Star Trek: The Original Series kicked off one of the most successful franchises in television history, spawning five more TV series and more than a dozen movies. Fans have loved the adventures and explorations of Starfleet for decades, and that all began with the original Enterprise crew in the 1960s.
As beloved as the series became, it started in very humble beginnings with a small budget, a doubtful network, and tense creative decisions.
Even after the series took off, the cast and crew had to deal with a number of obstacles and conflicts just to keep the series on the air. During the run of the series, the franchise faced an uncertain future from the networks that controlled its fate.
The series was still experimental at the time, with several untested elements. Series creator Gene Roddenberry’s new and often unusually progressive approach to race, gender, and sexuality proved controversial on many occasions. Roddenberry and his crew often had to fight to keep these elements of the show.
The early history of Star Trek was fraught with conflict, feuds, tight budgets, and difficult decisions. It was a long road to make this series into the franchise that has stood the test of time.
Here are the 15 Secrets You Didn’t Know About Star Trek: The Original Series.
15. Shatner feuded with almost everyone
William Shatner was cast in the role of Captain Kirk, in all appearances the lead of the series. His position in the cast and his behavior in securing it created many issues with the rest of the cast.
Shatner’s biggest feuds on set were with Leonard Nimoy, George Takei, and Nichelle Nichols. Takei commented, “We all had problems with Bill [Shatner] on the set. He was the star of the series and he knew it and he exercised those star powers.”
“A major area of conflict was Bill’s concern that Spock was getting ahead of Kirk in terms of problem solving,” Nimoy explained. “Bill was worried that Kirk would seem unintelligent by contrast. And so lines of dialogue that had logically been Spock’s soon became Kirk’s.” Most of his cast-mates claim he often stole lines from their characters.
Nichols accused Shatner of “bossing around and intimidating the directors and guest stars, cutting other actors’ lines and scenes and generally taking enough control to disrupt the sense of family we had shared.”
14. The uniforms were made illegaly
In the early days when Star Trek was first getting off the ground, the show was given a small budget to produce a series that was large in scope. It was difficult to shoot such an ambitious science fiction show on a small budget, so corners had to be cut somewhere.
The budgetary concerns usually only affected story elements. The show used transporters because showrunners could not afford to shoot planet landing sequences, and Roddenberry’s original design for the Klingons had to be simplified until the movie series allowed the more complex design. Other budgetary decisions were more legally dicey.
Producers Robert Justman and Herb Solow claim that the budget was so tiny that the show could not afford costumes made the union costume makers and had to get around the union requirements. Instead, the costumes were made overnight in a sweatshop and snuck into the studio through a back window.
13. Roddenberry used revealing scenes to ditract censors
After the first pilot was rejected partly for its revealing conent, it was clear Gene Roddenberry’s take on Star Trek might be a little too inappropriate for television of the era. When the show finally got on the air, the show’s producers found a way to take the network’s concerns about the show’s sexuality and use it to their advantage.
Knowing that the censors would be worried about the revealing content, producers would purposefully put in steamy scenes to distract the censors from other controversial content in the episode.
In the episode “A Private Little War”, producers included an over-the-top open-mouth kiss with a scantily clad woman, knowing that the network censors would be so distracted by this that they would not notice the blatant allegory to the Vietnam War.
12. Roddenberry got half the royalties for a theme he didn’t write
Star Trek‘s theme song is instantly recognizable — four high-pitched notes followed by an exciting melody with an operatic wail over it, always accompanied by Captain Kirk’s opening narration. The theme song also has lyrics, but fans would not recognize them because they have never been used.
Composer Alexander Courage wrote the music for the theme. When Star Trek was picked up by NBC, Courage was in a position to receive significant royalties every time Star Trek was aired. However, after a year, Gene Roddenberry claimed half of the royalties, as an early agreement between Courage and Roddenberry allowed Roddenberry to create lyrics for the theme.
Roddenberry wrote lyrics for the theme and claimed half the royalties as co-composer, even though the lyrics were never recorded or used in any way. In fact, the lyrics were such a mismatch the tune that they were considered nearly unsingable.
