Where strange fact and stranger fiction collide
The doors open in front of me. I am use to this, it happens every time that I walk in to a supermarket. But in 1966, the concept of a door opening for you with any effort on your part was pretty revolutionary. As I enter the bridge, I glance down at myself and gasp in shock, I am wearing black pants, mid-calf boots and a red ensigns shirt. I am a “Red Shirt” the ultimate expendable.
My panic subsides as I realize that I am on the bridge of the USS Enterprise. And there in the middle of it all siting on the con, is the man, the myth, the legend, Captain James Tiberius Kirk. We are alone, the bridge lights blink and noises whirl through the room, it is as if the ship is out autopilot. “I hear you have some questions for me.” He says in a loud dramatic voice and beckons me to take a seat.
“Thank you” I say as I swing around the chair at the navigation station, and facing the captain I sit down. There is no reason to start off with softball questions, so I hit him with a big one. “You are known for your libido, how do you justify this the themes of empowerment that the Trek franchise is known for?’
He just shakes his head. “Well first…Like my use…of the dramatic pause…It has been exaggerated by comedians and critics. You also have to remember that Star Trek is as much about the sixties and it is the twenty-third century. It was the height of the sexual revolution, and it was spilling over on to the television. Also Star Trek has always been about freedom. And one of the ways that freedom could be expressed in 1966, was sexual freedom. In ways it is a metaphor, a metaphor the average TV viewer understood, for the freedom found both in the future and in space. I never forced the women, they were making a choice”
I am not sure I believe that but I let it slide for now. “Was there ever one special lady in your life?”
“They were all special to me in some way.” He replied. “But Carol Marcus, will always have a very special spot in my heart, because she bore me a son. Even though my relationship with David didn’t last long…” There is a true tone of sadness in his voice as he speaks of his deceased son. Not wanting to show to much emotion he quickly changed the subject. “Though in a very real way, I was married to the Enterprise. I am afraid I loved the ship more than the women in my life…” He laughs, “Maybe that is why my relationships with real women never seem to last long.”
At this point in the interview I feel I need to change subjects, so I ask. “All my life I have heard how ground breaking Star Trek has been in the civil rights movement. About how Dr. Martin Luther King begged Nichelle Nichols not to quit the show. But when I watch the show that aspect doesn’t jump out at me.”
Kirk gives me his boyish grin. “That is the beauty of Star Trek, ground breaking on race issues, yes, but it never got preachy. It is hard for a modern TV viewer to comprehend this but, at the time the only roles for black women on television were as maids. It truly was ground breaking…Oh and that kiss…scandalous…The entire bridge crew working together was revolutionary in its own right. A man from the Deep South, a woman of African descent, a man from Japan, a place that twenty years earlier had been the enemy, a Russian who was at the time was the enemy…all working together for a common goal and for the same government…Yes, it was a colossal move forward.”
I can sense his feelings of pride with what the show has done. “Why do you think the show was so popular?’
“Well for one thing we had some amazing writers. David Gerald, Theodore Sturgeon, Harlan Ellison, Robert Block, DC Fontana, Shari Lewis…”
“What?” I exclaim. “You mean the woman with the Lamb Chop puppet?”
“Yes. She co-wrote the third season episode, Lights of Zetar.” He explains “What an awesome trivia question. What does the writer of the book Psycho, The voice of Lamb Chop and the writer of the War With Cht’orr series all have in common? They all wrote Star Trek episodes. I mean sure there were occasional miss fires. Like the episode Spock’s Brain….Always thought that it should be called Kirk’s brain.” He said with a laugh.
Then he continued. “Also at the time there was nothing else on like it. Oh, sure there had been Buck Rodgers and Flash Gordon shows, but nothing like this. At the time we were truly unique.” Then he added. “People also liked the characters. They grew close to us, they wanted to know us, they wanted to be with us. Viewers wanted to share the camaraderie and family bound that we shared.”
“I always loved the Star Trek Animated series, and felt it was greatly underappreciated, could you tell me more about that?” I ask.
Kirk explained “It had all the original actors voicing their parts. If the original show was the first five year mission then TAS was the second five year mission. It was declared as non-cannon, but many things came out of it including, the explanation that the “T” in my middle name stood for Tiberius. Again it benefited from incredible writers like Larry Niven. You could do things in a cartoon that 1970’s special effects weren’t capable of like three armed or cat aliens. The only drawback was that you had to tell the entire story in twenty-two minutes.”
“In a recent poll you were voted as the sixth most popular person to have gone in space tying with Yuri Gagarin, the first person to really go in to space. How does that make you feel?” I ask.
“I feel like I am in with some rather distinguished company.” Kirk Chuckles.
“Doesn’t it bother you that you are tied with a real cosmonaut?” I ask.
“No.” he says flatly. “Not to take anything away from the people who risked their lives in exploring space. But it is important to inspire people, and we did that. Many real astronauts and scientist we inspired to go in to their fields by watching Star Trek and I am very proud of that fact.”
For something a bit lighter I ask. “Who would win in a fight between you and Han Solo?”
Kirk gives me a smile. “Oh, he would tried some of his smuggler dirty tricks, but I would take him out with one of my two handed punches. I mean if I can take out a Gorn, I am sure I can handle a Corillian. Oh, then I would steal his princess too, after all I am the captain.”
“You are often cited for you phenomenal leadership skills, what makes you a good leader?” I ask.
He shrugs modestly. “Well I am willing to take advice from all sides, but when it comes to making a decision, it is mine and mine only. I am willing to push people to bring out the best in them. I don’t ask people to take risks I am not willing to take and I absolutely do not believe in no win scenarios.”
“But isn’t it kind of foolish to beam down your all of your senior officers to a dangerous planet?” I ask.
He slightly blushes. “Yes, it is but it is a conceit to the nature of TV. Originally the main characters where going to be junior officers, and the captain would be this distant character that didn’t show up on every episode. But it was decided that the main characters should have more control over the situation so we were made captain and senior officers.”
The red alert light goes off and a menacing planet looms on the screen. “So want to see some of those leadership skills first hand?”
I look down at my red shirt and reply. “If it is all the same with you I think I will save that for next time.”