Skip to comments.Nichelle Nichols: MLK impacted decision to stay on Enterprise (invented term "Treker in" 1966)
Posted on 01/17/2011 9:55:33 AM PST by presidio9
PBS' continuing series "Pioneers in Television" features an episode on sci-fi programming Tuesday night that includes an extensive interview with "Star Trek" star Nichelle Nichols.
The timing of the telecast (Ch. 13, 8 p.m.) is accidental, but is significant because it falls a day after today's Martin Luther King holiday. Had it not been for King, Nichols' career may have been different.
After a year with"Star Trek" as communications officer Lieutenant Uhura, she turned in her resignation. But at an NAACP event that weekend, she ran into King.
"One of the promoters came up and said someone wanted to meet me. He said he's my greatest fan," says Nichols, 78. "I thought it was some Trekker, some kid. I turned in my seat and there was Dr. Martin Luther King with a big smile on his face. He said, 'I am a Trekker, I am your biggest fan.'"
At that point, Nichols thought of herself as just a cast member on the show and hadn't fully grasped the racial implications of her part. She'd dealt with race all her life, of course, even on the set at Paramount, where a security guard hurled insults at her, but she hadn't grasped the importance of an African-American woman having a position of respect on TV.
Nichols thanked King, and told him she was leaving the show.
"He was telling me why I could not [resign]," she recalls. "He said I had the first nonstereotypical role, I had a role with honor, dignity and intelligence. He said, 'You simply cannot abdicate, this is an important role. This is why we are marching. We never thought we'd see this on TV.'"
Nichols was at a loss for words. It was the first time the importance of being an African-American woman on television had sank in. She returned to "Star Trek" creator Gene Roddenberry the next Monday morning and rescinded her resignation.
"He sat there and looked at me and said, 'God bless Dr. Martin Luther King. Somebody does understand me,'" Nichols says.
She and King stayed in touch occasionally afterward and until his death.
"I never looked back from that day," she says. "I never regretted the decision."
"Star Trek" stands as the show with the first interracial kiss on TV, with Nichols and William Shatner together. She would continue with the role in movies after the show was canceled.
"I certainly wasn't a pioneer then in my mind," she says. "I was just a young woman, and it was a wonderful opportunity to be on television.
"I really thought of it as a step forward to that end," she adds. "To my amazement, it became a lot more."
Nichols today is working on a script for a movie she expects to star in about tragedy, forgiveness and redemption. She also has a jewelry line.
"Why sit back when there's so much to do and see?" she says. "I expect to live another 20 or 50 years. I want to see what happens."
Uhura, who’s name means Freedom. Google Nichelle Nichols Ebony Magazine. VA VA VOOM!
Her best scenes are in “Mirror Mirror”.
Apparently it wasn’t the first — Sammy Davis Jr. and Nancy Sinatra predated Plato’s Stepchildren — (some object to this answer because it wasn’t affectionate)...but neither was this episode...also the kiss wasn’t really shown.
Shatner kept messing it up so he could do the scene over and over and over.
Actually the Star Trek budget only allowed for two takes. When they did the second take with the kiss tones down, Shatner looked at the camera and crossed his eyes so they’d have to use the take with the kiss.
I remember constructing my own ‘Enterprise’ out of cardboard and popsickle sticks and hanging it in the 8th grade art classroom. This was in the fall of 1966, before there were any real models available. Seems like last year, not over 40 years ago.
” (invented term “Treker in 1966)”
Never heard of it.
Looking back in hindsight, apparently it was Takai’s best acting as well.
I actually like TOS (and only TOS), but I believe this story about as much as I believe that Chelsea Clinton almost died in 9/11.
Did MLK also persuade her to break off her off-screen adultery with "Star Trek" creator Gene Roddenberry?
Except that it was implied and not actually shown. Shatner turns his body just before the kiss.
Is she sure that MLK wasn't just making a move on her?
He did a pretty good job watching John Wayne's backside...
I think he also invented, designed and built the Enterprise.
Well, she’s been telling this story for about 40 years now. Not that that will change your opinion of it.
And for the past 42 years the only other witness to this conversation has been unavailable for comment...
Ever heard of this really cool website "Google.com?"
It’s a great story, and entirely plausable. I have no reason to doubt the story, and there’s no harm in believing the story even if it’s not true.
I don’t know about Uhura’s anecdote, but the Left have been running with their own version of MLK for forty years.
I’ve heard of fans called “Trekies” but never “Trekers”.
