Bizarre things that happened on the set of Star Trek

No other television show has boldly gone quite so many places as Star Trek. The franchise was a pioneer for racial and ethnic equality on television and it wasn't afraid to take on the difficult politics of the time. It wasn't quite so pioneering when it came to not portraying female characters as ditzy stereotypes wearing impossibly short skirts, but hey, it was the 60s, right? Star Trek was like nothing else anyone had ever seen, and its innovation helped it gain the fanbase that ended up totally inventing ComicCon. 

Star Trek may have only been on the air for three seasons, but that was long enough for it to become the legend that spawned a whole bunch of spinoffs and as many movies. And as with all television legends, there's bound to be some really entertaining stories about the shenanigans that happened on and off set. But because we only have so much space, we are going to stick with the on-set shenanigans. For now.

William Shatner got tinnitus while on a Star Trek set

Tinnitus plagues 50 million Americans, and it's one of those things that's really a lot worse than it sounds like it must be. Tinnitus is the medical term for a ringing in the ears that does. not. go. away. ever. Imagine trying to sleep at night and someone with a radio tuned to a screechy, staticy station just stood there all night next to your head, and then that person followed you around all day with the radio six inches from your ear and no matter what you did, you could not get away from the noise.

Well, William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy were both standing too close to a special effects explosion during the filming of the first season Star Trek episode "Arena."  For years, both men suffered from from tinnitus, but for Shatner it was especially debilitating. "There were days when I didn't know how I would survive the agony," he wrote in a message from the American Tinnitus Association. "I was so tormented by the screeching in my head I really thought I would not be able to go on."

Shatner eventually found relief with "tinnitus retraining therapy," which is a therapy that requires patients to wear a noise-generating device that teaches the brain to ignore the ringing sound. The therapy worked, and Shatner says he no longer suffers from the disorder.

If anyone on Star Trek is going to kiss Uhura ...

Today, William Shatner has a reputation as being a pretty mellow guy who isn't afraid to make fun of himself, and we love him for that. But back in the 60s, during the early years of Star Trek, he was kind of a princess. When the producers told the cast the show would feature the world's first televised interracial kiss, for example (which by the way wasn't really the world's first televised interracial kiss but we'll just let the details go), they'd already decided the kiss would be between Spock and Uhura, this making it the world's first interracial kiss but also the world's first human/alien/interracial kiss. Cool. 

Shatner, though, was not having it. In his mind, if there was going to be a "first" anything on Star Trek then he needed to be a part of that. Evidently, the show's producers felt somewhat bullied by their spoiled star, so instead of laughing at him and reminding him that big boys don't necessarily have to have everything their way, they actually re-wrote the scene so that first interracial kiss would be between Kirk and Uhura instead.

"Bill wanted to rehearse all the time," Nichelle Nichols later told the Vancouver Sun. "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."

Surprise, Nichelle Nichols faced racism at the Star Trek studio

Star Trek was one of the most progressive television shows of its time. It had a black actress in a starring role, and her character was fourth in command of a 23rd century starship. Up until then, most television roles for blacks were servants, slaves, or comic relief, and we don't mean in a Donkey from Shrek kind of a way, either. 

But just because actress Nichelle Nichols played a character who existed in a world without racism (not without sexism, though, but never mind) doesn't mean that she was treated that way off-camera. According to The Huffington Post, Nichols was sometimes told she couldn't go through the same studio gate as the other actors. "There were instances where I was turned away from entering the studio at the walk-on gate, and I had to go all the way around to the front gate, sign-in and come back. A guard on the set told me I had no right being there — that they had replaced a blue-eyed blonde with me."

Nichols stuck with it, though. In fact, an encounter with Martin Luther King, Jr. convinced her to remain on the show right as she was on the brink of leaving. He reminded her that her role on Star Trek wasn't just "a black role or a female role." "You have the first non-stereotypical role on television," he said. "You have broken ground." Nichols continued to play Uhura for 25 years.

The trouble with bees. And pigeons.

The Enterprise was no stranger to infestations. First, there were those adorable if totally featureless and personality-free tribbles. Then there was that weird infestation of short-lived humans known as "redshirts." And there were a couple of non-fiction infestations, too. 

Pigeons infiltrated the set during the filming of the first pilot (the one starring Jeffrey Hunter, which was rejected by the studio). The birds were nesting in the rafters, and they had an annoying habit of cooing whenever Jeffery Hunter had a line. The crew tried to shoo them away, but they kept flying into the equipment. Finally, they were able to lure the pigeons off set with some breadcrumbs. Because of course breadcrumbs. Maybe they should have tried that with the tribbles.

