This interview took place about 15 years ago between myself & Grace Lee Whitney & I'm dedicating this retooled version to her memory.
I think everyone will find that we had a very interesting talk!
You'll note that this has a very conversational look about it, because this is the direct transcript of our discussion (thanks to Joe Beaudoin from Battlestar Wiki for doing it!).
I don't think there is anything that I would have changed about it, except that I made some unflattering remarks about "Galactica 1980"...at least my thinking has revised a bit about that, though I by no means think it's Shakespeare, but I do think of it a little more fondly now, so apologies to any & all Galactica 1980 fans out there (if you exist!).
Otherwise we covered a lot of topics and I hope you enjoy...it was nice to haul this one out and give it something of a reboot!
This is in dedication to Grace Lee Whitney...Grace, you are going to be missed!
Shawn: How did you get started in the acting field?
Grace: Actually, I started as a performer more than an actor. I was a singer and a dancer at school; and I was also a writer, I wrote some lyrics for songs and stuff. I performed them at school, and got on the stage and I really loved it. So I've been pursuing stage and performing all my life, and I did theater a little theater while in school, and then started signing [stage] and performed there. Then I went to Chicago and became a model. Then, upon becoming a model, I did, again, a Miss Chicago Contest and had to sing and dance for that. And then went to New York and auditioned for George Abbot and got into a show called "Top Banana" with Phil Silvers as an understudy and that's when I started acting. I got taught by Jack Albertson and, actually, he was my first teacher. He worked tirelessly and I went on a couple of times for the leading lady, and I just loved it. I migrated a little bit west and got into film. My first film was "Some Like It Hot" with Marilyn Monroe, and that one became the movie of the century--the comedy of the century. So that was my first film endeavor, and I was spoiled from then on in.
I was introduced to Billy Wilder; Billy Wilder was the director, he got many academy awards for "Some Like It Hot", and then got several academy awards for "Irma la Douce" also. So he helped my career. He called several directors, and told them that I was a good bet; and to hire me to do different shows so I did about a hundred shows. But ninety shows, I guess, before I got "Star Trek". And then I got "Star Trek", before I got "Star Trek" I did "Outer Limits", which was also another classic, with Carroll O'Connor and Barry Morse of "The Fugitive". And that was a wonderful experience. I got with Gene Roddenberry in "The Lieutenant", and Gene found me and put me into another pilot that he did called "Police Story".
Not the one that got filmed, actually, but the "Police Story" that he did, but never got filmed-I mean, never picked up as a series. It was filmed, but DeForest Kelley and I were in that together. It was a different Doctor and a different Yeoman in "Star Trek", and when the show got picked up by NBC, they wrote the doctor out and put DeForest Kelley in and wrote the yeoman out and put me in. And that's how we got our roles in the show... and the rest is history, and I've been doing it ever since. I did Voyager--
Shawn: Right, the "Flashback" episode.
Grace: Yes, the "Flashback" episode, and we were trying to get the Excelsior off the ground. I talked to Bob Justman about it; and I talked to a lot of people about it. It was a brainstorm of mine when we were doing Voyager, and I said to George [Takei] that we ought to do a mini-series of the Excelsior and we can do it like every three months. Do one episode every three months, for the fans and bring in a guest star from one of the other shows. We thought that was a great idea, and have been pushing for it ever since. So, I don't know if it's ever going to go, but seems very good to me.
Shawn: Actually, I was going to ask you that question: How'd you rate the chances of an Excelsior series, even like a regular weekly series?
Grace: Well, I don't think we can do it weekly, because I think it wouldn't hold up weekly. But it would hold up monthly. You know like what they do with the mini-series.
Shawn: Like a tele-movie or something like that?
Grace: Yeah. And that way it would probably pick up a lot of ratings, because I wouldn't be every week, it would be every couple of months or every three months or something. I think they did that with other shows. It would kind of be like a soap opera.
Shawn: Exactly. Like an ongoing mini-series?
Grace: Like an ongoing saga of the Excelsior. The Excelsior Saga, you know. And have that and just keep going. But I don't know, Paramount is not open to that. I think Paramount wants "Star Trek: 90210".
Shawn: I heard that bandied around a little bit.
Grace: Or I call it "Melrose Space".
Shawn: I think a lot of people feel that way.
Grace: Yeah. The really young kids, but I don't know if that will get off the ground or not. I have a feeling it will. And, if it does, I'm very happy about that. I think the new blood in Star Trek is always good.
Shawn: Maybe even a mix of both [new and old blood]?
Grace: A mix of both-absolutely!
Shawn: Which is kind of the best of both worlds.
Grace: Yeah, why couldn't they do that? They could do that, and that would be just great.
