Nichols in 2013
|Born||Grace Dell Nichols
December 28, 1932
Robbins, Illinois, U.S.
|Residence||Woodland Hills, California, U.S.|
|Other names||Grace Dell Nichols|
|Known for||Lt. Uhura|
|Home town||Chicago, Illinois, U.S.|
Nichelle Nichols (born Grace Dell Nichols on December 28, 1932) is an American actress, singer and voice artist. She sang with Duke Ellington and Lionel Hampton before turning to acting. Her most famous role is that of communications officer Lieutenant Uhura aboard the USS Enterprise in the popular Star Trek television series (1966–1969), as well as the succeeding motion pictures, where her character was eventually promoted in Starfleet to the rank of commander. Multiple novel series have stated that she rose to at least Captain.
Nichols' Star Trek character, one of the first African American female characters on American television not portrayed as a servant, was groundbreaking in U.S. society at the time. Civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. personally praised her work on the show and asked her to remain when she considered leaving the series.
Nichols was born in Robbins, Illinois, near Chicago, to Samuel Earl Nichols, a factory worker who was both the town mayor of Robbins and its chief magistrate, and his wife Lishia (Parks) Nichols. Later, the family moved into an apartment in Chicago.
She studied in Chicago as well as New York and Los Angeles. Her break came in an appearance in Kicks and Co., Oscar Brown's highly touted, but ill-fated 1961 musical. In a thinly veiled satire of Playboy magazine, she played Hazel Sharpe, a voluptuous campus queen who was being tempted by the devil and Orgy Magazine to become "Orgy Maiden of the Month". Although the play closed after its brief try-out in Chicago, in an ironic twist, she attracted the attention of Hugh Hefner, the publisher of Playboy, who was so impressed with her appearance that he booked her immediately at his Chicago Playboy Club. While still in Chicago, she performed at the "Blue Angel", and in New York, Nichols appeared at that city's Blue Angel as a dancer and singer. She also appeared in the role of Carmen for a Chicago stock company production of Carmen Jones and performed in a New York production of Porgy and Bess. Between acting and singing engagements, Nichols did occasional modeling work.
Nichols toured the United States, Canada and Europe as a singer with the Duke Ellington and Lionel Hampton bands. On the West Coast, she appeared in The Roar of the Greasepaint – The Smell of the Crowd, For My People, and garnered high praise for her performance in the James Baldwin play Blues for Mister Charlie. Prior to being cast as Lieutenant Uhura in Star Trek, Nichols was a guest actress on television producer Gene Roddenberry's first series The Lieutenant (1964) in an episode, "To Set It Right", which dealt with racial prejudice.
On Star Trek, Nichols gained popular recognition by being one of the first black women featured in a major television series not portraying a servant; her prominent supporting role as a bridge officer was unprecedented. During the first year of the series, Nichols was tempted to leave the series, as she wanted to pursue a Broadway career; however, a conversation with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., changed her mind. She has said that King personally encouraged her to stay on the show, telling her that he was a big fan of the series. He said she "could not give up" because she was playing a vital role model for black children and young women across the country, as well as for other children who would see blacks appearing as equals. It is also often reported that Dr. King added that "Once that door is opened by someone, no one else can close it again."
Former NASA astronaut Mae Jemison has cited Nichols' role of Lieutenant Uhura as her inspiration for wanting to become an astronaut and Whoopi Goldberg has also spoken of Nichols' influence. Goldberg asked for a role on Star Trek: The Next Generation, and the character of Guinan was specially created, while Jemison appeared in an episode of the series.
In her role as Lieutenant Uhura, Nichols famously kissed white actor William Shatner as Captain James T. Kirk in the November 22, 1968, Star Trek episode "Plato's Stepchildren". The episode is popularly cited as the first example of an interracial kiss on U.S. television. The Shatner-Nichols kiss was seen as groundbreaking, even though it was portrayed as having been forced by alien telekinesis. There was some praise and some protest. On page 197 of her 1994 autobiography Beyond Uhura, Star Trek and Other Memories, Nichols cites a letter from a white Southerner who wrote, "I am totally opposed to the mixing of the races. However, any time a red-blooded American boy like Captain Kirk gets a beautiful dame in his arms that looks like Uhura, he ain't gonna fight it." During the Comedy Central Roast of Shatner on August 20, 2006, Nichols jokingly referred to the kiss and said, "Let's make TV history again—and you can kiss my black ass!"
