Hardcore Star Trek fans may think they know everything about the Original Series, but there’s plenty of behind-the-scenes turmoil we’re betting you’ve never heard before.
Between budget problems, ratings struggles, and one legendary ego, several things constantly impacted the series during its 3-season run that could have ended it entirely! Read on for some Star Trek behind the scenes facts you never knew.
The famous interracial kiss was originally between Uhura and Spock
One of the celebrated aspects of Star Trek its was diversity and showcasing how people from different backgrounds can work together. This culminated in the 1968 episode “Plato’s Stepchildren,” which had Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) and Captain Kirk (William Shatner) locked in a kiss, the first interracial kiss on American television. But that wasn’t the original plan.
According to Nichelle Nichols, Spock was going to kiss Uhura it changed after Shatner read the script. Shatner demanded that it be changed so he could be a part of TV history. Two scenes were shot, one with the kiss and one without, but Nichols and Shatner intentionally botched all takes of the non-kissing scene to ensure the kissing scene went on the air.
The original pilot was rejected
The original pilot for Star Trek contained characters you probably never heard of. That’s because the first pilot episode of the show was rejected by NBC in 1965. The original show followed Captain Christopher Pike, played by Jeffrey Hunter. Accompanying Pike were his first officer Number One, Dr. Philip Boyce, and Mr. Spock.
The network axed the show because they felt that it was too smart and would lose casual viewers. They also felt that the pilot lacked action and didn’t care for the plot involving the captain being encouraged to mate with an alien. The only thing from the original pilot that survived was the Spock character, still played by Leonard Nimoy.
George Takei and Walter Koenig were originally enemies
The relationship between actors Walter Koenig and George Takei was rocky at the start. Koenig was brought in to play Ensign Chekov in order to replace Takei’s Sulu, as Takei had to miss nine episodes in order to film another project. Takei was afraid of being permanently replaced.
Koenig and Takei initially fought, being forced to share a dressing room and a script as well. However, as time went on, the two saw the show was better with both of them in it and became dear friends off-camera. Koenig even served as best man in Takei’s wedding in 2008.
Many props were made out of trash from another hit show
In order to sell that the Enterprise visited hundreds of different planets and cultures, various parts of the ship had to showcase some “alien art.” However, the props department had make the art under budget, which would have been an impossible mission without Mission: Impossible.
The Mission: Impossible TV show was shot on the same lot as Star Trek, and had styrofoam shipping container liners lying around. Star Trek’s props department took that styrofoam, crumpled it into different shapes, and painted it into different alien works of art for the show. One show’s trash was another show’s set piece.
Stage hands opened the “automatic” doors
One of the simple ways to show off the futuristic world of Star Trek were the doors of the ship. The doors would automatically open and close upon a person approaching them. While modern grocery stores accomplish this feat, this was huge in the 1960s. But it was all faked.
On the show’s set, two stagehands would slide the doors open off-camera. It was a simple way to save money during filming, but it was imperfect. Many outtakes showed the doors moving at different speeds or the stage hands forgetting to move the doors, which caused several cast members to ram into them face-first.
Roddenberry hated the name “Klingons”
Today, the Klingons are one of the most recognized alien races in the Star Trek franchise, starting out as foes and leaning into an uneasy alliance with the Federation in later series. While Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry loved the idea of Klingons, he despised the name of the aliens.
The term “Klingon” was created just a placeholder until Roddenberry could come up with a better name. Even the writing staff hated the name “Klingon” — they didn’t want the warrior species to be associated with “clinging.” However, Roddenberry was ill and couldn’t think of a new name during the production of the Klingons’ debut episode, so the name stuck.
Star Trek loves Lucy
Lucille Ball is a television comedy legend. She starred in the hilarious I Love Lucy in the 1950s. She also was the owner of a then-largest independent production companies in Hollywood.
While she is best known as a pioneering woman in comedy and a powerful woman in television, she is also the godmother of Star Trek.
After Star Trek’s failed pilot, Ball insisted that the studio order a new one. She believed in Roddenberry’s work so much that she even helped fund the pilot’s production, disregarding the objections given by her board of directors. Without Ball’s backing, Star Trek as we know it would not exist.
