'Star Trek' at 50: Memories from the stars
The future began a little more than a half century ago for “Star Trek” fans.
When NBC aired the show’s first episode on Sept. 8, 1966, Capt. James T. Kirk and the 23rd century crew of the starship Enterprise began a journey that would include an animated series, six TV spinoffs (including the latest two streaming shows,“Star Trek: Discovery” and "Star Trek: Picard") and 13 movies.
To mark the franchise's 50th anniversary in September 2016, many of the actors who brought the various incarnations of “Star Trek” to the screen gathered from at Manhattan's Javits Center for "Star Trek: Mission New York," a convention that drew thousands of fans. Here's a look at 19 of the actors there who shared their own quintessential “Star Trek” moment and what they loved about their characters.
Walter Koenig (Pavel Chekov)
Koenig, who played the Russian ensign in the original "Star Trek" series, vividly recalled the day in 1976 when he first understood the show's true impact.
HIS MOMENT: We were invited to the rollout of the shuttle -- the Enterprise shuttle. We each drove ourselves to the designated area, not really understanding what was transpiring . . . There were chairs set up for us, and lo and behold, out of the corner of my eye, I see the Air Force band is there. I'm still not quite sure what is about to happen . . . At one point, a tow truck, a tug, came from around the corner of the building, and behind it, it was pulling the shuttle craft. And that's when the band started playing the theme music from "Star Trek." That was the most extraordinary moment that I can think of. Holy cow, we're not just two-dimensional images on a screen. We have some substance in this world and some influence. And we've made an impression . . . And when it came fully into view, I looked across the nose and saw "Enterprise," and that just about knocked me down. A chill ran through all our spines.
HIS CHARACTER: When I was in drama school, a teacher pointed out to me . . . that my personal comment in life was self-pity. It was a terrible thing to hear, but almost immediately it resonated with me, and I knew that was something I would have to cope with, and I began to learn how to do that. I began to be able to play somebody who could lead with his chin and not be ducking, and have fun. And that's what I liked most about playing Chekov . . . that I could inject some humor and some sense of fun and feel comfortable doing it.
John De Lancie (Q)
As Q, the omnipotent troublemaker introduced in the first episode of "The Next Generation," De Lancie landed a recurring role that included appearances on "Deep Space Nine" and "Voyager."
HIS MOMENT: On the third day, somebody tapped me on the shoulder and said, "You have no idea what you've gotten yourself into." I turned around, and it was Gene Roddenberry. He had seen the dailies and liked what I did. And I said, "What do you mean? What are you talking about?" And he said, "You will see. You will see."
HIS CHARACTER: He's naughty. He sort of screws with everybody. I think in the end, he's sort of good-hearted, and yet at the same time, I wouldn't trust him any farther than you could throw him.
LeVar Burton (Geordi La Forge)
For Burton, who portrayed the Enterprise's chief engineer in "The Next Generation," his quintessential "Star Trek" moment occurred when he was in the director's chair.
HIS MOMENT: In the first episode of "Star Trek" I directed, "Second Chances," I had the opportunity to bring Mae Carol Jemison, the first African-American woman in space, onto the set to play a transporter chief. Having a real astronaut who grew up and became a doctor, a scientist and an astronaut because of "Star Trek" and seeing the show when it was on TV, that was a quintessential "Star Trek" moment for me that really spoke to the enduring nature of the legacy of this franchise.
HIS CHARACTER: [I loved] his enthusiasm. The fact that he never let anything stand in his way . . . Without the chief engineer, we don't get to boldly go anywhere!
Jonathan Frakes (William T. Riker)
Frakes, the Enterprise's first officer in "Star Trek: The Next Generation," said some of his most memorable moments occurred while directing the motion picture "Star Trek: First Contact." For his character, though, Frakes had no trouble singling out one shining moment.
HIS MOMENT: I think Riker's finest moment was the cliffhanger at the end of "The Best of Both Worlds" where makes the decision as a leader to sacrifice his captain for the sake of his crew and says, "Fire!" Not that we thought that Picard was ever going to get killed. It was a wonderful cliffhanger, though.
HIS CHARACTER: I loved his loyalty. Patrick [Stewart] and I always said we wished we could be as articulate as our characters were at times of crisis. Riker was a great leader, thoughtful, courteous. He was a well-written character. We should all aspire to be that honorable.
