Star Trek’s behind-the-scenes horror stories boldly go where no story has gone before
In 1966, Star Trek lit up the screens with its special effects, alien swarms, and futuristic concepts. The Original Series followed the USS Enterprise as it explored the galaxy searching for alien civilizations. Star Trek: The Original Series, which starred William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy became a cult classic, and inspired six more television series, 13 films, books, toys, and games.
Iconic for the content that was often considered controversial, it broke boundaries, made history, and became a U.S. phenomenon. However, even though the show centered on the ideas of peace and tranquility, the behind-the-scenes events were anything but. Let’s take a trip back to this era of television and revisit some behind-the-scenes secrets that will make you say “Beam me up, Scotty!”
The uniforms were created illegally
When the show first debuted it did not have the bustling budget necessary to be successful. In order to fill in the cracks and make sure the effects were up to par, corners had to be cut on the budget.
Producers of the show, Robert Justman and Herb Solow, have confessed that they had such little money, the show could not afford for the costumes to be made by union costume makers. To get around this small problem, they had the costumes made overnight in a sweatshop and then snuck them into the studio through a window on the back of the studio.
The interracial kiss wasn’t supposed to play out the way it did
The episode “Plato’s Stepchildren,” went down in history for having the first interracial kiss between two fictional characters shown on television. The kiss between Kirk and Uhura caused praise, controversy, and anger (especially from some of NBC’s Southern broadcasting affiliates). Initially, the kiss was supposed to be between Spock and Uhura, but William Shatner (in typical Shatner fashion) interfered and would not allow it.
Nichelle Nichols explained, “My understanding is Bill Shatner took one look at the scene and said, ‘No you will not! If anyone’s going to be part of the first interracial kiss in television history, it’s going to be me!’ So they rewrote it.” Scared of the pending controversy, the network tried shooting an alternate scene where the pair do not kiss, but Shatner would mess up each take on purpose, forcing them to keep the kiss in the scene.
The racy content was put in the show for a reason
When Gene Roddenberry first launched the pilot, the network rejected it immediately for its risque content. Looking back, Star Trek may not be the most revealing show in comparison to the ones we watch now, but it was considered highly inappropriate for the audiences of that decade. When the show was finally greenlighted by the network, the show’s producers found a way to use their controversial content to their advantage.
The producers were aware that censors would flag the sexual content, meaning this would distract the censors from the other controversial content during the episodes. Roddenberry’s push for racy scenes allowed the showrunners to discuss deeper issues that would otherwise be flagged. In the episode, “A Private Little War,” there is a very over-the-top kiss with a woman that is wearing very little clothing. Knowing that the censors would be distracted by this, it allowed them to throw a Vietnam War reference into the episode.
William Shatner went after J.J. Abrams
Shatner didn’t just antagonize The Original Series cast, he also went after J.J. Abrams, who created the Star Trek reboot. J.J. Abrams found himself on Shatner’s naughty list, when he found out that Leonard Nimoy would appear in Abrams’ Star Trek reboot. Abrams claimed that his team wanted to fit Shatner into the film, but then The Guardian reported that Shatner, “wanted the movie to focus on him significantly.”
Eventually, Shatner and Abrams got over their differences, and Shatner became a fan of Chris Pine, who played Captain Kirk in the film. When it was revealed that Pine was going to play the role, he wrote a letter to Shatner, who replied in a respective manner (which was a first).
Nichelle Nichols dealt with an absurd amount of racism
Nichelle Nichols played the venerable role of Communications Officer Lieutenant Nyota Uhura; a groundbreaking role for a black woman of that era. Nichols admitted, “I splashed onto the TV screen at a propitious historical moment. Black people were marching all over the south. Dr. King was leading people to freedom, and here I was, in the 23rd century, fourth in command of the Enterprise.”
Although Nichols was an important actress on set, she still dealt with racism from the studio. She explained, “There were instances where I was turned away from entering the studio at the walk-on gate, and I had to go all the way around to the front gate, sign-in and come back. A guard on the set told me I had no right being there-that they had replaced a blue-eyed blonde with me.”
The discrimination weighed heavily on Nichols’ heart, and she almost quit the show. She only decided to continue playing the character when she met Dr. Martin Luther King, who asked her to continue in the iconic role.