That wasn't the last time the set was infiltrated by pests, though. A colony of bees swarmed the set during the filming of the second pilot, "Where No Man has Gone Before." According to StarTrek.com, the bees (wasps in some versions of the story) descended during the fifth day of production, terrorizing the crew and cast. William Shatner was stung on the eyelid, and if you watch the episode closely you'll notice he's sporting a puffy eyelid in a few scenes.

You thought Star Trek's tribbles were terrifying

In the 2012 film Life of Pi, a boy is adrift in a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger. Thanks to the wonders of CGI, actor Suraj Sharma didn't actually have to get in a boat with a tiger, because that would've been stupid. 

There was no CGI in the 60s, so if you were going to have a scene with a tiger, you had to have a scene with a tiger. That was the plan for the 1966 Star Trek episode "Shore Leave," but not everyone thought it was a great idea. "Bailey sees a full-grown Bengal tiger,"  association producer Robert Justman said in a note to Gene Coon. "... he will have to see it in CUTAWAY. Unless, of course, you want to screw around working with a full-grown Bengal tiger ... In which case, include me out."

Shatner, though, being Shatner, was not only cool with the idea, he thought Captain Kirk should maybe wrestle the tiger, until the beast got loose and "went berserk." According to These are the Voyages, once he saw the tiger, Shatner changed his mind about the whole wrestling thing. "Instantly my testicles rose up into my Adam's apple and the ignorant machismo that had be pulsing so heartily through my veins was replaced by sheer abject terror," Shatner later recalled. "I stood there trying not to look too horrified as I gracefully backed down [from wrestling the tiger] 'for the good of the show.'"

The failures of Star Trek's 23rd century technology

Imagine wheeling your grocery cart up to the automatic doors at Safeway. Now imagine if the automatic doors just failed to open and you bashed your shopping cart into them, thus spilling yourself and the contents all over the floor. That was pretty much a reality for the actors on the original Star Trek (except for the grocery cart, since they tended to not do a lot of grocery shopping in outer space). 

The reason the doors failed so spectacularly often is because they weren't really automatic ... they were operated by a pair of stagehands. (Just as an aside, imagine telling your grandchildren you had a role on Star Trek. "What were you grandpa?" "I was one of the automatic doors.")

According to ScreenRant, occasionally the automatic doors would fail to open, usually because one or both stagehands missed their cue and didn't open them in time. This happened so frequently there is actually an entire blooper reel containing nothing but William Shatner walking into the automatic doors. Even funnier, of course, is when you realize how bratty William Shatner actually was at the time, and how much it must have eaten him up inside every time one of those doors would fail to open and he'd embarrassingly smack into it. And for some reason, the sliding door problem was never really overcome — it continued to plague the production of Star Trek through subsequent incarnations of the franchise.

Am I taller than you now?

William Shatner had the sort of contract that parodies like to make fun of. You know, like when the narcissistic movie star expects a bottomless supply of caviar, but only caviar that comes from 18-month-old wild Russian sturgeon and is served at precisely 29.5 degrees Fahrenheit. Yeah, William Shatner was that kind of star. His contract specifically outlined all the ways in which he was to remain superior to all the other cast members. He had to have more lines than his costars, a bigger name in the opening credits, and he also had to be taller than everyone else. 

But was he? Nope. According to Celeb Heights — because for some reason there is an entire website devoted to how tall celebrities are — the Italian shoemaker DiFabrizio once said, "I made William Shatner three inches taller in the show." There's a still of Shatner's shoe that shows an unusually thick heel, and the addition of a 1.5 inch lift would probably have given the actor that kind of height. 

How tall was William Shatner really? About 5 foot, 7 ½ inches. Note the extra half-inch ... very important. Anyway, the lifts evidently made Shatner's stomach stick out in an unnatural and unflattering way, so the producers had Shatner take the lifts out of his shoes and than they tried to make 6' 0" Leonard Nimoy look shorter instead. They weren't always successful, though. Good thing Shatner never actually watched Star Trek.

Teri Garr won't talk about whatever bizarre thing happened to her on Star Trek

Teri Garr played a ditzy secretary in the third season episode "Assignment: Earth," because women in the Star Trek universe were dtizy like 9 times out of 10 in those early episodes. But that doesn't seem to be the reason why she hated the experience so much. Though granted, it's not like she's provided any specific details or anything.

Garr evidently disliked being on Star Trek so much that more than 20 years later she still didn't want to talk about it. When Starlog magazine tried to ask her questions about that long-ago role in 1990, she became annoyed, even though — duh — she was being interviewed for a Star Trek magazine and therefore it's not a huge leap to assume that they're going to ask questions about the time she was on Star Trek ... "I have nothing to say about it," she said. "I did that years ago and I mostly deny I ever did it." 