Pigeons infested the Enterprise
On the Star Trek TV show, alien bacteria and viruses regularly invaded the Enterprise. On the Star Trek set, there was also an infestation that annoyed members of the Enterprise during production and interfered with filming: pigeons.
While they were filming Star Trek in the studio, a group of pigeons set up nests up in the rafters and made the studio their home. Aside from occasionally flying down on-camera to ruin a take, there was an issue with the noise. The pigeons would apparently coo and make a racket every time Jeffrey Hunter attempted to speak.
William Shatner claims he has never watched an episode
Captain James Tiberius Kirk is considered to be William Shatner’s most recognizable role. He starred as Kirk in 79 episodes of Star Trek, and portrayed him in several films. The character has been made into cartoons, action figures, and other forms of merchandise. Yet Shatner has never seen himself in any Star Trek shows.
Shatner has said that he doesn’t watch any shows he is in, including Boston Legal. Shatner commented, “I never watched any Star Trek. I have not 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.”
The show’s racy content was a trick to distract censors
Star Trek was considered a risque show for the time. By 1960s standards, there was a lot of short skirts, cleavage, and bikini-clad women, along with several scenes with bare-chested men. These scenes would upset censors, having them focus on toning down the sexuality on the show, which is what Roddenberry wanted.
Roddenberry would crank up the steamy content in order to distract censors from any political allegories he was presenting on the program. One particular episode, “A Private Little War,” included an open-mouth kiss from a scantily clad woman that distracted censors so much that they didn’t notice the episode was a critical allegory of the Vietnam War.
Roddenberry chose between Spock and Number One
When the network saw the original pilot for Star Trek, they took issue with two of Roddenberry’s characters: the emotionless, logical Number One and the demonic-looking Mr. Spock. In the end, in order to appease his superiors, Roddenberry decided to merge the two characters by placing Number One’s personality traits into Spock.
This was a difficult decision, as Roddenberry was romantically involved with Majel Barrett, who played Number One. NBC thought that having a woman portray the first officer wouldn’t appeal to audiences, plus Barrett was an unknown actor. Barrett stayed on the show as Nurse Chapel, a significantly smaller role.
A live tiger broke loose on set
The crew of the Enterprise had to deal with several alien threats and dangers, but that was fictional. In real life, the cast and crew of Star Trek had to deal with potential tiger attacks. During an on-location shoot for the episode “Shore Leave,” a chained tiger was brought in to help create an exotic atmosphere.
At one point, the tiger got loose, causing panic on the set. Luckily, trainers and crew members were able to wrangle the tiger back into its cage. Oddly enough, Shatner approached producers about Kirk wrestling the tiger on camera before it broke loose and scared the life out of him.
The Vulcan Nerve Pinch was improvised
Leonard Nimoy’s Spock was focused on two things: logic and precision. Also, Leonard Nimoy himself was publicly against the Vietnam War and didn’t care for violence. Nimoy felt that a concept like fighting and battle would be something abhorrent and illogical to the Spock character, so he had an idea.
When he saw a fight scene written into the script, Nimoy pitched the idea that Spock would use simple yet effective pinch to incapacitate his attacker. Roddenberry loved it, and from then on encouraged writers to have Spock use the “Vulcan Nerve Pinch” whenever Spock was in a violent encounter.
Shatner wanted to be a bigger name (literally)
Nearly all of the cast and crew members working on Star Trek had trouble working with its star, William Shatner. Along with constant bickering with his cast mates, Shatner’s wrote odd demands into his contract. Shatner refused to sign his contract until one thing was addressed: the font of the credits.
For the written credits on the show, Shatner demanded that his name would be written 25% larger than the rest of the cast. The producers went along with his request, much to the annoyance of the other actors. Many of his peers just shrugged it off, stating that the size of the lettering was made to match the size of Shatner’s ego.
Martin Luther King Jr. convinced Nicelle Nichols to stay on the show
Nichelle Nichols was cast as Lt. Uhura at the peak of the Civil Rights Movement, so her role was rife with controversy. Many production crew members berated her, thinking that she took a job from a white person. She even had trouble getting onto the studio lot from security.
