Nichelle Nichols

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Nichelle Nichols
Nichelle Nichols by Gage Skidmore.jpg
Nichols in 2013
Born
Grace Dell Nichols

(1932-12-28) December 28, 1932 (age 87)[1][2]
Occupation
  • Actress
  • singer
Years active1959–2020
Known forNyota Uhura (Star Trek)
Spouse(s)
  • Foster Johnson
    (m. 1951; div. 1951)
  • Duke Mondy
    (m. 1968; div. 1972)
ChildrenKyle Johnson

Nichelle Nichols (born Grace Dell Nichols; December 28, 1932)[3] is an American actress, singer, and voice artist best known for her portrayal of Nyota Uhura in Star Trek: The Original Series, and its film sequels. Nichols's portrayal as Uhura was groundbreaking for African American female characters on American television.[4]

From 1977 to 2015, Nichols volunteered her time to promote NASA's programs, and to recruit diverse astronauts, including women and ethnic minorities.[5]

Early life[edit]

Grace Dell Nichols was born in Robbins, Illinois, near Chicago, to Samuel Earl Nichols, a factory worker who was elected both town mayor of Robbins and its chief magistrate, and his wife, Salish (Parks) Nichols.[6] Later, the family moved into an apartment in Chicago. She studied in Chicago as well as New York and Los Angeles.

Career[edit]

Her break came in an appearance in Kicks and Co., Oscar Brown's highly touted, but ill-fated 1961 musical.[7] 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 a short run in Chicago, Nichols attracted the attention of Hugh Hefner, the publisher of Playboy, who booked her for his Chicago Playboy Club.[8][9]

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.

In January 1967, Nichols also was featured on the cover of Ebony magazine, and had two feature articles in the publication in five years.[10] Nichols toured the United States, Canada and Europe as a singer with the Duke Ellington and Lionel Hampton bands.[11] On the West Coast, she appeared in The Roar of the Greasepaint and For My People and she 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.[12]

Star Trek[edit]

Nichols as Lieutenant Uhura on Star Trek, 1967.

On Star Trek, Nichols was one of the first black women featured in a major television series as her prominent supporting role as a bridge officer was unprecedented.[4] 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 series, telling her that he was a big fan of Star Trek. 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.[4][13][14][15] In an interview, she said that the day after she told Roddenberry she planned to leave the show, she was at a fundraiser at the NAACP and was told there was a big fan who wanted to meet her. Nichols said:

I thought it was a Trekkie, and so I said, 'Sure.' I looked across the room, and there was Dr. Martin Luther King walking towards me with this big grin on his face. He reached out to me and said, 'Yes, Ms. Nichols, I am your greatest fan.' He said that Star Trek was the only show that he, and his wife Coretta, would allow their three little children to stay up and watch. [She told King about her plans to leave the series.] I never got to tell him why, because he said, 'You can't. You're part of history.'

When she told Roddenberry what King had said, he cried.[16] 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.[17] Goldberg asked for a role on Star Trek: The Next Generation, and the character Guinan was specially created, while Jemison appeared on an episode of the series.[18]

In her role as Lieutenant Uhura, Nichols kissed white actor William Shatner as Captain James T. Kirk in the November 22, 1968, Star Trek episode "Plato's Stepchildren". The episode is cited as the first example of an interracial kiss on scripted U.S. television.[19][20][21] 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, "what do you say, let's make a little more TV history ... and kiss my black ass!"[22]

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.[23] Nichols noted in her autobiography her frustration that this never happened on the original series. Nichols has co-starred in six Star Trek films, the last one being Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.

Other acting roles[edit]

Nichols in September 2012.

