Maneuver", much discussion was concentrated on how the "real" Balok, who was conceived as being three-and-a-half feet tall, should look. Multiple strange ideas were suggested and considered, in an effort to resolve this problem. After quietly listening to the proposed ideas, Gene Roddenberry finally commented, "I think if you cast anyone over seven years old, you're in trouble." On the following day, Joseph D'Agosta brought Clint Howard, who was then aged seven, onto the Desilu lot. He auditioned for the role and was immediately cast in the part. (The Making of Star Trek, pp. 348 & 349) One of the initial choices for the role was Michael Dunn, who eventually guest starred two years later in "Plato's Stepchildren". (These Are the Voyages: TOS Season One)
To exaggerate Clint Howard's alien look, a skull cap and extremely bushy eyebrows were applied to him. Howard was originally asked if he was willing to shave his hair off, but both him and his father said no. (The Making of Star Trek, p. 349; These Are the Voyages: TOS Season One) Despite having a childlike appearance, Balok was meant to be an adult alien. For this reason, Clint Howard's vocal track was deleted in post-production and the character was instead voiced by Walker Edmiston. (Star Trek: The Original Series 365, p. 34) Edmiston later recalled, "We'd tried a number of different things and then we just went to one of those very soft, child-like, ethereal vocals. It was more in timing and attitude than in voice. That's what's so important in creating a voice for creatures and all types of unearthly things. You have to analyze what it is, what they do, are they large, small, and what is the process behind them. And physically, of course, that makes a lot of difference as he had those big teeth and a weird little smile." (Starlog #58)
The Balok puppet was created by noted sculptor Wah Chang. (Star Trek: The Original Series 365, p. 35) John Fifer functioned as Balok's puppeteer. wbm The voice of the puppet Balok was supplied by Ted Cassidy. He was selected for the role because his deep vocalizations were deemed appropriate for the part. After the producers asked him to record the puppet's lines, Cassidy did so during post-production, during the filming of "What Are Little Girls Made Of?", in which Cassidy appeared as Ruk. (Star Trek: The Original Series 365, p. 34; These Are the Voyages: TOS Season One)
The Balok puppet appears in the end credits of every second season episode as the last freeze frame shot, with the credit "Executive in Charge of Production: Herb Solow" superimposed over it. This was a joke by Robert Justman, who selected the still images for the credits, played on his friend, Solow. The puppet, like most other "monsters and creatures" of the show, ended up in various places in and around the Desilu offices. Gene Roddenberry even played a practical joke on Justman once, with putting the puppet to the next seat to his on an airplane, when Justman went on a vacation. The pilot and crew asked them to remove it before flight commenced. (Inside Star Trek: The Real Story)
The fact Clint Howard appeared as Balok was referenced during an audition the actor later had, when he was about twenty-two or twenty-three years old, with renowned movie directors George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola. Howard reminisced, "[Lucas] looks at me and he goes, 'Commander Balok, Corbomite Maneuver.' It absolutely blew me away. George... get a life, George!" (Star Trek Monthly issue 49, pp. 50-51)
Clint Howard later reprised his role as a grown Balok, part of Comedy Central's 2006 roast of William Shatner. In it, Howard portrayed Balok as being an alcoholic, addicted to tranya. As with the episode, Balok's voice was again dubbed in by another actor.