The crew of Star Trek’s U.S.S. Enterprise may not have always seen eye to eye, but they rallied together when they shared a common cause or enemy. Away from the cameras, though, all bets were off. And even today, William Shatner has a long-running feud with one former co-star – a spat that was recently reignited by a stunning Twitter diatribe from the Captain Kirk actor.
This rivalry has endured for almost as long as the franchise itself. Since the original series began back in the ’60s, the Star Trek universe has expanded to include movies, spin-off shows, video games, books and comics – all springing from Gene Roddenberry’s original vision. And a crucial element of the enduring success of that first series was Shatner as Captain James T. Kirk.
Shatner memorably portrayed Kirk for three years between 1966 and 1969 before returning to the role in 1973. Lending his voice to Star Trek: The Animated Series was a way to keep the character and franchise alive, but other than that, Shatner struggled for work in the 1970s. Fans’ prayers were eventually answered, however, when the show was revived for the big screen in 1979’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture.
The success of the film led to Shatner starring in six more movies in the franchise, culminating in his final outing as Kirk in 1994’s Star Trek: Generations. This united the original series cast with the cast of new show Star Trek: The Next Generation. And although he has since gone on to win two Emmy Awards for the role of Denny Crane in The Practice and Boston Legal, Shatner will likely forever be remembered as the leader of the Enterprise’s crew.
Similarly, Japanese-American actor George Takei will always be synonymous with his iconic Star Trek role. Takei played Hikaru Sulu in the original series, animated series and six of the seven subsequent films. He even reprised the role in a 1996 episode of Star Trek: Voyager, in honor of the franchise’s 30th anniversary.
And while Sulu didn’t appear in every episode of the original series, he is still seen as one of the core members of the U.S.S. Enterprise crew. Aside from Star Trek, meanwhile, Takei has been a prolific voiceover artist who has lent his familiar tones to The Simpsons and Disney’s Mulan.
But these days Takei has become arguably as well-known for his political and social activism as for his acting. He is prominent in local and state politics and has gained recognition and awards for his campaigning on human rights issues, including relations between Japan and America. And, significantly, in 2005 he made the brave move of revealing his sexuality publicly for the first time.
In an interview with Frontiers magazine, Takei talked about his homosexuality, saying that he had been in a relationship with his partner Brad Altman for 18 years. He explained, “It’s not really coming out, which suggests opening a door and stepping through. It’s more like a long, long walk through what began as a narrow corridor that starts to widen.”
Since that revelation, Takei has become an outspoken proponent of LGBTQ+ rights on social media. Fusing his activism with his sharp sense of humor, he has harnessed Facebook and Twitter in such a powerful way that he has been reinvented as an internet celebrity and icon in his 70s and 80s. And in 2018 the star explained the benefits of this to The Daily Dot, saying, “The power of social media is fantastic in developing a genuine community.” Yet there was no such sense of community with one member of the Star Trek cast.
Yes, unfortunately, Takei and Shatner have been engaged in a bitter feud for over four decades now. And during that time, both men have said some very pointed things about each other. For example, in his 1994 autobiography To The Stars, Takei claimed that Shatner would pretend he didn’t know who he was in the early days of Star Trek.
Takei also alleged that Shatner used his influence to change an important element of the script for the movie Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. The original plan was for Sulu to take command of a starship at one point in the story. According to Takei, however, Shatner convinced the writers to change this – robbing Sulu of a potentially defining moment. And such behavior certainly fits with another Star Trek cast member’s description of Shatner.
You see, Nichelle Nichols was apparently close to quitting the show following Shatner’s antics, which allegedly included stealing other actors’ lines and bossing around directors and guest stars. The actress also revealed in her autobiography that she had only chosen to stay because civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. told her that she was a role model for young black women and girls. It’s fortunate that she did, too, as Star Trek certainly would have been a lesser show without her.