Marina Sirtis (Deanna Troi)
Sirtis, the English actress cast as the starship's half-Betazoid counselor on "The Next Generation," said she had been practically adopted by "Star Trek" creator Gene Roddenberry and his wife, Majel Barrett, who played Troi's eccentric mother on screen.
HER MOMENT: We had too much fun. I mean really had too much fun. We had a director in the first season who directed two shows and refused to ever come back because we were too unruly. But the moment that stands out? I'd have to say it was whenever Majel Barrett was on the show. That is when we saw the most of Gene Roddenberry because he would come and watch her. And he'd sit in his Gene Roddenberry chair and just look at her adoringly.
HER CHARACTER: That she was the opposite of Marina. We are 180 degrees apart. I think the only thing we have in common is that we're the same height. As an actress, you always want to have a challenge, don't you? And so for me, that was it. Keeping Marina out of Troi because she wouldn't have been the same person if my obnoxious self had come into play at all.
Gates McFadden (Dr. Beverly Crusher)
McFadden, who only played a doctor on television in "The Next Generation," was glad she did when she needed medical help while visiting Hawaii.
HER MOMENT: It was when I had an acute appendectomy . . . I was in racking pain and they were going to do an eight-inch incision . . . And I said, "Isn't there somebody who could do microscopic laparoscopy?" And they said, "You know, there's a guy who just came over from LA." And I'm waiting and waiting . . . and this guy walks through the door and he goes, "Dr. Crusher!" . . . And I thought: I have a good chance, he's going to take care of me because I could tell he likes my character. And he saved my life. What was funny was that he was discussing all the stuff about my surgery, and I was like, "Dude, I just played the character."
HER CHARACTER: She was the one person in the crew who would really question the prime directive because of the Hippocratic oath, which is I think something very interesting philosophically anyway -- Do not get involved . . . versus there are people on a planet who are addicted and I know how to save them -- can't we stop their suffering?
Michael Dorn (Worf)
Dorn not only played the lone Klingon warrior in Starfleet on "The Next Generation" and "Deep Space Nine," he also portrayed Worf's grandfather in "Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country."
HIS MOMENT: For me, there were so many that meant a lot. I've worked with actors that I have seen on the screen and would have loved to work with. There were moments where you were crying because you're laughing so hard at what we're doing. There was a moment when Patrick [Stewart] and I just started laughing uncontrollably about where we were -- look at us! You know? There was another moment at the end of an episode called "The Drumhead" . . . It just kind of runs together. I think I've just got to say the 11 years was a great moment.
HIS CHARACTER: I loved his sort of honor and loyalty and his simplicity. He was a very simple guy, very easy to know what he's thinking, what he believes in.
Armin Shimerman (Quark)
Shimerman, whose love for the original series led him to give up a recurring role on another series to make an appearance on "The Next Generation," came into his own as the Ferengi running a bar on "Deep Space Nine."
HIS MOMENT: In about the fifth episode of "Deep Space Nine," I was still sort of searching for my character. They had given me the character. They had trusted me with the character. But I didn't quite understand the character well enough. I was standing in the control room, Ops, and I'm looking down at the panel between takes, and I suddenly realized, "Oh my God, this is my ship." All of my years of fandom coalesced in that moment and the joy that I found at that moment became the core of the character.
HIS CHARACTER: My character loved people. Would he take them for their money sometimes? Yes. But he did it lovingly.
Nana Visitor (Kira Nerys)
On "Deep Space Nine," Visitor played the space station's Bajoran first officer.
HER MOMENT: At a convention, just this past year, a youngish guy in his 40s had his computer with him. He was waiting in line with his family, and he got my autograph. And he said, "Do you have a moment? Can I show you something?" And I said, "Absolutely." And he showed me -- it looked like it was from a space movie, something landing on Mars. I said, "That's amazing. Did you do the graphics for that?" He said, "No, no, that's really Mars. I landed that on Mars." . . . An astrophysicist getting my autograph. He said, "You guys -- this is why I do what I do."
HER CHARACTER: She was fully realized. She was lovely shades of gray in a moral, ethical sense. She was struggling to know herself and to know why she was where she was . . . She was struggling from post-traumatic stress, and over seven years recovered from it.
Rene Auberjonois (Odo)
Auberjonois, who died Dec. 8, 2019, was beloved by fans as Odo, the shapeshifting constable aboard "Deep Space Nine." At the convention, he recalled his first "Star Trek" role, as a traitorous Starfleet officer in "Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country."
