Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about TV and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the TV urban legends featured so far.
TV URBAN LEGEND: The famous interracial kiss on Star Trek was originally going to be between Mr. Spock and Lt. Uhura.
While the current Star Trek film series is a dramatic departure from the old Star Trek set-up in a number of ways (primarily the fact that the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise all took on their respective jobs on the ship at a much younger age than they did in the regular timeline) the interpersonal relationships among the crew are roughly the same as they were in the original stories featuring them. A notable exception, however, is in the romance between the half-Vulcan first officer Mr. Spock and the ship’s communications officer, Lt. Uhura.
The two did not have many scenes together during the original Star Trek series. However, did they almost share a notable piece of television history? Was the famous interracial kiss during “Plato’s Stepchildren” in the last season of the original Star Trek television series originally going to take place between Uhura and Spock rather than Uhura and Captain Kirk?
The kiss, which happened towards the end of the show’s run in November 1968, was a big deal at the time, as anything involving race was quite controversial for television networks. In fact, it was just earlier that year that there was controversy at NBC (the network that aired Star Trek at the time) over “interracial touching” between singers Harry Belafonte and Petula Clark in a TV special by Clark (in an old TV Legends Revealed I looked at how Clark and her husband boldly handled the controversy). The networks were constantly worried about advertisers freaking out over anything having to do with race.
The scene in the episode involved Kirk, Spock, Uhura, Nurse Chapel and Dr. McCoy being trapped on a planet filled with people with telekinetic powers (all but one, a friendly little person named Alexander, played by The Wild Wild West‘s Michael Dunn, himself the spotlight of an old TV Legends Revealed). The people referred to themselves as Platonians, in honor of the Greek philosopher Plato. They torment the crew members by forcing them to entertain them. At one point they telekinetically force Kirk and Uhura to passionately kiss.
Here is the scene in question…
According to Nichelle Nichols, originally it was going to be Spock that Uhura was making out with. In an interview with the Vancouver Sun, she recalled:
Bill Shatner saw what was going on and he said, ‘Woah, woah, woah. If anybody is gonna get to kiss Lieutenant Uhura it’s gonna be me.’ And he had the whole thing changed so the first interracial kiss was with Lieutenant Uhura and Captain Kirk.
Bill wanted to rehearse all the time. He said he wanted to get this right! I said to him, “It’s right, it’s right. I promise you, it’s right.” And the camera was shaking and the director was laughing his head off. We really had a good time.
While it is true that at one point the scene was going to be between Spock and Uhura, that was not the original plan.
As noted before, the scene was considered to be quite controversial at the time, so one of the ideas suggested by executives was to switch Spock and Kirk (in the episode, Spock and Nurse Chapel were forced to kiss at the same time that Kirk and Uhura were forced to kiss) and have Spock kiss Uhura instead. The original script, though, was Kirk and Uhura together. Nichols very likely did not know that at the time, so she’s just giving the story from her perspective, which is that William Shatner was not having it and insisted that changed the script, which they did. From her perspective, he was changing the script from its original form while in reality he was changing it BACK to its original form.
There is some debate between Shatner and Nichols over whether they ever literally touched lips (Shatner says that they never actually made physical lip contact while Nichols says that they did). I can’t tell you for sure, especially since the point of contact is obscured in most shots of the kiss.
Nichols has also told a story about the show trying to film an alternate take without the kiss in case they wanted to use it but then Nichols and Shatner kept ruining the alternate take by Shatner making weird faces during the scene. I certainly can believe that happened, but I can’t say for sure one way or another. I am confident, though, that the story that it was originally Spock and Uhura who were going to kiss is…
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