Despite the cancellation of the series in 1969, Star Trek lived on in other ways, and continued to play a part in Nichols' life. She again provided the voice of Uhura in Star Trek: The Animated Series; in one episode, "The Lorelei Signal", Uhura assumes command of the Enterprise. Nichols noted in her autobiography her frustration that this never happened in the original series. Nichols has co-starred in six Star Trek motion pictures, the last one being Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.
After the cancellation of Star Trek, Nichols volunteered her time in a special project with NASA to recruit minority and female personnel for the space agency. She began this work by making an affiliation between NASA and a company which she helped to run, Women in Motion.
The program was a success. Among those recruited were Dr. Sally Ride, the first American female astronaut, and United States Air Force Colonel Guion Bluford, the first African-American astronaut, as well as Dr. Judith Resnik and Dr. Ronald McNair, who both flew successful missions during the Space Shuttle program before their deaths in the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster on January 28, 1986. Recruits also included Charles Bolden, the current NASA administrator, and Lori Garver, former Deputy Administrator.
An enthusiastic advocate of space exploration, Nichols has served since the mid-1980s on the Board of Governors of the National Space Society, a nonprofit, educational space advocacy organization founded by Dr. Wernher von Braun.
Always interested in space travel, Nichols flew aboard NASA's C-141 Astronomy Observatory, which analyzed the atmospheres of Mars and Saturn on an eight-hour, high-altitude mission. She was also a special guest at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, on July 17, 1976, to view the Viking 1 soft landing on Mars. Along with the other cast members from the original Star Trek series, she attended the christening of the first space shuttle, Enterprise, at the North American Rockwell assembly facility in Palmdale, California.
On July 14, 2010, she toured the space shuttle simulator and Mission Control at the Johnson Space Center.
Other acting roles
In 1994, Nichols published her autobiography Beyond Uhura: Star Trek and Other Memories. In it, she claimed that the role of Peggy Fair in the television show Mannix was offered to her during the final season of Star Trek, but producer Gene Roddenberry refused to release her from her contract. Between the end of the original series and the Star Trek animated series and feature films, Nichols appeared in small television and film roles. She briefly appeared as a secretary in Doctor, You've Got to Be Kidding! (1967), and portrayed a foul-mouthed madam in Truck Turner (1974) opposite Isaac Hayes, her only appearance in a blaxploitation film.
Nichols appeared in animated form as one of Al Gore's Vice Presidential Action Rangers in the "Anthology of Interest I" episode of Futurama, and she provided the voice of her own head in a glass dome in the episode "Where No Fan Has Gone Before". She voiced the recurring role of Elisa Maza's mother Diane Maza in the animated series Gargoyles, and played Thoth-Kopeira in an episode of Batman: The Animated Series. In 2004, she provided the voice for herself in The Simpsons episode "Simple Simpson".
In the 2002 comedy Snow Dogs, Nichols appeared as the mother of the male lead, played by Cuba Gooding, Jr. In 2006, she appeared as the title character in the film Lady Magdalene's, the madam of a legal Nevada brothel in tax default. She also served as executive producer and choreographer, and sang three songs in the film, two of which she composed.
In addition to her acting skills, Nichols is an accomplished dancer and singer. She has twice been nominated for the Chicago theatrical Sarah Siddons Award for Best Actress. The first nomination was for her portrayal of Hazel Sharpe in Kicks and Co.; the second for her performance in The Blacks.
Nichols played a recurring role on the second season of the NBC drama Heroes. Her first appearance was on the episode "Kindred", which aired October 8, 2007. She portrayed Nana Dawson, the matriarch of a New Orleans family financially and personally devastated by Hurricane Katrina, who cares for her orphaned grandchildren and her great-nephew, series regular Micah Sanders.
In 2008, she starred in the film The Torturer, playing the role of a psychiatrist.
In 2009, she joined the cast of The Cabonauts, a sci-fi musical comedy that debuted on the Internet. Playing CJ, the CEO of the Cabonauts Inc, Nichols is also featured singing and dancing.
Nichols has released two music albums. Down to Earth is a collection of standards released in 1967, during the original run of Star Trek. Out of This World is more rock oriented and is themed around Star Trek and space exploration.