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 series 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 Dorienda, 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 jar 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 comedy film Snow Dogs (2002), 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, Nichols 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. On August 30, 2016, she was introduced as the aging mother of Neil Winters on the long-standing soap opera The Young and the Restless. She received her first Daytime Emmy nomination in the "Outstanding Guest Performer in a Drama Series" category for this role March 22, 2017.[24]

Music[edit]

Nichols has released two music albums. Down to Earth is a collection of standards released in 1967, during the original run of Star Trek.[25] Out of This World, released in 1991, is more rock oriented and is themed around Star Trek and space exploration.

As mentioned earlier, she sang with the Duke Ellington Orchestra and Lionel Hampton. As Uhura, she sang songs in Star Trek episodes "Charlie X" and “The Conscience of the King”.

Work with NASA[edit]

Nichols (fourth from the left) with most of the cast of Star Trek visiting the Space Shuttle Enterprise at the Rockwell International plant at Palmdale, California, USA, 1976.

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.[5] She began this work by making an affiliation between NASA and a company which she helped to run, Women in Motion.[26][27][28][29][30][31]

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 former NASA administrator and veteran of four shuttle missions, Frederick D. Gregory, former deputy administrator and a veteran of three shuttle missions 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.[29]

In late 2015, Nichols flew aboard NASA's Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) Boeing 747SP, 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.[32]

Personal life[edit]

Nichols' younger 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.[33] A member for 20 years, he frequently identified himself as Nichelle's brother in promotional materials released by the cult.[34][35]

In her autobiography, Nichols stated that she was romantically involved with Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry for a few years in the 1960s. She said the affair ended well before Star Trek began, when she and Roddenberry realized he was in love with Majel Hudec, who was an acquaintance of Nichols, and who went on to have a regular supporting role as nurse Christine Chapel on Star Trek.[36] When Roddenberry's health was fading, Nichols co-wrote a song for him, entitled "Gene", which she sang at his funeral.

Nichols has married twice, first to dancer Foster Johnson (1917–1981). They were married in 1951 and divorced that same year. Johnson and Nichols had one child together, Kyle Johnson, who was born August 14, 1951. She married Duke Mondy in 1968. They were divorced in 1972.

On February 29, 2012, Nichols met with President Barack Obama in the Oval Office. She later tweeted about the meeting, "Months ago, [President] Obama was quoted as saying that he'd had a crush on me when he was younger," Nichols also wrote. "I asked about that and he proudly confirmed it! President Obama also confirmed for me that he was definitely a Trekker! How wonderful is that?!"[37]

On June 4, 2015, Nichols' booking agency announced that she had suffered a mild stroke at her Los Angeles home and had been admitted to a Los Angeles-area hospital.[38][39] A magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan revealed a small stroke had occurred, and she began inpatient therapy on June 5, 2015.

Nichols was diagnosed with dementia sometime in 2018.[40] She subsequently announced her retirement from convention appearances, with a farewell event to be held in Burbank in late 2020.[41]

Recognition[edit]

Nichols is an honorary member of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority. Robert A. Heinlein dedicated his 1982 novel, Friday, to her.[42] In 2010, Nichols received an honorary degree from Los Angeles Mission College.

Asteroid 68410 Nichols is named in her honor.[43]

In 1999, Nichols was awarded a Goldene Kamera for Kultstar des Jahrhunderts (English: Cult Star of the Century).[44] Nichols received The Life Career Award, from the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films, in 2016. The award was presented as part of the 42nd Saturn Awards ceremony. Nichols was awarded the Inkpot Award in 2018.[45]

Filmography[edit]

Films[edit]