11. Nichelle Nichols had to deal with racism from the studio
Nichelle Nichols played the groundbreaking role of Lieutenant Uhura, an important role that was a rarity for black women on television.
Nichols explained, “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.”
As bright as the future looked for Uhura, Nichols still had to deal with the racism of the era at the studio. “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,” she recalled.
Nichols added that a racist show photographer would photograph the cast so she could barely be seen, and others at the studio would question how she got the role. Nichols almost quit the show until she met Dr. Martin Luther King, who asked her to continue her historic role.
10. NBC rejected the first pilot
The first pilot that Roddenberry produced for Star Trek was “The Cage,” starring Jeffrey Hunter as Captain Pike and Majel Barrett as second-in-command Number One.
NBC turned this pilot down for several reasons. Network executives thought the show was too intellectual with too much philosophy and introspection. The Broadcast Standards Office was also concerned about the blatant eroticism displayed in the pilot.
The network took issue with some of the characters, as well. Executives were concerned Spock looked too demonic, which would scare away some potential viewers. Some promotional material even “fixed” Spock to make him look more human. They also thought a female second-in-command was going too far, taking issue with the smart and calculating Number One.
9. The interracial kiss was originally between Spock and Uhura
Star Trek made television history in the episode “Plato’s Stepchildren” by airing the first interracial kiss between Kirk and Uhura, angering some of NBC’s Southern broadcasting affiliates.
Before the story took its final form, the interracial kiss was supposed to be between Spock and Uhura. William Shatner interceded in the original plan. 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.”
The network also tried to avoid the controversy by shooting an alternate scene where Kirk and Uhura do not actually kiss, but Shatner interfered with that plan, as well. “We did a few takes, but Bill was deliberately trying to flub it,” Nichols commented. “At one point, he even crossed his eyes to make me laugh.”
8. Paramount tried to get rid of Star Trek
Star Trek was originally produced by DesiLu, Lucille Ball’s production studio. Ball kept the show going in its early years as it struggled to find its feet and get on the air. In 1967, before the show began its second season, Gulf and Western bought DesiLu, transferring the production of Star Trek to Paramount.
Paramount was not as much in love with Star Trek as DesiLu had been and wanted to get rid of the risky property. Producer Herb Solow said, “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 offered to sell its share in the show to Gene Roddenberry for $150,000, equating to about a million dollars in today’s currency. Roddenberry could not afford to buy the rights at that price, so Star Trek stayed with Paramount.
7. Spock was supposed to be red
Spock is one of the most memorable aliens in the history of sci-fi with his iconic Vulcan makeup. Star Trek creators decided on pointed ears, angled eyebrows, and yellow-tinted skin for the look of the Vulcans, but it was not the first choice.
Roddenberry wanted Spock to look as different from humans as possible and originally planned for him to a Martian, so Spock was first designed with red skin.
This plan for Spock was changed by now outdated technology — black and white televisions. On TVs that only showed black and white, the red makeup just made Spock appear very dark, giving him the appearance of being in blackface.
The blackface appearance killed the idea of a red Spock, especially since the red skin also meant Nimoy would have to spend hours in makeup every day. The showrunners eventually settled on a yellow-green tint for the Vulcan.
6. Shatner has never watched an episode
William Shatner starred in 79 episodes of Star Trek and several movies, but he has avoided watching any of it to this day. He commented, “I never watched Star Trek. I have not even seen any of the Star Trek movies. I don’t watch myself. When I direct and have to look at filmed scenes of myself, I suck.”
His decision is not specific to Star Trek, though. He has avoided watching any of his popular later works, like his Emmy-winning performance on Boston Legal.
Shatner also did not keep any memorabilia from his time on Star Trek. He related, “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.”
5. Roddenberry’s rewrites angered many writers
Gene Roddenberry often solicited scripts for Star Trek from well-known science fiction writers like Richard Matheson and Harlan Ellison. Once Roddenberry received the scripts, he usually rewrote them heavily, to the point where the original writers were angered by the extent of the changes.
