Created by Gene Roddenberry, Star Trek has spawned multiple spin-off shows, more than a dozen films and even its own language since first hitting our screens in 1966. It’s also inspired more fan devotion than perhaps any other show in TV history. However, even the most dedicated Trekkies may be surprised by a few of these little-known facts about the sci-fi phenomenon. Live long and prosper!
20. Majel Barrett first played Number One
Majel Barrett is best known for playing Nurse Christine Chapel and Lwaxana Troi in the original Star Trek and The Next Generation, respectively. However, she first appeared in the franchise as Captain Pike’s second-in-command in the pilot episode. What’s more, she was dating Roddenberry at the time. Some accounts state that the character was subsequently written out after scoring poorly with test audiences. Conversely, producer Herbert Solow later claimed it was due to the network’s fury at the casting of Roddenberry’s unknown girlfriend.
19. NBC rejected the pilot
Barrett could take heart from the fact that she wasn’t the only thing from the pilot to be discarded. In fact, NBC rejected the entire episode over fears that it was too highbrow. What’s more, “The Cage,” as the pilot was titled, included an almost completely different cast to the one that would eventually make it onto TV screens. Indeed, Mr. Spock was the only main character to appear in both.
18. Shatner and Nimoy both got tinnitus on set
William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy, a.k.a. Captain Kirk and Spock, were made to suffer for their art. In fact, following an explosion on the set of a Star Trek movie, both actors suffered the debilitating ringing-in-the-ear condition known as tinnitus. The former took to wearing a contraption in his ear that produced white noise to help him deal with the problem. He subsequently became a spokesman for tinnitus sufferers and even claimed to have talked some out of committing suicide.
17. The Vulcan salute is a Hebrew blessing
Nimoy is often credited with creating the iconic Vulcan salute that debuted in the first episode of season two. However, the actor took it from an Orthodox Jewish service he’d attended as a child. The hand gesture, which signifies “Live Long and Prosper” in the Star Trek world, actually symbolizes a Hebrew word for God, “Shaddai.” In 2014 Nimoy told the Yiddish Book Center that he thought the look and sound of the salute was “magical.”
16. Nimoy invented the Vulcan pinch
Although Nimoy may not have created the Vulcan salute entirely from scratch, the Vulcan pinch was certainly all his own work. Indeed, the actor came up with the move during a scene in which the script called for Spock to strike an enemy’s head with his phaser. Nimoy protested that such a brutal act wasn’t in keeping with his character. So instead he created the neck pinch that would became one of Spock’s trademark moves.
15. Malcolm McDowell received death threats for killing Kirk
Perhaps best known for his role in A Clockwork Orange, Malcolm McDowell felt the full wrath of the Trekkie brigade when his character killed a fan favorite. In fact, he received death threats after his Dr. Tolian Soran murdered Captain Kirk in the Star Trek: Generations movie. McDowell subsequently admitted that he didn’t take such threats seriously, although he was still assigned protection by the film studio.
14. Martin Luther King Jr. persuaded a Star Trek actress to stay on the show
Trekkies come from all walks of life, including the celebrity world. Indeed, Angelina Jolie, Barack Obama and Rosario Dawson are just some of the famous faces who love the show. However, the most impressive is probably Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Moreover, it wasn’t just true that the civil rights activist was a diehard fan. He also persuaded Nichelle Nichols to keep on playing Uhura amid reports that she was considering quitting the show.
13. Spock’s skin was supposed to be red
Roddenberry initially intended Spock to have red skin in order to differentiate the character from humans more starkly. However, he was soon forced to rethink his color scheme after a screen test showed that monochromatic TV sets would render Spock pitch black. The Vulcan was then given yellow skin on set, which appeared green on screen, and a blackface scandal was thankfully avoided.
12. William Shatner has never watched an episode
“When I direct and have to look at filmed scenes of myself, I suck.” That’s the reasoning behind William Shatner’s refusal to watch even a single episode of his most successful show. The eccentric actor told The Telegraph in 2008 that despite appearing in 79 episodes and several Star Trek films, he’s never had any desire to see himself playing Captain Kirk. In addition, he also admitted that he hasn’t kept hold of any memorabilia from his time starring in the franchise.