Shawn: I think that probably what bothers people quite a bit, is that this also has happened with Battlestar Galactica, they want to see the original characters, and they don't see where the problem lies because the fans want that, and the studios have an impression that all young faces are what sells. And that is not necessarily true.
Grace: No it's not true. Not true at all.
Shawn: Also, I was going to ask about your book. That's of some interest there as well.
Grace: I'm trying to get a teleplay for the book. Actually, I missed it by a few years, there was an era where they did [stories of] women who were down and out and came back; and versus where women who were down and out and never did come back. Which they also did, and then they got sick of that and stopped doing it.
And that was right when my book came out. So I almost have to wait. You know, Oprah Winfrey was very interested in my book, and I almost got on her show as "Book of the Week". Then she decided to go with the golfer; I don't know if you ever saw that series she did on women down and out, women who have and fallen and come back. She did a series called "In The Spirit" and she did a whole lot of shows about women who found God and were resurrected, so-to-speak, from the gutter. And one of mine was one of those she chose [after] one of her readers said, "Read this book, it's very powerful." So she interviewed me, but she picked a young golfer, a pro golfer as the "Book of the Week". And did her interview instead of mine, and I was just devastated-because I came very close to being the pick of the week! And if I had, my goodness! You know, I'm sure I would've had a movie done already-with Heather Locklear. I've already sent the book to Heather Locklear, and I wanted her to play me. I called Bill Shatner and asked him, and he said, "Well, she can't shine your shoes, but she'll be good." Which I thought was a very nice compliment coming from Bill. So that's kind of where we are, and it still may be picked up. I wanted Leonard [Nimoy] to direct, but Leonard is just kind of getting to the point where he doesn't want to work that hard. You know people say to me, "What do you do with your time?" And I tell them, "Well, I'm kind of semi-retired. I do Star Trek conventions, but other than that, I just built my own house. I'm living very quietly, and very relaxing[ly] with my horses and animals, and nature. I'm kind of just retired. So it's a wonderful life I have, but I would go back to work if the Excelsior had a chance. Or, I hear that there's going to be some sort of remake of "Star Trek: The Motion Picture". So I'm kind of hoping to do a cameo in that They've already interviewed a couple of stars.
Shawn: Like just a totally different cast?
Grace: No, it's just going to be re-cut and redistributed. And that would be really nice for me to do a cameo, you know because I've come so far since 1979. I got sober in 1981, so my whole sobriety, which is almost 20 years, has been eventful. I have done a lot of work, and that would be really good for me to do a cameo on this side of my life, as opposed to the other side. The other side is very traumatic. So, I don't know, there's a lot of things in the work. I'm just open to everything. I'm all over the universe; I have invitations to go to every country there is. So it's a very exciting life. And George Takei is also doing the same thing. George is running all over the universe also; we do a lot of conventions together.
Grace: Yeah, in New York and I've been with Tim Russ for the last two conventions. He's doing a lot of Trek conventions too. So it's a very nice life, and hopefully Star Trek will keep going and I'll get someone to write a script for my book, and I'll be able to submit it and see what happens. The timing may not be exactly right. So you have to kind of go with the flow.
Shawn: So, you see yourself going on Oprah at some point?
Grace: Definitely. They have kept it open. The producer told my publisher that they still have me in the file. They haven't thrown me out, by any means. That could be really good. So, we'll see, I'm just kind of like living a day at a time, and doing my thing; and doing conventions and speaking. I speak a lot all over at hospitals and where people are incarcerated for alcoholism and drug addiction. So I'm very busy. I'm into the mainstream of life. I see a lot of stars whenever I go. I was just in FantastiCon in LA. William Campbell [who played Koloth and Trelane in TOS] was there. I think Richard [Hatch] was there, no, I guess Anne [Lockart] was there; Jerry Doyle was there from Babylon 5. And Bruce Boxleitner was there-we didn't have many Star Trek people there for sure.
Shawn: That's unusual. Usually there are a few it seems at each show.
Grace: The Star Trek people are getting upset with the cons; they don't pay them anything. And they just don't want to do it for nothing anymore. It's not like they don't do it for nothing, you know, they get big bucks for this sort of thing, but this guy doesn't want to pay. So this particular one isn't going to get them. The Grand Slam in April and that had everybody, because they give us the speaker fee. And so you're able to get the stars to come out.
Shawn: You obviously had to recoup losses or at least make the trip worth their while.
Grace: My gosh, yes! Nobody is going to get on a stage and speak for an hour and sign autographs for nothing. The guys promoting them are making good money, they charge money to get in.
Shawn: Of course, you have people flying in from far away.
Grace: Well nobody, not in Grand Slam, as everybody lives in LA.
