Nichelle Nichols Interview

Discussion in 'Star Trek - The Original & Animated Series' started by Smellincoffee, Aug 12, 2011.

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  1. Maurice

    Maurice Vice Admiral Admiral

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    That's not fair to SAG, which I don't believe had any jurisdiction over Extras/Background Actors back in 1979. Before 1992 most background actors in US film and TV were represented by the Screen Extras Guild. SEG members went over to SAG in 1992.
     
  2. Admiral Buzzkill

    Admiral Buzzkill Fleet Admiral Admiral

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    From the POV of the fans, perhaps. Any time management violates a union or guild agreement they have a reason that sounds good to someone. The job of a union is to protect the rights of workers under the negotiated contract, not applaud while the bosses pull a publicity stunt that takes work away from their members - if the union can't or doesn't do that every time, then they're not good for much.

    I read that the ST:TMP event led directly to a change in the studio/guild agreements to prevent it being pulled again, and that's all to the good. It's dandy for people who don't have an honest stake in the outcome of these things to view the process of sausage-making with "disdain" but I'm glad the guilds are there and doing what they do.
     
  3. DakotaSmith

    DakotaSmith Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    I'm 46. One of my earliest memories is of a Mugato, and with my parents' help I can successfully pinpoint to first-run TOS. I have been listening to the MLK story my entire life.

    I know that it's changed. I would be unable to give empirical evidence, but I know that if you asked me at different times in my life about the story, I would have different answers -- because the story was always changing slightly.

    Going 'way back ... maybe to TMOST, which was published during the show's run, my infant and early childhood memories are unclear ... but ever since I have been aware that Nichols once entertained leaving the show, there has been a slightly different twist on it. Initially, it was all just the money.

    My most vague memory is that there's some kind of race reason given ... I wonder if I'm remembering a pre-TMP-era interview somewhere. If I recall, it was in that "tween period" from around 1972-1977. Everybody, Roddenberry, the studio, the actors, knew there was money to be had from Star Trek. The actors would get memos from Roddenberry who'd say, "This is great, we have a start date but no script. But what the hell, most people have a script and no start date!"

    So there was an interview, maybe in the context of one of the big East Coast ST cons of the 1970s. They got into talking about residuals. Everyone agreed, to the reporter's surprise, that they hadn't been paid since the third viewing. That was all a standard contract ever bothered to deal with, since it was utterly unheard-of for a show to do so phenomenally well in syndication.

    Before anyone suggests I'm remembering the Tomorrow Show With Tom Snyder interview, I'm not. That had a similar conversation, but it was between Doohan, Kelley, and Snyder. The one I'm remembering was Nichols, Koenig ... and one of the popular babes of the week. They were at some con and had shot interviews with the local news. The popular babe of the week might have been Barbara Luna, but I'm not sure.

    Anyway, they were being interviewed, talked about residuals, how they weren't getting any, not even Bill or Leonard were getting any ... the studio was making money but none of the actors were. It was one of those moments where you can see that someone feels like they're kind of getting screwed.

    At some point, Nichelle mentioned off-hand wanting to quit after the first year because she was getting paid so little. She didn't mention MLK at all. She said that she didn't really have much going on otherwise and finally decided that at least where she was, she was showing a female black officer in a racially-mixed cast. Maybe that counted for something, she thought. Then I think she realized she might be coming off bitter and that never plays well to fans, so she started talking about how great the cons she'd been attending were and how wonderful the fans are, etc.

    Thinking about it, I recall that story being re-told in the context of interviews surrounding TAS. It was the same story told a bit more positively, and with the spin of being so happy to be doing Star Trek again and doing voices other than Uhura's. The "moral of the story" became, "I once thought about quitting, but I was nuts. A female black officer on TV is a great role model! And look what I'm doing now!"

    So the slightly bitter interview might have been 1972-73. The TAS retelling would have been about 1973.

