Lt. Uhura of Star Trek
“I'm a fan of the fans. I love them. They're fabulous. I love being around them. I love their madness and their caring. I love watching them take off for a weekend, don the costumes, and become characters from the 23rd century and beyond. I thank the fans for giving us, me, so much support and love. I want them to know I love them. They'll always be my friends. I'll see the fans, always. They can rest assured of that.” Nichelle Nichols (on fans of “Star Trek”)
African-American actress of TV, film and stage Nichelle Nichols is best known to “Star Trek” fans for playing Lt. Nyota Uhura on the popular television series “Star Trek” (1966-1969) and in the six motion pictures sequels “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” (1979, netted a Saturn nomination), “Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan” (1982), “Star Trek III: The Search for Spock” (1984), “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home” (1986), “Star Trek V: The Final Frontier” (1989) and “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country” (1991). She also provided the voice of Lt. Uhura on several episodes of “Star Trek: The Animated Series” (1973-1974). Apart from making her a star, her famous role on “Star Trek” established her as a life-sustaining role model for young black women in America. With co-star William Shatner, she made TV history by taking part in an interracial kiss and nearly four decades after the show's demise, she was nominated for two TV Land Awards for Most Memorable Kiss (2006) and TV Moment That Became Headline News (2007). Outside “Star Trek,” Nichols has acted in such movies as “The Supernaturals” (1986), “Snow Dogs” (2002, with Cuba Gooding Jr.), “Are We There Yet” (2005, with Ice Cube), “Lady Magdalene's” (2008), “Tru Loved” (2008) and the upcoming “The Torturer” (2008), “This Bitter Earth” (2009) and “David” (2009). She also appeared in TV series like “Gargoyles” (1994-1996, as the voice of Diane Maza) and “Heroes” (2007). On stage, the two-time Sarah Siddons nominee has been noted for her work in “Blues for Mr. Charlie,” “Kicks and Company,” “The Blacks” and “Horowitz and Mrs. Washington,” among others.
Nichols is also an accomplished singer and writer and toured with the Duke Ellington and Lionel Hampton bands. In 1994, Nichols published an autobiography called “Beyond Uhura: Star Trek and Other Memoirs.” She also wrote the science-fiction novel “Saturn's Child,” which was successful among sci-fi fans.
A celebrated philanthropist, Nichols has been honored with the NASA Public Service Award for her attempts in recruiting minorities to space study. She has served on the Board of Governors of the National Space Society since the mid-1980s. She has also been a long-term member of the Advisory Board of the International Space Camp and a spokesperson for The Kwanzaa Foundation.
In a more personal note, Nichols is the mother of actor Kyle Johnson (born 1951), who was fathered by former husband Foster Johnson. She was once romantically involved with “Star Trek” creator Gene Roddenberry. Her hobbies include oil painting, sculpting and reading science fiction. She also enjoys designing her own clothes.
Mother of 1
Childhood and Family:
Grace Nichols, who would later be known as Nichelle Nichols, was born on December 28, 1932, in Robbins, an Illinois community formed by African-Americans in the 1890s. Her father, Samuel Earl Nichols, was both the town mayor of Robbins and its chief magistrate who also worked as a factory employee. Her mother's name is Lishia. Nichelle was educated in Chicago, New York and Los Angeles. It was in New York that she flourished as a singer.
Nichelle was briefly married to Foster Johnson in 1951 and her son, Kyle Johnson, was born on August 14, 1951. An active actor during the 1960s to 1970s, he starred as Newt in “The Learning Tree,” a 1969 melodrama directed and scripted by Gordon Park. Nichelle had a brother named Thomas Alva Nichols, who was a member of the Heaven's Gate cult. He was found dead along with 38 other members in their mass suicide on March 26, 1997. He made an exit video saying “I'm the happiest person in the world.”
Nichelle is an honorary member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated.
Nichelle Nichols entered the entertainment industry when she was 16 years old. At the time, she sang in a ballet she created for the American jazz composer and performer Duke Ellington. A native of Robbins, Illinois, she went on to perform at the renowned “Blue Angel” and “Playboy Clubs” while studying in New York, but did not experience her first break until she rejoined Duke Ellington and toured with his band throughout the United States, Europe and Canada. She also worked for Lionel Hampton's band.
A multi-faceted performer, Nichols soon added acting to her endeavors. In addition to playing the role of Carmen in a Chicago stock company production of “Carmen Jones,” she appeared in “The Roar of the Greasepaint, the Smell of the Crowd, For My People” and received extensive praise for her starring performance in the James Baldwin play, “Blues for Mr. Charlie.” In 1959, she made her big screen debut in a bit part in the Hollywood musical “Porgy and Bess,” starring Sidney Poitier and Dorothy Dandridge.
