‘Star Trek’ Employee Explains Special Relationship With Nichelle Nichols

Nichelle Nichols flashing the Vulcan greeting

Araya Diaz/Getty Images for Ovation Nichelle Nichols attends the Ovation TV premiere screening of "Art Breakers" on October 1, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.

Progressive views on race began at the top on “Star Trek.” Creator Gene Roddenberry and producer Gene Coon were progressive men, believing that our differences should be celebrated — an attitude that was shared by Desilu Studios, home of “Star Trek,” as well as “Mission: Impossible,” “Mannix” and many other iconic television series of the 1960s.

Andreea “Ande” Kindryd was one of the first two Black people ever to be hired at a major television studio, and that studio was Desilu. “They had to hire two,” she joked in an August interview. “It’s like a good zoo. You hire a pair. They can be company for each other!”

The story of how she arrived at that place and her time working at Desilu and on “Star Trek” are detailed in her new book, “From Slavery to Star Trek,” and Heavy had the opportunity to sit down with her and discuss her ancestors, how the infamous Watts riots led to her job and her relationships with Gene Coon and Nichelle Nichols.

A Heck of a Way to Land a Job

The entrance to Desilu Studios, Culver City

Culver City Historical SocietyThe entrance to the Desilu Studios Administration Building in Culver City.

Kindryd credits the Watts riots with landing her the gig with Desilu. In August of 1965, a young Black man was pulled over in Watts, a suburb of Los Angeles, and accused of drunken driving. The incident quickly escalated, resulting in a riot that overtook Watts. The incident may have been the trigger, but trouble had been brewing for some time.

“It was a working-class community,” Kindryd told Heavy. “Nobody was rich, everybody did the best they could. But it was segregated, in terms of, we couldn’t move next door to the next suburb. That had covenants on it that only white people could buy them.” Laws had been passed to stop that kind of segregation, but Proposition 14 had just passed, once again giving property owners the right to discriminate against potential buyers based on ethnicity.

“We were angry. And when Watts exploded, it was basically because of the police chief, who had his police act as if they were an occupying army in our community. So Watts was hot,” she said.

Kindryd wasn’t in Watts when the powder keg erupted. When she heard about it, she was tripping on Owsley acid in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, she said. Her friend Malcolm X had been assassinated six months earlier and she was ready for a revolution, so she high-tailed it to Ground Zero, where she took part in the chaos.

“I see strange things everywhere I look,” she wrote in her book. “Cooperation, that’s what it is. People are helping each other carry sofas and fridges.”

In the middle of the fray, the National Guard arrived and bullets started flying. Property was destroyed and looted. It took six days for the riot to be brought under control. Once the shooting and looting had ended, the police entered Watts with the garbage collectors.

“Every place they stopped with an old refrigerator out to be removed or an old sofa or whatever, the police went inside to see what had replaced it and asked for a bill of sale,” she wrote. Anything new or undocumented was confiscated.

Kindryd fared well. She had grabbed a few things off shelves during the looting but hadn’t taken anything big, she said, and she’d registered with the National Urban League, a Black organization that helped people find jobs in an effort to integrate workplaces. They’d received a tip that Desilu needed a clerical person, and, armed with the knowledge that Kindryd had worked in radio in the past and figuring that was close enough to television, sent her to the interview.

VideoVideo related to ‘star trek’ employee explains special relationship with nichelle nichols2022-08-15T23:08:09-04:00

A Slave’s Descendant & a Klansman’s Son

Once she landed the job as a “floater secretary,” Kindryd found her duties to be varied. She found the days she was assigned to payroll to be tedious, she said, but enjoyed the times she had a voice in casting. And then a new producer, Gene L. Coon, was brought on board and she was assigned as his secretary more and more frequently.

According to Kindryd, Coon said, “Ande, I love your legs, I love your short skirts. Come and work for me.”

“Come on,” Kindryd exclaimed. “I was a young, hip, super-cool Black chick with miniskirts. Did I want to work for a middle-aged white dude called ‘Coon?'”

It turns out, the answer was “Yes.” And Kindryd realizes that decision was not without irony.

Kindryd’s great-grandmother, Winny Brush, was enslaved. Jim Shankle, a slave from a different plantation, had fallen in love with her and so, putting his life in jeopardy, ran away to find her. The story, which opens Kindryd’s book, follows Jim as he swims the Mississippi and evades slave catchers in search of his one true love.

Now Kindryd was working for a man named “Coon,” a word that had become an insulting, dehumanizing term for Black people. And not only that, Coon’s father had been a member of the Ku Klux Klan. One would understand if Kindryd needed some time to consider whether she wanted to work for the man. But she knew that Coon’s beliefs ran contrary to his father’s.

“We had the same kind of ethics,” she said. “He was my people.” She thinks both Coon and Roddenberry had learned from the negative examples their fathers had set. “These were two men who were going their own way despite what had happened before. … They were products of their time that had values that were eternal. To do the right thing, to look after, care for, be honest, trustworthy. And that was who they were.

“He was a very special person to me,” Kindryd wistfully commented, referring to Coon. That much is clear from the way she speaks of him, and actually, her original idea was to write a book about Coon, leaving herself out of it. But as she wrote, she found that she kept creeping into it, until finally she gave in and it became a memoir.

More Than an Aunt

Cover art for Andreea Kindryd's book

Courtesy Andreea KindrydCover art for Andreea Kindryd’s book “From Slavery to Star Trek.”

Nichelle Nichols, Lieutenant Uhura on “Star Trek”, died in July 2022. Kindryd said they had a special relationship, too. She and her mother weren’t close and Nichols provided the comfort of an aunt without actually being a relation.

“Her house wasn’t far from mine, so I could run over there and hang out. And she let me do that,” Kindryd told Heavy. The two women were cautious of each other when they met, but when they started talking, they discovered they had a lot in common.

“She had worked with Duke Ellington, and so she knew Duke’s son, Mercer Ellington. And I had worked with Mercer at WLIB [in Harlem, New York.] So we had people in common,” she said. “We discovered that our husbands had married the same woman! So Nichelle said we were ex-wives-in-law.”

After “Trek” the women didn’t stay in close contact; Kindryd didn’t care for the man Nichelle married, Duke, and so they drifted apart. “When I moved out of the house I was living in in Nichols Canyon, I talked her into coming up and having a look at it and moving in, and she did,” Kindryd said, gleefully adding, “I think Nichelle Nichols needed to live in Nichols Canyon!”

Kindryd will be appearing at The 56-Year Mission: Las Vegas, where she will have a limited print run of her book, “From Slavery to Star Trek,” for sale.

And to watch the video interview in which she reads selections from her book and talks more about Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr. and Bill Shatner’s hair, visit Daily Star Trek News.

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