So, Takei seemingly wasn’t the only one to be disenchanted with Shatner. And the undercurrent of bad feeling between the pair continued over the years before it publicly exploded again in 2008. Apparently, Shatner was upset that he hadn’t been invited to Takei’s wedding to Altman. In a bitter clip posted to his YouTube channel The Shatner Project, the angry actor went on what can only be described as a rant.
“It’s so patently obvious that there is a psychosis there. I don’t know what his original thing about me was. I have no idea,” Shatner said. He then went on to declare that while he had never actually read To The Stars, he was aware of Takei’s claims in the book. And Shatner added of his former colleague, “I literally don’t know him. I didn’t know him very well on the series.”
Doubling down on the idea that he never truly knew Takei very well, Shatner said, “He would come in for a day or two, as evidenced by the part he played. Then on the movies, there occasionally. I didn’t know the man.” So, perhaps the wedding guest list was restricted to people Takei and Altman did know more intimately? Regardless of the true situation, Shatner would go on to wade into dubious territory when it came to Takei’s sexuality.
Shatner ranted, “[George] has continued to speak badly about me for all these years. Obviously, hiding his homosexuality – talk about festering and not living the truth of your life and feeling badly about yourself? And being fearful somebody would find out this terrible, terrible secret, so he thought.” These controversial comments may account for why the video was later pulled from YouTube.
“Finally, at the age of, I think, 70, he decides to come out of the closet and say, ‘I’m gay,’” continued Shatner. “Like, who cares? Be gay. Don’t be gay. That’s up to you, George. You would think there would be an epiphany at some point, where George might have said, ‘Poor Bill Shatner. He’s such a lonely, desperate, unhappy man that he did all these terrible things to me.’”
Shatner maintained, however, that he couldn’t remember doing anything to hurt Takei. He added, “I presume [George] can remember all these terrible things I must have done when I said ‘Hello’ or something to him. You would think he’d have this epiphany and say – because he and I don’t have many years left in this world – ‘I wish him well. I’m so happy that I wish him well.’”
“But instead what [George] does is he makes this big deal about not inviting me to his wedding,” Shatner went on. “If I was such a terrible force in his life – even some 40-odd years later, because I’ve not seen him – that I affect his marriage where he has to isolate it, what kind of sickness is going on in the man? Why would he go out of his way to denigrate me?”
Shatner’s emotional diatribe continued, “There must be something else inside of George that is festering and makes him so unhappy that he takes it out on me – in effect, a total stranger.” And he added, “It’s sad that the man can’t find enough peace in his life to either say, ‘Be positive’ and say, ‘I forgive him, whatever those hurts were’ or to shut up about it.”
Overall, then, Shatner’s take on the situation was that he “[felt] nothing but pity for [George].” So, how did Takei respond to this shocking video? Well, he revealed that he had in fact invited Shatner to the wedding. Allegedly, though, he had never received a response from the sci-fi icon. And when Takei told his side of the story to the New York Times Magazine in 2015, he made a pretty bold accusation.
“Two months after my wedding, [Bill] went on YouTube and ranted and raved about our not sending him an invitation,” Takei lamented. “We had. If he had an issue, he could have easily just phoned us before the wedding, simple as that. But he didn’t. And the reason he raised that fuss two months later is because he was premiering his new talk show Raw Nerve.”
It seems that Takei believed Shatner’s motivation for the YouTube rant was not any kind of real emotion. Instead, he insinuated that it was little more than the actor utilizing scandal for self-promotion. And Takei added, “It’s not tension, it’s all coming from Bill. Whenever he needs a little publicity for a project, he pumps up the so-called controversy between us.”
A 2010 appearance on The Howard Stern Show then saw Takei dish the dirt on Shatner’s alleged diva behavior. For one, the star claimed that at a 1994 event honoring Star Trek’s James Doohan, Shatner refused to go up on stage with the rest of the cast. Takei also noted that Doohan was in poor health at the time, meaning it could have been the actors’ last appearance together.
