TV URBAN LEGEND: The first interracial kiss on a TV drama was originally going to be between Mr. Spock and Lt. Uhura.
While the current Star Trek film series is a dramatic departure from the old Star Trek set-up in a number of ways, the interpersonal relationships among the crew are roughly the same. A notable exception, however, is in the romance between the half-Vulcan first officer Mr. Spock and the ship’s communications officer, Lt. Uhura. The two didn’t have many scenes together during the original Star Trek series. However, did they almost share a notable piece of television history? Was the famous interracial kiss during “Plato’s Stepchildren” in the final season of Star Trek originally going to take place between Uhura and Spock rather than Uhura and Captain Kirk?
The kiss, which aired in November 1968, was a big deal at the time, as anything involving race was controversial for television. In fact, there was a controversy earlier that same year at NBC (which aired Star Trek) about “interracial touching” between singers Harry Belafonte and Petula Clark in a TV special (in an old TV Legends Revealed I looked at how Clark boldly handled the controversy).
The scene in the episode involved Kirk, Spock, Uhura, Nurse Chapel and Dr. McCoy being trapped on a planet inhabited by people with telekinetic powers (all but one, the friendly jester Alexander, played by The Wild Wild West‘s Michael Dunn, himself the spotlight of an old TV Legends Revealed). The people, who referred to themselves as Platonians, in honor of the Greek philosopher Plato, tormented the crew for their own entertainment. At one point they use their powers to force Kirk and Uhura to passionately kiss.
Here is the scene in question:
According to Nichelle Nichols, Spock initially was supposed to make out with Uhura. In an interview with the Vancouver Sun, she recalled:
Bill Shatner saw what was going on and he said, “Woah, woah, woah. If anybody is gonna get to kiss Lieutenant Uhura it’s gonna be me.” And he had the whole thing changed so the first interracial kiss was with Lieutenant Uhura and Captain Kirk.
Bill wanted to rehearse all the time. 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.
While it’s true that at one point the scene was going to be between Spock and Uhura, that wasn’t the original plan.
As noted before, the scene was considered to be controversial at the time, so executives suggested they switch Spock and Kirk (in the episode, Spock and Nurse Chapel were forced to kiss at the same time as Kirk and Uhura) and have Spock kiss Uhura instead. The original script, though, was Kirk and Uhura together. Nichols likely didn’t know that at the time, so she’s just giving the story from her perspective, which is that William Shatner insisted the script be changed from its original form – when in reality, he was having it changed to its original form.
There is some debate between Shatner and Nichols over whether they ever literally touched lips (Shatner says they didn’t, while Nichols contends they did). I can’t tell you for sure, as the point of contact is obscured in most shots of the kiss.
There is also some confusion over the term “first interracial kiss,” as by this point in time there had been a number of kisses between white male actors and Asian-American actresses (even on Star Trek, Shatner had kissed an Asian-American actress, although that episode aired after “Plato’s Stepchildren,” despite being filmed before it), so those would be termed the REAL first interracial kisses on television. This was just the first interracial kiss between a white actor and an African-American actress (and even there, it would discount nonfiction kisses, like Sammy Davis Jr. kissing Nancy Sinatra on the cheek after they sang together in a TV special the previous year). I even considered presenting the legend as this was NOT the first interracial kiss on television, but that just seemed pedantic.
Nichols has also told a story about the show trying to film an alternate take without the kiss in case producers wanted to use it, but the two actors kept ruining the shot by Shatner making weird faces during the scene. I certainly can believe that happened, but I can’t say for sure one way or another. I’m confident, however, that the story that it was originally Spock and Uhura who were going to kiss is …
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