Nichols, Nichelle 1933—

views updated May 29 2018

Nichelle Nichols 1933

Actress, singer, space travel advocate

At a Glance

Started as a Dancer

Dancing Leads to Show Business

A Pioneer on Star Trek

Celebrity Activist for Space Travel

Selected writings


As a starring member of the original Star Trek television series, Nichelle Nichols trod a pioneering path in network broadcasting. Her character, Lieutenant Commander Uhura, provided an unprecedented inspiration for a generation of young black viewersan educated, dignified space traveler in a future world devoid of bigotry and sexism. Before Lieutenant Uhura took to the bridge on the starship Enterprise in the late 1960s, black women had assumed mostly subordinate-and unimportant-roles on television shows. Nichols changed that, serving as a role model not only for would-be black actresses but also as a symbol for young women who dreamed of becoming astronauts and scientists.

The Uhura role in television and movies is the crowning achievement of Nicholss long and productive career as an entertainer and advocate of space travel. The glamorous performer began working as a dancer in her native Chicago just after World War II, broke into television after years of traveling as a successful nightclub singer, and used her most visible role as a futuristic space explorer to promote the reality of women and minorities in the real life U.S. space program. As testament to Nicholss success in her many roles, comedian Whoopi Goldberg once commented that when she was a young kid from the projects, she saw in Nicholss Lieutenant Uhura the only vision of Black people in the future, and a Jet magazine correspondent summed up Nicholss many contributions by calling her the embodiment of Black beauty and intelligence.

Born Grace Nichols in the small Chicago suburb of Robbins, Illinois, Nichelle Nichols entered a fiercely independent and determined family. Her paternal grandfather was a white Southerner who defied the conventions of his time and alienated his wealthy parents by marrying a black woman. It was this grandfather who settled in Robbins, an integrated community, in the early part of the century. Nicholss father was a businessman who served as mayor of Robbins during the Prohibition era. Her mother had been a scholar who hoped to attend law school. Because both of her parents had children

At a Glance

Born Grace Nichols c. 1933 in Robbins, IL; daughter of Samuel Earf (a factory worker and civic leader) and Lishia Mae (Parks) Nichols; married Foster Johnson (a dancer), 1951 (divorced); married Duke Mondy (a songwriter and arranger), ca. 1968 (divorced); children: (first marriage) Kyle.Education: Studied dance at Chicago Ballet Academy, A vocational interests: Oil painting, designing clothes, reading science fiction, writing, and sculpting.

Actress, dancer, and singer. Dancer in Chicago with College Inn revue, ca. 1947; toured United States and Canada as singer and dancer with Duke Ellington and Lionel Hampton, 1950-51; solo singer in club appearances, 1953 Principal film appearances include Porgy and Bess, 1959; Mister Buddwing, 1966; Truck Turner, 1974; Star Trek: The Motion Picture, 1979; Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, 1982; Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, 1984;Star TrekIV: The Voyage Home, 1986; The Supernatural, 1987; Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, 1989; Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, 1991. Principal television appearances includeStar Trek, NBC, 196669; Star Trek (animated), NBC, 197375; episodic appearances in Tarzan, The Lieutenant, Headofthe Class. Narrator and star of Space, Whats in It for Me?, Smithsonian Museum, 1978; star of onewoman show, Reflections, 1992 host of Inside Space, USA Network, 1992.

Spokesperson for Kwanza Foundation; founder, Women in Motion (astronaut recruiting company); board member, National Space Institute; contributor to National Space Institute publications.

Address: AgentThe Artists Croup, 1930 Century Park

from previous marriages, Nichelle was born into a large, close-knit family.

Started as a Dancer

In her autobiography Beyond Uhurct: Star Trek and Other Memories, Nichols described herself as a precocious youngster who liked to sing Broadway show tunes and entertain her siblings. At an early age she began dancing lessons and was captivated by classical ballet. She was so talented that as a young teen she earned an audition with the Chicago Ballet Academy. When she arrived at the audition with her father, she was informed by the instructor that blacks could not possibly hope to undertake a formal study of balletthey just were not suited for it. Furious, her father insisted that she be allowed to audition. Equally furious at the humiliation, Nichols danced her very best and won the right to attend the academy. It never occurred to either of my parents to feel inferior to anyone for any reason, Nichols recalled in her book. My father taught us, You are not better than anyone else. But there is no one better than you. Both my parentsand in my fathers case his parents as wellhad defied the odds and bucked the system. They saw no reason why we could not become whatever we wanted.