Harlan Ellison’s “City on the Edge of Forever” caused the most controversy. Ellison’s original script was very different from the final script, featuring a drug-dealing crewman, a different cast of involved characters, and some out-of-character behavior from the main characters.
Roddenberry was displeased with several elements of the story. After going through several unacceptable rewrites with Ellison and others, story editor D.C. Fontana and Roddenberry rewrote the final version of the script. Ellison wanted to use a pseudonym for his credit by the end, but this was denied.
Richard Matheson’s “The Enemy Within” also got several rewrites before Roddenberry was satisfied with the script. He ordered significant rewrites from Matheson, changing the behavior of both Kirks and adding a B-plot, frustrating Matheson by putting him through more than one rewrite of the script.
4. Shatner had strange contract stipulations
William Shatner’s behavior on set has been the subject of a lot of talk from castmates, studio executives, and production crew. Aside from the practice of diverting other characters’ lines to Captain Kirk, some of the production crew claims Shatner had strange stipulations in his contract that guaranteed his prominence in the show.
Writer Norman Spinrad claimed that Shatner’s contract required him to have the most lines in each episode and other characters’ lines had to be cut for this reason.
Other executives claim that Shatner had a contract stipulation that his name would be bigger than his costars’ names on the credits, and internal memos seem to support an agreement of this kind, stating, “Please note that Leonard’s credit is to be no more than 75% of the type that we afford to William Shatner.”
3. The actress hated how Yeoman Rand’s assault was treated
In the episode “The Enemy Within,” a transporter accident leaves Captain Kirk split in two, a good Kirk and an evil “imposter” Kirk. The evil Kirk gets Yeoman Janice Rand alone and talks about the feelings they have been hiding. He sexually assaults Rand, who manages to defend herself and escape him.
Grace Lee Whitney, who played Yeoman Rand, hated the way the sexual assault was handled later in the episode.
Whitney remarked, “At the end of ‘The Enemy Within,’ there is a badly botched attempt at humor. In a poorly motivated and 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.”
Whitney added, “I can’t imagine any more cruel and insensitive comment a man (or Vulcan) could make to a woman who has just been through a sexual assault! So the writer of the script gives us a leering Mr. Spock who suggests that Yeoman Rand enjoyed being r*ped and found the evil Kirk attractive!”
2. D.C. Fontana got little respect from the network
Dorothy Fontana began her career as a secretary, but she was quickly promoted to the writing team of Star Trek. Her creative input was essential in the first season, and she wrote many notable episodes of the Original Series. As important as she was on the writing team, she still had to fight for respect from the network as a female writer.
One network executive would call her and lecture her about her scripts. Fontana brought up to Gene Roddenberry that she did not think it was appropriate for the executive to do that to her and not any of the other writers. Roddenberry later called the executive and told him not to mess with his writers.
Roddenberry suggested that Fontana go by D.C. Fontana on the credits, using her gender non-specific initials because networks usually would not hire female writers. Some of her work on Star Trek is credited under the fictional male name Michael Richards.
1. Roddenberry had to choose between Spock and Number One
When Gene Roddenberry rewrote the pilot for Star Trek, he had important choices to make. NBC questioned both the demonic-looking Spock and the emotionless and calculating female Number One.
Roddenberry compromised by eliminating one of them, having to choose between Spock and Number One. He chose Spock because he believed the character had more story potential, but he gave Spock the emotionless, logical aspect of Number One.
Roddenberry was already in a relationship with Majel Barrett, who played Number One, when she was cast in the role. NBC executives were uncomfortable with the prominence of a woman on the crew, but they also knew that Barrett was Roddenberry’s girlfriend and an unknown actress, further reasons for them to reject the character.
Roddenberry cast Barrett as Nurse Chapel instead, putting her in a blonde wig in hopes that no one would recognize her, but Barrett was reportedly dissatisfied with the role of Chapel.
Can you think of any other secrets about Star Trek: The Original Series? Sound off in the comments!
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