The pilot was rejected
The original pilot called “The Cage,” starred Jeffrey Hunter as Captain Pike and Majel Barrett as second-in-command Number One. Unfortunately, this pilot never saw the light of your living rooms for many reasons. The network executives believed the show was too intellectual and featured advanced philosophical concepts that audiences wouldn’t understand.
Executives were also concerned with the characters and how they would be perceived. They believed that Spock looked “satanic,” which would push away viewers. They also thought that having a female as second-in-command would be too controversial for audiences.
As if that weren’t enough, The Broadcast Standards Office were struck by the extreme images of eroticism sprinkled throughout the pilot. To get the show approved, Roddenberry changed the writing, the cast, and some of the characters to make it suitable for the network, and the second pilot was approved.
Paramount tried to get rid of the show
Star Trek was initially produced by Lucille Ball’s production studio, DesiLu, and Ball did her best to keep the show going during its early years. Right before the show’s second season in 1967, Gulf and Western bought DesiLu, and gave Star Trek to Paramount.
This proved as a hurdle for the show as Producer Herb Solow admitted that, “Paramount didn’t want Star Trek because it was losing too much money each week and didn’t have enough episodes to syndicate.”
Paramount executives went as far as to try to sell its share of the show to Gene Roddenberry for $150,000. Since Roddenberry could not afford to buy the rights, the show remained with the studio. Paramount would go on to produce the movies that followed.
The show continuously struggled to get scripts for the episodes
When the show was approved by the network, Roddenberry and DesiLu studios went into a full panic when they realized they needed scripts, and fast. Roddenberry would solicit stories from sci-fi magazine authors, novel authors, and from his office staff.
Veteran television writers struggled with the sci-fi material that Roddenberry provided, and although sci-fi writers were familiar with the content, they couldn’t grasp the details that came with writing for television.
The scripts would turn out to be a costly feature as they often called for extra casting and staging, which consumed the show’s budget. This hardship would continue to plague production until DesiLu could no longer house the series.
William Shatner never watched an episode
Although the original Captain Kirk starred in 79 episodes of the series and several movies that followed, he has avoided watching a single second. Before you make assumptions, it isn’t because Shatner is upset with the content itself, it’s simply that he cannot bear to watch himself on screen.
He has avoided watching any of his popular works, including his Emmy-winning performance in Boston Legal. Shatner has also admitted that he did not keep any items from his time on the show saying, “I’ve kept nothing. Given the choice at the time of having a Star Trek shirt or a designer suit, I’d have taken a suit. I should have known better.”
Roddenberry’s rewrites made many writers angry
Gene Roddenberry was known for soliciting scripts from the likes of well-known sci-fi writers like Richard Matheson who wrote I am Legend, and Harlon Ellison. When Roddenberry received scripts, he would rewrite them to the point that they were almost unrecognizable. Harlon Ellison’s script for “City on the Edge of Forever” was very different from the final version.
In the original text, there was drug-dealing crewman and bizarre behaviors from the rest of the cast. When Roddenberry received the script, he decided to change the parts he did not like, and after several unacceptable rewrites with Ellison, Roddenberry finished the final version of the script with story editor, D.C. Fontana. Ellison requested a pseudonym for his name in the credits, but he was denied.
William Shatner had odd requests in his contract
William Shatner’s behavior on set garnered a lot of negative attention from the cast, studio executives, and production crew. One of the writers, Norman Spinrad, admitted that Shatner’s contract required him to have the most lines in every episode, even if it meant cutting the lines of the other characters.
During the credits, you may notice that Shatner’s name appears larger than the other cast members. Although it wasn’t officially confirmed, there is a production memo from September 1966 that said, “Please note that Leonard’s credit is to be no more than 75% of the type that we afford to William Shatner.” The credits would continue to change over the next three seasons.
The “Also Starring,” was added above Leonard Nimoy’s name three episodes into the first season.
Roddenberry received royalties, even though he shouldn’t have
If you’re a big fan of Star Trek, then hearing the three dings of the theme song followed by Captain Kirk’s voice will fill you with nostalgia and good feelings. What you may not know, is that the song has lyrics to accompany the melody, but fans will not recognize them because they have never been used. When Star Trek was picked up by NBC, Composer Alexander Courage, had the ability to receive royalties every time Star Trek aired.