Nichols wanted to be a dancer. From the ages of 12 to 14 she studied classical ballet at the Chicago Ballet Academy and also pursued Afro-Cuban dancing under the tutelage of Carmencita Romero. The latter experience helped her to land her first professional engagement, at the tender age of 14, with a song and dance revue staged at the prestigious Sherman House Hotel. Destiny had found me, and I embraced it, the actress wrote in her memoir.

Dancing Leads to Show Business

During her performance time at the Sherman House, Nichols met many of the prominent nightclub artists of the day, including the immortal Duke Ellington. Ellington was so impressed with her dancing that he later invited her to join his touring company, and she did so as a dancer with her first husband, Foster Johnson.

The birth of her only child, Kyle, in 1951 provided the only lull in Nicholss performing career. Separated from the childs father, she sought work in a downtown Chicago office in order to support her son. The work was not rewarding, however, and she longed to go back to the stage. She returned to Chicago nightclubs as a singer-dancer in the revue Calypso Carnival, staged by Jimmy Payne. Then, in the mid-1950s, she went on tour as a solo act, singing and dancing in supper clubs all over America and Canada. She was paid so well for these engagements that she was eventually able to move her entire family to Los Angeles. The traveling lifestyle finally began to take its toll, however, and Nichols decided to try to find work in Hollywood. As she noted in her autobiography, My decision to focus my sights on film or television wasnt an easy one. I knew that months, perhaps even years, of sacrifice and discipline lay ahead, but something inside me told me I could make it work.

After serving as an opening act for comedian Redd Foxx, Nichols earned a part as a principal dancer in the film version of Porgi and Bess. That experience led to a lead in the Broadway playKicks and Company, which ran only for a few weeks, and subsequent nightclub work in New York City. By 1963 she was back in Los Angeles, looking for work in television. On her very first television assignment, a guest role on the series The Lieutenant, she met an up-and-coming writer-producer named Gene Roddenberry.

A Pioneer on Star Trek

While working together on The Lieutenant in 1963, Roddenberry and Nichols began a romantic and business relationship that would develop into a long-lasting, close friendship. Roddenberrys brainchild, Star Trek, was meant to be an action-adventure series that would also make points about racial and political tolerance. Nicholss work on The Lieutenant convinced Roddenberry to add a role for her on Star Trek.She would play a high-ranking officer and communications specialist who would demonstrate the untapped potential of women in the field of space exploration. In Beyond Uhura, Nichols recalled: It was only after Id been brought on board, and Gene and I conceived and created her, that Uhura was born. Many times through the years Ive referred to Uhura as my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-granddaughter of the twenty-third century. Gene and I agreed that she would be a citizen of the United States of America. And her name, Uhura, is derived from Uhuru, which is Swahili for freedom.

Star Trek had its premier in 1966. Nichols starred along with the actors who are now considered the classic castWilliam Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeFor-est Kelley, George Takei, Jimmy Doohan, and Walter Koenig. Not only was Nichols the most important woman character on the show, she was also one of the most important black woman characters ever on network television. Fan mail poured in from across the country, but the actress was still dissatisfied with her treatment by the television studio and by the way in which her characters action was minimized. She was determined to leave the show after its first season until a chance meeting with civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. caused her to change her mind.

In her autobiography, Nichols noted that King was aghast when she said she might leave Star Trek.King told her that he understood her grievances, but that she had created a character of dignity and grace and beauty and intelligence. Furthermore, he felt she was not a role model for African Americans only, but more important for people whodon t look like us. For the first time, the world sees us as we should be seen, as equals, as intelligent people-as weshould be. There will always be role models for Black children; you are a role model for everyone.

Nichols stayed on Star Trek until it was cancelled in 1969. Among other challenges, her work on the show included the first televised interracial kissa moment the actress recalls with a great deal of amusement. After Star Treks cancellation, Nichols experienced the inevitable letdown of a performer without a venue, but then a most extraordinary phenomenon occurred that has kept her busyand provided her with many rewarding momentsever since.