“It was shocking,” Takei said of Shatner’s antics. “This is the usual thing that happens on the set – whether it was the TV series or the movies – or at conventions. This was another convention where he decided he was not going to do what they wanted him to do, and he walked out.”
For what it’s worth, Shatner is not the only Star Trek cast member with whom Takei had a problem, although this other beef had a happier ending. In 2012 the Sulu star told Mother Jones that he had initially hated Walter Koenig, who had portrayed Ensign Pavel Chekov from season two onwards. This aversion had simply stemmed, however, from Takei’s professional anxiety.
Between seasons one and two of the original Star Trek series, Takei had been cast in the John Wayne movie The Green Berets. Ultimately, though, the filming had run, as Takei explained, “way over schedule.” He added, “I couldn’t be back in time for the beginning of the second season, [so] Walter Koenig was brought in to essentially say the words that were written for me. [But] I had already memorized them because I was so excited.”
“When I came back, I hated Walter sight unseen,” Takei confessed, before reassuring fans that they soon settled any differences. The star continued, “We worked it out. As a matter of fact, we had a shortage of dressing rooms, so they asked me to share my dressing room with Walter – a person who had stolen my part! But he turned out to be a really good friend.”
In fact, the pair became such good friends that Koenig was best man at Takei’s wedding. And it was an all-star lineup at the event, with Nichelle Nichols handed the role of maid of honor. But it seems that this decision did not sit well with Shatner, as in his 2011 memoir Shatner Rules: Your Guide to Understanding the Shatnerverse and the World at Large he insinuated that Takei’s wedding was a publicity stunt.
The pages also revealed Shatner’s claim that Takei’s dislike for him grew from being unwilling to play second fiddle on the show. The actor wrote, “[George] says that I have a ‘big, shiny ego!’ Well, actors have big egos. If mine is shiny, it’s because I tend to it very carefully and lovingly. Perhaps George’s needs a good polish.”
And the feud only continued as the years passed. Fast-forward to 2016, and a series of letters, handwritten by Shatner, were being auctioned. Some of the contents were publicized, too, including private musings that Shatner had on the ill-feeling between himself and Takei. He had written, “I had never really got to know [George]. He would come in every so often during the week while we were shooting Star Trek. I was busy learning lines and dealing with my life, so I really can’t remember a meaningful conversation.”
Shatner then seemed to accept some responsibility for Takei feeling aggrieved, adding, “I’m sure that would be my fault… my lack of attention. Nevertheless, when we all wrapped that last day of shooting, it was all meaningful for all of us. Star Trek was canceled.” Still, in the end, he reverted to type, writing, “Not so long after that very friendly time, [George] began to say very mean things about me. Why?”
And in August 2020 the spat hit the headlines once again, as Takei spoke out against Shatner during an appearance on Doctor Who star David Tennant’s podcast. There, he claimed that the entire Star Trek cast were friendly with one another except for Shatner. In fact, Takei said that it often felt like “William Shatner versus the rest of the world.”
Takei’s belief was that Shatner hadn’t been happy about another character on the show being more popular than his Captain Kirk. This had allegedly led to him becoming increasingly antagonistic towards the rest of the cast. Takei told Tennant, “It got more and more intense,” before adding, “There was one character whose charisma and whose mystery was like a magnet.”
Takei continued, “It was Spock, the strange alien with pointy ears.” Yes, Leonard Nimoy’s Spock apparently generated more fan engagement than Shatner did as Captain Kirk. And the Sulu actor added, “[Spock] intrigued the audience, and women thought, ‘I’m the one who can arouse him.’ His fan letters were this many, and Leonard’s were that many, and that created an insecurity.”
“Movie-making, TV-making, theatre-making is all about collaborative teamwork,” Takei went on, insinuating that Shatner’s instinct was the opposite. “A good actor knows that the scene works when there’s that dynamic going on with the cast. Some actors seem to feel that it’s a one-man show. That’s the source of some tensions.”