Nichols was thinking of quitting the show until she met Martin Luther King Jr. at a party. King and his family were huge fans of Star Trek, because it showed an African American in a positive light and in a position of power. Touched by this revelation, Nichols endured and stayed on the show.
Paramount hated Star Trek
Star Trek was first produced by DesiLu, Lucille Ball’s production company, until Ball sold the company to Gulf and Western. Gulf and Western then transferred production to Paramount. But Paramount was initially not a fan of what would be one of its most iconic franchises.
At the time, Star Trek was incredibly expensive to produce, and lacked the fanbase to support production costs. The show also didn’t have enough episodes to justify syndication at the time, leading to Paramount to try to sell the show back to Roddenberry. Roddenberry couldn’t afford to buy the show back, so Paramount got stuck with it.
Gene Roddenberry had affairs with cast members
Gene Roddenberry was a complex individual. While he had an incredibly imaginative mind, he was no saint. One demon that Roddenberry struggled with was constant and consistent philandering, including having affairs with two of Star Trek’s cast members.
Roddenberry had an affair with both Majel Barrett and Nichelle Nichols while still married to Eileen Rexroat. Nichols ended the affair, allegedly because she didn’t want to be “the other woman to the other woman.” Roddenberry would divorce Rexroat and go on to marry Barrett. But he would continue to have relationships with other women until his death.
One episode permanently damaged the stars’ hearing
Kirk, Spock, and Bones are an unbeatable galactic trio that seem hard to keep down or take down. Unfortunately, the actors behind those roles can’t always bounce back from injury. During the filming of the episode “The Apple,” an explosion occurred that changed their lives forever.
The planned explosion was literally deafening. William Shatner, DeForest Kelley, and Leonard Nimoy had to be rushed to the hospital, still in their Star Trek uniforms. The sound was so loud that it permanently damaged all of their ears. All three of them admitted in interviews that they suffered tinnitus ever since.
The writers hated Gene Roddenberry
In order to get fresh stories for each episode, Gene Roddenberry would often hire well-known science fiction writers to write scripts for Star Trek. Seeking both additional credits and a payday, it seemed worthwhile to the writers. However, more often than not, the credited writer would watch the episode and barely recognize it.
Roddenberry would frequently make extensive rewrites to the solicited scripts to the point that it frustrated and angered the writers. Some writers, such as Harlan Ellison, wanted to use a pseudonym, but those requests were ignored.
Roddenberry wanted the Enterprise upside-down
Gene Roddenberry had very specific visions for the future when he created Star Trek. Using science and philosophy, he had developed a very cerebral show that had a certain logic to it. That logic led him to believe that that Enterprise ship that we currently see, should have been upside down.
The mini-model of the Enterprise flipped upside down constantly, because the bulky saucer and twin jets made it top-heavy. But Roddenberry liked the upside-down look. He thought it made sense logically, because you’d want the thrusters and overall weight of the ship closer to ground-level. The producers through otherwise, and so it remained right-side-up.
Spock loves his lollipops
Many small problems can affect an actor’s performance. Leonard Nimoy had a unique one. Due to a combination of nerves and frequent multiple takes with heavy dialogue, Nimoy suffered dry mouth while acting as Spock. Luckily, Nimoy had a simple solution: lollipops.
Between takes Nimoy would suck on a lollipop to get his mouth and tongue properly moistened and fight off the dry mouth. This way Nimoy could focus on his performance rather than worry that his enunciation and delivery would fail due to a dry tongue. He even made a small compartment in his tricorder to hide his lollipop during filming.
The costumes were illegal
In the beginning, Star Trek had a very small budget to make episodes. Producers had to spend most of that money on futuristic sets and props, which left almost nothing for things like costumes. So, they cut corners.
Since they couldn’t afford to pay union costume makers for the show, the producers hired an overnight, non-union sweatshop to make the costumes for the main cast members. The costumers brought the costumes in through the back window of the studio, so the producers wouldn’t get caught.
Wasps infiltrated the Enterprise
While the Enterprise appears to be a state-of-the-art spacecraft, it is really just a studio in Los Angeles. Like any dwelling, a studio can be invaded by some pests. In the case of Star Trek, the studio space had a big wasp nest that a crew member decided to shake during the filming of “Where No Man Has Gone Before.”
