Wednesday, October 18, 2006


I had met (and interviewed) Nichelle Nichols and Walter Koenig at the Farewell Scotty convention in Hollywood in 2004, which I attended as a freelance reporter on assignment to the New York Times. Nichelle had endeared herself to me forever by spontaneously introducing me to Neil Armstrong, about ten seconds after I introduced myself to her. This time I saw her only for a minute in the Blue Room just before my panel started on Friday, but I got a hug and a Hollywood kiss. Nichelle held the Sky Church stage on Sunday, with amazing energy and grace. I was in the Blue Room as she started, and on the monitor the strong planes of her face reminded me of carvings of African or Egyptian goddesses. She also showed a partial rough-cut of her forthcoming movie, “Lady Magdalene,” which presented some earthy, humorous and musical aspects.

I talked briefly with Walter Koenig on Friday afternoon, as we stood waiting for the elevator to the Blue Room. He introduced me to his wife, Judy. I guess I’m not telling tales out of school to mention that he’s read this Soul of Star Trek blog on occasion, and we talked about one entry he particularly liked. One of the writers in attendance commented later that Walter looked relaxed, elegant, European. He wore a tweed jacket and jeans. I hardly ever see anyone in a tweed jacket anymore, and that’s a shame, partly because I like to wear them myself.

Walter had his Sky Church solo on Saturday afternoon. He is soft spoken and articulate, and had a good rapport with the audience, even when fielding the millionth request to repeat his “nuclear wessels” line from Star Trek IV. When so requested, he said something about feeling like a trained monkey—and his accompanying gesture, of an organ-grinder’s monkey turning, was small and fleeting but perfect, reminding me of how many skills these actors have that we seldom get to see—and then he did the line with good-natured grace. We did get to see more of his acting skills than usual in the New Voyages episode and the extended trailer for “Star Trek: Of Gods and Men” shown on Friday evening—I’ll say more about those in the section below.

I should mention what the Sky Church itself did for these appearances. The huge cathedral-like room was always dark, for behind the stage and extending far beyond it was a high wall of images: usually a moving star field, plus huge photos of whichever star was on stage, from various episodes and/or movies. Films and video were also projected onto a screen on that back wall. It’s quite an impressive venue.

George Takei was the first of the original cast to take the stage. I’d heard him speak solo at the Scotty convention but hadn’t met him. This time he spoke in more detail about his experiences as a child in an internment camp where many families of Japanese ancestry, especially from the West Coast were held during World War II. The most vivid detail I recall was his memory of going to the latrine in the middle of the night with a spotlight and a machine gun following him from a tower above. I did meet him in the Blue Room afterwards, and told him that even though I’d read similar comments he’d made about this, hearing him talk about it was so much more powerful. “I think it’s important,” he said, and he had related his experiences to the xenophobia, racial profiling and demonization of entire peoples and faiths that has been a recurring temptation and sometimes close to official policy in recent years in the U.S. Guantanamo was clearly on his mind.

On a later panel, George countered the idea that Star Trek was too optimistic. It’s not true that Gene Roddenberry created a future where there wasn’t conflict, but one where people dealt with conflict and its underlying causes. Yet the attitude of optimism was important. “I think optimism is a necessity to make progress.”

On Sunday I happened to be in the Blue Room just after he’d been given a unique scrapbook—it was a meticulously preserved set of photographs and drawings of a play he had done as a UCLA theatre student in the late 1950s. He’d played the lead. Apparently the scrapbook had been created by a UCLA film student, as an assignment to document the theatre production and create storyboards. George said that he’d felt guilty accepting it, but I gathered that it had belonged to the woman lead of the play who had recently passed away, and whoever had given it to George felt he should have it.

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