Grace Lee Whitney on Trek, Life - Part 2
Yesterday, in part one of our interview with Grace Lee Whitney, the actress talked about her early life and career, and candidly discussed the circumstances surrounding her departure from the original Star Trek series after just eight episodes. Now, in the second half of our conversation, Whitney recounts how she turned her life around and returned several times to the role of Janice Rand, and she also catches us up on her life today.
For our readers out there who may not have read your autobiography, The Longest Trek: My Tour of the Galaxy, please take us through what happened after you left Star Trek.
Whitney: Well, being written out of Star Trek kicked in the emotional trauma of having been told when I was seven years old that I was adopted and that my parents were not my parents. I said, “Well, who are they?” They said, “We don’t know who your father is. We know that your mother gave you up for adoption because your father would not marry her.” And so I had rejection from the time I was seven years old, when my adoptive mother sat me on her lap and told me I was adopted. She thought she was doing the right thing. Later, a shrink told me that she’d (actually) set me adrift. What happened from the age of seven up to getting written out of Star Trek, I was able to function. But then being rejected from Star Trek and being thrown out of the show, it set me off. Of course, that was my perception. That was how I looked at it. And my perception was not correct. I was written out because of the show, because of the character, not because of me. I started drinking heavily after that. I used to go for a lot of counseling, and the counselors tried to get me to differentiate between the character of Janice Rand and Grace Lee Whitney, and I could not do it. I could not not be Janice Rand. It was Grace Lee Whitney that got fired. Janice Rand was just the character. It was me they didn’t like. They threw me out. Blah, blah, blah.
And I just about killed myself over that reject. And when I would go on interviews, I would smell of alcohol. I was very Lindsay Lohan-ish, very Charlie Sheen. I was lost. I was lost and I began to bottom out. It took me about 10 years after getting written out to come to my senses when I bottomed out. And bottoming out means I was sick and tired of being sick and tired and I had to get help. What happened was that I was down on Skid Row, on 6th and Main in L.A., looking for my lower companions to get some kind of help, when I was 12-stepped down there by a man from the Midnight Mission named Clancy, who is a guru in the 12-step program. His sponsee helped me get to my first 12-step meeting where God absolutely delivered me. There was no question. I could not not drink. I was using a lot of drugs from Dr. Feelgood. A lot of actors used the amphetamines from Dr. Feelgood to stay skinny, to function. It’s just insidious. Once you get into the drinking and using, it’s almost impossible to get out without the grace of God, which is what I give my credit to. Leonard Nimoy (who is also a recovering alcoholic) was so moved that he (later) wrote the forward to my book. But that’s how I began my recovery and my trek back to the studio to make amends, to do everything I’ve had to do there.
Who was it that actually said to you, “Grace, we’d like to welcome you back to Star Trek”?
Whitney: Gene Roddenberry. I’d made an amends to him and he in turn said to me, “Grace, I’ve never made such a big mistake in my life as allowing NBC and Paramount to write you out. If I’d only seen my way clear, I could have kept you aboard. You would be the only person, really, who knew the inside story of Captain Kirk, and you could have been waiting for him when he came back from the escapades. We would have had a whole new focus for the show and for the character.” That’s what he told me. He said, “I’m going to put you in the next series,” which of course turned out to Star Trek: The Motion Picture. I came for that and then was in all the movies, except for II and V.
Which of the features did you have the best time on?
Whitney: Oh, IV and VI, but I also enjoyed III. Leonard directed III and I’d never worked with him as a director. And it was such fun to see him up on a ladder, directing shots. He didn’t have his ears on. He didn’t look like Spock. He looked like Leonard. And I’d always break out laughing. I’d look at him and just couldn’t believe he was directing us. We had a lot of fun on that show. And I loved doing the movies because, of course, I was clean and sober.
A few years later you reunited with George Takei for the Voyager episode “Flashback,” which was part of Star Trek’s 30th anniversary celebration. What do you remember of that experience?
Whitney: It was a Tuvok story. It was just a great episode. Kate (Mulgrew) was amazing and Tim (Russ) told me that he’d just loved me as a kid, and here we were working together. It was great. They told us it was a (backdoor) pilot for (an Excelsior) mini-series. I’d said, “Why don’t you do this show and bring us on every three months in an episode? We could bring in all of the people, one at a time, from the original show?” But they couldn’t get enough people to support it.
You wrote your memoir, The Longest Trek: My Tour of the Galaxy, in 1998. What did you learn about yourself from putting pen to paper like that?
Whitney: I learned what my own part was in all of the pain I’d suffered as a child and growing up. What was my part in all of this rejection? What was my part in getting written out of Trek? What was my part in ending up at downtown 6th and Main? It was my total admission of my part in everything. It was totally amazing. It was the grace of God, and I was able to write about where I turned left when I should have turned right. This is what every sober alcoholic has to learn, or we repeat the addiction. And I have to tell you, I went to 46 conventions in that one year. People loved the book.
And a decade later you played Rand two last times, in the fan films World Enough and Time and then Of Gods and Men. How full circle was that for you?
Whitney: Those were so much fun. It was going back to my roots. It was back going to the uniform. It was going back to the whole beginning of it. It was déjà vu, very déjà vu. It was scary because I didn’t know if I could remember my lines. I’d been away from acting for a while, and you have to keep practicing lines and remembering lines. So you can’t just stop and, all of a sudden, go into something years later and think you’re going to be as good as you were when you were practicing. So it was tough for me, but I enjoyed it. I enjoyed being with everyone. Tim directed (Of Gods and Men). It was by fans for fans.
Let’s end the conversation by talking about what you’re doing these days.
Whitney: I live in California on a 30-acre parcel near Yosemite National Park, with a running creek. It’s just gorgeous. I still do conventions. I’ll be in New Jersey in June and then I do Vegas in August and I’ll go up to Portland at the end of August. I just keep going. I was asked if it was OK with me if one of my appearances was recorded for DVD, and I said, “Yeah,” because I want people to hear my story. I’m dedicated to helping people not drink and not use and not die. So I’m completely fulfilled. I have two sons – Jonathan and Scott; they were both in “Miri,” stealing the communicators, and Scott was in The Motion Picture, too -- and Jonathan built a home down at the end of my property, where he lives with his family, including my grandchildren. They’re going to take care of me as I move through life to my home in heaven. But right now I take my grandchildren to school and cart them around, and I’m of maximum service to them. Scott is a pilot and he flew over on Mother’s Day in his little plane. Four pilots built a plane, a two-seater. He flew up and we all went to lunch, and then he flew up 41, the highway, and buzzed a house in the mountains. We thought he was going to get arrested. I also line dance one night a week and I go to the gym three days a week. So, my life is happy, joyous, free, sober and saved, and a lot of fun, too. I have a lot of fun.
To read part one of our Grace Lee Whitney interview, click here