Nichols' brother, Thomas, was a member of the Heaven's Gate cult. He died on March 26, 1997 in the cult's mass suicide that purposely coincided with the passing of the Hale-Bopp comet. A member for eleven years, he left a final video message saying: "I'm the happiest person in the world."
In her autobiography, Nichols stated that she was involved in an extramarital affair with Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry for several years in the 1960s, well before Star Trek began. She said the affair ended when she and Roddenberry realized he was in love with Majel Hudec, who coincidentally was an acquaintance of Nichols'. When Roddenberry's health was fading, Nichols co-wrote a song for him, entitled "Gene", which she sang at his funeral.
On June 4, 2015, Nichols' booking agency Galactic Productions announced that the 82-year-old had suffered a mild stroke at her Los Angeles home and been admitted to a Los Angeles-area hospital. This was barely three months after the death from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) of her friend and Star Trek co-star Leonard Nimoy. Doctors were conducting tests to determine the severity of the stroke. Nichols was reportedly awake and resting comfortably. An online news article by Frazier Moore of the Associated Press, which cited news updates from the actress's Facebook page, stated that, four days afterward, the still-hospitalized actress was feeling much better and was improving, remaining cheerful and alert and taking the time to read the messages from fans and well-wishers on her Facebook page, of which there were many. A magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan did reveal a small stroke, but she was able to begin inpatient therapy on Friday, June 5, 2015 to begin rehabilitation and recovery, and to further evaluate her condition and determine the prognosis. Her fellow Star Trek: The Original Series actor George Takei, who played Hikaru Sulu, took the time to wish her well on his Twitter account page, and Zach McGinnis of Galactic Productions has continuously been updating fans on her condition on Facebook.
Nichols is an honorary member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority.
On June 8, 2010, Nichols received an honorary degree from Los Angeles Mission College.
TV and filmography
|1959||Porgy and Bess||Dancer||Uncredited|
|1964||The Lieutenant (TV)||Norma Bartlett|
|1966||Tarzan's Deadly Silence (TV)||Ruana||Starring Ron Ely|
|1966||Made in Paris||Buyer at Salon||Starring Ann-Margret|
|1966||Mister Buddwing||Dice Player||Starring James Garner|
|1966||Star Trek (TV)||Lt. Uhura||1966–1969|
|1967||Doctor, You've Got to Be Kidding!||Jenny Ribbock||Starring Sandra Dee|
|1973||Star Trek: The Animated Series (TV)||Lt. Uhura/Additional voices|
|1979||Star Trek: The Motion Picture||Lt. Cmdr. Uhura|
|1982||Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan||Cmdr. Uhura|
|1983||Antony and Cleopatra||Charmian – Maid of Honour|
|1984||Star Trek III: The Search for Spock||Cmdr. Uhura|
|1986||Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home||Cmdr. Uhura|
|The Supernaturals||Sgt. Leona Hawkins|
|1989||Star Trek V: The Final Frontier||Cmdr. Uhura|
|1991||Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country||Cmdr. Uhura|
|1992||Star Trek: 25th Anniversary Enhanced (VG)||Lt. Uhura|
|1994||Gargoyles (TV)||Diane Maza||Guest star in four episodes through 1998|
|Batman: The Animated Series (TV)||Thoth Khepera||"Avatar"|
|Star Trek: Judgment Rites (VG)||Lt. Uhura|
|2000||Futurama (TV)||Herself||Anthology of Interest I|
|2002||Futurama (TV)||Herself||Where No Fan Has Gone Before|
|Snow Dogs||Amelia Brooks|
|2005||Are We There Yet?||Miss Mable|
|2007||Escape from Heaven (announced)||Jules|
|Star Trek: Of Gods and Men||Capt. Uhura|
|2008||Lady Magdalene's||Lady Magdalene / Maggie|
|2010||Scooby-Doo! Curse of the Lake Monster||Senator|
- Nichols, Nichelle; Bonanno, Margaret Wander (1996). Saturn's Child. New York: Ace Books. ISBN 0-441-00384-2.
- Nichols, Nichelle (1995). Beyond Uhura: Star Trek and Other Memories. New York: Boulevard Books. ISBN 1-57297-011-1.
- Nichols, Nichelle; Meechan, Jim (2002). Saturna's Quest. California: Planet X Publications. ISBN 0-9719154-0-7.