Celebrity Activist for Space Travel

In the wake of Star Trek Nichols began to serve as a catalyst for real women and minorities who wanted to be astronauts. In 1975 she established Women in Motion, Inc., a company that produced educational materials using music as a teaching tool. From its modest origins, Women in Motion expanded to become an astronaut recruitment project after Nichols won a grant from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Within four months in 1977, her company had helped to find almost 1,700 female applicants and 1,000 minority applicants to NASAs space program. Among these were Sally Ride, the first woman to go into space, as well as Judith Resnik, Ronald McNair, and Ellison Onizuka-all three of whom were killed in the U.S. space shuttle Challenger disaster of 1986. In October of 1984 Nichols was presented with NASAs Public Service Award for her many efforts toward an integrated U.S. space program.

The continued popularity of Star Trek also helped to pave the way for a series of Star Trek movies with the classic cast, including Nichols. Between 1979 and 1991 Nichols appeared in six Star Trek feature films always enjoying the opportunity to re-unite with her associates from the original television show. She has also returned to the live stage in a one-woman show entitled Reflections, a musical tribute to such legendary black performers as Ma Rainey, Bessie Smithy Josephine Baker, Ella Fitzgerald, Katherine Dunham, and others. In 1992 she served as host of the USA Network series Inside Space.

While some of the classic cast Star Trek performers resent the popularity of the series and their characters, Nichelle Nichols has continued to be gracious to fans and loyal to the spirit of Uhura. Nichols found herself being invited to Star Trek conventions and being treated like royalty when she came. Even though the millions of Trekkies, or Star Trek fans, might identify Nichols simply as the character she played on television, she stated in her autobiography that she was proud of who [Uhura] was (or will be) and what she represented, not only in her time but in ours. She also commented, I firmly believe in the power of vision, and Gene Rodden-berrysStar Trek raised the prospect that space offered humankind the opportunity to start anew. The shows ethical premises certainly formed a new foundation upon which the classical elements of television drama could be redesigned. But to Gene, it all meant so much more. He believed, as do I and many others, that this was not simply one possible version of the future, but the only viable one.

Selected writings

Beyond Uhura: Star Trek and Other Memories, G.P. Putnams Sons, 1994.

Saturns Child (science fiction novel), G.P. Putnams Sons, 1995.



Contemporary Theatre, Film, and Television, Volume 8, Gale, 1990, p. 311.

Nichols, Nichelle, Beyond Uhura: Star Trek and Other Memories, G.P. Putnams Sons, 1994.


Atlanta Constitution, November 1, 1994, p. El.

Chicago Tribune, December 7, 1986; January 1, 1987; March 10, 1989.

Ebony, August 1985, pp. 150-54.

Entertainment Weekly, October 21, 1994, p. 57.

Essence, January 1995, p. 50.

Jet, July 12, 1982, pp. 56-60; November 14, 1994, pp. 62-63.

Los Angeles Times, February 2, 1990, p. F10.

Publishers Weekly, August 22, 1994, pp. 48-49. TV Guide, October 8, 1994, pp. 30-33.

Anne Janette Johnson

Nichols, Nichelle 1933(?)-

views updated May 21 2018

Nichols, Nichelle 1933(?)-


Original name, Grace Nichols; born December 28, 1933 (some sources cite 1936), in Robbins, IL; daughter of Samuel Earl (a factory worker and civic leader) and Lishia (maiden name, Parks) Nichols; married Foster Johnson (a dancer), 1951 (divorced); married Duke Mondy (a songwriter and music arranger), c. 1968 (divorced); children: (first marriage) Kyle. Education: Attended Chicago Ballet Academy, 1950-56; studied law at Columbia University. Avocational Interests: Oil painting, designing clothes, reading science fiction, writing, sculpting, sports cars.


Office—AR-Way Productions, 22647 Ventura Blvd., Suite 121, Woodland Hills, CA 91364. Agent—Artists Group, 1930 Century Park W., Suite 303, Los Angeles, CA 90067.


Actress and singer. Solo performer at concert and night clubs throughout the United States and Canada, 1950s; toured the United States, Canada, and Europe as a singer with the Duke Ellington and Lionel Hampton bands; nightclub performer at the Blue Note and the Playboy Club, both New York City. Women in Motion, Inc., founder, 1975, president, and minority recruitment officer, including assignment to recruit astronauts for Johnson Space Center in Texas; AR-Way Productions, Woodland Hills, CA, president, beginning in 1979. Students for the Exploration and Development of Space, member of national board of advisers; Smithsonian Institution, narrator of "Space: What's in It for Me?," 1978; made television commercial for Psychic Encounters, 1996. Kwanza Foundation, founding member, 1973, and spokesperson.


