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STAR TREK's Grace Lee Whitney
TOS's #1 Survivor on playing Janice Rand, trying to launch EXCELSIOR, and appearing at Creation Con.
By Steve Fritz
December 12, 2000
'Y'know, Majel loves to call me The Bimbo,' Grace Lee Whitney laughs. 'Think about it: Nurse Chappel calling Janice Rand the bimbo!' Actually, the only catty-ness coming out of Whitney's mouth is that of one girl getting the dish out on another. If you heard the throaty chuckle that went with Whitney's comeback, then you'd know she isn't bearing any malice to Gene Roddenberry's widow. Besides, when she played Nurse Chappel, Majel Roddenberry ran around with lots of blonde hair and leg showing...just as Whitney did when she was Yeoman Janice Rand on the original Star Trek
The fact is that, of all the members of the original Trek
cast, Whitney has probably one of the most interesting personal stories. It goes a long way toward explaining why people still love meeting up with her at Trek conventions even to this day. For instance, Whitney isn't just known for working on Trek. She was a favorite bit part actor for legendary director Billy Wilder. Something most Trekkers don't know is Whitney was a member of the girl band in one of Wilder's best remembered comedies, Some Like It Hot
'I just did a documentary with a British crew about Some Like It Hot
,' says Whitney. 'That was my first film, and it was a wonderful experience. I was working with Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon! Do you remember the cast in that movie? It had George Raft! I was put together with six or seven of the girls who were in the band, and we talked about meeting Billy Wilder. I also talked about how my second film was also with him, Irma La Douce
, which was also supposed to star Marilyn but she had overdosed. So I got to work with Shirley MacLaine instead. That's what really gave me the impetus to continue my career. I had done a lot of films and TV before I went on to Star Trek
Unfortunately, things went very wrong for Whitney that very first season. The tale has now a major part of Trek
lore. 'I'll be 20 years sober in April,' she admits. 'So I talk a lot about that. That's really why I got let go from the show. I had an encounter with a predator at the studio, so he fired me and I went right down the proverbial bottle and didn't want to come out of it. A lot of people still want to know about it. It's a major story in my book. I now help a lot of people who suffer from it. So I have a mission, and Creation understands my mission. They consider me part of the family. I'm invited everywhere. I'm always given a wonderful table and a chance to sell my book. I often speak. I do my own expenses, but they give me the avenue to carry on with my message, which is about doing your own thing and recovery.'
According to Whitney, for her efforts Creation gives her a good table to sell her book, The Longest Trek: My Tour of the Galaxy
. She covers her own air fare, hotel bookings and the like, but does well enough from autographs, appearances and book sales to afford her own ranch in northern California. The ranch sounds like nirvana for the everyday Trekker.
'I have a whole house that's dedicated as kind of a museum of Star Trek
memorabilia,' Whitney confesses. 'It's got all these big, beautiful photos from the show. I have them on all the walls. There's a special area dedicated to all the women of Star Trek
. There's going to be a huge litho based on us, and I got the huge oil painting the litho is based on. I also have a cut-out of Leonard Nimoy as Spock that's seven feet tall in my office. We find that hilarious.'
Although Whitney's initial experiences with the world of Trek sound horrendous, latter generations of Trek fans and executives have been quite kind to her. Her character, Janice Rand, made appearances in the Trek movies featuring only the original cast. She was also in one of the fan world's favorite Voyager
episodes, in which Janeway and her crew got to work with her and George Takei. As any fan knows, Takei was Lt. Sulu in the original Trek
. His character's later career was as a captain of another starship, the Excelsior, of which Janice Rand was a crewmember.
What's interesting is that some Trek fans have been demanding a spin-off series based on the crew of the Excelsior ever since. 'I haven't seen George in a while, but I think Paramount has other ideas,' Whitney admits. 'There was a tremendous fan reaction for it. They helped us a lot. We sold lots of t-shirts and got a hell of a website going. There was talk about us doing a miniseries. That would have kept it freshdevelop truly great scripts and not get bored with it.
'Some of the other original cast were even interested. I know we would have had Leonard as Spock if they had gone through with it...and so would Shatner! You paid them enough, they'd do anything. Of course, what also attracted them is we wouldn't have been held to all the concepts of the original show because we would have been on the Excelsior. It would have also been perfect because we would have filled a bit of the gap between the Kirk era and the Picard,' Whitney opines. 'I think it would have also finally put George up as the fifth Star Trek
captain, which he deserves, although in a way if he really would have been the second. But I don't know if it's going to happen.
'I keep working and hoping. At present I'm auditioning for a job as a talk show host. It would be a showbiz talk show. Also, Pocket Books is going to do some books on Janice Rand, the character. So I've been consulting with two writers and developing that. So my life is very full.'
It also sounds as if Creation is going to keep Whitney pretty busy for the foreseeable future. 'You know in March-April, there's going to be a 35th Anniversary Reunion for Star Trek,' Whitney bubbles. '35 Years! Isn't that totally amazing? I don't know of many actors that have had that kind of longevity from a hit show. It's going to be at the Pasadena convention center, and it's also being put on by Creation. It will be from the last week of March to the first days of April.'
According to the most recent information from Creation, the Pasadena show will not be the official 35th Anniversary Trek convention. That's still in the works. On the other hand, it will be a Grand Slam event, which Creation considers one of their biggest of the year; and, if the continued interest in Whitney isn't proof enough of the enduring nature of the Star Trek
universe, this show sounds like another good example.
'We had no idea that when we did Trek
back in 1966 that it would be like it is right now,' Whitney concurs. 'It's one of the largest franchises in the world. You know, it looks like Star Trek
is just going to keep going. The only question is if we're going to keep going.'
And one gets the impression that Grace Lee Whitney will be going on for some time to come, whether some call her a bimbo or not.