Posts Tagged ‘Nichelle Nichols’

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Was A Trekkie

Monday, January 21st, 2013

(Reposted from MediaPost article by Archive Director Karen Herman with permission.)

As the nation celebrates Martin Luther King Day on Jan. 21, it’s a good time to remember how television can play a critical role in challenging and changing public opinion. As the journalist Howard K. Smith said of the television news coverage of the Civil Rights movement in his Archive of American Television interview, “I think even people who were biased on civil rights saw these pictures every night at the dinner hour — people beating up blacks, siccing dogs onto them — and they said, ‘This has got to stop! Something must be done.’ I think that television really was a decisive fact. That and the powerful will of Lyndon Johnson to be a success in legislation and the wonderful eloquence of Martin Luther King.”

Not only did TV news bring the country (and the world) face to face with the day-to-day reality of the struggle, but entertainment television also played a subtle, yet important, role. One of my favorite stories in our archive is one that Nichelle Nichols,  famous for her role as Chief Communications Officer Nyota Uhura on “Star Trek,” tells of her moving encounter with Dr. King. (See the full 12-minute interview excerpt here):

I was going to leave “Star Trek,” and [creator] Gene Roddenberry says, “You can’t do that. Don’t you understand what I’m trying to achieve? Take the weekend and think about it.” He took the resignation and stuck it in his desk drawer….

As fate would have it, I was to be a celebrity guest at, I believe, it was an NAACP fundraiser in Beverly Hills. I had just been taken to the dais, when the organizer came over and said, “Ms. Nichols, there’s someone here who said he is your biggest fan and he really wants to meet you.”

I stand up and turn and I’m looking for a young “Star Trek” fan. Instead, is this face the world knows. I remember thinking, “Whoever that fan is, is going to have to wait because Dr. Martin Luther King, my leader, is walking toward me, with a beautiful smile on his face.” Then this man says “Yes, Ms. Nichols, I am that fan. I am your best fan, your greatest fan, and my family are your greatest fans…. We admire you greatly ….And the manner in which you’ve created this role has dignity….”

I said “Dr. King, thank you so much. I really am going to miss my co-stars.” He said, dead serious, “What are you talking about?” I said, “I’m leaving Star Trek,” He said, “You cannot. You cannot!”

I was taken aback. He said, “Don’t you understand what this man has achieved? For the first time on television we will be seen as we should be seen every day – as intelligent, quality, beautiful people who can sing, dance, but who can also go into space, who can be lawyers, who can be teachers, who can be professors, and yet you don’t see it on television – until now….”

I could say nothing, I just stood there realizing every word that he was saying was the truth. He said, “Gene Roddenberry has opened a door for the world to see us. If you leave, that door can be closed because, you see, your role is not abBlack role, and it’s not a female role, he can fill it with anything, including an alien.”

At that moment, the world tilted for me. I knew then that I was something else and that the world was not the same. That’s all I could think of, everything that Dr. King had said:  The world sees us for the first time as we should be seen.

Come Monday morning, I went to Gene. He’s sitting behind that same dang desk. I told him what happened, and I said, “If you still want me to stay, I’ll stay. I have to.” He looked at me, and said, “God bless Dr. Martin Luther King, somebody knows where I am coming from.” I said, “That’s what he said.” And my life’s never been the same since, and I’ve never looked back. I never regretted it, because I understood the universe, that universal mind, had somehow put me there, and we have choices. Are we going to walk down this road or  the other? It was the right road for me.

As many programs have since shown (here’s a link to another of my other favorites  – Phylicia Rashad discussing how “The Cosby Show” broke barriers between Nelson Mandela and one of his guards on Robben Island ), television has the power to come into our homes and show people as they “should be seen every day.” A powerful and unforgettable message from perhaps the world’s most famous “trekkie.”

Nichelle Nichols Interview now Online!

Thursday, March 10th, 2011

Interview Description:
In her Archive interview, Nichelle Nichols talks about her work as a cast member on the original Star Trek (NBC, 1966-69) playing “Lieutenant Uhura.” Nichols discusses how this role broke many barriers, including portraying the first African-American woman as a high-ranking official and the first interracial kiss on television (with “Captain Kirk’s” William Shatner). She reveals how Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. influenced her decision to remain on the show. She talks about the show’s creator, Gene Roddenberry, and his vision for Star Trek. She details her early career, highlighting her roles in theater and film, and touring as a singer with Duke Ellington. She also discussed her roles on The Lieutenant ,(NBC, 1963-64), another Roddenberry production. She discussed more recent roles, such as “Nana Dawson” on Heroes (NBC, 2006-10). Nichelle Nichols was interviewed in North Hollywood, CA on October 13, 2010; Stephen J. Abramson conducted the nearly three-and-a-half-hour interview.  View the entire interview with Nichols here.

10 things you may not know about “Star Trek”

Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011

The Archive of American Television has interviewed many actors, visual effects artists, directors, stuntmen, writers, and others involved in the production of NBC’s Star Trek (1966-1969) as well as its spin-offs. Below are a few gems from the archive’s collection featuring stories you may not have heard before about the series and its cast. From Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) to Lt. La Forge (LeVar Burton), check out the full interviews with each of these TV legends in the videos and links below.

For Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, the characters were all metaphors for a larger vision

George Takei explains how “Sulu” got his name.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. convinced “Uhura” to stay on Star Trek!

Nichelle Nichols (“Uhura”) was about to quit the series, when a chance encounter with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. opened her eyes to the important role that she had in representing African-Americans on television.

Leonard Nimoy created Mr. Spock’s “Vulcan salute”

Leonard Nimoy (“Mr. Spock”) explains where the famed “Vulcan salute” came from.

William Shatner almost missed out on being “Captain Kirk”

William Shatner was cast as “Alexander the Great” but thankfully, the project failed and he took the role of “Captain Kirk” by default.

Joan Collins’ daughter convinced her to appear on Star Trek

Actress Joan Collins appeared on one of Star Trek’s most beloved episodes and even attended a convention!

The Enterprise’s “whoosh” in Star Trek’s opening was voiced by the theme’s composer

Composer  Alexander Courage describes how he came up with the theme song for Star Trek.

A wig saved Next Generation’s Captain Picard!

Star Trek: Next Generation producer Rick Berman explains how Patrick Stewart almost wasn’t cast as “Captain Picard.”

“Khan” left Mr. Roarke in the dust

Ricardo Montalban was worried audiences would identify him with Fantasy Island’s “Mr. Roarke” when he reprised the role of “Khan” on Star Trek, but he was able to find the character’s true voice by watching the original 1967 episode “Space Seed” where he first played “Khan.

Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Geordi could see all, but the actor playing him saw almost nothing!

LeVar Burton “Geordi La Forge” actually could not see behind his character’s visor.

The secret to the transporter effect was fireworks

Director Joseph Wilcots reveals how the shimmery effect was created.

For more about Star Trek, visit the Archive’s curated show page.