Interestingly, Takei’s claim that Shatner felt uncomfortable about Spock’s popularity had actually been confirmed a few years earlier by the man himself. In a 2016 interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Shatner revealed that he had even broached the topic with producers of the show while it was on the air. In particular, he had been worried that Kirk would become sidelined.
“I remember going to the producers and wondering whether they were going to change the thrust of the show as a result of the popularity of Spock,” Shatner admitted. “So, my anxieties were never directed at Leonard per se. It was about, ‘How was the show going to go?’” It seems, too, that the actor had an ever-evolving relationship with Nimoy.
At different points in time, you see, Shatner and Nimoy were alternately professional rivals, bitter enemies and good buddies. In fact, the Captain Kirk actor once described his co-star as “the only friend [he] ever had.” Sadly, though, the pair’s relationship ended badly, with Nimoy cutting off all contact in the final years of his life. And as Shatner told The Hollywood Reporter, this act had left him baffled. He said, “I don’t know why [Leonard] stopped talking to me.”
Yet while the worry over Spock’s popularity was not disputed by Shatner, he did have an issue with Takei’s fan-mail claim. Taking to Twitter in the wake of the podcast being published, Shatner struck a vicious blow by writing, “George needs a new hobby. Now he’s making things up. We never saw fan letters. That’s why there’s so many secretary-signed photos. We barely saw George. He was in once a week at most. How would he know anything? The only person with jealousy is George.”
And James Doohan was yet another Star Trek actor who had a problem with Shatner. Takei explained in a 2020 interview with Yahoo Entertainment, “[James] used to rail at Star Trek conventions about Bill and the latest offense that he had committed on him.” As a former military man, Doohan likely had little patience for Shatner’s self-centredness.
“Beam me up, Scotty” is arguably one of the best known TV catchphrases of the past 50 years. And “Scotty,” Star Trek’s second officer Montgomery Scott, was among the long-running sci-fi show’s favorite characters, often helping to save the starship Enterprise and her crew from certain annihilation. In fact, James Doohan had more real-life combat experience than most of his peers because he was actually a World War II hero.
James Montgomery Doohan – yes, his middle name was the same as his Star Trek character’s first name – was welcomed into the world on March 3, 1920, in Vancouver, British Columbia. At the time, his parents, Sarah and William, had both recently arrived in Canada from Bangor in Northern Ireland’s County Down. Indeed, Doohan was actually conceived in Ireland.
In his autobiography, Doohan remembered a childhood partially blighted by his father’s alcoholism and the unpredictable outbursts of temper that sometimes erupted. At the same time, as a youngster Doohan was a compulsive imitator of accents that he’d picked up from the movie theaters and radio shows of the day.
In fact, in a portent of what the future would hold for the young Doohan, he played the lead in a school production of Robin Hood when he was 16. By then the family were living in Sarnia, Ontario, a city on the banks of Lake Huron, close to the U.S. border.
But it seems that the delights of Sarnia had little hold over Doohan, and in 1939 he signed up with the Royal Canadian Artillery as a gunner. He did this shortly after Canada, allied with the U.K., had on September 10, 1939, declared war on Adolf Hitler’s Germany.
Having obviously impressed his superiors, Gunner Doohan was subsequently commissioned as a lieutenant within the 14th Field Artillery Regiment of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division. He then traveled to England for more training. And there, he acted as an aide-de-camp to a senior officer who was planning the disastrous 1942 Dieppe mission. This attack on the northern coast of German-occupied France by more than 6,000 mostly Canadian troops ended with 3,623 men dead, wounded or taken prisoner.
Doohan was, in fact, probably lucky not to have been sent across the English Channel to Dieppe. However, in 1944 he was part of an equally hazardous mission: D-Day, on June 6. Doohan’s regiment was to land on the so-called Juno Beach – one of five landing points on France’s Normandy coast to be seized by the Allies in their invasion of France.