Unfortunately for Courage, Gene Roddenberry claimed half the royalties due to an agreement between the two that allowed Roddenberry to write lyrics for the theme song. Because of this, Roddenberry collected royalties for composing, even though the lyrics were never actually used. The lyrics to the tune are so odd and mismatched that it was deemed unsingable. Regardless, Roddenberry continued to collect the royalties.
Grace Lee Whitney had a lot to say about this controversial scene
In the episode “The Enemy Within,” a transporter accidentally splits Captain Kirk into two versions; the good Kirk, and the imposter one. There is a scene where the imposter Kirk gets Yeoman Janice Rand, played by Grace Lee Whitney, alone to talk about their feelings. The imposter then attempts to make a move on her, but she manages to flee.
Whitney has said about the episode that, “In a poorly motivated out of character moment, Mr. Spock needles me about my feelings towards the evil Kirk… There is almost a nasty leer on Spock’s face as he says to me, ‘The imposter had some very interesting qualities, wouldn’t you say, Yeoman?’ My response was to ignore the jibe.” She continued, “I can’t imagine any more cruel and insensitive comment a man could make to a woman who has just been through a ‘traumatic event’! So, the writer of the script gives us a leering Mr. Spock who suggests that Yeoman Rand enjoyed being ‘advanced on’ and found the evil Kirk attractive.
Roddenberry had to choose between Spock and Number One
When Gene Roddenberry was forced to rewrite the pilot, he had to make a big choice. Since NBC network executives were in between the “satanic” looking Spock and the female Number One, Roddenberry decided to get rid of one of the characters. He decided to keep Spock on the show because he believed he could do more with the character’s storyline, but he gave Spock the emotionless, logical personality that was initially given to Number One.
At the time of casting, Roddenberry was in a relationship with Majel Barrett, who played Number One, giving NBC executives another reason to dislike the character. Roddenberry went on to cast Barrett as Nurse Chapel, dressing her in a blonde wig so she wouldn’t be recognized.
We’ll let you in on a secret though, they did recognize her.
Roddenberry had affairs with both Nichelle Nichols and Majel Barrett
While Roddenberry worked on Star Trek, he was still married to his first wife, Eileen Roddenberry. Yet, it was no secret that Roddenberry was having open affairs with the stars of the show, Nichelle Nichols and Majel Barrett.
During the opening weeks of the series, Roddenberry and Barrett shared an apartment together and would give his secretary a pay raise in exchange for telling both Eileen and Barrett that he was in meetings when necessary.
Roddenberry’s womanizing was well-known, and he eventually divorced his first wife, Eileen, and married Majel Barrett. Barrett was eventually given the nickname, “The First Lady of Star Trek.”
Leonard Nimoy couldn’t handle the fame or the fans
Although William Shatner was running the show, Leonard Nimoy was the fan favorite. Nimoy, who played the famous Vulcan, Mr. Spock received the most fan mail out of the cast, and he was mobbed by screaming fans when he was spotted in public. Unfortunately, Nimoy couldn’t handle the fame, and he soon turned to alcohol to ease the anxiety.
It started off slow, and during the second season, Nimoy’s nightly glass of wine after the pressures of shooting turned to binge drinking. His addiction was kept a secret by the cast seeing as Nimoy did not let it interfere with his work on the set.
As rumors go, Nimoy would begin drinking early during the day on his days off, and it would go well into the night. When he directed, he would order a secretary to stand by with a drink ready so that he could begin immediately after shooting.
George Takei tried to push for gay representation on the show
Sexuality was a significant theme in The Original Series, but all of the relationships in Star Trek have been depicted as heterosexual. Although there were some depictions of bisexual relationships, there’s always a “but” or a twist. Inter-species and interracial relationships have also been depicted. With these factors, why wasn’t homosexuality represented in the show? George Takei, who played astroscience physicist Sulu admitted, “I did very privately bring up the issue of gays and lesbians.”
Fans were even quick to point out the chemistry between Spock and Kirk, leading to thousands of fanfictions (which were typed out on typewriters) and handed out at conventions. Roddenberry responded during an interview for the book Shatner: Where No Man saying, “Yes, there’s certainly love overtones. Deep love. The only difference being, we never suggested in the series [that there was any] physical love between the two. But we certainly had the feeling that the affection was sufficient for that, if that were the particular style of the 23rd century.”
