Before Anson Mount and Bruce Greenwood as Captain Christopher Pike, there was Jeffrey Hunter. But there was another Captain Pike: Sean Kenney. He played Pike in the wheelchair in “The Menagerie” as well as Lt. DePaul in “Arena” and “A Taste of Armageddon.”
Born March 13, 1944, Kenney starred in several movies and television shows, including “Get Smart,” “Terminal Island,” “Toy Box,” and “Police Story.” But he’s probably best known for his time in “Star Trek.”
Remembering the Backstory to Pike
Before jumping into Kenney’s background, it’s worth covering the history of “The Menagerie” as well as why Kenney became Pike instead of Jeffrey Hunter, who played Pike in the pilot.
As a quick recap of “The Menagerie,” in “the Original Series,” Spock risks his career to bring his former leader, Captain Christopher Pike, to Talos IV. Pike is disfigured, barely recognizable, due to a radiation leak (delta rays). In a wheelchair, Pike can only respond to yes or no questions with a blinking light built into his wheelchair. In the end, the Talosians have orchestrated some of the events with Spock so Pike could choose to return to Vina on Talos IV, living a happy life.
In “Star Trek: Discovery,” Pike (played by Anson Mount) sees his future. Fans wonder if “Star Trek: Strange New Worlds” will cover more of this incident.
After making “The Cage,” Hunter decided against continuing as the captain of the Enterprise. So, Roddenberry found a new leading man: William Shatner (Captain Kirk).
The rest is history.
When Roddenberry came up with the idea to do an episode using that old footage, Hunter could not complete the episode, according to Star Trek. So, they turned to someone who looked like him.
Kenney’s Military Career Sparked Acting
Kenney said while in the military, he became interested in drama, according to Santa Barbara Sentinel. After his service, he got his big break when an actor was unavailable (due to a part on the western “Gunsmoke”), and the understudy took ill. The production, “The Deputy” at the Gallery Theater, was on the verge of cancellation for the night. But Kenney – working as a sound technician – volunteered as he knew all the lines.
The day was saved, and Kenney’s luck wasn’t over. An agent was in the audience that night. She’d been looking for an actor to be in an upcoming television show. She’d had trouble finding exactly what Gene Roddenberry wanted. The “Star Trek” creator wanted something specific – an actor who generally looked like Jeffrey Hunter.
With Kenney, they’d found their new Captain Pike.
Roddenberry asked Kenney a series of questions that should’ve scared him. Kenney recalls the conversation; Roddenberry said:
“Are you allergic to latex? Well, we might want to dye your hair white and use a little latex on your face. Just want to make sure you don’t have any allergies. Also, you might not be able to eat normally during the job, because we’re going to have to tape your mouth down. You might have to eat through a straw during the workday – just liquids.”
Kenney said he was willing to do just about anything for an acting break.
“When you’re young like that you do not say no! You don’t want any barriers to your career, you know?”
Kenney sat in the makeup chair for many hours over eight days of filming, starting at 5:30 a.m. The first day, he said it took about five and half hours to become Pike. After that day, the makeup artists were able to speed things up. By the time “The Menagerie” was over, the latex application and other details only took three hours. According to Kenney, the radiation burn – or delta ray scarring – was the most difficult. Makeup artists tried a few solutions before spirit-gluing denim to his face. Kenney says one day, the makeup people were so tired they added his scar to the wrong side of his face. Fortunately, Kenney says he noticed before filming began. The makeup artists were able to fix the scar.
Because of the makeup, Kenney had trouble eating and lost considerable weight during the filming. The days were grueling, too. He worked about 15 hours a day.
Becoming Lt. DePaul
Kenney got along well with Roddenberry during his time as Pike. They learned they were in the same service group, the 8th Air Force; Roddenberry was a B-17 pilot. Roddenberry was so taken by the young man that he offered the role of Lt. DePaul (navigator and relief helmsman) to him for “Arena” and “A Taste of Armageddon.”
Kenney was back on the set.
