Thursday, April 20, 2017

Happy Birthday, George Takei!

Happy Birthday to George Takei, born 80 years ago (April 20) in Los Angeles, California.

I can't believe it's been a year since I saw him speak at the Bryan Series in Greensboro, North Carolina. Famous for his role as helmsman Lt. Sulu (later Captain Sulu) in Star Trek, Takei spoke about Gene Roddenberry's groundbreaking vision that went into the series.

Roddenberry envisioned the starship U.S.S. Enterprise as a miniature version of planet Earth. The international crewmembers represented the people and nations of Earth: Captain Kirk was North America, Scotty was Britain or Europe, Sulu was Asia, and Chekhov was Russia.  Lt. Uhura represented not only Africa, but also American Indians. In reality, several of the actors were Canadian. And, at the height of the Cold War, Walter Koenig (Checkhov) was from Chicago, not Russia.

As a lifetime fan of Star Trek, I read George Takei's autobiography, To the Stars, around 1995-1996. Only a few chapters in this long and interesting life story are about the T.V. show and spin-off movies. I was astonished to learn that American-born Takei and his family were imprisoned during World War II as part of the Japanese-American internment policy, wherein thousands of people were uprooted from their homes and sent to prison camps. I had never learned that dark piece of American history.

My reading of the book coincided with a couple of business trips to California. Influenced by Takei's California stories, I tried sushi for the first time (and loved it ever since) and stuck my fist in John Wayne's fist print at Mann's Chinese Theatre.

When Star Trek's original series cast got their own square in the Theatre's Hollywood Walk of Fame, they were supposed to only write their names so all seven could fit. But Takei, who had grown up in L.A., wasn't about to be shortchanged in this dream-come-true moment. When it came his turn, he signed his name, then placed his hand firmly in the cement. The rest of the cast came back and added their handprints – Leonard Nimoy's in the "Live long and prosper" Vulcan salute.