Although it was almost between Spock and Uhura instead of Kirk, Star Trek’s groundbreaking 1968 kiss almost didn’t happen at all.
The amount of ink used to describe the many ways the original Star Trek series broke new ground could fill a swimming pool. By far, its most landmark moment, and a critical turning point for civil rights and equality, occurred in 1968 when Captain Kirk and Lieutenant Uhura kissed on the lips. And like all good romance tales, there was no shortage of drama going on behind the camera, including a cunning plot twist to outfox the censors and save the scene.
Long before director J. J. Abrams made Uhura and Spock a couple in his Star Trek universe; the same thing almost happened over 40 years ago on television. When The Original Series was running, an episode called for a kiss between the Enterprise crew. According to Nichelle Nichols, Lt. Uhura’s partner was supposed to be Spock. The Vulcan doctor had become an extremely popular sex symbol, so his pairing with Uhura would be well received by fans. However, Captain Kirk wasn’t quite as thrilled about the pairing.
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Nichols says Shatner wanted to swap partners and insert himself as the scene’s amorous actor, not his popular co-star, Leonard Nimoy. As such, adjustments were made, and one kiss led to another. After much rehearsing, it was time for the big moment that everyone knew would be history-making.
In the Season 3 episode, “Plato’s Stepchildren,” the Enterprise crew is forced by telekinesis to perform and kiss for the delight of their captors. But when it came time to film the scene with Kirk and Uhura, the episode’s director, someone Nichols said she worked with before with no problems, suddenly had issues.
The director was concerned the kiss wouldn’t be well received in the South. So he conferred with Shatner while Nichols stood next to them. Nichols says she was indifferent to the “corny scene,” she just wanted everyone to get on the same page. Finally, with creator Gene Roddenberry and studio execs on hand, Roddenberry said to shoot it “both ways,” one with a kiss, one without. That was the plan, but in Star Trek, the Captain has the final say.
The workday was ending, and the scene had to be shot, so the on-camera kiss went first. But Shatner kept asking for another take. Finally, with only a sliver of time left before production would bleed into costly over-time for the crew, the director shot one last take and the only “non-kiss.”
The final take unfolded like the others, only Shatner dipped Nichols forward, straight to camera, and leaned in — their mouths not fully visible. However, what no one else knew, except the person working the camera, was that once Shatner leaned in for the unseen kiss, he looked into the lens and crossed his eyes. Shatner blew the shot. But instead of asking for it another, the director called a wrap, seemingly convinced he had what he needed.
The next day, the group gathered to watch the raw “dailies” of the big scene. After sitting through an endless run of kiss takes, the last take rolled. Only then did the director, who clearly hadn’t been paying attention on the set, sat in shock — along with the rest of the audience at what played out on screen. With no real option, the kiss stayed in Stark Trek. The Captain had outmaneuvered the chance for censorship. “I tried to make it so they couldn’t edit it out,” Shatner said.
It was a watershed moment for television that might not have happened if it had played out as originally intended. It is worth noting that Sammy Davis, Jr. and Nancy Sinatra shared a kiss on TV a year earlier in 1967, but on the cheek, not the lips. As such, Kirk and Uhura were the first passionate kiss on American TV between a white man and a Black woman, boldly going where no show had gone before.
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