Year Title Role
1959 Porgy and Bess Uncredited dancer[46]
1966 Tarzan's Deadly Silence Ruana[47]
Made in Paris Buyer at Salon[citation needed]
Mister Buddwing Dice Player[47]
1967 Doctor, You've Got to Be Kidding! Jenny Ribbock[48]
1974 Truck Turner Dorinda[49]
1979 Star Trek: The Motion Picture Nyota Uhura
1982 Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
1984 Star Trek III: The Search for Spock
1986 Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
The Supernaturals Sgt. Leona Hawkins[50]
1989 Star Trek V: The Final Frontier Nyota Uhura
1991 Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country
1995 The Adventures of Captain Zoom in Outer Space Sagan[47]
2002 Snow Dogs Amelia Brooks[47]
2004 Surge of Power: The Stuff of Heroes Omen[51]
2005 Are We There Yet? Miss Mable[52]
2008 Lady Magdalene's Lady Magdalene / Maggie
Tru Loved Grandmother
The Torturer Doc
2012 This Bitter Earth Clara Watkins
2016 Renegades Grace Jemison
2017 The Order
2018 American Nightmares Mystic Woman
2019 Surge of Dawn Omen
2020 Unbelievable!!!!! Sensei/Aunt Petunia

Television and video games[edit]

Year Title Role Notes
1964 The Lieutenant Norma Bartlett "To Set It Right"
1966 Tarzan Ruana "The Deadly Silence"[53] (2 episodes)
1966–1969 Star Trek Nyota Uhura
1970 Insight Ellie "Old King Cole"
1973 Star Trek: The Animated Series Nyota Uhura / Additional voices
1984 Antony and Cleopatra Charmian[47]
1992 Star Trek: 25th Anniversary Enhanced Nyota Uhura Video game
1994 Gargoyles Diane Maza (voice) 4 episodes[53]
Batman: The Animated Series Avatar[53]
Star Trek: Judgment Rites Nyota Uhura Video game
1996 Star Trek: Deep Space Nine "Trials and Tribble-ations" (archive footage)
2000; 2002 Futurama Herself 2 episodes: "Anthology of Interest I"; "Where No Fan Has Gone Before"
2004 The Simpsons "Simple Simpson"
2007 Heroes Nana Dawson "Kindred"
Star Trek: Of Gods and Men Nyota Uhura
2009 The Cabonauts CJ
2010 Scooby-Doo! Curse of the Lake Monster Senator
2016 The Young and the Restless Lucinda[54]
2017 Downward Dog Deejay Devine
Sharknado 5: Global Swarming Starr

Bibliography[edit]

Title Publisher Date ISBN Notes
Beyond Uhura G. P. Putnam's Sons October 19, 1994 0-399-13993-1
Saturn's Child Penguin October 17, 1995 0-399-14113-8 with Margaret Wander Bonanno

