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'Star Trek': Before they took off for the final frontier

May 15, 2013|By Susan King
  • Before the original cast of "Star Trek" ventured into the final frontier on the Enterprise, they had diverse, interesting careers.
Before the original cast of "Star Trek" ventured into the final… (Paramount Pictures )

Though “Star Trek” made them household names, the cast of the seminal 1966-69 NBC series had been acting on stage, film and TV for several years. One regular sang with Duke Ellington and another was a member the cast of the Canadian version of “Howdy Doody.” Several had worked with "Star Trek" creator Gene Roddenberry before.

So with the blockbuster summer movie “Star Trek Into Darkness” opening Thursday, here's a look back at the lives and careers of William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, James Doohan, DeForest Kelley, George Takei, Nichelle Nichols and Walter Koenig before they signed on to the crew of the Starship Enterprise.

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William Shatner
Before he commanded the Enterprise as Capt. James T. Kirk, the Canadian-born actor appeared in productions of Shakespeare at the Stratford Festival in Ontario, Canada and made his Broadway debut in 1956 in Tyrone Guthrie’s production of Christopher Marlowe’s “Tamburlaine the Great.” He won a Theatre World Award in 1959 for the Broadway drama “The World of Suzie Wong” with France Nuyen and starred with Julie Harris and Walter Matthau in the 1961-62 comedy mysteries “A Shot in the Dark.”

Of course, not everything he did was quite that highbrow. In 1953, he appeared in a Canadian sci-fi TV series, “Space Command,” which also featured his Enterprise crew mate Doohan. The following year, Shatner played the role of Ranger Bob on the Canadian version of the kiddie show “Howdy Doody.” The series also featured a young Robert Goulet as Trapper Pierre.

He appeared in the lavish 1958 epic “The Brothers Karamazov,” playing Yul Brynner’s baby brother, and guest starred on numerous TV series, most notably the classic 1963 “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” episode of “The Twilight Zone.”

In 1964, Shatner and Nimoy appeared together in “The Project Strigas Affair” of the NBC spy spoof “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.”

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Leonard Nimoy
The actor who would become the iconic Spock on the series began his career in 1951 rather inauspiciously with a bit on the TV game show “Queen for a Day.” Nimoy appeared in the low-budget 1953 movie serial “Zombies From the Stratosphere” and had an uncredited role as an Air Force sergeant in the 1954 creature feature “Them!”

Meatier roles soon followed on such series as “Dragnet,” “M Squad,” “Sea Hunt”,” “Wagon Train,” Dr. Kildare” and “The Outer Limits,” in the memorable 1964 installment “I, Robot.” He also guest starred that same year on “Star Trek” creator Gene Roddenberry’s short-lived NBC series, “The Lieutenant.”

James Doohan
The Canadian native who played Montgomery “Scotty” Scott, the Enterprise’s engineer who spoke in a thick brogue, was a member of the Royal Canadian Artillery force that landed on Juno Beach on D-Day. Walking with his unit across a mine field, they came under attack by German machine gun fire. He was hit four times in the leg, the middle finger of his right hand was shot off, and a bullet hit him in the chest. He was saved when that bullet hit the silver cigarette case in his shirt pocket which his brother had given him.

Known for his dexterity with accents, Doohan guest starred on numerous TV series including “The Twilight Zone” and “Bonanza” before signing on to the Enterprise.

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DeForest Kelley
Before he was cast as the acerbic Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy, Kelley was a popular character actor. In a bit of foreshadowing, he even played a medic in the 1956 film “The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit.” He was best known for his work in westerns, including “Death Valley Days,” “Laredo,” “Rawhide,” “Gunfight at the O.K. Corral,” where he was often cast as the bad guy.

George Takei
The Japanese American performer got his first taste for acting during a summer job at MGM in 1956,  dubbing several characters from Japanese to English for the 1956 Japanese monster movie “Rodan.”  Even before he graduated in 1960 from UCLA with a degree in theater arts, Takei appeared on the TV series “Playhouse 90” and “Hawaiian Eye,” and made his film debut in the 1960 drama “Ice Palace.”

Nichelle Nichols
The pioneering African American actress,who played communications officer Lt. Uhura, was a noted singer who toured in North America and Europe with both the Duke Ellington and Lionel Hampton bands. She sang at the famous Blue Angel and Playboy clubs. Prior to “Star Trek,” Nichols appeared in a guest role on Roddenberry’s “The Lieutenant.”

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Walter Koenig
The actor joined the series as Ensign Pavel Chekov in the second season. Looking to attract younger female viewers, Koenig fit the bill because he resembled the Monkees' heartthrob Davy Jones.

Koening studied acting at the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York with such classmates as Dabney Coleman, Christopher Lloyd and James Caan, and guest starred on several TV series including “Combat,” “Ben Casey,” “The Alfred Hitchcock Hour” and “General Hospital,” in which he was billed as “Teenage Thug.”

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