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Was William Shatner a ‘Prima Donna’ on the Set of ‘Star Trek’? George Takei Says So

Rosemary Giles
Photo Credit: Carlito/ Paramount Pictures and NBC/ MovieStillsDB/ Cropped
Photo Credit: Carlito/ Paramount Pictures and NBC/ MovieStillsDB/ Cropped

While most actors and actresses are good at “playing nice” and speaking kindly about their co-stars in front of reporters, this is certainly not the case when it comes to William Shatner and George Takei, who worked on Star Trek together for years. They certainly don’t shy away from speaking their minds about each other. Recently, George Takei shared his unfiltered thoughts about Shatner’s behavior on the set of the iconic show.

Stars on ‘Star Trek’

The feud between Shatner, now 92, and Takei, 85, dates all the way back to their time on Star Trek together nearly 60 years ago. Takei’s autobiography To the Stars gives some indication of two instances that may have fueled his distaste for his co-star. Allegedly, Shatner would pretend he didn’t know Takei while on set. He also changed the script of Star Trek V so that Hikaru Sulu, Takei’s character, wouldn’t take command of a starship.

Group photo of the cast of 'Star Trek' standing around William Shatner sitting in a chair.
Promotional shot of the cast of Star Trek including James Doohan, DeForest Kelley, Majel Barrett, William Shatner, Nichelle Nichols, Leonard Nimoy, George Takei, and Walter Koenig. (Photo Credit: TarzanTriumphs/ Paramount Pictures and NBC/ MovieStillsDB)

Shatner’s side of the feud is less clear, although it appears that his outspokenness about Takei is more a form of retaliation than anything else. He did, however, reference in his book Star Trek Memories a particular instance when he was injured by Takei during an on-camera sword fight but he seemed to harbor no hard feelings about it. He simply pointed out, “I really do think that some small part of [Takei] was upset that he didn’t get to run me through.”

Prima donna

During an interview with The GuardianTakei touched on his feud with Shatner when asked if the cast of the original series got along well. He said “Yes. Yes. YES. Except for one, who was a prima donna. But the rest of us shared a great camaraderie.” He didn’t stop there, going on to say that no one on the show got along with Shatner because his ego got in the way of cast relationships: “He was self-involved. He enjoyed being the center of attention. He wanted everyone to kowtow to him.”

George Takei as Hikaru Sulu on 'Star Trek' scowling off in the distance while wearing a yellow shirt.
Publicity still of George Takei as Hikaru Sulu on Star Trek. (Photo Credit: Carlito/ Paramount Pictures and NBC/ MovieStillsDB)

Takei also addressed allegations from Shatner that he only mentions their feud to get publicity, asserting that this was not the case at all: “[Shatner’s] just a cantankerous old man and I’m going to leave him to his devices. I’m not going to play his game.” Many other cast members, including Walter Koenig and James Doohan, came forward over the years and agreed with Takei’s assessment of Shatner, although with less colorful language.

A difference of opinion

Shatner has his own opinions about the ongoing feud with his former co-star, which he’s spoken about on many occasions. From his perspective, it was news to him that his coworkers saw him as “cold and arrogant.” He said, “I was horrified to learn this, ashamed that I hadn’t realized it.” Yet this understanding seems to have given way to frustration and annoyance, particularly when it comes to Takei.

William Shatner as James T. Kirk on 'Star Trek' sitting in a chair on a space ship.
Publicity still of William Shatner as James T. Kirk on Star Trek. (Photo Credit: Carlito/ Paramount Pictures and NBC/ MovieStillsDB)

“I began to understand that they were doing it for publicity. Sixty years after some incident they are still on that track,” Shatner said. “Don’t you think that’s a little weird? It’s like a sickness. George has never stopped blackening my name. These people are bitter and embittered. I have run out of patience with them. Why give credence to people consumed by envy and hate?”

More from us: We Have MLK to Thank for Nichelle Nichols’ Continued Portrayal of Uhura on ‘Star Trek’

Who is truly to blame for their issues? It remains unclear, but it’s safe to say that if they have not made peace yet, it seems unlikely they ever will.

Rosemary Giles

Rosemary Giles is a history content writer with Hive Media. She received both her bachelor of arts degree in history, and her master of arts degree in history from Western University. Her research focused on military, environmental, and Canadian history with a specific focus on the Second World War. As a student, she worked in a variety of research positions, including as an archivist. She also worked as a teaching assistant in the History Department.

Since completing her degrees, she has decided to take a step back from academia to focus her career on writing and sharing history in a more accessible way. With a passion for historical learning and historical education, her writing interests include social history, and war history, especially researching obscure facts about the Second World War. In her spare time, Rosemary enjoys spending time with her partner, her cats, and her horse, or sitting down to read a good book.