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Adell, Sandra (1996). African American Culture. Gale. p. 152. ISBN 978-0-8103-8485-9.
  2. ^ David, Shayler; Moule, Ian A. (August 29, 2006). Women in Space - Following Valentina. Springer Science & Business Media. p. 152. ISBN 978-1-84628-078-8.
  3. ^ McCann, Bob (December 21, 2009). Encyclopedia of African American Actresses in Film and Television. McFarland. p. 251. ISBN 978-0-7864-5804-2.
  4. ^ a b c Nishi, Dennis (January 17, 2011). "SpeakEasy: 'Star Trek's' Nichelle Nichols on How Martin Luther King Jr. Changed Her Life". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved August 21, 2019.
  5. ^ a b Hahn, Michael (August 20, 2009). "GPN-2004-00017 - Nichelle Nichols, NASA Recruiter". NASA. Archived from the original on December 22, 2009. Retrieved August 21, 2019.
  6. ^ "Nichelle Nichols Biography (1933-)". www.filmreference.com. Retrieved August 21, 2019.
  7. ^ "Kicks and Co. Original Broadway Cast - 1961 Broadway". www.broadwayworld.com. Retrieved September 1, 2013.
  8. ^ Johnson, John H., ed. (January 1962). "Satirical flop brings star success". Ebony. Vol. 17 no. 3. pp. 41–47.
  9. ^ Still, Larry (October 12, 1961). Johnson, John H. (ed.). "Oscar Brown musical gets warm reception in windy city". Jet. Vol. 20 no. 25. pp. 58–61.
  10. ^ Johnson, John H., ed. (January 1967). "A new star in the TV heavens". Ebony. Vol. 22 no. 3. pp. 70–76.
  11. ^ "Nichelle Nichols". PBS. Retrieved August 21, 2019.
  12. ^ "LIEUTENANT, THE: TO SET IT RIGHT {UNAIRED EPISODE} (TV)". Paley Center for Media. Retrieved September 1, 2013.
  13. ^ Huff, Richard (January 17, 2011). "'Star Trek' actress Nichelle Nichols: Martin Luther King Jr. impacted decision to stay on Enterprise". New York Daily News. Retrieved August 21, 2019.
  14. ^ Neil deGrasse Tyson (July 11, 2011). "A Conversation with Nichelle Nichols". StarTalk (Podcast). Event occurs at 11:12.
  15. ^ Nichols, Nichelle (October 19, 1994). Beyond Uhura: Star Trek and Other Memories. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons. pp. 164–65. ISBN 978-0-399-13993-2.
  16. ^ Strachan, Alex (August 5, 2010). "Nichelle Nichols on playing Star Trek's Lt. Uhura and meeting Dr. King". Canada.com. Archived from the original on February 16, 2020. Retrieved February 16, 2020. Now, Gene Roddenberry was a 6-foot-3 guy with muscles. ... And he sat there with tears in his eyes. He said, ‘Thank God that someone knows what I’m trying to do. Thank God for Dr. Martin Luther King.’
  17. ^ "Whoopi Goldberg". A Woman's CyberSpace. Archived from the original on August 31, 2011. Retrieved August 21, 2019.
  18. ^ Nichols, Nichelle (April 7, 2002). "Nichelle Nichols – Communications expert Uhuru from Star Trek's Original series". BBC. Archived from the original on June 28, 2006. Retrieved April 1, 2007.
  19. ^ Molloy, Tim (April 27, 2009). "Shattered TV Taboos: How Bea Arthur and Others Broke Barriers". TV Guide. Retrieved September 29, 2014.
  20. ^ Malik, Tariq (September 7, 2006). "After 40 Years, Star Trek 'Won't Die'". Space.com. Retrieved September 29, 2014.
  21. ^ "Nichols Talks First Inter-Racial Kiss". TrekToday. September 5, 2001. Retrieved September 29, 2014.
  22. ^ "William Shatner". Comedy Central Roast. August 20, 2006. Comedy Central.
  23. ^ Mangels, Andy (Summer 2018). "Star Trek: The Animated Series". RetroFan. No. 1. TwoMorrows Publishing. pp. 25–37.
  24. ^ "The National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Announces Nominations For The 44th Annual Daytime Emmy® Awards" (PDF). National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. March 22, 2017. Retrieved March 22, 2017.
  25. ^ Planer, Lindsay. "Down to Earth". AllMusic. Retrieved August 21, 2019.
  26. ^ Prafder, Erika (February 2, 2011). "To boldly go: Groundbreaking actress Nichelle Nichols continues to expand her horizons". New York Post. Retrieved August 21, 2019.
