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What's with the name?

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To Boldly Go

There Is An Alternate Universe Where Nichelle Nichols Played Spock Instead of Uhura

Rod Roddenberry (son of Gene Roddenberry)’s documentary Trek Nation, which aired this Wednesday, was filmed in as a son’s pursuit of discovering what made his father famous, after spending years resisting the Roddenberry legacy and the fandom that surrounds it. But, in the middle of a Huffington Post interview with participants in the documentary, there’s something we’ve certainly never heard before in the statements of Nichelle Nichols. Namely, that she was asked to read for the part of Spock.

Nichols recalls the day she was interviewed for this new television series called “Star Trek.”

“They gave me a three-page script to read from that had three characters named Bones, Kirk and somebody called Spock, and they asked me if I would read for the role of Spock. When I looked at this great text, I said to myself, ‘I’ll take any one of these roles,’ but I found the Spock character to be very interesting, and I asked them to tell me what she [Spock] was like.

This makes more sense than you think, as Spock was originally intended to be a female character. That is, there was a vulcan on the crew, the head science officer. There was also a female character known as Number One, a cold, efficient and logical woman to play against the hot headed, libidinous Kirk. She was intended to by played by Majel Roddenberry, then Majel Barrett. Gene Roddenberry was dating her at the time, but hadn’t yet divorced his estranged wife. The studio producing Star Trek was uncomfortable A) with a woman as such a central character and B) with the scandalous nepotism of the whole thing. They also didn’t particularly like Spock as a character, and so as a compromise Roddenberry eliminated Number One, made a Spock the emotionless one, and promoted him to First Officer. Majel got the more secondary role of Nurse Chapel.

We like the idea, however, that somewhere out there there’s a parallel universe with an African American lady first officer on a sci-fi show in 1966.

Nichols also talks about the changing image of science fiction over the years:

‘Star Trek’ certainly defined science fiction. I remember when I was a kid and if you saw somebody with a book wrapped in brown paper, you could figure they were reading science fiction — if you were reading science fiction, you were weird,” she added. “Through ‘Star Trek,’ he took the weird out of it and gave respect to science fiction.

And finally, it’s a story we’ve heard before, but Nichols talks about finding out the Martin Luther King, Jr. was a fan of the show, and how it convinced her not to leave the production.

(Huffington Post via Blastr.)

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  • Angel H.

    The studio producing Star Trek was uncomfortable A) with a woman as such a central character and B) with the scandalous nepotism of the whole thing.

    “A) with a Black woman as such a central character.”

    Fixed it for you.

  • Jen Yates

    “Number One…was intended to be played by Majel Barrett”

    I’m surprised you didn’t mention The Cage, the show’s original pilot. In it, Majel Barrett *did* play Number One, the first officer, so I don’t think the studio had those reservations about her character until after viewing the completed pilot episode.

    Oh, and Roddenberry was also dating Nichelle Nichols at the time (if you read some biographies you’ll learn he was quite the philanderer) so I don’t think the “nepotism” concern really entered in to it. The studio just cared about how the audience would react, and whether 1960′s America could handle a woman in charge. (Note also that Number One was a brunette who wore pants – PANTS – the horror! – and Christine Chapel was a blonde in a miniskirt. Heh.)

  • Angel H.

    Okaaaaay. I messed up and now Disqus won’t let me fix it. My bad. This is what happens when you surf the Web while you’re supposed to be working. :-P

  • Anonymous

    Wrong, Angel.  That may have been why Nichols wasn’t cast as Spock (who, at the time, was a less central character).  But in the pilot, there was a Number One, she was very much a central character, and she was played with great competency by Majel Barrett.  Then the part was merged with Spock, given to Nimoy, and Majel had to blonde up and dumb down. 

    I like to think that in an alternate universe where Roddenberry could keep his rod in his pants, Star Trek pioneered the perfect female role model: intelligent, logical, methodical, competent, and completely unflappable in a crisis.  Also pants-wearing, because there is just no functionality to those mini skirts.

  • Terence Ng

    I don’t doubt that would be the reason for why Nichelle wouldn’t have gotten the part had they considered her. However, the article states that they were considering Majel Barrett for the part and she’s white. If that’s the case, then the nervousness surrounding Number One is probably explained by sexism and not racism. 

    Had Nichelle been in consideration for the role (or the character description called for a woman of color), then I would be right there with you laying the studio nervousness on sexism and racism.

  • Anonymous

    I mention it in the link behind “originally intended to be a female character.” Since the article was about Nichols more than Barrett-Roddenberry (wow that’s a lot of double consonants) I felt it was a little extraneous and possibly redundant. I wanted there two be at least some new info behind the link to reward clickers. 

  • Anonymous

  • Derek O’Brien

    There is so much BS that has been built up over the years by Roddenberry and his cronies. I grew up hearing him say that the character of Number One was rejected because she was a woman when in fact the studios just didn’t like Majel Barrett as an actress, or as you pointed out, as Roddenberry’s then-girlfriend. The networks *were* looking for more female characters, but Roddenberry had to make himself look so progressive for the times.

    As for the pants thing, we forget that at the time, many women considered the miniskirt look to be liberating, and so really didn’t have a problem with it that later generations did.

  • Frodo Baggins

    In retrospect, I think it’s a good thing they didn’t have the unrelatable alien played by a black woman (or worse, George Takei). For the time it came out, presenting her as a competent, integral, yet otherwise unremarkable member of the crew was pretty groundbreaking.

  • Anonymous

     Yes, much better to have a Jew in that role.

    (I kid, I kid: Spock without Nimoy is practically unthinkable)

  • J Bianca Jackson

    While I can see how pants can be practical, I’ve never understood why some women claim that skirts are impractical. Skirts come in a lot of styles and lengths, it’s just a matter of picking the right one for an activity.

    I went to an archaeological dig in Turkey, once. The minute I walked into the toilet, I understood why most of the women in that country wear skirts. At that moment, the pants I was wearing were the least practical clothing ever…

  • Frodo Baggins

    But could Joe and Jane Average Viewer tell he was a member of the tribe just by looking at him?

  • Amanda Murray

    I saw her speak once, and the way she told the story, she was given Spock’s lines to read in her interview, but was very clear about the fact that Nimoy had already been cast, and they just wanted to see what she was capable of.