National Space Society (member of board of governors).

Awards, Honors:

Named woman of the year, National Education Association, 1978; Saturn Award nomination, best supporting actress, Academy of Science Fiction, Horror, and Fantasy Films, 1980, for Star Trek: The Motion Picture; Distinguished Service Award, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, 1989; ACT-SO Award for the Performing Arts, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), 1991; received Star on the Walk of Fame, 1992; Sara Siddons Award nominations, for The Blacks and Kicks and Company; TV Land Award nominations (with William Schatner), most memorable kiss, and television moment that became headline news, 2006, both for Star Trek.


Film Appearances:

Dancer, Porgy and Bess, Columbia, 1959.

Dice player, Mister Buddwing (also known as Woman without a Face), Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1966.

Made in Paris, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1966.

Jenny Ribbock, Doctor, You've Got to Be Kidding, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1967.

Ruana, Tarzan's Jungle Rebellion, 1967.

Ruana, Tarzan's Deadly Silence, 1970.

Dorinda, Truck Turner (also known as Black Bullet), American International Pictures, 1974.

Lieutenant Commander Uhura, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Paramount, 1979.

Commander Uhura, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (also known as Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan), Paramount, 1982.

Commander Uhura, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, Paramount, 1984.

Commander Uhura, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (also known as The Voyage Home: Star Trek IV), Paramount, 1986.

Sergeant Leona Hawkins, The Supernaturals, Republic Entertainment, 1987.

Commander Uhura, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, Paramount, 1989.

Commander Uhura, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, 1991.

Herself, William Shatner's Star Trek Memories (documentary), Paramount Home Video, 1995.

Herself, Trekkies (documentary), Paramount, 1997.

Voice of Diane Maza, Gargoyles: Brothers Betrayed (animated), 1998.

Amelia Brooks, Snow Dogs (also known as Chiens des neiges), Buena Vista, 2002.

Grace, Roddenberry on Patrol, Planet X, 2003.

Oman, Surge of Power, Surge of Power, 2004.

Miss Mable, Are We There Yet?, Columbia, 2005.

Uhura, Star Trek: Of Gods and Men, CBS, 2007.

Film Executive Producer:

Lady Magdalene's, 2006.

Film Choreographer:

Lady Magdalene's, 2006.

Television Appearances; Series:

Lieutenant Uhura, Star Trek, NBC, 1966-69.

Voice of Lieutenant Uhura, Star Trek (animated; also known as The Animated Adventures of Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek, Star Trek: The Animated Adventures, and Star Trek: The Animated Series), NBC, 1973-75.

Television Appearances; Episodic:

Norma Bartlett, "To Set It Right," The Lieutenant, NBC, 1963.

Ruana, Tarzan, NBC, 1966.

Dateline: Hollywood, 1967.

It Takes Two, 1969.

"The People Versus Howard," The D.A., 1971.

Diane, "The Deadly Gamesmen," Ironside, 1972.

Voices of the computer, Security Officer Davison, Dara, Lieutenant Ann Nored, Alice, female Ursinoid miner, Mess Officer Briel, Devna, Magen, alien entity, Karla Five, and Dr. Sarah April, Star Trek (animated; also known as The Animated Adventures of Gene Roddenberry's "Star Trek," Star Trek: The Animated Adventures, and Star Trek: The Animated Series), NBC, multiple episodes, between 1973 and 1974.

Head of the Class, ABC, 1988.

Host, Inside Space, Sci-Fi Channel, 1992.

"Fan Clubs," The Joan Rivers Show, 1993.

Voice of Diane Maza, "Her Brother's Keeper," Gargoyles (animated), syndicated, c. 1994.

Voice of Thoth Khepera, "Avatar," Batman: The Animated Series (animated), 1994.

Voice of Diane Maza, "Deadly Force," Gargoyles (animated), syndicated, 1994.

Voice of Diane Maza, "The Cage," Gargoyles (animated), syndicated, 1995.

Voice of Diane Maza, "Mark of the Panther," Gargoyles (animated), syndicated, 1996.

Uhura, "Trials and Tribble-ations," Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, 1996.

Voice of Miriam the Vampire Queen, "The Vampire Queen," Spider-Man (animated), 1997.

"Renunciation," G vs E, USA Network, 2000.

