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Catching Up with TOS's Kara, Tanya Lemani

Catching Up with TOS's Kara, Tanya Lemani

Kara, the Argelian belly dancer from “Wolf in the Fold,” remains – in the minds of Star Trek fans across the galaxy – one of The Original Series’ most-indelible, most-beautiful characters. Tanya Lemani (then credited as Tania Lemani) portrayed Kara, whom the Redjac entity killed as she walked a foggy street with Scotty, working in front of the camera for just a single day back in 1967, but the actress-dancer departed with a lifetime of stories and memories, stories and memories fans are still excited to hear nearly five decades later. There are colorful tales about the costume, of course, but she also dated William Shatner, and James Doohan asked her out, too. Even now, she’s still dancing and, yes, she easily slips into a replica of her Kara costume; the original sadly went up in flames when a fire consumed her house.

Lemani – full of energy and warmth, and looking years younger than her age – recently attended Star Trek Las Vegas, partaking in the celebration of Star Trek’s 50th anniversary. She happily greeted fans, signed autographs and posed for pictures, and she joined several of her fellow TOS guest stars on an informative panel. Lemani also made time to sit down with for a detailed conversation about her life, career and Trek experience. Here’s what she had to say.

How much of a love fest is this convention for you? When you come here and these people know you, and know more about what you did on Star Trek than you do in many respects?

Absolutely. It is so true. I was so shocked when I first started going to these events, because little kids would come up to me and say, "Miss Lemani?" I'd go, "Yes?" I see the little kids. They said, "Oh, we saw you." I said, "You saw me? Where?" "On Star Trek." And then they'd go into this discussion about it. And I’m just listening to them. I said, "Do you want a picture?" They'd go, "No, I don't have any money." I said, "Don't worry. You pick the picture you want."

Don't tell that to too many people. You'll be giving away a lot of pictures.

Not people. But little kids, you know? I just was so thrilled that little kids would know me, after all those years. I was just thrilled. And I’d give them the pictures no problem. But you know what it is? It is this... When you're working, and you're really having a hard time trying to get a job, and it's a tough business – tough, tough business, very competitive. And also, in those days, it was the kind of business where they’d take advantage of you if you were young and naive and stupid like I was. [LAUGHTER] I was very stupid. I’d get myself into more trouble. And I'd say, "Oh my God. How do I get out of this one… without hurting anybody's ego?

So you pay the price of going through that. Trying to get a job, and trying to survive, and so on and so forth. And now, it's paying off. You see people, and they're excited to see you. It lifts your spirits. You say, "Oh my God. It was worth it. It was." You give up so much of your time and your life when you're young, doing this, for the love of it. But I was just a little kid. The minute I started walking, I danced. It was a natural thing to me. And then I studied ballet. And at age seven, for the first time, I was on stage playing a lead. Everybody went crazy, because I would get myself into the role so much. It was a dramatic role. When I would come home I’d tell Mom, "Mommy, Mommy, I don't want to play that part. I want to play the happy girl." Because I would get myself into the role so much. I discovered that I loved it so much, doing it, acting?

The story goes that your agent sent you to audition for the episode, and neither you, nor he, really knew what Star Trek was…

I did not know. I’d never really got a chance to see it. So he said, "Just go get the job. Don't worry about it." So I went and auditioned. And I found out that they wanted someone who can deliver lines and who could dance. I guess I also looked right for the part. So I feel that that's why I got the role. And of course, afterwards, when I got the role, they wanted to try different makeup on me. For four days, I went to makeup. And they paid me for it, so I said, "I don't care."

That was Fred Phillips who was doing all this work on you?

I think so. I think so, yeah. But what happened is, they would put feathers on me. Different color feathers into my eyelashes, eyebrows, nose. Everywhere. Ears. And they would send me to Joe Pevney, the director. Joe Pevney would look and say, "Less!" "Less! Less!" Every time, you know? And at the end, he says, "I just want to see her face. I want to see her face. Don't worry about it." So that's how it happened. I loved working with him because he was a good director. And he was the nicest guy. So that was the beginning of it.

We’re going back almost 50 years now. What else do you remember of making that episode?

It was 48 years ago. I'm old, but not -- two years older!

We owe you two years. Here are your two years back. But please go on...

Right, right. I remember Joe Pevney talking to me about my close-up. Not every director really goes so deeply into it. I was saying my lines, and he says, "I don't want you to do that. I want you to look in that camera like a tunnel, as if you're in a tunnel. I want you to talk to Scotty through a tunnel, and really focus on him as if he's on the other side of the tunnel. You have to whisper to him. Whisper to him, so nobody could hear you." He just hypnotized me. And that's one of the things I remember very clearly. Of course, I remember Shatner cracking jokes, and Jimmy Doohan, he was a sweetheart. He was kind of pushing me away from Shatner.

Well, they weren’t fans of each other, even back then….