HIS MOMENT: The first time I was fitted for a Starfleet officer's uniform, and the costume designer asked if the fitting was over and said, "Now you're in for it." And I had no idea. Now, I don't know how many years later, I'm standing here talking to you with a whole bunch of pictures of this iconic character I was given the great honor of creating and playing for seven years.
HIS CHARACTER: I loved the fact that he was liquid, fluid and yet very rigid. I loved the fact that he was repressed and closed off but he was incredibly passionate. And I loved the fact that he was masked and still managed to express an incredible range of emotions.
Terry Farrell (Jadzia Dax)
As a joined Trill, Farrell's character on "Deep Space Nine" was a science officer hosting another far older being within her body.
HER MOMENT: I was a fan of the original series . . . They brought me into Rick Berman's office and said, "Congratulations, you got the part," and it was like -- oh my God, this is insane! I played this when I was a kid in elementary school out in the backyard!
HER CHARACTER: I loved everything about Dax. What I loved the most about Dax was that she helped me grow up and become a woman. She helped me be my own advocate. She helped me be other people's advocate. She helped me see people in a loving and generous compassionate way. Given the information that the Dax was 350 years old, having the point of view that everyone was younger than me . . . I was so grateful that I got to play a character that had depth . . . that she embodied the message of "Star Trek."
Ethan Phillips (Neelix)
Garden City native Ethan Phillips played the lovable Talaxian chef and chief morale officer aboard the starship "Voyager."
HIS MOMENT: I was in graduate school, up in Ithaca at Cornell. Me and my roommate were eating dinner at six o'clock at night and he said, "Should we watch a little TV?" I said, "Sure." . . . And he put on "Star Trek." He said, "Did you ever see "Star Trek?" and I said, "No." "Really, well, let's watch this episode." And it was unbelievable! We loved it . . . And we watched it every night for the next two years.
HIS CHARACTER: I liked the fact that Neelix was anonymous -- that he was covered in a mask. I liked hiding behind that incredible makeup. I also liked the fact that he was a very empathetic and generous person. He was way different from everybody else in that ship, who were military . . . They had to hold things together, but Neelix was all over the map emotionally, and that gave him great contrast to the other characters. He was a great listener. He was a good soul. He knew everyone was fighting a battle, so he was always kind.
Robert Picardo (The Doctor)
Though today he's on the board of The Planetary Society, on "Voyager" Picardo was a doctor, not a rocket scientist, The actor who played the ship's EMH (Emergency Medical Hologram), recalled some professional advice he got from DeForest Kelley, the original series' Dr. Leonard McCoy.
HIS MOMENT: I'm going to hearken back to the 30th anniversary in Huntsville, Alabama, where I got to be on stage with De Kelley for an hour, and I remember him giving me romantic advice for my character . . . That was very sweet and funny. I had met him before at a convention in September where he came on stage and said, "Damnit, Jim, I'm a doctor, not a hologram." So I liked him off the bat . . . I went up to him and said, "Mr. Kelley, it's an honor to meet you. I play the doctor on the current show," which he knew, because he'd made the joke already . . . and I said, "My character pays homage to your character often. I do those, you know, "I'm a doctor, not a blank" lines. And he said, "Ah, you mean you steal from me!" And I said, "Yep, pretty much!"
HIS CHARACTER: Whereas traditional "Star Trek" officers had to react in a way that is stalwart, brave and true, the Doctor didn't have to obey those laws. He could have all sorts of negative qualities. He could be a coward. He could be self-involved. He could be arrogant and puffed up. But what was great was that in the clinch, he could rise to his better self. Which leads me to the second thing I loved about him the most, which is that he always wanted to improve himself . . . That, of course, was the source of the great arc that the character had -- starting off pretty much as a characterless blank slate and then growing into a fully realized human being.
Robert Duncan McNeill (Tom Paris)
On "Voyager," McNeill portrayed the hotshot pilot who loved retro cars and movies and the chief engineer.
HIS MOMENT: One night we were filming B'Elanna and Tom's wedding scene . . . and I just remember somebody had gotten a bottle of Champagne . . . For me, sitting around having Champagne that night with everybody is just a reminder of how close our cast was and how that sort of bled into the show and into our lives. It wasn't like we just went to work and punched a clock. Our characters and our relationships were very fluid in terms of reality and show.
HIS CHARACTER: I loved when he played Captain Proton on the holodeck . . . I loved being able to wear the old retro outfit.
Roxann Dawson (B’Elanna Torres)
Dawson played the fiery half-Klingon, half-human chief engineer aboard "Voyager."