- Nishi, Dennis (January 17, 2011). "‘Star Trek’s’ Nichelle Nichols on How Martin Luther King Jr. Changed Her Life". SpeakEasy.
- Huff, Richard (January 17, 2011). "'Star Trek' actress Nichelle Nichols: Martin Luther King Jr. impacted decision to stay on Enterprise". Daily News (New York).
- Nichelle Nichols Biography (1933–)
- "Kicks and Co. Original Broadway Cast – 1961 Broadway". BroadwayWorld. Retrieved 1 September 2013.
- Johnson, John H., ed. (January 1962). "Satirical flop brings star success". Ebony (Chicago, Illinois: Johnson Publishing Company, Inc.) 17 (3): 41–42, 44, 46–47.
- Still, Larry (October 12, 1961). Johnson, John H., ed. "Oscar Brown musical gets warm reception in windy city". Jet (Chicago, Illinois: Johnson Publishing Company, Inc.) 20 (25): 58–61.
- Johnson, John H., ed. (January 1967). "A new star in the tv heavens". Ebony (Chicago, Illinois: Johnson Publishing Company, Inc.) 22 (3): 70–72, 74, 76.
- "LIEUTENANT, THE: TO SET IT RIGHT (TV)". The Paley Center for Media. Retrieved 1 September 2013.
- "Interview by Neil deGrasse Tyson on StarTalk, relating her encounter with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.". StarTalk Radio Show by Neil deGrasse Tyson. Retrieved 29 September 2014.
- Nichols, Nichelle (1994). Beyond Uhura: Star Trek and Other Memories. New York: G. P. Putnam & Sons. pp. 164–65.
- http://transporting.to/CyberWoman/whoopi.html Whoopi Goldberg interview on Star Trek DVD
- Nichols, Nichelle (April 7, 2002). Nichelle Nichols – Communications expert Uhuru from Star Trek's Original series. Interview with BBC Cult Television. BBC. Retrieved April 1, 2007.
- "Shattered TV Taboos: How Bea Arthur and Others Broke Barriers". TV Guide. Retrieved 29 September 2014.
- "After 40 Years, Star Trek 'Won't Die'". Space.com. Retrieved 29 September 2014.
- "TrekToday – Nichols Talks First Inter-Racial Kiss". Retrieved 29 September 2014.
- Nichelle Nichols, NASA Recruiter, Great Images In NASA.
- To boldly go, Groundbreaking actress Nichelle Nichols continues to expand her horizons, By ERIKA PRAFDER, NY Post February 1, 2011.
- "Where No Woman Has Gone Before: An Actress Spotlight on Nichelle Nichols". Retrieved 29 September 2014.
- "Black History Month Profile: Nichelle Nichols". Retrieved 29 September 2014.
- "Nichelle Nichols, National Space Society Board of Governors". Retrieved 29 September 2014.
- Q & A: Nichelle Nichols, AKA Lt. Uhura, and NASA, Smithsonian magazine, June 23, 2011.
- photos posted at http://[y]frog.com/3uph3ojj (remove [brackets]) and http://twitpic.com/25brxs
- "Nichelle Nichols' Connection to Heaven's Gate". Retrieved 29 September 2014.
- "Some members of suicide cult castrated". CNN. Retrieved May 20, 2010.
- LA Weekly – News – Heaven's Gate: The Sequel – Joshuah Bearman – The Essential Online Resource for Los Angeles
- Nichelle Nichols, Beyond Uhura (1994).
- "Nichelle Nichols, Star Trek's Lt Uhura, suffers stroke". Retrieved 5 June 2015.
- Heinlein, Robert A. (1984). Friday. New England Library. ISBN 0-450-05549-3.
- NASA reference: http://ssd.jpl.nasa.gov/sbdb.cgi?sstr=68410
- movie credits
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Nichelle Nichols.|
- Official website
- Nichelle Nichols at the Internet Movie Database
- Nichelle Nichols at the TCM Movie Database
- Nichelle Nichols at AllMovie
- Nichelle Nichols at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database
- Nichelle Nichols at NNDB
- Nichelle Nichols interview video at the Archive of American Television
- UFragTV Interview At Big Apple Comic Con 2009 (Part 1 of 2) on YouTube October 18, 2009
- UFragTV Interview At Big Apple Comic Con 2009 (Part 2 of 2) on YouTube October 18, 2009