The headline is misspelled. It’s actually ‘Trekkers’, and it’s what a lot of show fans call themselves (as opposed to others who refer to them as ‘Trekkies’.)
It was once a HUGE issue of contention between fans of Star Trek. Sort of like Michigander or Michiganians (Michagander seems to have won out).
“-er” connotates a fan, where “-ie” was thought to connotate a fanatic.
He may have invented the enterprise. However, he did meet with the actress just after his return from five years in Greece. While in Greece MLK was credited in teaching the Greeks philosophy, mathematics, sanitation engineering and advanced CPR.
Wasn’t there Dinah Shore and Harry Belafonte as well way back in the 50s?
As with the current president, MLK's life story stands on it's own as exceptional and inspirational, without embellishment. He did not walk across the reflecting pool before the "I have a dream" speech, and there is nothing in the record about him being a sci fi fan. Certainly Gene Roddenberry would have contacted him after Nichols asked for her job back or at least referred to this story at some point in his life. As far as I know, he didn't. Thinka about it: Roddenberry was a liberal (or at least a libertarian). This would have been the biggest thing that ever happened to him. Doesn't pass the smell test.
I checked out that website google.com for a medical term for people who make up stories to implant themselves into history and place themselves at historical events (like the five million baby boomers who say they were at Woodstock, or the 2 million Yankees fans who say they were there for Maris's 61st homer), but I failed to find one. Having done so, I feel free to coin the term "pulling a blumenthal."
Wen I was a kid, I got really ill, and spent a while in Children’s Hospital (DC).
Later, there was a fundraiser for the Hospital in DC, at the Hyat.
So the folks in charge of this gig dressed me up like a ST security type, and had me escort NN all over the building for the day. I was her “security”.
LOL. I was maybe 9 or 10.
All I remember is that she was a really nice lady.
It is hillarious that my post follows yours.
She was nice to me, at least.
Had she known that she’d have to do a romantic episode with Capt. Kirk, she would have dropped out for sure.
Trekkies are the ones who have no life outside of Star Trek.
Trekkers are the ones who think they have a life outside of Star Trek.
Dropped the k to fit character limitations.
Just to be clear: I have nothing against Nichelle Nichols, other than the fact that I think that, like most of the the original cast members, she is probably harboring enough jealousy towards Shattner to make a story like this up. Most of the other actors on the original show come off as bitter that their own careers never took them anywhere but nerd conventions.
According to Nichols own account, she and Rev. King met some time in 1966, after the first season, when NBC was threatening to take the show off the air because of low ratings. Now, it has probably been 20 years since I actually sat down and watched an episode of this program, but I have seen all of the original series multiple times. If Rev King was watching at all, he only caught the first two seasons before James Earl Ray caught up with him. Far from breaking any sort of color barrier, the Uhuru character is basically typical automaton for at least those first two seasons. She plays no significant role other than her job of contacting other parties, and delivers few memorable lines. It is fair to say that her character evolved quite a bit over three seasons. Nichols today is often given credit as some sort of civil rights proponent for her interracial kiss with Shattner in the the episode Plato's stepchildren, but Rev. King never saw it. That episode aired on November 22, 1968, six months after King was killed. The episode was not among the series ten highest rated when it was broadcast (and, as I mentioned, NOBODY watched the first season).
Here's what I think happened: Rev. King gave some encouragement to a struggling young black actress in 1966. He may or may not have actually watched an episode or two of the show before he died. He was actually a pretty busy man, you know. By her own admission, Nicols was not that big into civil rights until she ran into King, so just what was she doing at that NAACP event anyway?
Well, not nobody. That was the only thing my Mom would let us stay up to watch - that and the moon landing. I remember the Moon landing because it was “One small step for man..” and BOOM.
A lightning bolt hit our TV antenna, and that was it for TV for the next few years. Didn’t have one until the 70’s.
Actually I heard Nichelle Nichols interviewed on the Gil Gross show a number of years ago. She (unlike Walter Koenig) had some kind words for Bill Shatner.
I am not saying the story is true. You may be right; it might be something that her agent told her to say.
I find the Whoopi Goldberg story somewhat less believable. Yes, Uhura was a Lieutenant and all but also a glorified secretary. I don’t think it was a tremendous notch up from roles that blacks had gotten in that era, certainly not something that an 11 year old girl would freak out over at 10:00 on a Friday evening.