Shawn: That was close. But you do have situations, of course, where you might have the DragonCon in Atlanta where people actually have to fly in.
Grace: It cost big bucks just to fly everybody in from LA. That was a big con. That cost a lot of money!
Shawn: Well, at least, too, they cover the airline fees, and hotel, and that type of thing.
Grace: That just costs a lot of money. How did the promoter [Ed Kramer] do at DragonCon?
Shawn: I really don't know. I presume pretty well, it's pretty much a success every year.
Grace: Oh, good. I'll do it again next year. I hope I can com next year, because I sure did well.
Grace: Yeah, and I got a chance to see Adam West [original Batman/Bruce Wayne] and my other friend, Yvonne Craig.
Shawn: This year Bill Mumy was there, Angela Cartwright, Andreas Katsulas was there, so just a lot of different faces. They have some basic--I shouldn't say basic people, but people that come there every year, then like every year change out a few people just to spice it up a little bit.
Grace: Well, it's great to see everybody from all the different shows. Gosh, it's the only time I ever meet the actors! I see them on the screen, but I never actually get to smooch with them. That's what's fun. I just love it. I love going to see all the actors and going around to the tables. June Lockhart and I do a lot of shows together, and it's just fun, lots of fun and Annie too. I see Richard many times, so it's good. I just think it's a great way to live.
Shawn: This might be of interest to people as well, now your addictions in the past and the coming to terms with that definitely had an impact in your life, as far as the way you look at things now.
Grace: Yeah, in your addiction your very focused on self, on medicating and getting away from the pain, or running from problems or not taking responsibility for your life; or this man did me wrong or this woman did me wrong.
You're very focused on that and I was very focused on my career, trying to get ahead and, which of course, would've been fine if I hadn't had the compulsive behavior. I had a lot of compulsive behavior, which was, I don't know, it's just something you do against your own will--you can't really control yourself. Once you become addicted, it's like if you've ever known cigarette smokers [that's what it's like]. I am totally baffled by people who smoke themselves to death. It's just the craziest thing, if you're going to do something booze yourself to death or use drugs--but cigarettes that seems like the stupidest thing to do. It's just crazy. I just didn't realize that alcohol had such a hold on my life, I was a party girl and I loved parties. And Hollywood thrived on it of course; we all know that Hollywood is probably the biggest party town in the world. We call it Hollyweird.
A lot of people out there [are into parties], and it is the place to go if you want to get into the fast lane. So, I had to come out of the fast lane, which was a big change in my life and go to a higher power and be compliant in order to get sober. The last 19 years has been going through that process a day at a time; not putting my career first, using my career as a privilege, it's a privilege to be an actor and a privilege to be part of Star Trek. But that's not who I am. Who I am is a child of God, who is seeking to do His will and help other people; and not be so centered on myself. And if I can get out of myself, off of myself, and into other people and help in the community, and help other alcoholics and other women, battered omen, women that are addicted to drugs--there's a lot of crack cocaine up here and amphetamines--[and] try to help these people find their own way. It counts. Everyday it heals me just a little more. And I've seen what it looks like and I don't want to go back there. Therefore, I stay sober one more day because it is a progressive illness. Once you cross the line, the disease progresses even though you don't drink, or you don't use prescription drugs--you know, we have a lot of women that are addicted to prescription drugs. So we have to find a way to get off of those things, and face life on life's terms. In other words, you have to deal with life in reality, and [that's] very hard to do for an actor.
Shawn: Because you, obviously, spend so much time acting.
Grace: It's all fantasy. I have such a vivid imagination that it just about kills me on a daily basis. And I have a vivid imagination because I'm an actor! So I have to try and find the difference between reality and fantasy, and turn one off and turn the other on, and vice versa. And before, I couldn't do that. I was totally into fantasy most of the time, most of my life! I was always dreaming in the other world. It was an interesting journey, very interesting. I'm glad that I had to go through it, because it's given me an outlet for my book, for being able to work well into my sixties. I don't have to sit home and retire because I have something to say based on my own experience.
And that allows me to go out and keep my speaking engagements going. I go out and speak in hospitals and schools. I bring the books in and I sign them. I go to bookstores--Barnes & Noble and Borders-- and they set up a speaking time for me; I speak from 7 to 8 at night and then I sign books, and fool around and talk o people, have coffee. It's really a lot of fun, because the Star Trek people are all over. And the fans have really supported me!
Shawn: I think they'd definitely like to see your character come back.
Grace: They would. Janice Rand has always been a favorite character, and she always will be. They [the Powers That Be] never killed her off or did anything. They may have zapped me out of the universe for a few hours or a few years, but they brought me back. I wasn't killed off, so I can surface anywhere. Especially as Commander Rand on the Excelsior, which would be a perfect place for me. We're hoping that maybe, even if we get a movie of the week, [it would be] very nice [to do] one episode. A one hour movie.