    The first time MLK entered the picture was years later. I want to say that it was in context of some friends who'd gone to one of the Star Trekons in Kansas City at which she was a guest. They brought back the local papers' coverage of it. I think it was when the cast was being groomed for Phase II. The story became, "I once thought about quitting, but I thought, 'What would MLK do'? Here I am, a black female officer, an equal among whites and men, how could I quit? And now, of course, we're getting called in for fittings and they're writing scripts and we're going to do it again. And I'm going to have a lot more to do than I did in the original series ..."

    I want to say that the first iteration I ever heard that actually involved MLK personally must have been during the press junkets surrounding STTMP. The first iteration involved a relatively chance meeting ... the two of them happening to be in the same hotel, and it turned out he used to watch the show. They wound up in the same room (MLK asked to see her in some early iterations, I think). She said she was flattered he liked the show, but to be honest she was thinking of quitting. He advised against it because she was a black female officer and a role model.

    After that, the specific details and changes get vague. It's never been that the story has been horribly embellished out of shape over the years. It's that minor individual details change over time -- but just frequently enough to jog your memory of the last time you heard the story.

    It's also not entirely Nichols' doing, either. The moment MLK entered the narrative, the story grew a life of its own within fandom. It would travel more by word of mouth between fans. By the time I remember actually hearing Nichols invoke meeting MLK, fans had been saying to each other, "Really? Well I heard she actually met him!" for months.

    I'm not quite sure whether this is part of aging that I enjoy or not: that I can just barely remember how stories have changed during my lifetime.
     
  4. Josan

    Josan Commodore Commodore

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    I wouldn't worry about aging or your memory. Not 100% recalling things that really don't directly impact you or yours, that are just stories told by actors, is no big thing. :)
     
  5. Captain Robert April

    Captain Robert April Vice Admiral Admiral

    Just flipped through TMoST, and the part about Nichelle only talks about her early career, what she does in her spare time, and that she shares her home with two Siamese cats. Her son doesn't even merit a mention!
     
  6. DakotaSmith

    DakotaSmith Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    Yeah, I'm not sure there's anything in TMOST. As I say, I think I could pinpoint the first time I happen to remember her talking about it as 1972-73. I could have the timing off or out of order.

    This whole story is one of those really fascinating things to me, looking back on it from damned near half a century later. It's not that Nichols herself is much to blame. Yes, she's changed the story a bit -- but the fans were doing it right along with her. They might even have preceded her a couple of times and Nichols' alterations were just keeping up with them.

    It's one of those weird stories that tends to make me ask, "Where do certain jokes come from?" There are jokes, anecdotes, old wives' tales that've been around in some form for centuries. Where do they come from? Sometimes there's no answer.

    This is one of those stories, where I actually watched -- and unwittingly participated -- in its alteration over the years. It is a serious head trip to see almost half a century's progress on what is basically a word-of-mouth story. Having seen this story change in the telling in only fifty years is one of the reasons I don't take ancient holy books that have been repeatedly transcribed terribly seriously ... ;)

    I suspect the number of times Nichols has even told the story over the years is pretty limited. Fans have told it hundreds of times more. It is just a very weird animal. ;)
     
  7. Mr_Homn

    Mr_Homn Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    Great point :)
     
  8. A beaker full of death

    A beaker full of death Vice Admiral Admiral

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  9. DakotaSmith

    DakotaSmith Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    I don't have it in-hand, but I believe the Writer's Guide circa the second or third seasons state that she's fourth in command after Scotty. I suspect this was inserted by Roddenberry as a nod to his mistress bugging him about her crappy part. It was an easy thing to claim yet never act on. How frequently did they even need to go further down the chain than Scotty, after all?

    It may not be in the Writer's Guide, my memory is hazy. I believe that it appears in some early semi-official material -- The Making Of Star Trek, The World of Star Trek or The Trouble With Tribbles (the book, not the episode) is where I'd look.