(and, as I mentioned, NOBODY watched the first season)
Me and my friends sure did. I was a science fiction fan, big time (by that time I was well into Heinlein, having finished the Tom Swift series) and I couldn't wait for 'Star Trek' to start up in September 1966. Never missed an episode. And as I mentioned in an earlier post (in case you didn't see it) I constructed my own model 'USS Enterprise out of cardboard and popsickle sticks and hung it in the 8th grade art classroom. This was in the fall of 1966 after only a handful of episodes. There were no "real" models available at that time as far as I knew.
Anyway, as somebody who was there (12 years old in 1966) you'll have to trust me when I say it was indeed eye-opening to see a black actress not only playing it straight as a regular cast member, but playing a character who was essentially a PEER of the rest of the characters. She wasn't bringing coffee or answering the phone (not that Gail Fisher wasn't good in her role as Mannix's secretary) - - she was a Lieutenant!
Before 1965 it was very rare to see black actors on television. And I mean, VERY rare. Forget commercials - - those remained totally white even well after black actors had made significant inroads on TV series.
It was during the mid '60s (largely coincidental with civil rights legislation, by the way) that other black actors began showing up on TV more often, including Ivan Dixon on 'Hogan's Heroes'(1965), Greg Morris on 'Mission Impossible' (1966), and Clarence Williams III on 'Mod Squad' (1968). These were all "pioneers" of a sort. And they were all male. If I was to place the "pioneer" label on a male black actor it would probably be Bill Cosby, who had a significant leading role in the 'I Spy' TV series which debuted in 1965. As far as female black actors go, I give Nichols plenty of credit and see no reason to disbelieve her story. Her story fits, at least from my (old man) perspective. I do consider her a pioneer.
Lt. Uhura, wasting time:
You know, the story is 40 years old, and until now, nobody in the frikkin' world realized it was bull until tonight. Thank you for setting the world straight.
What bug crawled up Uranus?
I have to agree with Lancey Howard...
As a kid I saw ever episode first run because we knew about the show before it premiere....
In the old day of the big 3 TV networks.... They all made a major deal about the new fall line up of shows ..
During the summer when the kids were off school and tv was nothing but reruns ...
The networks would advertise over and over the new fall shows... and premiere the new show in Sept at the start on the new school years...
The TV network also had glossy booklet you could send away for showing that years fall lineup (like auto company did for their new car lineup)
My sister and I had the NBC 1966 seasons lineup brochures that summer before the new fall seasons... including that new show Star Trek
Im not flipping out at all, just asking you to look at her comments logically. And to parse my own collectively. Star Trek is a subject I could probably debate for months. If it had been offered as a course at my college (Holy Cross), I would have signed up before Calculus II, and probably gotten more out of it. For instance, when I said that NOBODY watched the first season, I think that it was pretty clear that I was speaking from the perspective of Rev. King, and not inviting your response of well I watched, so thats somebody!!! My obvious point was that in 1966 Rev. King was busy moving the civil rights movement north and peaceably opposing the Viet Nam war, not becoming a Trekker and Nichols biggest fan. As I said earlier, my real problem here is with people, who, like Nichols, blumenthal their way into history, regardless of motives.
Now, Roddenberrys motives in casting the crew for the first season are meant to be obvious: Diversity will be standard in his future. He has a closeted gay Asian as his helmsman/weapons officer (my friends and I figured out that Sulu was gay when we were about ten in 1980). He has an alien at second in command. He has an alcoholic engineer. He has a Russian navigator at the height of the Cold War (albeit with a lower rank than Uhuru). And, yes, theres a woman on the bridge (which, interestingly, was more significant to my eyes in the 70s and 80s re-runs). Yeah, shes black, but shes hardly in any position of power. And, as I pointed out before, she was completely ancillary in the first season. If anything, Roddenberry is revealing an inner conflict by integrating the bridge, and then making the only black (and only woman)superfluous. As a kid, I was more intrigued by the professional exchanges between McCoy and Chapel. "Communications" is a major for defective basketball players.
"Communications" is not the same thing as telecommunication ... FYI Im a telcom engineer ...
Checkov wasn't there until later. And check out the wig he wore originally. He was there to be Davy Jones of the Monkees as much as he was there for being Russian.
As for the overuse of the word NOBODY, well, that's patently FALSE, and an OVEREXAGGERATION, which is written in ALLCAPS. Ratings were low, but people were watching. More people watched the first season at that time than watch "hits" on network television now. Times have changed.
