Is this story about Star Trek real?
January 4, 2017 11:23 PM   Subscribe

There's a scene in the classic Star Trek episode "The Naked Time", which is mostly known for shirtless Sulu, where he stands in front of Uhura and says "I'll protect you fair maiden!" And she says, "Sorry, neither." I noticed this tumblr post pop up on Facebook and Twitter in the last few days suggesting that Nichelle Nichols adlibbed that line. Is that true?

The episode page on Memory Alpha doesn't mention it. I've never heard this story before and I'm wondering if this is a case of the internet propagating a story that sounds like it could be true, even though it isn't.

I'm especially interested in the idea that it got past the censors because it wasn't in the script. This sounds a bit too much like over egging the pudding; adding some cultural relevance to a line that could well have been scripted by the progressive team of writers they had.

I'd love the story to be true, but can anyone point to a quote from Nichelle Nichols or a story about this episode/exchange that details this. Because googling the quote and the episode name brings up IMDB trivia (notoriously unreliable) and posts similar to this tumblr one, with no attribution.

I'm one of those people who bristles at incorrect quotes spammed across social media, so that's where I'm coming from. If it's true, I'll share this everywhere. If not, well... I'll just do some heavy eyerolling when I see it appear probably.
posted by crossoverman to Media & Arts (13 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Sure sounds like something producer Gene Coon thought of in rewrites. You could get an authoritative reply on this by contacting the tireless Star Trek Fact Check:
posted by johngoren at 1:30 AM on January 5, 2017 [2 favorites]

After thinking about it, maybe it really was her adlib. Still, that Fact Check guy is the last word in this kind of thing.
posted by johngoren at 2:37 AM on January 5, 2017

What am I missing that would get censored?
posted by amanda at 5:10 AM on January 5, 2017 [2 favorites]

That Uhura is neither fair nor still in possession of her maidenhead, not only that she is unapologetic about no longer being a virgin even though she is unmarried (gasp).
posted by koolkat at 5:20 AM on January 5, 2017 [13 favorites]

I took it to mean that she wasn't a maiden, i.e. someone in need of a rescue by a dashing swordsman like Sulu.
posted by Sunburnt at 8:12 AM on January 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

I find it unlikely to have been an ad-lib. I wonder if someone conflated it with another on-set anecdote of a Nichols zinger? There was a story I remember about a lighting argument between a director and the director of photography or someone, where the director kept saying "but she's black", not meaning it as a reference to her skin color but to some technical issue with the the contrast or blocking or something, but since they were talking past each other it got kind of loud/heated and it was one of those situations where everyone else gets quiet and you just hear "she's black!" being shouted repeatedly, and then the director suddenly realizes how bad it sounds and is looking at Nichelle like "oh, fuck" and she just calmly says "but comely" and breaks the tension. ('Black, but comely' being some Biblical quote).
posted by oh yeah! at 8:28 AM on January 5, 2017 [5 favorites]

Gene Coon hadn't yet started working on Star Trek when "The Naked Time" was in production.

I wondered the same thing when I saw this pop up on social media this week. Aside from getting a copy of the final shooting script, I don't think there's any way to definitely verify this. I would doubt it was an ad-lib, only because Roddenberry was in charge at this point and he hated humor on Star Trek.
posted by Automocar at 8:40 AM on January 5, 2017

Sorry, I meant I doubt it wasn't ad ad-lib. Seems like the only way it would get into the episode.
posted by Automocar at 9:33 AM on January 5, 2017

I've got Nichelle Nichols' autobiography at home, I'll check tonight to see what/if she wrote about that scene. Pretty sure that's where I remember the "but comely" story from, so there's bound to have been something about filming The Naked Now.
posted by oh yeah! at 9:39 AM on January 5, 2017

I forwarded this question to my best friend, who is immensely knowledgeable about all things ST (TOS, NG, DS9, the animated series - all of 'em). This is what he passed along:
Unfortunately, I can't get to my reference books at the moment (prime of which would be to go back to Nichelle's autobiography to review her account of the episode), but I really doubt it was an ad-libbed lined in THE NAKED TIME. When Nichelle started out with STAR TREK, she had done a lot of live performances at clubs and the like, but not so much actual film/production work. For example, she didn't know where her mark was or even what it was (a strip of masking tape on the floor so the actor knows where to stand on the set, etc.) I doubt she would have risked ad-libbing her way with such a daring line, one that could be easily censored by NBC and which could get her into trouble. That said, what's remarkable is how quickly Nichelle made the role her own, quite lovable and full of the spark of life, but also overwhelmingly competent as the communications officer, so much so that we never think to question it. For further character development, when Uhura is questioned, she might snap at the person, including as she does in THE NAKED TIME when Kirk has a lament about Riley's singing and asks rhetorically why can't Uhura cut Riley off. Lastly, such a daring ad-lib would be the kind of thing that Nichelle would have discussed on the convention circuit (but in any event which would very likely be in her book). I've seen her many times, but don't recall her ever claiming credit for that. So it's not 100% for sure not an ad-lib, but Occam's Shortcut to the Razor gives it a 90% likelihood (of being un-adlibbed). Besides, what's all this anti-writer prejudice going on in the world? The stars already get enough attention, what about the brilliant writer of this episode, John D. F. Black?
posted by mosk at 3:16 PM on January 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

Ok, I didn't see any reference in the autobiography to The Naked Now scene, or any ad-libs. There was one anecdote about a time that she stood her ground against a director when he wanted her to do something comedic that she felt Uhura wouldn't do, and that Gene backed her up when the director tried complaining. Also lots about how her roles was always getting reduced from first drafts to final, because of racism from the studio primarily, and by Shatner's egotism later. Really doesn't sound like the kind of atmosphere where she'd have been able to get lines added on the spur of the moment, it was a fight to hold on to the lines that were written.

I did just notice that the tumblr post says "that Nichelle Nichols ad-libbed “sorry, neither” in rehearsals and they were only able to sneak it by the censors because it wasn’t in the script" - and, thing is, even if the line did get thought up during rehearsal, I don't think that it means it wouldn't still have been typed up to be added to the latest draft of the script. That's part of the script supervisor's job.
posted by oh yeah! at 6:16 PM on January 5, 2017

I took johngoren's advice and emailed the Star Trek fact check site and he sent me a screenshot of the shooting script. This confirms the line was not adlibbed and didn't make it past the censor because it was adlibbed. So, a great line but its creation in the meme is totally fabricated.

Also, kudos to mosk's friend asking about anti-writer prejudice. We seem to love the idea that actors can adlib (and they should be able to), but why no love for the actual writer?
posted by crossoverman at 6:20 PM on January 5, 2017

I don't think that it means it wouldn't still have been typed up to be added to the latest draft of the script. That's part of the script supervisor's job.

That's also a fair assumption, if the ad-lib happened. But if it had, I feel like this is a story that would be shared a lot. And in a form other than on trivia lists and in memes.
posted by crossoverman at 6:22 PM on January 5, 2017

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