John Wayne almost got George Takei fired from Star Trek
Lt. Sulu and The Duke starred together in The Green Berets.
The U.S.S. Enterprise isn't the only thing Star Trek launched into the stratosphere. The cast of the show, including actors William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, and George Takei, saw their stock skyrocket as the show reached more and more fans. Suddenly, these workhorse actors, each with dozens of appearances under his belt, were suddenly very famous and very recognizable. One's cultural cachet doesn't last forever, and it's interesting to note how each capitalized on his new-found identity as an in-demand figure of film and television. In the case of George Takei, his role on Star Trek led to a role in Green Berets, a war film that also starred David Janssen and John Wayne.
"I have mixed feelings about Green Berets," Takei told The Valley Tribune. "We had a break during Star Trek, and this offer came, so I thought 'Great! I'll go out and do Green Berets.' Well, we started shooting on location, in Georgia. It was going alright until we got some bad weather, then it got delayed. I think it was like a 2-month schedule, and it became something like 3-and-a-half months. It was critical that this picture be on schedule, for me to be able to get back to Hollywood before the shooting for the new season started for Star Trek. But because of the delay, I missed out on the whole second season of Star Trek, so I have my regrets about that."
It's understandable that Takei would have his misgivings regarding the scheduling mishap. Captain Kirk kept a tight ship, and when the Enterprise leaves, you'd better be on board.
What, though, did George Takei think of his very famous co-star?
"Working with John Wayne was really an experience in itself. With that project, it was not only a John Wayne "Star," but, it was produced by his company and the producer was his son, Michael Wayne, and the director was John Wayne and Ray Kellogg and although we had a script... because of the problems of being behind schedule, etc. -- he threw out the script and we were improvising as we went along."
So, was John Wayne a closeted Trekkie? Did the Duke ever greet anybody with the traditional Vulcan salute? Was he the type to go around telling folks to 'Live long and prosper?'
"I think Star Trek played a small part in [landing Green Berets]. As a matter of fact, ah -- when we first started shooting... Wayne wouldn't call me 'George,' he would shout 'Where's Sulu?!'... The assistant director would come running up to my dressing room... 'Mr. Wayne wants Sulu!' But later on, he was calling me 'George.'
Onboard the Enterprise, everybody had their position. The vessel's chain of command dictated that everyone was equal in the ways they contributed, despite it being a hierarchy. Similarly, the actors' positions in Hollywood were on a relatively equal playing field. Some of them were recognizable prior to Star Trek, but there was nobody onset with the gigantic reputation of someone like John Wayne. At that point in American history, Wayne was an American institution. He'd transcended being a mere mortal actor and had somehow become a symbol of American masculinity. Luckily, though, Wayne reportedly treated George Takei well.
"The thing that I think is remarkable, he is, down to earth, knowing... how people feel about him. You know, they have shoved him up on a pedestal... look it's easy for most people to be down to earth because we are down to earth... but when people look at you in awe, I just called him an American landmark, that certainly isn't down to earth, is it? Society and the public put him in a different place, and yet to maintain that, he must know his values, standards, and where he comes from. I think it makes the man that much more remarkable."