Between her singing and acting assignments, Nichols also modeled. In 1960, she was featured in a catalog for Hollywood’s fetish clothing seller Fine Craft, Inc. and posed in the men's magazine “Escapade” for its December issue. Her face was also seen on the cover of “Ebony” magazine (January 1967).
In 1964, Nichols made her TV movie debut starring as Joanne Logan on the based-on-play “Great Gettin' Up Mornin'.” The same year, she also appeared as Norma Bartlett in the Gene Roddenberry-produced drama “The Lieutenant.” Back to film, she had a featured role in the Boris Sagal-directed comedy/romance “Made in Paris” (1966) and “Mister Buddwing,” which was based on a novel by Evan Hunter.
Nichols' massive breakthrough as an actress arrived in 1966 when she landed the role of Nyota Uhura on the science-fiction series “Star Trek,” which was also created and produced by Gene Roddenberry. As the brainy, patriotic, Swahili-born lieutenant, the actress made history by becoming the first African-American women featured in a major TV series not portraying a servant. She also became part of a famous interracial kiss when her character kissed Canadian actor William Shatner, who played Captain James T. Kirk, in a 1968 episode called “Plato's Stepchildren.” Nichols' coveted role became the inspirations of many African-American women. Despite her success, Nichols wanted to leave the popular show during its first season because she thought her role lacked importance. Thanks to the encouragement of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., she remained with the series until its cancellation in 1969.
After the demise of “Star Trek,” Nichols returned to series TV as a guest star in “The D.A” (1971) and “Ironside” (1972) before providing the voice of Lt. Uhura on six episodes of “Star Trek: The Animated Series,” which she did during the 1973-1974 season. She resumed her movie career by taking the supporting role of Dorinda on “Truck Turner” (1974), an action/thriller directed by Jonathan Kaplan. It was five years later that Nichols was put back in the limelight when she recreated her noted TV role of Lt. Cmdr. Uhura for “Star Trek: The Motion Picture,” from which she was handed a 1980 Saturn nomination in the category of Best Supporting Actress.
Nichols next starred in “Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan” (1982), “Star Trek III: The Search for Spock” (1984), “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home” (1986), “Star Trek V: The Final Frontier” (1989) and “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country” (1991) and was seen in a disappointing TV movie version of William Shakespeare's “Antony and Cleopatra” (1983). She also starred in the horror/science-fiction film “The Supernaturals” (1986), opposite Maxwell Caulfield.
Following her last performance in the “Star Trek” movies, Nichols hosted the Sci-Fi Channel series “Inside Space” (1992) and did voice-over work for such TV series as “ABC Weekend Specials” (1993, as SS Stella), “Batman: The Animated Series” (1994, as Thoth Khepera), “Gargoyles” (1994-1996, as Diane Maza) and “Spider-Man” (1997, as Miriam the Vampire Queen) and the short film “Gargoyles: Brothers Betrayed” (1998). TV viewers could catch her playing the role of Sagan, High Priestess of Pangea, on the comedy film “The Adventures of Captain Zoom in Outer Space” (1995).
Entering the new millennium, Nichols portrayed the mother of Richard Brooks in an episode of “G vs E” and voiced Chief in an episode of the short-lived series “Buzz Lightyear of Star Command” (both 2000). Two years later, she was cast in the supporting role of Cuba Gooding Jr.'s mother, Amelia Brooks, in the hit sport-themed movie “Snow Dogs,” for director Brian Levant. She followed it up with roles in the comedy short “Roddenberry on Patrol” (2003), Mike Donahue's comedy “Surge of Power” (2004) and “Are We There Yet” (2005), an adventure starring Ice Cube and Nia Long and helmed by the “Snow Dogs” director Brian Levant. In 2007, she played the recurring role of Nana Dawson on five episodes of the NBC drama series “Heroes.”
Recently, Nichols starred as Lady Magdalene in the comedy “Lady Magdalene's” (2008), penned and directed by J. Neil Schulmanv, and was cast as a grandmother in the award-winning comedy “Tru Loved” (2008), for director/writer Stewart Wade. In addition to acting, she also served as an executive producer, choreographer, and sang three songs in the first film. She currently has completed filming the drama “The Torturer” (2008) and will have supporting roles in the upcoming “This Bitter Earth” and “David” (both 2009).
“Musical theatre has always been my first love. I was on my way to Broadway when, as I tell my fans, ‘Star Trek’ interrupted my career!” Nichelle Nichols
Nichols has continued to act on the stage. She received two Sarah Siddons nominations in the category of Best Actress for her performances in “Kicks and Company” and “The Blacks” and received positive feedback for her role in “Horowitz and Mrs. Washington.” She also starred in “Reflections” at the Westwood Playhouse.