He said the worst thing about being DePaul was how hot the fake helmsman board was. He nearly burned his fingers.
Dishing on ‘the Original Series’ Crew
During his time on the set, Kenney got to know and observe the other actors.
Kenney says that William Shatner enjoyed being center stage and looked for the best light, sometimes causing scenes to fall apart. The other actors, he notes, were unhappy with those antics.
“De Kelley said, ‘Look, that a****** moved his marks so he could get better lighting.'”
One story he tells to Greasy Kid’s Stuff Magazine included Shatner showing his displeasure at Kenney being visibly taller.
“Director Joseph Pevney in one of the shows directed me to get up from the chair I was sitting in and cross the room to get something … when I stood up I was two inches over Shatner and he didn’t like that. Shatner pointed to the director and made an up and down movement with his hand, like sit him down and I’ll go get that thing. It was weird, man.”
Kenney gushed about two actors: James (Jimmy) Doohan and DeForest Kelley (D). He and Doohan got along famously and discussed their military experience. Doohan would show off bullet wounds from his time in military service (in WWII). Congenial, Doohan made Kenney feel welcome. In the same interview, Kenney recalls a funny story with Kelley and Doohan.
“[D] was so great. You know I came on later as DePaul and he didn’t know I’d played Pike. You know, it’s three weeks later and I’ve got my hair back. And I’m sitting there on the bridge and Jimmy says, ‘D, this is Sean Kenney.’ And D is like, ‘Yeah, how are you?’ And Jimmy says, ‘He played Pike.’ Kelley turns to me and says, ‘You played Pike? Holy s***, man! They made you up like a Christmas turkey!’”
What’s New? It’s Unbelievable!
After working with “Star Trek,” Kenney recalls Roddenberry sent a note to casting directors to help him get future acting gigs. Soon, Kenney was on “Get Smart” and had an acting career lined up. According to Star Trek, he’s been a photographer and joined the science fiction convention circuit since. He’s even published a book – Captain Pike Found Alive – chronicling his life, including his time with “Star Trek.”
Some may know Kenney for his roles in exploration movies. He also played in “The Cult,” a film about the Manson murders. Additionally, he reprised his role as DePaul (now a commodore) in “Star Trek: Captain Pike” with other “Star Trek” actors, including Chase Masterson, Linda Park, Bruce Davidson, and Walter Koenig; it appears the film was never released.
Most recently, Kenney was in “Unbelievable!!!!” The movie – released August 7, 2020 – is a Trek parody with other famous actors from just about every series as well as Snoop Dogg and Gilbert Godfried. Red Shirts Always Die lists the actors: Nichelle Nichols, Robert Picardo, Linda Park, Manu Intiraymi, Armin Shimerman, Vaughn Armstrong, Gary Graham, Anthony Montgomery, Marina Sirtis, Nana Visitor, Walter Koenig, Michael Dorn, Julie Warner, Dina Meyer, Olivia d’Abo, Jeffrey Combs, John Billingsley, Max Grodenchik, Casey Biggs, Gary Lockwood, Michael Forest, Jack Donner, Connor Trinneer, Dominic Keating, Brenda Bakke, Patti Yasutake, Steve Rankin, Michael Dante, Sean Kenney, BarBara Luna, Beverly Washburn, Celeste Yarnall, Bobby Clark, Jasmine Anthony, Menina Fortunato, McKenzie Westmore, and Crystal Allen. James Doohan’s son, Christopher Doohan, is also in it as well.
Loving ‘Star Trek’
Overall, Kenney seems happy with his time being involved with the franchise. In an interview with Star Trek, he shares he’s enjoyed meeting fans over the years. People in wheelchairs come up to him, thanking him for helping them. He’s learned a few things from his interactions with Trekkies, too, including how Iraq pilots used the “Captain Pike” code when flying over enemy territory: “Is that a one-beep or two-beep Roger?”
He thinks “the Original Series” is still great.
“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.”
He’s proud of his work, too. In Trek Central, he says he didn’t feel like he did much but is glad the role is “iconic.”