11. The Klingon language was invented by a Star Trek actor
Spoken by and named after the alien species, Klingon is one of the world’s most famous fictional languages. However, you may not know that it was actually created by a Star Trek veteran. James Doohan, who played Scotty in the original franchise, formed the Klingon vocab and grammar that first appeared in Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Linguist Mark Okrand then came on board to flesh out the language, subsequently publishing a dictionary of it in 1985.
10. Teleportation was used for budgetary reasons
The teleportation process is one of the most iconic features of Star Trek. However, it was only introduced to the series as a method of cutting costs. The original show simply didn’t have the budget to include footage of the crew landing on the planets they visited. As a result, producers used the ultra-cool, but far more inexpensive, teleportation technique instead. The rest, of course, is Star Trek history.
9. It’s responsible for the first ever CGI movie sequence
While Star Trek may have been forced to skimp on the effects on the small screen, one of its big-screen ventures proved to be visually pioneering. Indeed, 1982’s Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan was the first film to feature a scene that was totally computer-generated. The sequence in question contained the Genesis Device visuals, which were created by the team who would later establish Pixar.
8. The U.S.S. Enterprise had a six-lane bowling alley
It’s hard to imagine Captain Kirk, Spock and co hitting the lanes after a hard day exploring the final frontier. However, according to a set of authentic blueprints published in 1975, the crew could do so if they wished. Apparently a bowling alley was situated next to the Food & Beverages Preparation Facility and Refreshments Area on Deck 21.
7. Shatner cheated to make himself look taller
Size certainly does appear to matter to William Shatner. Standing at 5’9” tall, the Star Trek icon wasn’t too keen on being dwarfed by his co-star Leonard Nimoy on screen. Consequently, the actor started wearing shoes with 1.5-inch lifts in order to make him look like the tall guy. Unfortunately for Shatner, this also had the unwelcome side effect of making him look paunchier.
6. Shatner also made sure he had the most lines
However, Shatner’s apparent pettiness didn’t end there. The star clashed with George Takei after requesting that Sulu’s screen time should be reduced in favor of more Kirk. In fact, Shatner even had a clause in his contract that stated that he must have the most lines in every episode. Furthermore, there was also a stipulation that Shatner’s name had to be ten percent larger than that of his co-stars in Star Trek’s opening credits.
5. Gender inequality was an issue
Star Trek may have bravely attempted to push boundaries on screen in the ’60s, but behind the scenes it was sometimes a different story. Scriptwriter Dorothy Catherine “D.C.” Fontana contributed to several of the show’s early episodes. However, at a time when it was considered unusual for a woman to write TV scripts, Roddenberry advised Fontana to use just her initials in the credits. What’s more, some of her work was even credited to an entirely fictional Michael Richards.
4. Patrick Stewart thought The Next Generation would flop
Captain Jean-Luc Picard was the role that turned Patrick Stewart into a worldwide star. However, the long-time Royal Shakespeare Company actor initially wasn’t too enamored with the part. Stewart told the Toronto Star in 2010 that he expected Star Trek: The Next Generation to be canceled within months. In fact, he said he only took the job to make some money and get a suntan.
3. Chekov was inspired by Davy Jones
The original manufactured boy band was the unlikely inspiration for one of the show’s most popular supporting characters. Keen to exploit the huge mid-’60s success of The Monkees, Roddenberry specifically asked his casting director to find someone who physically resembled one of the group’s members. With his mop-top haircut and boyish looks, Davy Jones lookalike Walter Koenig proved to be the perfect fit.
2. Roddenberry believed chest hair was a thing of the past
William Shatner was forced to shave his chest every time he appeared shirtless on screen. For reasons that are not entirely clear, Roddenberry believed that the men of the 23rd century would have hairless torsos. As a result, he regularly let the studio barber loose on his leading man. However, with Nimoy flatly refusing to succumb to manscaping, the Vulcan race were allowed to keep their chest hair intact.
1. Roddenberry received royalties for a theme tune that he didn’t write
Roddenberry is not only a sci-fi genius, but he’s also a shrewd businessman. Indeed, a clause in the Star Trek creator’s contract stipulated that he would receive royalties for writing lyrics, even if they were never actually used. Roddenberry’s bizarre, unintelligible words for the show’s theme tune have never made it on to the air. However, he still received 50 percent of the royalties for the music that did, which understandably upset its composer, Alexander Courage.