My obvious point was that in 1966 Rev. King was busy moving the civil rights movement north and peaceably opposing the Viet Nam war, not becoming a Trekker and Nichols biggest fan.
An obvious point to you, maybe, but you have nothing to back that up with. The man never sat down with his family? Never watched TV? And if there were a black person on TV in a prominent role on a network show, he wouldn't have known about it? Having known about it, he wouldn't have made it his business to check it out as something positive he could use in the cause of civil rights and equality?
Your argument doesn't withstand scrutiny or common sense. He only holds up under your shaky assumptions.
That depends. Ever play for Boeheim?
Sounds to me like a geek is being overly defensive of his favorite TV show.
I offered plausible arguments for my point. You debate semantics and think that equals making a point.
Nicholls story would have made sense if she claimed she met Rev. King in 1967 and he offered encouragement. She didn't. She chose to insert herself and her undevolped (at that time) role directly into the middle of the Civil Rights movement. I took issue with that dishonesty, and nothing more. Your counterpoints don't reflect an understanding of this.
My "counterpoints" consist solely of calling you on it. A civil rights leader wouldn't notice a black woman portrayed every week as a commissioned office on military vessel? Really, you think that? No one would've have mentioned that? Seems I've heard that somewhere before. Oh, yeah, in the part of my last comment which you chose to ignore because you thought you could elevate yourself by saying Semantics really? Is that it?
Seriously, put it to rest. You have no clue what you're talking about and you've practically admitted as much if if you haven't figured that out. Don't come back a week from now and start it over again.
This is America bub. I'll respond to you or anybody else whenever, and as many times as I feel like it. Don't like what you're reading? Don't read it. I don't watch Bill Mahr for that exact reason.
You are forcing me to repeat my points, as you continue to ignore them. And you understand them meaning of semantics about as well as Vizzini understands "inconceivable."
While I posted the "BS meter," I certainly did not call the story "Total Bullshit." I allowed the King and Nicholls met. My point was that King never said that he was a "Trekker" or Nicholls "biggest fan." And, no, she hasn't been telling this version of the story for "40 years." As far as I can tell, this more detailed version is a pretty recent thing. It makes sense that had it actually happened, she would have spoken about it right away, or soon after the man died. It certainly did not come up in this fairly comprehensive 2002 interview with the BBC. Perhaps you don't want to bother hearing what I'm actually saying.
Again, the facts are these:
Nicholls part was exceedingly minor (as well as servile) in all of the episodes that would have been available to Rev. King. Certainly, King would have encouraged the role, but Nat King Cole had his own TV show in the 1950's, "I Spy," starring Bill Cosby premiered in 1965, and "Julia," starring Diahn Carrol in the title role was on TV when this conversation was supposed to have taken place. So, while her role may seem groundbreaking in 2011, few people took much notice of it at the time. I dare you to find a 1968 article to the effect of "Check it out, this show's got a sister in a major role!!!" The first issue of Ebony hit the newstands in 1945.
And, yes, Rev. King is remembered as a civil rights leader, but he was first and formost a black liberation Minister and a socialist. So, no, I don't think he wasted a lot of time watching TV, other than the news and possibly sporting events where black athletes were allowed to compete and excelled.
Against this, you have "she's saying it happened, so it must have happened," and "You have no clue what you're talking about." Am I missing anything?
Okay, so we've established that you're a liar as well as an idiot.
This argument is over. Congratulations, you're the only person in the last 40 years to realize that it must be fabricated for all the purely speculative reasons you've given over and over and over and over and somehow think that there's something substantive there that I and the rest of the world have been missing. Good night.
Either you address my concrete points, or there is some validity to what I'm saying. Can't have it both ways. Lots of trivial things get addressed for the first time here on FR. I once caught a guy lying and my points on FR later made it into the national news, so it's irrelevant that I'm the first one to point this one out. Others on FR got Dan Rather fired. I'm forced to repeat myself here, because I guess the truth hurts for you somehow. It's sad really. My initial comment on this thread was offhand really, but it made you so defensive, that I had to review the facts. After doing so, I'm now convinced Nichols is completely full of crap.
King meets Nichols and compliments her on her role: Neither noteworthy nor historical.
King convinces Nichols not to quit her marginal part because of its social significance: Very historical.
Nichols then waits about 42 years to share this story with the world? Not entirely believable.
I'm just saying.
BTW, you wouldn't last very long in NYC or the future, as sarcasm and hyperbole are completely lost on you.