When They Trod the Boards: "Star Trek" Edition
STAR TREK. The Musical! OK, not really, but even Mr. Spock would find fascinating what we dug up in the Library's Billy Rose Theatre Division about the original Star Trek actors before they went stellar. Who knew that Nichelle Nichols sizzled in the local cabaret scene before taking up her earpiece on the starship Enterprise? Or that George Takei was an activist (OK, not surprising), or that William Shatner, of Shatner's World; We Just Live in It..., first trod the Broadway boards over 50 years ago? Dust off your Klingon dictionary and stay tuned as we bring you the stage origins of Kirk, Spock, Sulu, and crew, and boldly go where few have gone before with rare photos in this Gallery.
Captain James T. Kirk
William Shatner started his acting career in the early 1950s with the Canadian National Repertory Theatre and is a veteran of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival (no, really). In 1956, a theater scholarship brought him to Broadway in Tamburlaine the Great. He then starred in The World of Suzie Wong in 1958 (for which he won the Theatre World Award) and A Shot in the Dark (1961). Since Star Trek, Shatner's career has trended astonishingly upward, fueled by the iconic Star Trek fan convention parody on Saturday Night Live, subsequent TV (Boston Legal) and commercial work (Priceline.com), and a solid output as an author and even singer. He remains an enduring figure in the pop culture consciousness. His autobiographies include Get a Life! (1999), Up Till Now (2008), and Shatner Rules (2011). See a tableau of the impish Shatner's every.dramatic. pause. circa 1950s in the Gallery, studded with special guest stars!
First Officer Spock
Leonard Nimoy started acting as a child. In the 1950s, shortly after graduating high school, he began working in L.A.'s Civic Playhouse in Jewish-themed plays alongside Yiddish Art Theatre founder Maurice Schwartz. He toured constantly around the country, mostly in California, before landing the role of Spock in Star Trek. In the 1970s he starred in Otto Preminger's Full Circle (1973) and Equus (1977), and also toured extensively in U.S. cities in a variety of musicals, such as Fiddler on the Roof (1971) and Oliver! (1972). He also toured as Sherlock Holmes (1976) and on his own in the one-man show Vincent: the Story of a Hero (1978-1980). His encyclopedic interests are evident in the various cultural documentaries he's participated in, which can be found in NYPL's collections. If you want to be the life of the party, just check out his album Spaced Out and hear the best of his and Shatner's vocals. His biographies are I Am Not Spock (1975), and then later, I Am Spock (1995) (Resistance is futile?) See Nimoy throw logic to the wind in the Gallery.
Chief Medical Officer Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy
DeForest Kelley was the son of a preacher (not a doctor, damn it!) who performed in regional theater with the Kenley Players and the Lakewood Theater. He was discovered while doing a training film for the armed forces with the original TV Superman George Reeves (Time to Kill, 1945), and made a bee-line for Hollywood soon after. See the Bones/Superman cage fight in the Gallery. His biography is called From Sawdust to Stardust. (Of course)
Chief Engineer Montgomery "Scotty" Scott
James Doohan also got his start in service training films (Canadian Signal Corps). He also worked on some J. A. Rank shorts. He worked in the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York City and traveled the Northeast in summer stock during the 1950s and 60s, doing sporadic TV work before landing Star Trek. Beam back to 1950 and see his swarthy character glossies in the Gallery. His autobiography is Beam Me Up, Scotty. (Groan)
Helm Officer Hikaru Sulu
George Takei, with his trademark baritone, is an outspoken ambassador of human rights and civic-mindedness, and thus enjoys a healthy persona outside his Sulu incarnation. Prior to taking the helm on the Enterprise, he studied theater at UCLA and the Shakespeare Institute in Stratford-Upon-Avon, and then trained at Lucille Ball's Desilu Workshop. Besides acting, his post-Trek activities center largely around politics and activism in one form or another. Like other members of the crew, he has also tried his hand at writing sci-fi. He is the first Japanese American to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. His New York acting work includes The Year of the Dragon (1975), The Wash (Manhattan Theater Club, 1990), and Fly Blackbird (1996). See Takei swashbuckle his way through the Gallery. His autobiography is To the Stars.
Communications Officer Nyota Uhura
In the 1960s, just prior to getting her gig on Star Trek, Nichelle Nichols was a well-known figure in Chicago. Her dancing and singing skills were in high demand in the cabaret and club scene, earning her a principal role in the musical Kicks and Co. (1961). The musical, also starring Burgess Meredith, never made it to Broadway, but the rave reviews of her performance wrote her ticket to stardom. Her unique combination of sultriness and dignity led one critic to note, "Her body is a work of art and she uses it with tact"; an attribute she used to great effect in her portrayal of Lt. Uhura. See her gorgeous feature profile in Ebony magazine (January 1962), available through NYPL's Articles and Databases. Nichelle communicates more vintage glamor in the Gallery. Her autobiography is Beyond Uhura.
Navigator Pavel Chekov
Walter Koenig is another L.A.-based actor who, like Doohan, graduated from the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York City. He is a well-known sci-fi writer who in recent years has also taught drama and written and directed for the theater. Koenig's most recent starring role was as best man in the wedding of George Takei and Brad Altman. His autobiography is Warped Factors. (Enough already?)
Majel Barrett, the widow of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, was an active stage actress throughout the 1950s, first in NYC and then in California. Majel also studied at the Desilu Workshop prior to being cast as the original Number One in the series pilot The Cage. As all Trekkers know, her role was later demoted to Nurse Chapel and she doubled as the seductive voice of the starship computer. See more fun photos and get a window onto the 1950s stage scene in the Gallery. By the way, Mrs. Roddenberry also has the distinction of being the only member of the crew that resisted writing yet another auto-biography whose title banks on the Star Trek theme. (Thank you!)
We all know Grace Lee Whitney from Star Trek as the mini-skirted yeoman on the bridge with the towering basket hair. Pop culture buffs may also recognize her as a trumpet player in the movie Some Like it Hot, or remember her scorching Twist moves on TV's 77 Sunset Strip. She worked mostly in musicals, in the chorus of It's Great to be Alive (1953), The Pajama Game (1956), and Phil Silver's Tony Award-winning Top Banana (1957). After garnering positive reviews for Threepenny Opera (1960), Whitney was subsequently cast in the first 12 episodes of Star Trek. Since then, she has triumphed remarkably over personal issues like addiction and rejoined the crew years later for most of the Star Trek movies. She remains a darling of the convention circuit. Her biography is The Longest Trek.
NYPL is a virtual black hole of materials about the many aspects of the Star Trek Universe, and in as many formats. Borrow DVDs of the TV shows (Star Trek, Next Generation, Deep Space 9, and Voyager), the movies, the novels, and even the Billy Rose Theatre Division's files on stage (I am Star Trek at the Fringe Festival) and musical adaptations (the operetta H.M.S. Pinafore: Her Majesty's Starship. OK, there was a musical.