Grace Lee Whitney, who for a short but memorable time played Yeoman Janice Rand on the original Star Trek, passed away on Friday at home at the age of 85, confirmed by her son. She was the oldest surviving original cast member.
Whitney started as a singer, appearing with Billie Holiday and Buddy Rich, but then turned to acting and appeared in guest roles in a number of TV shows including Gunsmoke, The Rifleman and 77 Sunset Strip, but then landed a role as what was supposed to be a regular “love interest” character for Captain James T. Kirk on Star Trek when it went into production.
Her and her infamous blond beehive wig (“I swear they had to nail that thing to my head!”) would only last 8 episodes, however. Numerous reasons for her departure were rumored, including her alcoholism, but according to her the primary reason was that they didn’t want to tie Kirk down and leave him free to mingle with others. Gene Roddenberry claimed it was to cut the budget. But in her 1998 autobiography, she also said she was sexually assaulted by a Desilu (the production company) executive, and was cut from the show a few days later.
Her career after that, along with her addictions, would spiral out of control, but she credited the Star Trek fans who never forgot her for helping her beat her additions and became an advocate for beating substance abuse. She would return to Star Trek and her character with small parts in Star Trek: The Motion Picture as the transporter chief, Star Trek III: The Search For Spock and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home working in Starfleet Command, and Star Trek IV: The Undiscovered Country and an episode of Star Trek: Voyager as the communications officer on the U.S.S. Excelsior, which they believed might spin off into a series.
Ad astra per aspera, Grace…