Strange Hollywood: ‘Star Trek’ Edition

September 3, 2019

If you’re a Trekker, or a fan of the 1966-69 TV show Star Trek and its many spinoffs, right now is a great time to be alive, with multiple Trek shows in production or on the way. Here’s a look at some of the weirder parts of the Trek universe.

The spiritual origins of the Vulcan Hand Salute

Spock’s famous “live long and prosper” was invented for an episode of Star Trek by the actor who played Spock: the late Leonard Nimoy. He borrowed it from a Jewish High Holiday service, in which a kohanim priest imparts a blessing on his congregation by extending outward the palms of both hands with thumbs outstretched, and the four fingers parted down the middle. Nimoy took that hand gesture and just did it with one hand.

Highly Illogical

Nimoy found the role of a lifetime in the logically-minded, pointy-eared Vulcan (well, half Vulcan, half human) named Spock, which he played throughout the Star Trek series and six movies. It’s hard to think that he wasn’t the first choice for the role. Martin Landau, who’d later win an Academy Award for Ed Wood, turned down the chance to play Spock, because he wasn’t interested in playing “a character without emotions.” And so, Nimoy got the part. Oddly enough, in 1969, when Landau left the hit spy series Mission: Impossible, he was replaced in the cast by…Nimoy.

Lucy Loved Star Trek

Star Trek was initially a production of Desilu Studios, a company owned at the time by TV legend Lucille Ball. The sitcom icon’s intervention was vital in getting the show on the air. As it was a space-set sci-fi show (although based on the title, Ball at first thought the show was about a traveling troupe of entertainers), the first or “pilot” episode was extremely expensive, and the Desilu board said no…only for Ball to overrule them. She ignored their wishes again when NBC ordered a second pilot after rejecting the first. Based on the strength of that second pilot, Star Trek made it onto TV, and a franchise was born.

Uhuru Saved

The original Star Trek was not a hit show, and that, coupled with what she felt was an unfulfilling role led Nichelle Nichols, the actress who played communications officer Lieutenant Uhuru, to decide she was going to leave the series. She told creator Gene Roddenberry of her plans, but honored his request to take a few days to think about it. During that period, Nichols spoke at an NAACP fundraiser, where she met none other than Martin Luther King, Jr. She wasn’t the only one dazed — it turned out King was a big Star Trek show, and Uhuru in particular. When Nichols told him she was actually leaving Trek, he pleased with her to reconsider, because Uhuru was just about the only African-American woman in a position of authority on TV in 1967. (Nichols stayed.)

Scotty Spoke Klingon

Klingon is the name of both a warring race of Star Trek aliens and the language they speak. It wasn’t actually heard until 1979’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture. The production brought in a linguist named Marc Okrand to make a workable Klingon language for a scene with six lines in that tongue. He’d been given a working grammar and vocabulary guide, which, as the actor playing the Klingon in that scene told Okrand, had been developed by James Doohan, a.k.a. Scotty. Yep: Scotty invented Klingon.

Read more about Star Trek — and hundreds of other TV shows, movies, and their stars — in Strange Hollywood, available now from Portable Press.