Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Star Trek: Plato's Stepchildren

Episode: "Plato's Stepchildren"
Series: Star Trek: The Original Series
Season 3, Episode 10
Original Air Date: November 22, 1968
via Memory Alpha
The kiss.  This one's all about the kiss.

Star Trek broke significant cultural ground on the evening of November 22, 1968 when Captain James T. Kirk kissed Lieutenant Nyota Uhura.  For the first time in the history of American television, a kiss was scripted between a white man and a black woman.  In 1968, interracial marriage was still illegal in much of the United States so this was no small matter.  Network executives feared a boycott of the episode in the Deep South and demanded that two versions of the crucial scene be filmed, one with the kiss and one without.  The cast deliberately botched every single take of the no-kiss version so in the end, there was no choice.

For all the worry, the backlash was essentially non-existent.  The show got more fan mail for this episode than any other.  Nichelle Nichols (Uhura) tells the story of the one mildly negative letter from a Southern fan. He wrote "I am totally opposed to the mixing of the races. However, any time a red-blooded American boy like Captain Kirk gets a beautiful dame in his arms that looks like Uhura, he ain't gonna fight it."  The episode was banned in Britain, not for the kiss as the BBC had already crossed that threshold but for the story's sadistic imagery.

Oh right, the story...

Drawn once again by a pesky fake distress call, Kirk, Spock and McCoy beam down to a planet which, according to their readings, does not support life.  There, they encounter a civilization that has patterned itself after ancient Greece, particularly the philosophy of Plato.  All possess telekinetic powers - all, that is, except for Alexander, the dwarf who first greets them.  Because of his deficiencies, Alexander is mistreated by the others on the planet.  As power dynamics shift, the episode engages in unusually insightful explorations of the relationship between the powerful and the powerless in a society, all of which feeds into the story's big moment.  Our heroes fall under the control of the natives, as do Uhura and Nurse Chapel, all of which leads eventually to the kiss.

The kiss really isn't much of one.  In fact, it's difficult to tell if lips ever actually touch.  Shatner has always claimed it was a mere stage kiss whereas Nichols insists it's the real thing.

Vital musical side note:  in our story, Spock sings a song called "Maiden Wine."  Leonard Nimoy wrote the song himself.  However, a double was hired for his flamenco dance, a Mr. Armando Gonzales.

via Wikipedia
Michael Dunn (Alexander) was born Gary Neil Miller on October 20, 1934 in Shattuck, Oklahoma.  Escaping Dust Bowl conditions, the family moved to Dearborn, Michigan when Gary was four years old.  His parents were pressured to send him to a school for disabled children but they insisted he go to the neighborhood public school.  He learned to read at the age of three and won the Detroit News Spelling Bee in 1947.  He entered the University of Michigan at 16, then transferred to the University of Miami partly for its more accessible campus.

Dunn's showbiz career began on the stage, then moved to film and television.  He was nominated for a Tony in 1964 for his performance in The Ballad of the Sad CafĂ© and for an Oscar for 1965's Ship of Fools.  On TV, he was best known for his multiple appearances on The Wild Wild West as Dr. Miguelito Loveless.

Dunn did a great deal of philanthropy work for children with dwarfism.  Sadly, his own spinal deformities led to health complications that shortened his life.  Dunn passed away in 1973 at age 38. 


  1. I remember reading an article about Michael Dunn in the '60s which reported his IQ in the upper 170s, almost off the scale --an impressive man who accomplished much on an unfortunately tight schedule. As for Kirk and Uhura botching all the non-kiss scenes, that was clever --they knew what the show was about.

  2. I know about the kiss, but I have no memory of anything else in that episode. I'm not a trekkie, though.


  3. awww any kiss is always good !
    Love the story of all the blotched non-kiss scenes.
    What a shame Micheal Dunn died so young. I remember him.

    cheers, parsnip

  4. Ah, the kiss! I remember it, but didn't realize it was a big deal till later.

    I do remember Michael Dunn, though, and I used to LOVE Wild, Wild West and Dr.Loveless. That show was a huge favorite at our house.

  5. Dr. Loveless was awesome. Not a punchline or a joke, but a short person who was actually feared and respected. Peter Dinklage is the only other little person I can think of who is a serious actor, but that's a 46 year maybe?

    1. I have a student who's a dwarf (his preferred term). Dinklage is one of his heroes. I should ask him about Michael Dunn.

  6. Michael Dunn--I didn't know his name, altho I admired his talent. He had an excellent voice as well. He played all parts well.

  7. Didn't realize Dunn was the original Loveless.

  8. Late to the party this week... This was an interesting episode... any time Nimoy got to ham it up outside the norms of his character was fun. In hindsight, the kiss was classic. I'm glad that history's tides starting turning faster after this, though. As a kid watching these as reruns in the late 1970s, the kiss was unremarkable to me.

    I love love love Loveless. I might suggest taking on Wild Wild West after you're done with Star Trek, but maybe not. Wikipedia says it ran for 104 episodes, but there were probably about only 30 or 40 really unique storylines in there. Still, each episode was fun even if it had some near carbon copies. (Sort of like the Three Stooges, in that aspect!)

    1. I'm planning on a break from TV after I get through season 3 but one never knows. The Squid could become a 1960s TV blog - not such a terrible fate!