NBC tried to sabotage the show
Star Trek was expensive to produce, and the ratings weren’t as high as NBC hoped during the first two seasons. Had the show not had such a loyal fanbase, it would have been canceled after the second season. When Roddenberry heard that the network was planning on canceling the show, he told fans to write letters to the network to convince them to keep it on the air.
During Star Trek‘s third season, it was moved to a 10 p.m. slot on Friday nights, which was one of the worst time slots, especially for a show that was trying to succeed. NBC also cut the show’s budget by a third, meaning that they had to cut down on the number of guest stars, writers, and special effects.
The cast and crew believed that NBC was deliberately trying to get the show off the air, although it has never been confirmed by the network.
A lot of Star Trek’s popularity is thanks to Gene Coon
Love Star Trek? Then you owe a great deal to Gene Coon. To this day, we credit Gene Roddenberry, but it is actually Gene Coon who was the mastermind behind many of the key details. Coon was the showrunner for the first season, and he wrote some of the show’s most famous episodes such as “The Devil in the Dark,” “Arena,” and “A Taste of Armageddon.”
Coon also did uncredited rewrites for some other popular episodes as well. Gene Coon is the man behind the Organian Peace Treaty, Khan Noonien Singh, Klingons, and Starfleet Command. Coon left the show during the second season due to high tensions with Roddenberry, and many fans believe this directly contributed to the low quality of the third season.
Teri Garr refuses to talk about her time on set
Out of fear for the show being canceled (because it was always being threatened due to the controversial content), Roddenberry co-wrote an episode meant to serve as a possible pilot for a spin-off series. The episode was called “Assignment: Earth,” and it starred Robert Lansing as Gary Seven and Teri Garr as Roberta Lincoln.
While other guest stars haven’t had much to say about their experiences, Garr seemed to have a poor time on set. She told Starlog magazine, “I did that years ago, and I mostly deny I ever did it.” She also admitted that she was thrilled that a spin-off never happened.
Although she has remained tight-lipped about what happened, in Inside Star Trek, Bob Justman, a producer, describes one instance where Roddenberry insisted that the costume designers make Garr’s skirt shorter. He even got down in front at her at one point and rolled it up himself.
The Vulcan salute is actually a Hebrew blessing
The “Live Long and Prosper!” hand gesture was actually not created on the spot by famous Vulcan, Leonard Nimoy. He actually borrowed the gesture from a service he witnessed as a child at an Orthodox Jewish synagogue.
Nimoy told the Yiddish Book Center in 2014, “Five or six guys get up on the bimah, the stage, facing the congregation. They get their tallits over their heads, and they start chanting — I think it’s called duchening — and my father said to me, ‘Don’t look.'”
He continued, “So everyone’s got their eyes covered with their hands or they’ve got their tallit down over their face …And I hear this strange sound coming from them. They’re not singers, they were shouters. And dissonant. It was all discordant…it was chilling. I thought, ‘Whoa, something major is happening here.’ So I peeked. And I saw them with their hands stuck out from beneath the tallit like this towards the congregation.” The hand gesture represents the Hebrew letter, Shin, which represents the word Shaddai, a name for God.
The mini dresses were heavily criticized
Upon first glimpse of the crew, one of the things audiences noted was the short mini dresses the female members had to wear. This came as such a shock seeing as, during the pilot episode, the female crew members wore official uniforms, sans the fan servicing skirts. Fans were appalled and called the show sexist, and anti-feminist.
Nigel Mitchell, About.com’s Star Trek experts explained, “When people began to complain, the Trek community’s response was “Nuh-uh! The mini-skirts weren’t sexist! Because uh, men wore them too! It was unisex!” To this day, fans bicker about whether the short skirts were too anti-feminist for a show meant to be as forward-thinking as it was.
William Shatner didn’t attend Leonard Nimoy’s funeral
The relationship between this pair started going downhill when Spock became the most popular character on the show (after all, Shatner went to great lengths to prevent this). Even after the show ended, and it seemed that the two had patched things up, Shatner still hadn’t attended Nimoy’s funeral in 2015.
Although Shatner has admitted he is unsure why the pair weren’t on speaking terms before Nimoy’s death, he had a good guess.
In 2011, Shatner released a documentary called The Captains, and he asked Nimoy to make an appearance. Even after he refused, Shatner still filmed Nimoy during a convention to include it in the documentary without his permission. They never spoke again. Shatner has admitted, “I thought he was kidding. It was such a small thing.”