Yeah. He was like, "Oh, don't talk to him. Don't talk to him." I said, "Oh, okay. Whatever." But he would talk to me. Jimmy Doohan and I, we went out to dinner a couple of times. We talked all night. I really liked him, but I wasn’t attracted to him that way. We just became friends. Great friends. When they gave him this farewell thing in Hollywood, people said, "Oh, well, he'll not remember you." He saw me, and he just lit up like a Christmas tree. I loved him. It brings tears to my eyes, really, because I really, really cared about him. He was a sweet, passionate man.

You told a story during your panel at Star Trek Las Vegas about Shatner asking you out when you worked with him on a pre-Trek pilot, Alexander the Great. You said no because were you 16 at the time and he was still married, and you didn’t date married men. He asked you out again after you shot “Wolf in the Fold.” By then, you were 18 and he was divorced, right?

Right. He was divorced by then. So I said yes. We dated for a while and we had a very good time.

What's it like when you see him now?

We’re friends. We're definitely friends. I'll tell you a little story of just a few years ago. His career was really down, before Boston Legal. I was working behind the camera. I was a location manager on a movie called Land of the Free. He had the secondary role. So I saw him then, and we talked. Then, after that, I was going to Berlin, Germany, for this event that I was helping my girlfriend to put together. We Brought Mickey Rooney and Charlton Heston and Claudia Cardinale, who I worked with earlier. We brought some of these stars to this event in Berlin. They were giving awards. So they asked me about Shatner. I go, "Yes, I know Shatner. I'll ask him."

So I talked to him. And he wanted a certain amount of money and everything. So we settled. He'd just gotten married to Elizabeth, the latest. They just got married. So we all went to Berlin. We had a great time, and he got an award and so on and so forth. Later on, I’ve also arranged for him to go to the opening in Miami for this big art show. He was honored, etc., etc. So, yes, we are friends. I haven't seen him the last couple of years, but I’m going to try to see if I can sneak in and say hi to him when he's signing or something, because I would love to say hi to him.

Tell us about your “Wolf in the Fold” outfit. What do you remember of the fitting for that? That was Bill Theiss…

Yes, Bill Theiss.

How involved were you in bringing that to life?

They wanted me to bring costumes, and I did. I had nice costumes and I brought them. "Try this one, try that one. Do you have a red one?" I think I did have a red one, because they wanted a red costume. Later I found out why. They looked and looked. They said, "Okay, we'll hold this one and we'll hold that one." But they didn’t say anything. I had a bra on, and they said, "Oh, can we use your bra?" I said, "Yeah. Sure." But they had to cover it, because of the cleavage. Of course, they put in a little button, or flower, into my belly button. Then they brought me the skirt to try on. I tried it on, and I thought, "That was a weird thing." But it was pretty. I thought it was beautiful. So I said, "Yeah. At least I’m not wearing a belly dance costume. It's better-looking than just a belly dance costume." So I was happy about it. They then made adjustments, and this and that. They brought the headpiece, which I loved.

You did this one episode, 48 years ago. You couldn't have known when you made it that anybody was going to give a damn about this single appearance in this weird little show from the '60s...

Absolutely. I can't believe it. I still feel like I’m in a dream sequence of some kind.

What are you up to these days?

I'm a writer, and I’ve done a lot of behind-the-camera work, as well. I've studied acting heavily. I did a lot of stage productions. A lot of stage. I played Cleopatra on stage. I have done everything from classical pieces to contemporary comedy… everything, because I loved the art of acting. I was cast a certain way because of the way I looked. Today, people are more broad-minded about how you look. You can look different, and it's okay, but in those days, they typecast you. And I was typecast. So I loved acting. And when I got married and I had my little boy and everything, my acting slowed down and I went behind the camera. I learned quite a bit, quite a bit about the art of making movies. It helped me with my writing. So now, I write screenplays. I have an author who brought me two books. I wrote one screenplay for him, which I just love the story.

It's an adaptation called Kira's Diary. It's about a 17-year-old Jewish girl and 23-year-old Nazi lieutenant in a concentration camp, falling in love against all odds and atrocities. It just hit me a certain way. "I have to write this screenplay." It came out fantastic, because I believe, just like Roddenberry did when he cast Star Trek, it’s all different nationalities and colors. I don't care what nationality, what religion, we're all people. We feel the same love or hate. But in this case, love. I believe that if we all start spreading love, maybe, maybe, maybe if each one of us somehow, through different ways, spreads love that we could come to some kind of agreement all over the world. But what’s going out there now, it’s sad.

So I wrote that, and the same author, he loved what I wrote. He brought me another one, which is a high action piece. I’m finishing now. Then I’m starting my next book. The book I have at my table is mostly about my career in Hollywood, but the next one is going to be different. It will be about my parents in Russia, what they had to go through and how they escaped from Russia with all that was going on, the persecution and on and on, and then how they escaped to Iran. My Mom escaped on foot, over the mountain. Anyway, it's a beautiful, interesting story. So with all of that, I can't believe I am here today, at the 50th anniversary of this beautiful, fantastic voyage that Roddenberry created. I’d met him, and I loved him. Great, great man. He created such futuristic ideas. And I am so honored to be a part of this anniversary.