Shawn: That's like the way the Columbo thing goes. Maybe do it even quarterly.
Grace: Wouldn't that be great!?
Shawn: It would be! It would be very good. I think the fans would really enjoy that.
Grace: I think they would love it! And we can get some of the original crew in there before they all die. Before we all die, you know.
Shawn: Unfortunately, DeForest Kelley is gone.
Grace: I know.
Shawn: But James Doohan...
Grace: Well, Jimmy's getting ready. He's way up there. He's 80 years old. I just went to his birthday party.
Shawn: How's he doing?
Grace: He's doing great. He's had a baby.
Shawn: That's what I hear.
Grace: Which is kind of encouraging!
Shawn: Yeah, I guess so! If he can do that at 80 it is.
Grace: My goodness! That's pretty good for the engineer!
Shawn: Actually, most of the cast is there. It's kind of unfortunate that John Colicos, who was actually in Richard's trailer, [Battletstar Galactica: The 2nd Coming], hoping and wanting to reprise his role there [as Lord Baltar], passed away earlier this year. Which is really, really bad.
Grace: That's a shame.
Shawn: He was, I believe, 72.
Grace: That's not very old.
Shawn: He suffered I a series of heart attacks. And it is too bad, as obviously you want to see those people back in those roles again.
Grace: Sure! Of course!
Shawn: Which is kind of the point. I think people are so interested in these revivals, that they don't want to go 20-30 years and not see these people back. And when finally studios come around to it then, you know, people DO pass away. If you're talking 30 years then there's a difference, and I think that's the reason why there's such an urgency with a lot of people. At least with the fans to get these things done, whether it's for Star Trek or Battlestar Galactica or whatever.
Grace: Yeah, I hear ya! And I talk to the fans when I go to these conventions, [so] I know what you're saying. They REALLY want the original people.
Shawn: That's what I keep getting.
Grace: Because that's what they want! And I don't know why the studios are so stubborn. I think maybe because the studios are run, a lot of times, by such young people. And they just look at us as being "too old for the job". You know a lot of execs are very young.
Shawn: I guess you may know better than I do.
Shawn: So you think that, maybe, their perspective on it is that "young sells"?
Grace: Yes, I do.
Shawn: Which is not really true, you know.
Grace: Well, I think that they'd like to keep it that way!
Shawn: They may think this, but that's not necessarily true. Maybe in some certain circumstances, but not with these shows. I think, again, that the original characters sell. But I don't know what it'll take to get that across to them.
Grace: There's definite interest in the original casts of these shows.
Shawn: Yes, oh yes. All over the place.
Grace: Even Batman and stuff like that?
Shawn: I think probably more in the sci-fi genre. Like there was a clamoring to see Bill Mumy in the Lost in Space movie, and that didn't happen. And a lot of people didn't like that. They saw the fact that they had a few people getting cameos and they would have rather seen more of the original cast and more substantive roles. And that just didn't happen, but I do see that a lot--and even hear it. As, obviously, the websites I participate in, I get a lot of e-mail from people saying, "You know, we want to see the original characters and we want to see it the right way." That theme is always played and, you know, time after time when we begin polling and that type of thing. When we talk about the alternative in doing, like with Battlestar, doing the show with the original cast, with maybe some new faces--as opposed to a whole new cast-- overwhelmingly the support goes to the first notion. They don't want to see other people taking those parts over. They see the characters as the person who played them.
Grace: Wasn't there a remake of Battlestar Galactica?
Shawn: Yep. The 1980 version, but, again, that went on air without the original cast. The only original cast members were Lorne Greene and Herb Jefferson. But their roles were kind of pushed to the side and they concentrated on the new characters who were, well, not the old ones, and that's what the people wanted. I think it went on for thirteen episodes and it was just awful.
Grace: Oh that's a shame!
Shawn: That's the whole thing, again that's an example.
Grace: At least when they redid us--The Next Generation--it became a hit.
Shawn: Right, and of course, you had completely separate characters, too. It wasn't--
Grace: --It wasn't the same characters, right.
Shawn: Right. And, in a way, this was almost- -
Grace: --Almost the same characters, I see with different faces.
Shawn: Yeah, it wasn't--
Grace: Oh, the same names?
Shawn: Not the same names, but they might as well have recast the characters. They reused the same character types. So they tried to get away with it a little bit differently that way. Yeah, two separate things, and that's what people want [the original characters]. The original cast and themes. They really do. It's entertainment, but I think people get well wound up about it mainly because they grew up watching this. So it's part of their childhood memories, I know it is for me. I grew up watching these shows and I'm very attached to them because of that.