Sean Kenney cut a striking figure on Star Trek – as the disfigured Captain Pike in the TOS episodes “The Menagerie, Part I and II.” Kenney also appeared in two other TOS episodes, “Arena” and “A Taste of Armageddon,” both as a character named Lt. DePaul. Kenney’s Star Trek guest shots kicked off a short acting career that also saw him pop up on Get Smart and in such cult-classic B-films as The Corpse Grinders, The Toy Box, The Bloody Slaying of Sarah Ridelander and Terminal Island. StarTrek.com recently caught up with Kenney, who recounted his Trek experiences and filled us in on what he’s doing now.
Kenney: I was in England not too long ago and saw it on DVD. It impressed me. I started to see things differently. It was crisper. It was a better presentation. I think “Menagerie” was so ahead of its time. I’m proud of it because the story said so much and it was taken so – how shall I say – emotionally by so many people. Here was a guy, Captain Pike, who was almost the first physically challenged person anyone saw on TV, in a major part. He was in a wheelchair, couldn’t talk. I meet people now (in wheelchairs) who roll up to me and say, “When I saw that show I thought, ‘What if I lost my voice?’ I’ve only lost my legs.” It was a really profound episode and touched on so many things.
And how about the other two TOS episodes?
Kenney: “A Taste of Armageddon” was about two civilizations battling, where they thought they were humane to destroy each other just by walking everyone who had to die into a destruction chamber. You bring that script out now, on any show, and it’d be lauded as so futuristic. But we did it almost 44 years ago. That’s my argument, that good things always survive. I really enjoyed working on that. I got to speak, of course, in that one. George (Takei) was in North Carolina doing The Green Berets, so I got to be the navigator in that one. I had a little higher profile in that than in my other appearances.
You pulled back on acting at a certain point and concentrated on being a professional photographer. Were roles just not coming along, or was photography a natural progression for you?
Kenney: It was a natural progression, but something that hit a lot of us was the actors’ strike in 1979. A lot of us thought it would only last a month or two, and it went on for nine or 10 months. When that happened, a lot of actors bowed out of acting for a while and needed to find another venue because they needed to pay the bills. I fortunately had picked up a camera in 1974, and I’d already been doing headshots for a lot of people, for actors. So I just said, “I’ll come back to acting when the tenor of the times is right,” but pretty soon two years ran into five years and then 10 years and I’d built this photography business. Now, all this time later, I’m doing actors and business people and all kinds of things. So I felt with my photography that I had a wider range of options than just waiting for the next part.
You make several convention appearances a year. How do you enjoy meeting the fans?
Kenney: It’s great. I’ve met physicists who’ve been inspired by Star Trek come say hello and talk to me. I had a couple of F-16 pilots show up one day and they said, “Do you know we have a Captain Pike code when we fly over enemy territory in Iraq?” I said, “Really?” They said, “Yeah, all we say is ‘Is that a one-beep or two-beep Roger?’” I thought that’s hilarious, that now I’m a code in Iraq for the pilots there. So those kinds of things are great, and it’s nice to have people come up to me to talk, say hello, pose for a photograph, get an autograph.
Tell us a little bit more about what you’ve got going on these days?
Kenney: I live in California. My wife and I have been married 28 years. My son is at UCLA and he’s carrying on the acting baton. He’s in his last year there. I still have my photo business. And I’ve written a memoir, which is called Is Captain Pike Still Alive and Living on Talos IV? It’s about my acting and all the way to my photography. And I have some films I want to make, which we’re trying to get funding for. So, life is grand. It’s been a good ride.
Did you see the new Star Trek movie?
Kenney: Yes, I did. I liked it. I thought Bruce Greenwood did a great job. Now, I think Bruce was inspired by Jeffrey Hunter’s work because, obviously, I played the crippled Pike. Bruce did a great job because he had (a similar) temperament to Hunter. I would’ve loved to have read for the part, but I don’t think they’d seen me on film in many years and probably didn’t know what I look like now. I was only 25 at the time I played Pike. I think that Bruce was a good choice. Now, if J.J. Abrams ever goes into looking for the crippled Pike, I’d love to do it again.
At the end of the day, how pleased/honored are you to be associated with Star Trek?
Kenney: Tremendously. I think the idea of good writing and good executing of the product, which I think took place with Star Trek, even though they didn’t have the technology they have now or the budget, it stands the test of time. I think that people recognized that in the episodes even though it seemed hokey sometimes that things didn’t look that great compared to other shows that came along. I think it’s like Shakespeare said, that the play is the thing.