Voice, "Anthology of Interest I," Futurama (animated), Fox, 2000.

Voice of Chief, "The Yukari Imprint," Buzz Lightyear of Star Command (animated), syndicated and UPN, 2000.

"Where No Fan Has Gone Before," Futurama (animated), Fox, 2002.

"NBC All-Stars Edition," Weakest Link (also known as The Weakest Link USA), NBC, 2002.

"Star Trek," After They Were Famous, ITV, 2003.

Super Secret TV Formula, VH1, 2003.

"Simple Simpson," The Simpsons (animated), Fox, 2004.

"Chicks That Kick," Space Top 10 Countdown, The Space Channel, 2007.

Also appeared in Showbiz Today.

Television Appearances; Specials:

Lieutenant Uhura, Leonard Nimoy: Star Trek Memories, 1983.

The 11th Annual Black Achievement Awards, 1990.

Black Stars in Orbit, PBS, 1990.

The Tube Test, ABC, 1990.

Star Trek 25th Anniversary Special, 1991.

Starathon '92: A Weekend with the Stars, 1992.

Star Trek: A Captain's Log, UPN, 1994.

Small Steps, Big Strides: The Black Experience in Hollywood, 1998.

Dorothy Dandridge: Little Girl Lost, Arts and Entertainment, 1999.

Inside TV Land: African Americans in Television, TV Land, 2002.

TV Land Awards: A Celebration of Classic TV (also known as 1st Annual TV Land Awards), TV Land, 2003.

How William Shatner Changed the World, Discovery Channel Canada, 2005.

Comedy Central Roast of William Shatner, Comedy Central, 2006.

Star Trek: Beyond the Final Frontier, History Channel, 2007.

Television Appearances; Movies:

Joanne Logan, Great Gettin' Up Mornin', 1964.

Lisa Downey, Say Goodbye, Maggie Cole, 1972.

Charmain, Antony and Cleopatra (also known as The Tragedy of Antony & Cleopatra), 1983.

Voice of S.S. Stella, Commander Toad in Space, 1993.

Last Angel of History (also known as Der letzte engel der geschichte), 1995.

Sagan, The Adventures of Captain Zoom in Outer Space (movie), Starz!, 1995.

Moonshot—The Spirit of 69, 1999.

Television Appearances; Miniseries:

The 100 Most Memorable TV Moments, TV Land, 2004.

Stage Appearances:

Dancer, College Inn (revue), Chicago, IL, c. 1947.

No Strings, 54th Street Theatre, New York City, 1952.

May, Italian-American Reconciliation, Gnu Theatre, Los Angeles, 1987.

Reflections (solo show), Los Angeles, 1990.

Singer and dancer in Calypso Carnival (revue), performing at various nightclubs, Chicago, IL, early 1950s. Also appeared as Hazel Sharp, Kicks and Company; in the title role, Carmen Jones, Chicago, IL; and in productions of The Blacks; Blues for Mr. Charlie; For My People; Horwitz and Mrs. Washington; The Roar of the Greasepaint, the Smell of the Crowd.


Video Games:

Voice of Lieutenant Uhura, Star Trek: 25th Anniversary Enhanced, 1992.

Voice of Lieutenant Uhura, Star Trek: Judgment Rites, 1994.


Lieutenant Uhura, Inside Star Trek: The Real Story, 1998.

The Stars ofStar Wars’: Interviews from the Cast, 1999.


Down to Earth, Epic, 1968.

Out of This World, GNP Cresdenco, 1991.

Also recorded the albums Dark Side of the Moon, Americana; and Uhura Sings. Singles include "Shoop Shoop," Twentieth Century.



Beyond Uhura: Star Trek and Other Memories, Putnam (New York City), 1994.

(With Margaret Wander Bonanno) Saturn's Child (science fiction novel), Putnam, 1995.

Film Songs:

"At Lady Magdalene's," Lady Magdalene, 2006.

Other Writings:

Contributor to publications of the National Space Institute.



Entertainment Weekly, October 21, 1994, pp. 57.

Essence, January, 1995, pp. 50.

Jet, July 12, 1982, pp. 56-60; November 14, 1994, pp. 62-63.

Starlog, February, 1990; February, 1992; January, 1995.

Star Trek Communicator, April, 1998, pp. 16-20.

TV Guide, October 8, 1994, pp. 30-33.