Wednesday, February 13, 2008

To the TV stars

I've been reading like a maniac for my latest dissertation chapter, and I don't usually post about what I read for 'work' on here. But I found myself reading something that required some considerable explanation when a friend found me reading in a spare moment: George Takei's autobiography, To the Stars. There's a picture of him on the cover, looking off into space. I don't know how recognizable he is, but between the uniform he's wearing and the fact that the bottom of the cover says "Star Trek's Mr. Sulu," I think people get the general idea.

Why was I reading it? Well, not for the seemingly obvious reason; I have seen exactly one Star Trek (The Original Series) episode in my life. Takei, being a Japanese American of a certain age, lived through the unconstitutional, racist, and generally shameful internment during WWII. As a matter of fact, because his parents answered 'no-no' to the double questions of serving in the military and swearing a loyalty oath to the very government that was quarantining them, the Takeis were sent to Tule Lake, where all the rebels and 'no-nos' were segregated. I'm working on memoirs of the internment right now.

The book was very useful from this point of view, because the internment is almost Takei's first memory. He was four when they went to the camps, seven when they came out. He also talks about living in a mostly Mexican American area afterwards, and then his early days as an actor, moving from bit part to bit part. I didn't even know that he was in some fairly major films like John Wayne's Green Berets and Ice Palace with Richard Burton. Nor did I know much about his political work in more recent years.

And yes, there's Star Trek. It's not a pretty account. He constantly had to lobby to advance Sulu and his salary, and he clearly detested Shatner and his huge ego. From what he recounts, so did many of his fellow actors, who Takei loved very much. The little snubs and credit-grabs that he remembers are sad--I understand his resentment, of course, but it comes across as a little sad, too. Takei seems particularly respectful of Leonard Nimoy's acting skills, which might be odd to people who have only seen him as Spock. It certainly is to me!

A surprisingly good read in an unexpected place. Oh, and in case you were wondering, no mention of his sexuality at all; there's a little smokescreening when he mentions kissing one of his female castmates in an early play. It's a long journey from there to this.

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