From the Archives: ‘Star Trek’ Nichelle Nichols Opened Up About Her Breakthrough Role

Actress Nichelle Nichols, better known as Lt. Uhura on “Star Trek,” died July 30, 2022. In 1968, she spoke to Union’s Don Freeman about her groundbreaking career.

The original “Star Trek” series aired on television from 1966 to 1969 and is now streaming on Paramount+.

From the San Diego Union, Friday, August 2, 1968:

POINT OF VIEW

Nichelle Nichols from “Star Trek”

By Donald Freeman, San Diego Union Television and Radio Editor

“Nichelle Nichols Down to Earth” is the title of her latest vocal album. and that she’s down to earth, though the title is a playful reference to her role as the exotic and stoic Uhura in NBC’s space epic, “Star Trek.”

“I was the first black woman to have a continuing role in a television series,” Miss Nichols says very factually in her statement. “I was an icon and I hope I opened some doors Diahann Carroll has her own show this year. Gail Fisher will co-star ‘Manix’. The doors have opened.

“It’s not that I thought of myself as just a black actress. But I always knew that I wasn’t competing for roles with Audre Hepburn. I considered myself, frankly, as a person, an active actress. But then , all of this was forced on me, people were like, ‘How does it feel to be the first regular black actress on a show?’ how does that feel? Well, I have a feeling of pride. I’m in the public eye and that’s a responsibility to our times. It’s also something I didn’t bargain for when I got into the acting business.

You can’t just go through time and give nothing,’ Miss Nichols said. “So I became a symbol. And once I got over the initial shock, the whole idea of ​​being a symbol, I felt pretty good. We are at a threshold now and I wouldn’t want to live in any other moment in history than right now, today.

She paused: “When they were looking for a black actress for ‘Mannix’, they came to my producer at ‘Star Trek’ and asked if I was available. No, he said, we need her on “Star Trek”. It is very pleasant to be desired.

“Rather a Shaky Ending”

We turned our attention to other aspects of “Star Trek,” which will enter its third season after a rather shaky ending in the spring amid talk of impending cancellation. Miss Nichols – she had come to town to hand out prizes in KCBQ’s ‘Star Trek’ contest – is worried about the new timeslot NBC has given her series. For reasons that are difficult to understand, the network postponed “Star Trek” to 10 p.m. on Friday nights.

“I wonder if we can survive,” said Miss Nichols. “I wonder if we’re going to lose the dating crowds, the kids going out on Friday nights And will the parents allow the younger ones to stay up that late? We’ll find out.

Miss Nichols recalled the furor created when a wave of rumors indicated that ‘Star Trek’ would soon breathe its last breath.

“It was never even official from NBC, just a rumor,” she said. “But it spread like wildfire. The mail was huge. At Caltech, students took part in a candlelight procession in protest. At UCLA and USC, children wore large “SST” banners – SST stands for “Save Star Trek” Protests poured in from places such as the Jet Propulsion Laboratory – protests in triplicate.

“Unlike the usual fan mail, we were getting stacks of ‘How can we help the show? mail. So now we are entering our third year and the predictors still see our imminent demise, but they were doing it the first year we were.

There have been a number of reasons given for the success of “Star Trek”. Miss Nichols thinks the answer is simple: “It’s good theatre, it’s good entertainment.”

She says, “I think our show has grown over the past two years. I think we have substance to go with our entertainment. We have this basic premise of the family of man, of moral stability even in space, and of the eternal reach of nobility. We say a few things about the game of life, about people, but the message is secondary. What’s important is that ‘Star Trek’ is good theater.

“The Complete Professional”

We spoke about some of the people on ‘Star Trek’ and Miss Nichols said: “I learned from the three co-stars, from Bill Shatner and Len Nimoy and DeForest Kelly. Shatner is sharp, he has ideas. Nimoy is the complete professional, a pleasure to work with.

“But, it’s Dee Kelly who I think is overall the most consistent, level-headed, level-headed and one of the best actresses I’ve ever met.

“The thing about Dee Kelly is that he has a sex appeal that hasn’t been exploited – just wait for that to happen. He just can’t be contained in the doctor’s image of the grumpy philosophical space. Definitely not.”