It's been 50 years since the original Star Trek first graced our screens. Five decades since Captain Kirk and his intrepid crew first took to the stars in search of new worlds and new civilisations. In salute of Gene Roddenberry's iconic show, we take stock of the those original actors who paved the way for everything that followed, from Star Trek: The Next Generation to Star Trek: Beyond.
Cast as captain of the starship Enterprise, it was Shatner who set the standard as James T. Kirk. Born in 1931 in Canada, and having a career that has spanned television, stage, screen, novels, video games, comic books, music and lord knows what else, this is a an 85-year-old who will not stop until he drops, and even then he’d probably argue, “What does God need with a starship…captain?”
Mr. Spock was far from the first television sidekick to equal if not eclipse a TV show’s main star. Given what Shatner brought to Kirk, it’s says a lot about Leonard Nimoy’s ability that he could make a character in complete control (most of the time) of his emotions come across as more than a cardboard cut-out. He never allowed Spock’s quiet dignity to fade away, even when reprising the role as recently as in J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek Into Darkness. Born in 1931, Nimoy enjoyed a working life in theatre, on TV and film (as both actor and director), and as an author, recording artist and photographer. He died on February 27, 2015.
If there was one actor who brought the most humanity to Star Trek, it had to be the late DeForest Kelley as Dr. Leonard 'Bones' McCoy. Born in 1920, he had built a career playing TV bad guys, usually in Westerns, which is what made it so surprising when Roddenberry cast him as The Enterprise's chief medical officer and Kirk’s conscience. After Star Trek finished its run, Kelley took on a couple of roles, but pretty much retired except for conventions, the first six big screen Star Trek adventures and a guest spot on the premiere episode of The Next Generation. He died on June 11, 1999.
He gave the engines all they had…and then some. It’s why James Doohan’s chief engineer, Montgomery 'Scotty' Scott,” was the best in the fleet. Born in in Canada in 1920, Doohan enjoyed a career in Canadian radio and television before making the shift to America. Like many of his co-stars, following the end of Star Trek he found himself typecast and other acting opportunities difficult to come by. He scored character roles here and there, and, of course, reprised the role of Scotty in the feature films based on the show. He died on July 20, 2005.
She opened those hailing frequencies like a boss, making communications officer Uhura an essential member of the Enterprise bridge crew. Born in 1932, Nichols took on the laudable challenge of being an African American actress on television at a time when America was struggling with civil rights. As such, she became a symbol and an inspiration for many African-American women. Early in her career she enjoyed some success as a dancer and singer, eventually making her way to television, where she met Gene Roddenberry on The Lieutenant. When he was casting Trek, he knew he wanted her to be a part of it. For some years following the series acting roles were sparse, but she did parlay the growing popularity of Trek into a job at NASA, where she recruited minority and female personnel to the space agency.
Like his co-stars, George Takei, born in 1937, spent many years trying to shake off the persona of Enterprise helmsman Hikaru Sulu. But after embracing all of what Star Trek represented, Takei enjoyed something of a career renaissance. He acted in mostly small roles before Trek, co-starred in John Wayne’s The Green Berets. Besides reprising the role of Sulu in six feature films, he immersed himself in California politics, became an author, and in recent years seems to be almost everywhere, appearing on a wide variety of TV shows and most recently on stage in the musical Allegiance, set during the Japanese American interment of World War II, which Takei himself experienced as a child.
He joined Star Trek in its second season and, as navigator Pavel Chekov, was supposed to be the 23rd Century’s answer to the youth-appealing Monkees or The Beatles. Koenig was another actor who had come to Roddenberry’s attention through The Lieutenant, and was brought aboard the Enterprise in 1967, where he served through the remainder of the series and seven feature films (he joined Shatner and Doohan in 1994’s Star Trek: Generations). In between he worked as a television writer, gained popularity for his portrayal of Alfred Bester in the series Babylon 5 and appeared in a number of films. He also wrote a number of books – both fiction and non-fiction – and worked in comics as well.
