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Original ‘Star Trek’ Actress Still in Demand the fan circuit

Fresno, Calif. — Grace Lee Whitney, the oldest surviving member of the original Star Trek TV series cast, considers each day a blessed gift. That’s because after a long period of alcohol, drugs and sex addictions, she’s been clean and sober for 32 years.

“Only two percent make it to 30 years,” says Whitney with great pride.

She was able to join that select group because of thousands of supporters — fans who have crowded into conventions around the globe to see the actress.

There was a time when she appeared at 30 conventions a year, but she has cut back in recent years to focus on the huge Star Trek convention held in Las Vegas each August. She loves getting the opportunity to talk with the fans, whether it’s a large or small convention.

“I have fans all over the world, some who don’t even speak English. When they bring me on stage, everyone will stand up and cheer. I practically weep and then I give them my all,” Whitney says.

She attracts a crowd despite being on only part of the first season of Star Trek. After a series of television (Batman, Rifleman) and film roles (including the Billy Wilder classic Some Like It Hot), Whitney was cast in 1966 to be part of Gene Roddenberry’s new “space wagon train series” called Star Trek.

Whitney’s role originally was as Capt. James T. Kirk’s (William Shatner) assistant and eventual love interest, but her time on the show ended halfway through the year. Why she was cut from the show remained one of the big mysteries with fans for years. Reports ranged from addiction and undependable behavior to a network decision that a love interest for Kirk would be too cumbersome.

Whitney revealed in her 1998 autobiography, The Longest Trek: My Tour of the Galaxy, that she was sexually assaulted by a member of the Star Trek management team she only refers to as “the executive.” The assault happened late on a Friday in an isolated part of the Desilu Studios where the series was shot, Whitney says. A few days later, she got a call from her agent that she had been written out of the series.

Whitney’s acting career - and almost her life - came to an end as she fell into a horrific spiral. Her recovery has been largely due to the fans who never forgot her. It was a “Star Trek” convention where Whitney went public with her addiction problems.

“When I told the fans I was an alcoholic, they all applauded. When I told them I had given myself to a higher power, they cheered again,” says Whitney. “I’m in a great place because I’ve gone full circle.”

Along with convention appearance, Whitney keeps busy with her family, is writing another book and using the influence she still has on the “Star Trek” world.

After she saw the re-launch of “Star Trek” by J.J. Abrams in 2009, Whitney called the producer to complain there were no blondes on the Enterprise. Her complaints may have been taken seriously because Whitney noticed that a young blonde has joined the crew, at least in the trailer for the upcoming “Star Trek Into Darkness.”

Maybe that young blonde, like Whitney, will still talk about her “Star Trek” experiences and make convention appearances 50 years from now.

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©2013 The Fresno Bee (Fresno, Calif.)

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