Friday, July 6, 2007

Trekdom Review: Grace Lee Whitney's The Longest Trek: My Tour of the Galaxy

Grace Lee Whitney is best known for her brief role as Yeoman Rand during the first season of Star Trek.

Fans have long debated the reasons for her departure from the show after a dozen episodes. Considering how beloved the beehived and short-skirted "Captain's woman" was for many fans, especially teenage boys, her disappearance seemed conspicuous. The character had been central to the plots of several episodes, such as "Charlie X" and "Miri," meaning the sexy Yeoman was much more developed than other secondary characters at the time. Additionally, some of Desilu's early publicity photos featured her as a co-star, indicating that Roddenberry and others saw much potential in Yeomand Rand.

Some Trek insiders, such as Bob Justman and Herb Solow, claimed that the character's romantic attachment to Kirk limited the captain's opportunities for romantic liaisons with green women. Others, such as Bill Shatner, said onset problems with Whitney's alcoholism were to blame.

In 1998, she cleared the air once and for all, publishing her autobiography The Longest Trek. According to the actress, the rumors of her onset inebriation are untrue and slanderous. Although she admits to having problems with alcohol during that period (a struggle that would continue for many years), she was always professional and never intoxicated during filming. Whitney is also skeptical of the "official" reason, stating that no one voiced those concerns to her at the time. In fact, producers were raving about the character's potential.

Why was Yeomand Rand written off the show? It is still somewhat of a mystery to the actress, but she identifies what she believes to be the real cause: a horrifying sexual assault by an influential person called "The Executive."

Whitney will not publicly state who this person is, but she gives many clues. Apparently, following a routine wrap party, he led her to a private office and pressured her for oral sex. When she initially refused, he became angry, making threatening gestures and insidious comments. The actress, fearing reprisals that could damage her career, relented and performed. She then left the studio and arrived in tears at the door of Leonard Nimoy.

The next day, as she and Nimoy sat together in Desilu's makeup chairs, "The Executive" surprised her with a gift: a polished stone. In those awkward moments, he expressed his shame in subtle ways and then exited after realizing how uncomfortable the situation had become. Soon, the character of Yeomand Rand was no more.

In The Longest Trek, Whitney speaks candidly about the ensuing period of depression and drug abuse. The narrative is heartbreaking. As her life spiralled out of control, she sabotaged many relationships while alienating family and friends. It is a candid and disturbing tale, and it uncovers the true face of Hollywood for many young actresses during the 1970s. As such, this book should be read by anyone struggling with drug abuse, depression, or sexual victimization.

Aside from this emotional roller coaster, The Longest Trek contains much to offer Star Trek fans. Although her time onset was brief, the autobiography is full of provocative insight. Her close friendship with Leonard Nimoy is explored in-depth, which provides more detail about the complex and conflicted actor who struggled with his public image for decades.

Whitney also paints an interesting portrait of science-fiction guru Harlan Ellison, who broke off a romantic relationship when he found her smoking marijuana in his living room. Fans interested in the Ellison/Roddenberry feud will not be disappointed by this book.

Additionally, Whitney makes some controversial claims about legendary director Robert Wise, saying he refused to let her wear makeup because of a practical joke gone wrong. She recalls her shame and embarrassment when fans gasped at seeing her character in Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Years of substance abuse had taken their toll on her physical appearance.

Overall, Trekdom highly recommends The Longest Trek to both fans and individuals struggling with addictions or violations. Readers will lament the lost potential of Yeoman Rand while sympathizing with an actress who can never regain lost years of life. Her journey with inspire others to steer clear and sober.

*Purchase an autographed copy of The Longest Trek at Grace Lee Whitney's official website.