'Star Trek' alum George Takei still stuns

Social-media star will bring some sci-fi to BSO

  • George Takei.
George Takei. (Baltimore Symphony Orchestra…)
February 21, 2014|By Tim Smith, The Baltimore Sun

George Takei, speaking by phone from his California home, cannot resist describing the un-wintry view from his window.

"There's a flawless blue sky, golden sunshine and a green garden outside," the Los Angeles-born Takei says in his burnished baritone, with just a hint of gloating. "But I am looking forward to being back in Baltimore. I love the bracing air of the Inner Harbor."

The man who first earned fame portraying Lt. Sulu in the 1960s TV series "Star Trek" will serve as narrator/host of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's "Sci-Fi Spectacular" this week. It's a reprise of the program Takei participated in here in 2008, a program featuring colorful music from "Star Trek," "Star Wars" and more, led by the BSO's principal pops conductor, Jack Everly.

A lot has happened to Takei since that visit six years ago.

In 2011, shortly after his first tweet on Twitter and his first post on his Facebook fan page, he became a social media phenomenon — more than 6 million Facebook fans and about 1 million Twitter followers relish his every quip or funny photo.

In 2012, Takei helped launch a Broadway-bound musical, "Allegiance," about the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.

In December, he entered the perfume market with a unisex fragrance — "Eau My." The name plays on Takei's signature utterance, "Oh, my," delivered with a grand swoop when confronted with the unexpected, suggestive or outrageous. (Shock jock Howard Stern, who often had the actor on his radio show, recorded one of Takei's "Oh, my" responses and played the tape innumerable times afterward, helping to spread the expression.)

Takei also became the subject of a documentary by filmmaker Jennifer M. Kroot, who chronicled the actor and his husband for three years. The result, which premiered in January at the Sundance Film Festival, is titled "To Be Takei."

"Doesn't that have a Shakespearean ring?" Takei says with a laugh.

In between all those developments, Takei, who came out as a gay man in 2005, has been a prominent advocate for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

For some longtime fans, Takei may always be most synonymous with the world of sci-fi. But the actor, who earned degrees in theater from the University of California at Los Angeles, did not arrive on the set of "Star Trek" in 1966 fully committed to the genre.

"Frankly, I was not a sci-fi fan," says Takei, 76. "I had only read one sci-fi author. I was merely auditioning, an actor for hire. I wanted to work week after week. But my association with 'Star Trek' allowed me to meet some extraordinarily gifted science fiction writers on the show, which opened up a new world for me — a world of nerdom and geekdom that is global."

Takei notes that some of the ideas that sparked the imaginations of Trekkies have turned into reality.

"What we did in 'Star Trek' in the mid-'60s was mind-boggling," he says. "We'd walk around with these things we flipped up to talk [called the Communicators], and now we all walk around with things like that. We take pictures with them, text and see movies. We're living in a science fiction world."

Another "Star Trek" feature, the teleportation device that beamed up characters on the show, has yet to materialize, but Takei will be ready if it does.

"I hope for the day when we have a Transporter, where you step on it, sparkle, pop out and sparkle again," Takei says. (It's very easy to envision him sparkling.)

Meanwhile, the actor, who appeared in six "Star Trek" movies based on the TV series, is keeping an eye on developments in commercial space travel.

"That does indeed interest me," he says. "Virgin [Galactic] and SpaceX [Space Exploration Technologies Corp.] are entering an exciting phase. You know, Starship Enterprise was meant to be entrepreneurial, and that's the phase we're seeing companies step into now. To be living through these times is very exciting. It's the reason why I want to live long and prosper."

Takei's interest in flight started when he was 14, when he took his first airplane ride at Los Angeles International Airport. ("That was chilling and exciting; I put my arm rests up to help the plane go up.")

By then, Takei could feel like a regular, native Angeleno again. During the early 1940s, things were much more complicated and painful. Like 120,000 other Japanese-Americans, the Takei family was sent to internment camps after Japan and the United States went to war.

This period of American history is not as widely known as nobler aspects of the war years. For the actor, it is anything but obscure, anything but excusable.

"When Pearl Harbor was bombed, Japanese-Americans, like every one else, rushed to enlist," he says, "but they were denied and labeled enemy non-aliens. That's citizenship in the negative."

With his parents and siblings, Takei was first sent to a camp in a swampy part of Arkansas, then to another in an isolated section of Northern California.

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