The males were also objectified on the show
Yes, Star Trek was a very open-minded show for its time, but it wasn’t perfect. While the show often featured scantily clad women, the men were also objectified. Captain Kirk was asked to strip off his shirt in many scenes, and he would often offer himself up to all kinds of female beings across the galaxy to save his crew.
Michael Forest, who played Apollo in “Who Mourns for Adonais?” was asked to remove his shirt during his audition to see if he had the body required for the character. He told StarTrek.com, “They had to put tape on my [chest] for that episode. Can you imagine? They put tape on a guy, on a guy’s [chest]. I mean, come on. But that’s what they did, and then they put makeup over that. I thought at the time, ‘I can’t believe what they’re doing.'”
George Takei and William Shatner are still in the midst of a feud
George Takei, who has become something of a social media star these days, has been very vocal about his feud with Star Trek‘s star, William Shatner. He told ABC News, “It’s difficult working with someone who is not a team player. The rest of the cast all understand what makes a scene work — it’s everybody contributing to it. But Bill [Shatner] is a wonderful actor, and he knows it, and he likes to have the camera on him all the time.”
When Shatner was snubbed from Takei’s wedding, he took to YouTube saying, “The whole thing makes me feel badly, poor man. There is such a sickness there. It’s so patently obvious that there is a psychosis there. I don’t know what his original thing about me was. I have no idea.” Yikes.
There was a rivalry between Walter Koenig and George Takei
Although now the pair are best buds, they weren’t always close. On the second season of Star Trek, George Takei, who plays Sulu, had to miss nine episodes because of his commitment to The Green Berets. Walter Koenig was then brought on as Pavel Chekhov to replace Sulu, and Takei was not thrilled with the idea.
Takei admitted to Mother Jones, “When I came back [to the show] I hated Walter sight unseen.” The tension between them grew when they realized they had to share a dressing room and a script. Soon, they realized that the show worked well with the both of them, and Koenig was even best man at Takei’s wedding in 2008.
Some of the stars suffered from tinnitus after an explosion on set
During an episode of the show called “The Apple,” Spock throws a rock and it explodes once it hits the ground. The sound during this particular effect was so loud that it damaged the actor’s ears and they had to be rushed to the hospital, still in uniform.
Twenty years later, DeForest Kelley, who plays McCoy admitted that he has had tinnitus since. William Shatner also saw the damaging effects from the explosion, but his hearing was already damaged due to a past injury he sustained while shooting “Arena.” He suffered from tinnitus for decades and has said that the American Tinnitus Association saved his life.
Spock was initially supposed to be painted red
Spock is probably one of the more memorable characters of the show, and he is one of the most recognizable aliens in sci-fi history. Although his pointy ears, dramatic eyebrows, and yellow-tinted skin are his famous characteristics, this wasn’t the original look Roddenberry wanted for him.
Initially, he wanted Spock to look as different from humans as possible, so he wanted him to be a red Martian. This plan soon changed, due to to the black and white televisions of the time. The red makeup made Spock appear dark on camera, and producers did not want viewers to think he was in blackface. This led to Spock’s yellow-green tint that we can see in the colorized episodes.
There were animal attacks that occurred on set
There were two instances on set where things got out of hand. During the filming of “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” bees decided to make a nest in the studio. Although Shatner was making jokes about an annoying buzzing, a bee stung him on the eyelid.
Although this wasn’t exactly an “animal attack,” there was another instance that involved a Bengal tiger that had the potential to get ugly, fast.
While shooting “Shore Leave,” on location with a Bengal tiger, the tiger broke loose, causing everyone to panic. Shatner describes the moment, “the ignorant machismo that had been pulsing so heartily through my veins was replaced by sheer abject terror.” Luckily, for the cast and crew, they were able to wrangle the tiger before anything happened.
Dorothy Fontana received very little respect from network executives
Dorothy Fontana, a.k.a D.C. Fontana, started her career as a secretary on set, but she was soon promoted to the writing team. She had quite a bit of input during the first season, and she is actually the mastermind behind many of the unforgettable episodes in The Original Series.
Even though Fontana proved to be a formidable talent, she still had to fight for respect from the network since she was a female. Roddenberry suggested that Fontana go by the name D.C., in the credits as it was a non-gender specific name. Some of her work is even credited under the name Michael Richards.