There were really three groups of actors on the original Star Trek series:

The leading actors: William ShatnerLeonard Nimoy, and Deforrest Kelley.

There were the  weekly and occasionally recurring guest stars.   These were people like Richard Kiel (Jaws in the Bond films), Joan Collins, Roger C. Carmel (Harry Mudd), etc.

But the strength of the show is often measured in the strength of its supporting regular cast.  Scotty (James Doohan), Uhura (Nichelle Nichols), Sulu (George Takei) and Checkov (Walter Koenig) were often used as set dressing and had little to do.  But when they had something to do, they did it well and memorably.

Here are some facts about the actors that gave space for Shatner’s overacting:

James Doohan was a member of the Royal Canadian Army (yes, he’s Canadian not Scottish).  He was part of the Normandy invasion on D-Day.  After leading his men up Juno Beach and through a mine field and personally taking out two snipers, Doohan was hit by six rounds from a Bren light machine gun fired by a sentry (friendly fire).  He took four bullets in one leg, one in his chest, and the final round amputated his right middle finger.  It is clearly visible in several episodes of Star Trek and a couple of the movies.  This is an image from the third season episode The Lights of Zetar.

The shot to his chest would likely have been fatal except for a cigarette case, given to him by his brother, which deflected the bullet.  He later gave up smoking, but joked that smoking actually saved his life.

While great pains were taken in Star Trek to conceal the fact the Doohan was missing a middle finger, there are several episodes where this can be observed.  These include: Cat’s Paw; Day of the Dove; and The Lights of Zetar.  This can also be observed in a scene in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock and In Star Trek V: The Final Frontier.  In the former, it can be observed when he hands McCoy parts for the Transwarp Drive and in the latter when he’s holding a plastic bag dinner which was given to him by Lt. Uhura.

Speaking of Lt. Uhura….

Nichelle Nichols came to her audition for Star Trek carrying the book, Uhura (Swahili for freedom) written by Robert Ruark.  Roddenberry liked the name and worked with Nichelle to create Uhura’s backstory.  She got a job by creating her own part.

By now almost everyone knows she stayed on the show due to a discussion with Martin Luther King Jr., who told her the importance of young African-Americans seeing a strong role model on the show.  Just in case you don’t know the story…here is the Drunk History take on it:

(the kiss referenced as the first interracial kiss on TV is actually the second.  Information on the truth can be found here )

But that isn’t even the most interesting fact about her.

She sang for the Duke Ellington orchestra at the age of 16.  Duke called her “wonderful” and while her costars made what are considered novelty records (Shatner’s The Transformed Man and Nimoy’s The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins) she made a jazz album titled Down to Earth for Epic Records in 1967. (Click the cover to get it on Amazon!!!!)

Yet it is her work for the space program that is most impressive.  She was a recruiter for NASA in the 1970s and 80s.  She found Guion Bluford (the first African-American in space) and Sally Ride (the first woman in space).  She also brought in Charles Bolden, the administrator of NASA from 2009 till 2017.  Nichelle also went on a mission for NASA herself.  She went into the upper atmosphere with the SOFIA telescope in September 2015.  Her mission was heavily reported and you can read about it here.

There is a lot of known things about George Takei.  He came out as gay in 2005 and married his long time partner, Brad.

His family were in internment camps in the US during World War II (as were around 110,000 other Japanese Americans). His story inspired Allegiance, a musical about the internment of his family, that premiered in 2012 and played on Broadway (with Takei as the lead) from October 2015-February 2016.

His catch phrase “Oh, my” originated on the Howard Stern radio show.

Here are some lesser known things about him.

When he was gone at the start of the second season of Star Trek filming The Green Berets with John Wayne, Walter Koenig was brought into the cast.  His character Checkov was meant to fill the gap left by the absence of Sulu and to answer criticism by Russian media of there not being a Russian on the show.  George missed nine episodes and came back not only to find his lines split between him and the newcomer, but he had to share a dressing room and script with him.  George said, “When I came back to the show I hated Walter sight unseen.”

He quickly realized that Walter wasn’t the problem and the two became good friends.  Koenig was even best man at George’s wedding to Brad in 2008.

Another interesting fact is that his father was an Anglophile and named him after King George VI, whose coronation was just a few weeks after his birth in 1937.  His brother Henry is named after Henry VIII.

One final piece of information about activist George.  He has been deeply involved in local politics in LA.  He ran for City Council in 1973 and lost, but was appointed to the board of directors of the Southern California Rapid Transit District by Mayor Tom Bradley. He served from 1973 to 1984, and was also the vice president of the American Public Transit Association. And he didn’t only work to better the Southern Californian community; he also served two terms on the board of the Japan-United States Friendship Commission in the 1990s, appointed by President Bill Clinton.

Walter Koenig who played the Russian navigator Checkov is actually the son of Russian Jewish immigrants.  His father was investigated by the FBI during the McCarthy era for ties to Communism.

He has said himself that the whole Pravda commentary on Russians not being on the show was a publicity stunt by NBC.  Whether that is true or not, there is truth in the story that he was brought in to get more youth interested in the show.  His looked similar enough to Monkees heart-throb Davy Jones that it only took adding a wig to complete the duplication.  In fact, Koenig had a bald spot that he covered for years with various tricks.

Koenig was the only actor that did not return for Star Trek: The Animated Series, due to financial constraints.  He did, however, become the first Star Trek actor to write a story for the series titled The Infinite Vulcan.  He has written several films, plays, scripts for TV (Land of the LostFamily, etc) and a comic book series called Raver published by Malibu Comics in the early 1990s.

He, also, got to play against type when he was cast as PSI Cop Alfred Bester on Babylon 5, the main competition for Star Trek Deep Space Nine.  Bester was one of the main antagonist for the series regulars and Koenig reveled in the bad guy persona.

Category: TV

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