HER MOMENT: The first time I walked into engineering and it didn't look like a set. It looked real. It was so huge and so beautiful. And I remember one of the producers coming to me and saying, "This is going to be your home for the next seven years." And I was just in awe.
HER CHARACTER: Her duality -- that struggle was very interesting to me.
John Billingsley (Doctor Phlox)
Billingsley's character aboard "Enterprise" was its Denobulan chief medical officer.
HIS MOMENT: Although it's sort of a backstage experience, but for me, the going away party, which at the time seemed to represent the very end of the franchise -- this was before J.J. Abrams came on the scene -- this was really a very powerful experience. It's very unusual in our business for a crew to stick around together for that long . . . These are people who had been working together from "Next Generation" all the way through "Enterprise," so that's going back almost 20 years. So that was for me the most poignant experience. And then the larger answer would be these conventions -- being part of this strange, odd fraternity of actors who get a lifetime of preposterous adulation for having really done very little. It's an odd experience.
HIS CHARACTER: I have had an odd career in that although I consider myself temperamentally to be closer to Doctor Phlox in my own spirit and attitude toward life, I have played a series of criminal sociopaths, child molesters, vile beings. So it was quite lovely to actually have four years in which I got to play somebody who was fundamentally optimistic and cheerful. In odd ways, I might be a closer match to Doctor Phlox than I am to anyone I have ever played.
Connor Trinneer (Charles "Trip" Tucker)
Trinneer's character on "Enterprise" was the chief engineer and captain's best friend.
HIS MOMENT: When I got the job, my brother had been a huge original series fan. He and his buddies would walk the perimeter of the playground each day talking about the previous day's episode, and I wasn't necessarily the biggest fan. I watched it. But when I got the job, he was the first person I called. Now, at the time, his girls were probably 4 and 6 years old. So I called up very excited, and I said to my brother, "Matt, you're never going to believe this. I just got cast in the new 'Star Trek' series." And there was a pause, and then I hear him going, "Ruby! Stop touching Lily! Lily -- that's not your cereal, that's your cereal. Listen, man, that's great. I've got to go. Bye." Click. That was it. All the air had been let out of my big balloon, and he eventually called me back and was very happy for me. Now that I have a child, I can understand that morning he was having. But that was the beginning of my ride.
HIS CHARACTER: They gave him so many really good deep stories . . . I was the everyman on the show. And I got myself in all kinds of trouble, and I was sort of echoing what it might be for a normal person to be in space.
Anthony Montgomery (Travis Mayweather)
On "Enterprise," Montgomery played the pilot known as a boomer because he was born in space.
HIS MOMENT: I have a lot of moments that really stand out, but the ones that resonate for me the most are when our entire cast was on set because it was so rare . . . The energy and the love that we all have for each other, you could feel that and it only happened -- you know, people could go through the episodes and they could count how many times you saw all of us together . . . It was magical, truly.
HIS CHARACTER: [I loved] the thing that was not explored the most -- that he was actually born in space and had more space exploration than even the captain.
Dominic Keating (Malcolm Reed)
Keating portrayed an armaments officer aboard "Enterprise."
HIS MOMENT: I grew up watching the original show. I look a little younger than my actual years. I started watching it in black and white, and I nagged my father rotten to get what was possibly one of the first color TVs in our street in Leicester in England to watch "Star Trek" in color. This TV came from a company called Multi-Broadcast and it was the size of an aircraft hangar and it had a louvered door in wood because you'd pull that across it. What could that coffin in the corner of the sitting room be? Surely not the television! I was just absolutely blown away as a tender 8-year-old to see that Spock's shirt was blue . . . To find myself 50 years later knowing Mr. Shatner quite well. I knew Mr. Nimoy quite well. You know, we were friendly, God bless his soul. So it's an extraordinary journey for me to be a part of this incredible phenomenon.
HIS CHARACTER: I loved the fact that he was a bit of a dichotomy -- and I hope I brought some of this to him. I fleshed him out. As an actor, you're given a three-line bio, and mine was that he was a stiff-upper-lipped Brit, button-down shirts and shy around women -- I thought, oh cripes, I'll have to act that bit -- I could easily have just played those three lines and they would have written it that way for me . . . I decided to flesh him out a little bit and make a little bit of Dominic into Malcolm's sinew, and I think it worked well. It made three-dimensional, made him a little contrary at times ... and it made him more fun to act.