Notable Movie Guest Stars
He portrayed Commander Willard Decker in Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Born in 1947, Collins is best known for roles in in TV shows such as Tales of the Gold Monkey, No Ordinary Family and Revolution, as well as the films The First Wives Club and Because I Said So. He also spent eleven seasons as the patriarch on 7th Heaven.
Born in 1951, Alley portrayed Vulcan/Romulan hybrid Lt. Saavik in 1982’s Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan. Following the film she co-starred in the long-running Cheers, and went on to such shows as Veronica’s Closet and Kirstie, a number of guest star appearances and starring roles in films Look Who’s Talking, It Takes Two, For Richer or Poorer and Accidental Love.
Montalban guest-starred on the original Star Trek in the 1967 episode “Space Seed,” portraying 20th Century genetic superman Khan Noonien Singh. Revived from suspended animation, Khan attempted to take control of the Enterprise and, instead of being sent to prison, was given a planet to tame by Kirk. After that, Montalban (born in 1920 in Mexico), just as he had before that show, appeared in a wide variety of TV series, television movies and feature films, but is largely remembered for playing Mr. Roarke in Fantasy Island and Zach Powers in Dynasty and The Colbys. In 1982 he reprised the role of Khan in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, in which, as the title suggests, his genetic superman and his people escape the planet they had been left on, seeking vengeance against Kirk. Montalban died on January 14, 2009.
As the Klingon Kruge, Christopher Lloyd looked to be having a grand old time chewing the soundstage scenery with Shatner in 1984’s Star Trek III: The Search For Spock. Lloyd’s long list of credits include the TV series Taxi, as well as Who Framed Roger Rabbit?. He is undoubtedly most beloved for his role as Dr. Emmett Brown in the Back To The Future trilogy.
When contractual issues came up between Kirstie Alley and Paramount following Wrath Of Khan, Robin Curtis stepped in to play Lt. Saavik for Star Trek III: The Search For Spock and, briefly, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. Prior to her tour of duty on the Enterprise, she guest starred on some TV shows, appeared in several films and amassed an impressive number of regional and national theatre stage roles. Between acting gigs, she's also worked as a real estate agent.
In the years prior to endearing herself to Star Trek fans as marine biologist Gillian Taylor in Star Trek IV, Catherine Hicks (born in 1951) had spent three years on the soap opera Ryan's Hope, starred in several short-lived series, was Emmy-nominated for her role as Marilyn Monroe in the TV movie Marilyn: The Untold Story and would go on to star in Child's Play. Most notably she co-starred with Commander Decker (actually Stephen Collins) in 7th Heaven, which ran for eleven seasons beginning in 1996.
Did you know Spock had a half-brother named Sybok? Nope, neither did we. Even Kirk had no idea, but that was one of the revelations of 1989's Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, and it was Sybok who hi-jacked the Enterprise so everyone could meet (not) God. Laurence Luckinbill, born in 1934, has a long history of roles on television, stage and in film. He also happens to be married to Lucie Arnaz, daughter of Lucille Ball (who gave the green light for the original Star Trek in the first place) and Desi Arnaz.
Not that we didn't already know that Canadian-born Christopher Plummer could perform Shakespeare, but that point was really driven home in 1991's Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, for which he portrayed Klingon general Chang and which should have provided the Bard co-writing credit, given the number of quotes utilised. Born in 1929, Plummer's extensive film credits (not to mention his acclaimed stage work) includes The Sound Of Music, Battle Of Britain, Waterloo, Inside Man, Up, The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.
Admittedly it wasn't Sex In The Starship, but the Liverpool-born Kim Cattrall definitely brought a lot of sexual energy to her role as the Vulcan Valeris in Star Trek VI, serving as part of a conspiracy to destroy a newly brokered peace between the Federation and the Klingon Empire. Born in 1956, her film career began in 1975 with Rosebud and went on to include such efforts as Ticket To Heaven, Porky's, Police Academy, Big Trouble In Little China, and Midnight Crossing. She is, of course, most famous for portraying Samantha Jones in the TV series Sex And The City and the two feature films spun off from it.