Two brigades from the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division, supported by Canada’s navy and the British Royal Navy, were given the lead in taking Juno Beach. The Canadians were to take the Caen-Carpiquet airbase as well as an important road between the towns of Bayeux and Caen. They were also to link up with forces landing on the two landing beaches on each side of Juno.
The Germans had a couple of battalions in place to defend the beach, with a force of tanks held in reserve. And the German troops from the 716th Division put up stiff opposition to the invading force. The invaders were also hindered by bad weather, which delayed their landing, and the fact that the prior naval bombardment had caused less destruction than planned.
But although some units of the Royal Winnipeg Rifles, Doohan’s regiment, suffered heavy casualties on landing, Doohan led his 120-man company without loss to a village by the sea called Graye-sur-Mer. His day was hardly without incident, however. He witnessed one captain suffer a breakdown under the stress of combat and saw another man take a serious wound to the stomach.
And in Graye-sur-Mer, things became decidedly hotter. A German machine-gun nest set up in a nearby church tower opened fire on Doohan and his men. This of course immediately put all of them in mortal danger. Yet Doohan had the presence of mind to act decisively.
Grabbing a comrade’s rifle, he drew a bead on the Germans who were manning the machine-gun. His first shot went wide of the target. But then, with deadly accuracy, his next two shots hit two of the German troops. The machine-gun stopped firing. Doohan never knew, however, whether he had killed or only injured the men he’d hit.
In any event, now it was Doohan’s turn to be wounded. Darkness had fallen in the village, and he was making his way to his command post. Then, suddenly, machine-gun fire hammered out. In his 1996 autobiography, Beam Me Up, Scotty, Doohan wrote, “[A] machine-gun opened up on us. It hit me and spun me around. Staggering, I fell down into the shell hole.”
He continued, “Then I looked at my right hand and saw the blood covering it. I could see the holes in my middle finger.” Doohan now took himself off to a nearby first-aid post. And it was only then that he realized that not only had three shots torn into his right hand, but that four others had hit him in the left leg.
And after discovering the wounds to his leg, Doohan noticed something else. There was a bullet hole in his uniform on the right-hand side of his chest. In his autobiography, the former gunner remembered reaching round with his good left hand to his right pocket.
“I pulled out the sterling silver cigarette case that my brother Bill had given me when I was his best man. And there I discovered a dent in it,” Doohan wrote in his book. “The bullet had come in at an angle, ricocheted off the cigarette case, and bounced away. Four inches from my heart.” And it turned out that this near-fatal attack had, in fact, been a case of friendly fire from the Bren gun of a jumpy Canadian sentry.
Given the seriousness of his wounds, which could have been the end of him, Doohan actually got off relatively lightly – but for the fact that his middle finger needed to be amputated. That was the end of Doohan’s spell as a frontline fighter, then, and he now trained as a pilot, flying Taylorcraft Auster Mark Vs in the role of an artillery support officer.
At something of a loose end after the War, Doohan subsequently took a course at a Toronto drama school. He then applied for a place at the Theater in Manhattan’s Neighborhood Playhouse School and actually won a scholarship. What’s more, this was to be the start of a long and prolific career spent acting in TV and radio shows as well as film.
Think of an iconic 1960s TV show, and Doohan may well have been in it. He played parts in everything from Bewitched to The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and The Twilight Zone among many others. Then in 1966 Doohan auditioned for a new show: Star Trek. And for the part that he landed as the chief engineer of the starship Enterprise, the actor was paid the princely sum of $850 per episode.
Star Trek, of course, became an enduring phenomenon that rolls on to this day. Meanwhile, Doohan continued to play Scotty until his final Star Trek movie appearance in 1994’s Star Trek Generations. And then following his death in July 2005, some of his ashes were shot into space on board a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.