  27. ^ "Where No Woman Has Gone Before: An Actress Spotlight on Nichelle Nichols". Bitch. July 29, 2009. Archived from the original on October 6, 2014. Retrieved September 29, 2014.
  28. ^ Levi, Linda (February 21, 2011). "Black History Month Profile: Nichelle Nichols". New York Women In Communications. Archived from the original on October 9, 2011. Retrieved September 29, 2014.
  29. ^ a b "Nichelle Nichols, National Space Society Board of Governors". National Space Society. Archived from the original on December 12, 2011. Retrieved September 29, 2014.
  30. ^ "Nichelle Nichols". Encyclopedia.com. Retrieved August 21, 2019.
  31. ^ Childs, Arcynta Ali (June 23, 2011). "Q & A: Nichelle Nichols, AKA Lt. Uhura, and NASA". Smithsonian. Retrieved August 21, 2019.
  32. ^ "Nichelle Nicholls, Star Trek's Uhura, in the Shuttle Simulator at NASA at Houston". TwitPic. July 14, 2010. Retrieved August 21, 2019.
  33. ^ "Nichelle Nichols' Connection to the Heaven's Gate Cult Tragedy". Reocities. Archived from the original on June 24, 2013. Retrieved September 29, 2014.
  34. ^ Bearman, Joshuah (March 21, 2007). "Heaven's Gate: The Sequel". LA Weekly. Retrieved August 21, 2019.
  35. ^ "Some members of suicide cult castrated". CNN. March 28, 1997. Archived from the original on February 22, 1999. Retrieved May 20, 2010.
  36. ^ Nichols, Nichelle (October 1994). Beyond Uhura. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons. ISBN 9780399139932.
  37. ^ Jackson, David (April 5, 2012). "Obama gives Vulcan salute with Lt. Uhura". USA Today. Retrieved February 1, 2017.
  38. ^ "Nichelle Nichols, Star Trek's Lt Uhura, suffers stroke". BBC News. June 5, 2015. Retrieved August 21, 2019.
  39. ^ Whitney, Erin (June 5, 2015). "'Star Trek' Star Nichelle Nichols Hospitalized". MSN.com. Archived from the original on March 4, 2016. Retrieved August 21, 2019.
  40. ^ Cohen, Jess (April 10, 2018). "Star Trek's Nichelle Nichols Diagnosed With Dementia". E! Online. Retrieved January 11, 2020.
  41. ^ Pascale, Anthony (May 19, 2018). "Nichelle Nichols Announces Farewell Tour, Convention And Documentary". TrekMovie.com. Retrieved January 11, 2020.
  42. ^ Heinlein, Robert A. (June 1983). Friday. Henry Holt and Company. ISBN 9780030615160.
  43. ^ Chamberlin, Alan (September 26, 2005). "68410 Nichols (2001 QB154)". JPL Small-Body Database Browser. Retrieved November 22, 2016.
  44. ^ "Goldene Kamera 1999 - 34. Verleihung". Goldene Kamera 1999. Retrieved October 5, 2019.
  45. ^ Inkpot Award
  46. ^ Fishgall, Gary (June 15, 2010). Gonna Do Great Things: The Life of Sammy Davis, Jr. New York: Simon & Schuster. pp. 129–130. ISBN 9781439131572.
  47. ^ a b c d e "Nichelle Nichols". British Film Institute. Retrieved July 19, 2020.
  48. ^ Willis, John, ed. (1968). Screen World 1968. Screen World. 19 (reprint ed.). Cheshire, Connecticut: Biblo & Tannen (published 1983). p. 26. ISBN 9780819603098.
  49. ^ Ottoson, Robert (1984). American International Pictures: A Filmography. Reference Library of the Humanities. 492. New York: Garland. p. 265. ISBN 9780824089764.
  50. ^ Muir, John Kenneth (March 27, 2007). Horror Films of the 1980s. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland. p. 542. ISBN 9780786428212. Retrieved July 19, 2020.
  51. ^ Scheck, Frank (January 4, 2018). "'Surge of Power: Revenge of the Sequel' Review". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved July 17, 2020.
  52. ^ "Ice Cube and Nia Long Star in Romantic Comedy Movie 'Are We There Yet?'". Jet. Vol. 107 no. 4. January 24, 2005. p. 59. Retrieved July 19, 2020.
  53. ^ a b c McCann, Bob (December 21, 2009). Encyclopedia of African American Actresses in Film and Television. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company. pp. 251–252. ISBN 9780786458042.
  54. ^ Swift, Andy (July 26, 2016). "Nichelle Nichols On 'The Young And The Restless' — 11,000th Episode". TVLine. Retrieved November 22, 2016.

External links[edit]