George Hosato Takei (April 20, 1937-), Japanese-American actor.
Takei, the eldest of three children of a Japanese couple living in Los Angeles, California, is best known for his role as Hikaru Sulu on Star Trek. During World War II, he and his family were forced to live in internment camps. Initially, they were shipped to Camp Rohwer in Arkansas, but when his parents gave principled and honest answers to an offensive “loyalty questionnaire,” they were labeled as “disloyals” and the family was relocated to Camp Tule Lake near the northern border of California. Under duress, his mother renounced her American citizenship (his father was an immigrant who became a citizen in the 1950s), but her deportation was prevented by a crusading lawyer named Wayne Collins, who was instrumental in restoring the citizenship of countless Japanese-Americans. Decades later, Takei would testify before Congress on behalf of a successful effort to pass a bill granting reparations to those interred.
Upon their release, the Takei family stubbornly returned to Los Angeles. They moved into a Mexican neighborhood, and as a result Takei became fluent in Spanish. After graduating high school, he studied architecture at UC Berkeley. Acting, however, was his first love, and during the summer after his first year of college, he got his first job in the movie business, three days of dubbing voices into English for the monster movie Rodan. After his second year, Takei decided to abandon architecture to study acting at UCLA.
Despite the limited number of roles for Asian actors and Takei’s refusal to star as offensive racial stereotypes, job offers came quickly for him because of his talent and the aid of a wily agent, Fred Ishimoto. He got a plum role in an episode of the live TV anthology Playhouse 90, “Made in Japan” and was cast along side Richard Burton in the film The Ice Palace. Other films included Hell to Eternity, the first Hollywood film to deal with the Japanese internment camps, starring Jeffrey Hunter, who would later be the first Star Trek captain, Christopher Pike; A Majority of One, starring Alec Guinness as a poor imitation of a Japanese businessman; Red Line 7000, a racing film starring a then-unknown James Caan; and a pair of Jerry Lewis films which he now regrets starring in, because he broke his rule against playing offensive characters for the chance to work with Lewis. He also starred in numerous guest roles on television, graduated with his BA and went on to earn an MA.
In 1966, Takei met Gene Roddenberry at Desilu Studios to discuss a role in the pilot episode of a new television, Star Trek. Little did he know that this role in a yet-unsold pilot would dominate his acting career for forty years. Aside from the appeal of a regular paycheck for an actor, the role attracted Takei because it was a rare dignified role for an Asian actor, a prominent role that wasn’t one of a sidekick or servant. The character had yet to be fully formed (Sulu wouldn’t get even a first name until decades later), but he offered Takei a role in fleshing out the character, one which he eagerly accepted, vigorously campaigning for a more prominent spot for Sulu over the years. Despite the spotlight-hogging efforts of William Shatner, Takei finally got a well-earned captaincy for Sulu in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, as captain of the USS Excelsior. When Sulu was returned to the helm of the USS Enterprise without explanation in Star Trek Generations, the final film with the original cast, Takei refused the role.
After the first season of Star Trek, he was offered a role in the John Wayne film The Green Berets, the first Hollywood movie about the Vietnam War and his most prominent non-ST film role. Takei played the South Vietnamese Captain Nim. Though Takei was against the war in Vietnam, as were several of the other actors, Wayne wanted them aboard regardless of their politics, though the film was pro-US involvement in Vietnam. Production delays kept Takei on location and out of many of the early second season episodes, roles that went to the newly cast Ensign Pavel Chekov instead.
Offscreen, Takei became very actively involved in Democratic politics in California, working on the campaigns of Adlai Stevenson, Tom Hayden, and LA Mayor Tom Bradley, among others. When Bradley became Mayor, friends urged Takei to run for Bradley’s vacant city council seat. During a vigorous campaign, he ran afoul of the FCC’s “Equal Time” rule. Syndicated reruns of Star Trek were airing on a local TV station, and a literal reading of the equal time rule forced the station to give all nine other candidates 28 minutes of airtime each. In a close race, Takei came in second, and the ridiculous equal time problem discouraged him from running for office again. After Takei’s loss, Mayor Bradley appointed him to the board of the Southern California Rapid Transit District, the agency responsible for public transportation. Though Bradley took heat for appointing a “mere” actor to the board, even if he was an actor who had studied architecture and urban planning, Takei easily proved himself and served on the board for eleven years.
Takei is also an avid marathon runner who carried the Olympic torch for a kilometer in Los Angeles during the 1984 Olympics.
Most of this information comes from his autobiography, To The Stars. After reading this, I was struck by how modest, accomplished, and interesting Takei was, and how he managed, probably more than anyone else on the cast of Star Trek, to transcend his role on the show in his life.
In October 2005, Takei revealed in an issue of Frontiers Magazine that he is gay and has been in a committed relationship with his partner, Brad Altman, for the last 18 years. He said "It's not really coming out, which suggests opening a door and stepping through. It's more like a long, long walk through what began as a narrow corridor that starts to widen." Nevertheless, Takei's sexuality had long been an open secret among Trek fans, and Takei did not conceal his active membership in gay organizations.