"Assignment: Earth" was initially meant to be the pilot for a spinoff series, but it didn't get picked up, much to Garr's unabashed pleasure. "Thank God," she told Starlog. "Otherwise, all I would get would be Star Trek questions for the rest of my natural life — and probably my unnatural life. You ever see those people who are Star Trek fans? The same people who go to swap meets." Low blow, lady. Low blow.

That time when William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy were both acting like spoiled brats

The William Shatner of the 1960s was a bratty princess. But it's not like the other actors just sat back and took all of his bratty princess crap or anything — in fact Shatner and Nimoy at one time had a huge, mutually bratty rivalry that escalated to the point where they once both locked themselves in their dressing rooms and refused to come out.

George Takei told this story to Howard Stern in 2010. Evidently, the whole row was over a photographer and get this — Shatner was upset because the photographer was there to photograph Nimoy, which was upsetting because ... he wasn't there to photograph Shatner? Anyway, Shatner decided it was within his authority to kick the photograph off the set, then both Shatner and Nimoy retreated to their dressing rooms like spoiled teenagers who didn't get to play an extra hour of Fortnite

"It turns out that Bill had, in his contract, an approval of a photographer on the set and he exercised that," said Takei. So yes, William Shatner's contract said he had permission to be a jealous man-baby whenever someone else was going to have his picture taken. Oh, the power.

Mr. Spock may have stolen office supplies to reply to Star Trek fans

Leonard Nimoy (much to the likely dismay of William Shatner) got more mail than any other Star Trek cast member. And because he was a pretty decent guy, he actually made an effort to respond to his fans. In fact, according to ScreenRant, he had so much mail to respond to that he once asked the studio for pens and pencils so he could spend his off time answering fan mail. Cool dude, Leonard Nimoy.

So you'd think when one of your stars is that attentive with his fans, you'd be like, "It's great for the show that Leonard is keeping his fans happy," and you'd want to do what you could to make that easy for him. But nooo ... the studio was actually like, "What the heck we're not going to foot the bill for his pens and pencils." Well, the whole affair eventually turned into a series of memos in which associate producer Robert Justman said he'd been knocked unconscious by "a fiercely vise-like grip upon me somewhere between my neck and shoulders," shortly before discovering that the supplies cabinet had been robbed. But after that, no one seems to remember if the studio ever went on to get Nimoy some pens.

Leonard Nimoy was hooked on Dum-Dums on the Star Trek set

You may have seen photographs of Spock sucking on a lollipop, but you probably blinked and then turned the page because it was just too bizarre to contemplate. Now, it's time to face the truth: Spock liked lollipops. But don't worry, it was all perfectly logical.

Yes, Leonard Nimoy was fond of sucking on lollipops between takes. Depending on who you ask, it was either because a combination of nerves and dialogue-heavy scenes gave him dry mouth, or it was because he was a smoker and he needed something to do with his hands. MeTV subscribes to the latter theory, but the reason for the lollipop habit isn't actually as much fun as the details about where he'd stash his lollipop during takes. Evidently, when the cameras were rolling he liked to put his half-sucked lollipop inside the lower panel of his tricorder. And here's the grossest bit: If you're ever wondering about the authenticity of the "genuine" tricorder you bought on eBay, you just have to look inside that lower panel. If it's full of sticky Dum-Dum residue and Vulcan drool, you've got the real thing. Gross.

Kate Mulgrew made life really uncomfortable for Jeri Ryan on Star Trek

It seems like Star Trek's most infamous antics happened during the first series, but later series weren't exactly immune from antics and unprofessional behavior. We're looking at you, Kate Mulgrew.

When Jeri Ryan joined the cast of Voyager, ratings skyrocketed. Now, Jeri Ryan is a fine actress but let's face it, the skyrocketing ratings probably had more to do with her skin-tight outfit than her delivery. That fact did not go unnoticed by Kate Mulgrew, who played Captain Janeway. She was not only annoyed by the new, sexier direction for the show, she was extra-super annoyed by the fact that it appeared to be working. 

According to Closer Weekly, Mulgrew didn't just keep her budding hatred for Jeri Ryan to herself, either, she it laid out for everyone to see. First, she insisted Jeri Ryan be banned from the restroom, because it took too long for her to get in and out of her skintight outfit and she was wasting everybody's time. Happily, the studio realized that you're probably in violation of some employment law or another if you're not letting your employees use the bathroom, so they didn't grant Mulgrew's weirdly vindictive request. So she showed her displeasure in other ways, like walking out of scenes if she knew she'd be off-camera, thus forcing the younger actress to deliver her lines to no one. And you thought Shatner was a prima donna.