Recalling 'Star Trek,' sometimes fondly

January 11, 1995|By Chris Kridler | Chris Kridler,Sun Staff Writer

Nichelle Nichols' Uhura and George Takei's Sulu occupied closely parallel universes, and not just on the bridge of the starship Enterprise. Recognized, for better or worse, as the minority officers on the bridge of Gene Roddenberry's visionary fictional vessel, the actors felt they had vital roles to fulfill as representatives of their ethnic futures.

They make that clear in their autobiographies. Sometimes, they're so darned earnest, you forget "Star Trek" started out as an obscure space opera with a crew in bad velour uniforms exploring planets adorned with fake boulders.

The inspiration for their idealistic fire was Roddenberry, now resting in peace, one hopes, since his remains orbited Earth in a space shuttle. His influence seems to have the power of a religion. Ms. Nichols' link to Roddenberry had a more personal element, too. They fell in love before she joined "Trek."

When their affair "had become uncomfortably intense for both of us," he revealed his secret -- there was another woman. That is, another other woman; his divorce was still in the works. He took Ms. Nichols to see the mystery woman (No. 3, if you're keeping count), and -- surprise! -- they'd met before. It was Majel Barrett, who eventually married Roddenberry and had roles in "Trek" series both old and new. Ms. Nichols backed out of her relationship with Gene: "I could not be the other woman to the other woman."

The "Trek" gossip is fun, and Ms. Nichols is good at it. It takes her well over a hundred pages to get into it, though. First, we learn of her dancing and singing, which brought her into show business; her courage in bringing charges against a man who assaulted her and tried to molest her; and her myriad affairs and marriages. Her success in spite of the blatant racism she faced is a testament to her determination.

Ms. Nichols also seems to have an incredible and sometimes tedious knack for remembering compliments, and she takes as much pride in the doings of the fictional Uhura as if she had done them herself. Mr. Takei takes a similar pride in his character. Both fought at every turn for more lines, more action and, in Mr. Takei's case in particular, more money.

While Mr. Takei delivers his share of "Trek" gossip, his account of his very young life is, in some ways, more interesting. As a child, he was forced to board a train with his family and hundreds of other Japanese-Americans, many American citizens, to be held prisoner on American soil during World War II. Like the others, his family lost everything. His experience in the internment camps gave him a fierce sense of justice and, unexpectedly, a taste for the theater, when a fellow internee brought a silent movie to life one night with a talent for voices and sound effects.

When she wasn't acting, Ms. Nichols was drawn into helping the space program. Mr. Takei was drawn into politics. And after years of association with their belatedly successful TV series (canceled after three seasons but alive forever in syndication) and six movies, they each acknowledge that "Star Trek" is an important part of their lives.

That apparently isn't true of one of their colleagues. Their autobiographies have something else in common: Bill-bashing.

William Shatner, who's ahead of the game with two "Star Trek" autobiographies, was not exactly Mr. Popularity on the set (unlike the highly respected Leonard Nimoy). According to both Mr. Takei and Ms. Nichols, Mr. Shatner routinely stole lines and camera angles from the rest of the cast by cajoling directors, and he rarely showed up for momentous cast occasions (among them, a ceremony to install stars on Hollywood's Walk of Fame and Roddenberry's memorial service). Between Ms. Nichols' lambasting Mr. Shatner for lifting and twisting material from her for his own book and Mr. Takei's sly bald jokes, you can see why the erstwhile Captain Kirk might want to take shelter with the protective professionals of "Rescue 911."

"Beyond Uhura" and "To the Stars" are entertaining, but don't feel too guilty about skipping right to the good parts. "Star Trek," after all, is the main reason the stars of these minor characters rose in the first place.

Ms. Kridler is assistant arts and entertainment editor of The Sun.

BOOK REVIEW

Title: "Beyond Uhura: Star Trek and Other Memories"

Author: Nichelle Nichols

Publisher: G. P. Putnam's Sons

Length, price: 320 pages, $22.95

*

Title: "To the Stars: The Autobiography of George Takei, Star Trek's Mr. Sulu"

Author: George Takei

Publisher: Pocket Books

Length, price: 406 pages, $22

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