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The Real Reason George Takei and Walter Koenig’s Relationship Soured on the Set of ‘Star Trek’

Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures / NBC / MovieStillsDB
Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures / NBC / MovieStillsDB

Star Trek first burst into the mainstream on television in 1966. The show took the “final frontier” and made it into something the world had never seen before. Focused on diversity and inclusion, the series was an instant success but viewership soon fizzled out into a select number of super-fans.

While the show was focused on harmony and teamwork, that wasn’t the case on set. The actors playing beloved characters Mr. Sulu (George Takei) and Pavel Chekov (Walter Koeing) had a tense relationship on set – but why?

Star Trek promoted diversity

Star Trek spoke to a generation of kids and adults alike who were fascinated by space and the progress it promised. Thanks to an amazing cast of beloved characters, the show managed to avoid cancellation until its third season wrapped, totaling 79 episodes.

Spock, McCoy, and Sulu in Star Trek
Commander Spock (Leonard Nimoy), Leonard McCoy (DeForest Kelley), and Mr. Sulu (George Takei) in Star Trek (1966). (Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures / NBC / MovieStillsDB)

Had the original pilot episode of Star Trek been approved, only one character would be familiar to fans today: Spock. Studio executives told director Gene Rodenberry to go back to the drawing board to create characters that better fit the studio’s image – all because Rodenberry originally cast a woman as the show’s first officer (this was the ’60s, remember).

Roddenberry’s new cast of characters still focused on promoting diversity, but in a package that was slightly more “acceptable” to the studio execs. African American actress Nichelle Nichols was brought on to play Lieutenant Uhura, and Japanese American actor George Takei was cast as Sulu.

The cast of Star Trek
(From left to right) James Doohan, Leonard Nomoy, William Shatner, DeForest Kelley, Nichelle Nichols, and William Koeing in Star Trek (1966). (Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures / NBC / MovieStillsDB)

In 1967, Walter Koeing was brought on board the Starship Enterprise to play Russian crew member Pavel Chekov while Takei took a break from filming to star in the John Wayne film The Green Beret. Takei couldn’t return to set to film the start of Season 2 on time, so Koeing was given most of Takei’s lines.

Takei thought Koeing stole his lines

When Takei returned to set, he immediately resented Koeing by believing he had completely stolen his role in his absence (according to Mother Jones). Eventually, the animosity wore off between the two actors when they were forced to share a dressing room together. They soon got over their misunderstanding and even grew to be good friends.

George Takei and William Koeing in Star Trek.
Mr. Sulu (George Takei) and Pavel Chekov (William Koeing) in Star Trek (1966). (Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures / NBC / MovieStillsDB)

Takei recalled one instance where Koeing pointed out a group of attractive extras on set. Even though Takei didn’t come out as gay until 2005 Koeing and other cast members knew about his sexuality. At that moment, Takei felt supported and seen by his co-star and friend.

More from us: Live Long and Prosper: 10 Life Lessons People Learned From ‘Star Trek’

In fact, the two grew to like each other so much that Koeing was Takei’s best man at his wedding in 2008!

Elisabeth Edwards

Elisabeth Edwards is a public historian and history content writer. After completing her Master’s in Public History at Western University in Ontario, Canada Elisabeth has shared her passion for history as a researcher, interpreter, and volunteer at local heritage organizations.

She also helps make history fun and accessible with her podcast The Digital Dust Podcast, which covers topics on everything from art history to grad school.

In her spare time, you can find her camping, hiking, and exploring new places. Elisabeth is especially thrilled to share a love of history with readers who enjoy learning something new every day!

The Digital Dust Podcast