    Nichols has repeated that Uhura was 4th in command since forever. It wouldn't shock me if that particular tidbit worked its way into the story at some point. It would shock me a lot of MLK actually knew it -- only the most zealous fans even cared.

    Dakota Smith
     
  10. Captain Robert April

    Captain Robert April Vice Admiral Admiral

    Generally after Scotty, Sulu was put in command. Hell, in "Journey to Babel", Kirk put Ensign Chekov in command, with Lieutenant Uhura sitting right there!

    To be perfectly honest, I really have no idea where the idea that Uhura was fourth in command came from. The closest she ever came was "The Lorelei Signal" in TAS, and that was only because the entire male crew was incapacitated and she was the senior female bridge officer, not because of where she was in the normal chain of command.
     
  11. Gary7

    Gary7 Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    I just saw the interview of Nichelle Nichols on 92Y for "Women Pioneers in Television." She of course spoke about her encounter with MLK. She really stretched it out, compared to what I'd heard before. She also added that he called her on several occasions afterward to "check up" on her, making sure she was still sticking with it... Sounds like she IS embellishing her story over time, because I don't remember this from interviews I heard when she was much younger.
     
  12. Josan

    Josan Commodore Commodore

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    Yeah, the claimed follow up calls are really stretching it. That's definitely something I haven't heard before.
     
  13. DakotaSmith

    DakotaSmith Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    Wow, follow-up calls? That's a new one on me. I'll add it to my crappy recollection of how the story has progressed.

    I cannot for one nanosecond imagine that MLK actually made such calls. Star Trek would have to be the absolute last thing on MLK's mind, even if he were a rabid fanboy like me.

    I mean, seriously: the dude had the FBI investigating him and his ultimate murder wasn't a particularly big surprise given his massive following in what was at the time a very controversial social movement. I don't remember it except as history that I happened to live through, but I'd imagine it to be as much as surprise as if, say, Rush Limbaugh were murdered.

    Too bad? Yes. A surprise? Not particularly. The dude must get multiple daily death threats.

    Dakota Smith
     
  14. Mr_Homn

    Mr_Homn Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    I don't think it's out of the realm of possibility that he might have called her a couple times after wards. Afterall she was a very attractive young woman. Just sayin'...

    Him knowing she was 4th in command is much harder to swallow.

    I watch the show a lot and I never knew she was 4th in command. Honestly I don't even really believe it. That was probably something she was told to appease her. I always figured Sulu came before her. Didn't he sit in the captains chair while she was on the bridge once?
     
    Last edited: Aug 23, 2011
  15. Noname Given

    Noname Given Vice Admiral Admiral

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    Plus - while tne show did portary positive role models, the ratings for the network run were honestly pretty abismal. (EG In first run, not a lot of people were watching.) the success and acclaim Star Trek enjoyed came during the years in syndication many years after MLK's assasination. Hell, even GR himself abandoned the show after its second season, and sold the IP lock stock and barrel to Paramount shortly after the network run (but before the syndication run.)

    My point? Why would MLK devote any time to worrying about an actor on a (at the time) failing TV series that no one is really watching?

    Also, remember he was assasinated in April 1968. How much time did he have whith his schedule and other important issues to again, take time to check on one actor?
     
  16. Mr_Homn

    Mr_Homn Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    He was probably trying to flirt with her. It wouldn't have been the first time. It's common knowledge that he had a few adulterous relationships.

    Nichelle Nichols was smokin' hot in 1966.

    I still don't buy that he said she was 4th in command though.
     
  17. Kamdan

    Kamdan Lieutenant Commander Red Shirt

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  18. mb22

    mb22 Commander Red Shirt

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    Only 13 days to Martin Luther King Day -- the annual time for more Nichelle Nichols interviews and this thread getting bumped up yet again!
     
  19. 1001001

    1001001 I Like the Beats and the Shouting Moderator

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    Please do not resurrect threads that are 1 1/2 years old.

    If there's something new, start a new thread.

    Thanks.
     
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