Understandably angry wasps swarmed onto the set and started attacking cast members. Most notably, William Shatner got a wasp sting on his eyelid during the attack. If you watch the episode closely, you can see that one of Shatner’s eyes appears swollen in some scenes.
Shatner’s little problem
As a proud man, one of the demands William Shatner made during the production of Star Trek was that he would be the tallest person on set. There was one problem. William Shatner stood 5’9.” Leonard Nimoy, who played Spock and had the most scenes with Shatner, was 6’ tall.
To combat this, Shatner wore lifts in his shoes in order to match Nimoy’s height. However, the producers hated how Shatner’s stomach would jut out as he balanced himself on the lifts. To appease Shatner, the show had Nimoy gently kneel or lean to match height with Shatner, and shot from perspectives that made Shatner appear taller.
The Vulcan Salute is based on a Hebrew blessing
Leonard Nimoy created Spock’s “Live Long and Prosper” hand gesture, inspired by something he experienced in his youth. Nimoy was Orthodox Jewish. As a kid, his parents took him to synagogue to worship, where he witnessed the hand symbol that defined his career.
In an interview with the Yiddish Book Center, Nimoy revealed that during a ceremony spiritual leaders were displaying this hand gesture, representing the Hebrew letter “Shin,” which represents Shaddai, another name for God. This image stuck with Nimoy, who thought such a profound hand symbol would be an appropriate gesture of peace and goodwill from his Vulcan character.
Kirk contractually had more lines than any other character
When watching a Star Trek episode, have you ever noticed that Kirk is doing a lot of talking and the rest of the cast seems quiet or needing something to do? Seems weird, right? When signing his contract for Star Trek, Shatner had an absurd list of demands he needed met before he signed.
One such demand? Shatner insisted on having the most dialogue in every episode of the show. This was to help further Shatner’s stance as the star of the show. So if you watch the show and wonder why no one else really says much, it was because it was contractually necessary.
NBC pushed for racial diversity
One of the most celebrated aspects of Star Trek was the diversity on the show. There were several crew members of different races and cultures on the show, each one with an important role on the Enterprise. Fans usually credit Gene Roddenberry for this. But in reality, NBC wanted a diverse cast.
While Roddenberry cast a woman to play the show’s first officer in the original Star Trek pilot, the rest of the crew were all white male actors. Leaked memos revealed that NBC asked the show to add more persons of color to the cast. Roddenberry agreed, and the rest is history.
Spock originally had red skin
When we picture Spock in our heads, we have images of a bowl cut, pointed ears, and a stoic expression. In some alternate timeline, we would have also imagined red skin on our favorite Vulcan! During the original filming of Star Trek, Mr. Spock was originally going to have distinctly red skin. Why did this change?
One thing that still existed in the 1960s were black and white televisions. Due to the lack of color, the red makeup used on Nimoy’s face would appear black, making it appear that Nimoy was wearing blackface. Plus, the producers worried that the pointed ears and red skin would make Nimoy look demonic. Ultimately, they decided to nix the crimson makeup.
A writer used a pen name because she was a woman
If you are a fan of the original Star Trek, you’ll recognize the name D.C. Fontana. Fontana was a script writer and story editor for eleven of the show’s episodes, a prominent name within Star Trek’s credits. D.C. Fontana was also a woman.
Dorothy Fontana originally worked as Gene Roddenberry’s secretary while trying to make her name as a screenwriter. She later began writing for Star Trek, but would write under the name “D.C. Fontana” in the credits. Fontana felt that her writing wouldn’t be taken seriously by the studios if a woman’s name was on the script, so she used her initials instead.
Gene Roddenberry was an LAPD Cop
Star Trek fans know Gene Roddenberry as a prolific writer and visionary. However, we all have to start working somewhere before becoming a celebrated creator. For Roddenberry, his beginning was as a Los Angeles police officer.
After his military service, Roddenberry got a job as a traffic cop for the LAPD. As if by fate, he transferred to the police’s newspaper unit, where he wrote press releases and pieces about traffic safety for print. This would be the beginning of Roddenberry’s career as a professional writer and would snowball into other bigger, better opportunities that led him to his success.
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