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Nichelle Nichols - Communications expert Uhuru from Star Trek's Original series
Science fiction or human drama?
Did the original series have a strong scientific and technical basis?
Gene was not as science oriented as he was people oriented. He wanted to have a story that touched on all of the various conditions that human beings would face and how they would face them, and that there was a place for heroes.
He wasn't able to do that in Hollywood very easily at that time, and discovered that he was able to do it if he put it three hundred years into the future, which meant science fiction. He realised that if he's going to go into science fiction and if he's going to go into the future and if he's going to travel the stars he's going to need some scientific credibility and authenticity.
As an actress, how many technical lines did you have, and were they more difficult to learn?
I pretty much got hailing frequencies down really well. 'Hailing frequencies open captain.' It wasn't a problem for me to learn the lines and when I did have to deal with the scientific language, that was pretty cool. That was pretty cool.
Uhura the role model.
How unusual was it for a black actress to have a role like Uhura in 1966?
It was unheard of. As a matter of fact, I really did not at first appreciate the magnitude of what he was doing. He never did anything without knowing what and why he was doing it, but I didn't really realise what he was accomplishing.
Throughout the first season I was simply so affected by each script, each episode kept getting better and better and bett and I thought, 'Gene better be careful because they're going to cancel this show: it's too good.'
It was towards the end of the show and I was really considering leaving the show, for no other reason than I wanted to return to the theatre. I went in to talk to Gene - this was I was getting up nerve to tell him I was leaving the show, but at this point I went in and I said ' Gene, I've been watching each of the episodes and they each get better and better' and I said, 'And I discovered something: you're writing morality plays.' And he said, 'Shhh. They haven't figured it out yet.'
Tell us about the Oscar-winning Star Trek fan.
Whoopi Goldberg, she's just marvellous. I had no way of knowing that she was a Star Trek fan. When I finally met her it was her first year on the Next Generation.
She loved the show so much and she told her agent she wants a role on Star Trek. Well agents go 'Big screen, little screen, no, you can't do that'. Well you can't tell Whoopi 'You can't do that'.
And so they finally asked, and they had the same reaction at Star Trek office, specifically Gene. And she said, 'I want to meet him and I want him to tell me to my face. If he tells me he doesn't want me and why, I'll be fine.'
Knowing Gene he had to take that challenge, and so he met with her. She said, 'I just wanted you to tell me why you don't want me in Star Trek.'
Gene said, 'Well, I'll just ask you one question and I'll make my decision on that. You're a big screen star, why do you want to be on a little screen, why do you want to be in Star Trek?'
And she looked at him and she said, 'Well, it's all Nichelle Nichols' fault.'
That threw him, he said, 'What do you mean?'
She said, 'Well when I was nine years old Star Trek came on,' and she said, 'I looked at it and I went screaming through the house, "Come here, mum, everybody, come quick, come quick, there's a black lady on television and she ain't no maid!"' And she said, 'I knew right then and there I could be anything I wanted to be, and I want to be on Star Trek.'
And he said, 'I'll write you a role.'
The first convention
How did the first Star Trek convention come about?
Almost immediately in 1970, after the show was cancelled in '69, a group of people in New York got together and they were lawyers and brokers um, Wall Street people, and they put some money together and said, 'Let's get some friends together and celebrate how wonderful it was'. They decided to go to a hotel, get a hotel ball room, and then they said, 'Why don't we invite, friends from out of town?' and so they all decided to throw in three hundred bucks apiece, I think there was about four or five of them.
Then somebody said, 'Do you think the cast would come and do you think Gene Roddenberry would come?' And they said, 'God, I don't think so.'
'Well, they can only say no. That's the worst they can say.' and so they called and everybody said, 'That would be wonderful.' And it was the first Star Trek convention in New York.
How did you feel about your costume. It was very revealing.
So? I was wearing them on the street. What's wrong with wearing them in the air? I wore 'em on airplanes. It was the era of the miniskirt. Everybody wore miniskirts.
It amazes me that people still make some remark about 'the revealing'. They revealed nothing. I had long black stockings on and boots up to my knees and the skirts and panties on and a skirt that gave you freedom to move in, - so what?
It amazes me because everything is more revealing today on the street than those costumes.
How did you feel when you first saw it?
Well I hated the colour, that was all. It was kind of a pea green. Gene hated the colour also, and so he called Bill Theiss in and told him he wanted to change that costume, and um, - so I think I wore that pea green thing for a couple of episodes and then they changed to that beautiful red.
I thought that Bill Theiss did a pretty good job except for the ruffles around the guy's pants. I didn't like the ruffles around the guy's pants.
Were the costumes sexist?
Were those costumes too revealing?
I suppose the only people who were particularly revealing in the original series were the women who got to wear lots of holes in their costume.
Gene never confused the sexes. People do, but Gene didn't. He loved women to look like women. He didn't think it was awful for a woman to be over a size two or to not look like a boy. He wanted his women to look like what he regarded as women who looked like, and he liked beautifully gowned women, and he reflected that and insisted on it.
You saw the little openings here, there, the cleavage there, they were dressed to the hilt with grey paint. They were still very sensuous wardrobes for women. Ambassadors came with flowing gowns and it was always very, very feminine.