“By the way, Mr. Sulu, any chance of teaching me that body throw? Could come in handy some time.”
“I don’t know, sir. It isn’t just physical, you know. You have to be inscrutable.”
“Inscrutable? Sulu, you’re the most scrutable man I know!”-Captain Kirk and Mr. Sulu in “The Infinite Vulcan”
When speaking of James Doohan a couple of weeks ago, I of characters whose roles expanded greatly. And while Scotty’s presence certainly expanded throughout the run of Star Trek, his place in “Where No Man Has Gone Before” is consistent with that in later episodes: there’s never a doubt that Mr. Scott is anything but the jovial chief engineer. But for Doohan’s dressing room roommate, things were not so straightforward: instead of being constantly visible as the helmsman of the U.S.S. Enterprise, Mr. Sulu’s first appearance was as the ship’s astrophysicist. And while Sulu’s personality still shines through in his fairly brief appearance, his role is nothing like it would eventually be. But for George Takei, this small opportunity would completely change his life.
Takei was born in 1937 in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles shortly after the coronation of King George VI in the UK (as this is the inspiration for his first name). However, for the duration of World War II, he and his family were subjected to one of the great injustices of US history: the mass internment of Japanese-American citizens following Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor. After being moved from converted stables in Santa Anita Park, Takei and his family spent time in the Rowher and Tule Lake interment camps before returning home to Los Angeles. After high school, he spent time at Cal studying architecture before eventually getting his B.A. and M.A. in theater at UCLA. He also studied at the Shakespeare Institute in Stratford-upon-Avon, England, and Sophia University in Tokyo.
However, Hollywood at the time was not exactly beating down the doors of Asian talent, so his first big break while in school was providing voices for the dubbed versions of various Japanese kaiju films, including Godzilla Raids Again (in its notoriously re-titled form as Gigantis: The Fire Monster) and Rodan. He also appeared on Playhouse 90 and in the Twilight Zone episode “The Encounter”, which is mostly remembered for being one of the few episodes pulled from the American syndication package. There were other appearances in movies and TV shows, but Star Trek afforded Takei his first chance to actually become a recurring character on a TV show. Furthermore, Takei was quickly convinced in not only the ability of Gene Roddenberry, but in the validity of the concept, particularly the optimistic aspect of Star Trek‘s philosophy. Takei has long been one of Star Trek‘s staunchest advocates, and walks the walk with his advocacy for LGBT rights (for the two people on the internet who don’t know who George Takei is, he’s a happily married gay man) and continual spreading of positive vibes online through the power of memes.
Next week, we’ll be going back to the ’80s….to talk about a pair of cartoons from the ’70s.