Grace Lee Whitney is about to celebrate a heavenly birthday. The beloved actress, who passed away in 2015, was born on April 1, 1930, meaning she’d be turning 92 if she were still alive. And though she’s no longer on this plane, Whitney left an indelible mark on the world, arguably more through her life and redemption than her career, the highlight of which was her stint as Janice Rand. She originated the role on “Star Trek: The Original Series” and reprised it in “Star Trek: The Motion Picture,” “Star Trek III: The Search for Spock,” “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home,” “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country,” and also on “Star Trek: Voyager.”
Whitney’s adoptive parents changed her name from Mary Ann to Grace and raised her in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She knew early on that she wanted to perform, and she kicked off her career at age 14, singing for a Detroit radio station’s a cappella chorus. She later moved to Chicago, where she joined a band called The Prevue and even opened for Billie Holliday. Whitney, barely out of her teens, made her Broadway debut in a 1951 production of “Top Banana,” starring Phil Silvers, and also turned up in the big-screen version of the musical, which opened in 1954. A move to California paved the way to parts in a variety of movies and television series, among them “Peter Gunn,” “Some Like It Hot,” “The Untouchables,” “Irma la Douce,” “The Outer Limits,” “Death Valley Days,” “The Rifleman,” “77 Sunset Strip,” and “Bewitched.” One of her other projects was “Police Story,” a failed television pilot written and produced by Gene Roddenberry, associate produced by Robert Justman, directed by Vincent McEveety, and scored by composer Alexander Courage. Its cast included DeForest Kelley, Steve Ihnat, and Malachi Throne, with Whitney on board as Sgt. Lilly Monroe. A year or so later, they’d all be together again on “Star Trek.”
Boarding the Enterprise
Whitney, in fact, received word from her agent that while “Police Story” was dead, Roddenberry requested a meeting with her to discuss another opportunity. His latest series, “Star Trek,” was a go… after two pilots. Whitney joined the show as Janice Rand, the yeoman to William Shatner’s Captain Kirk. She made her first appearance in the episode, ‘The Corbomite Maneuver,” which premiered on November 10, 1966. Rand was professional and good at her job, as well as flirtatious and gorgeous, what with her short skirts and towering blonde beehive hair.
“I was supposed to be innocent, dedicated, excellent in my motives for wanting to be on the Enterprise, but very green, with no experience,” Whitney recounted to StarTrek.com in 2011. “Rand was willing to learn to be a secretary to the captain, whom, of course, I immediately had a crush on. But it was unrequited love, like Kitty and Matt on ‘Gunsmoke.’ It could not be consummated. It had to be love from afar, an unrequited love between the captain and me.”
The chemistry between Rand and Kirk/Whitney and Shatner was undeniable, but it had to be denied. Kirk couldn’t be tied down. Complicating matters, Whitney was drinking around this time and she claimed to have been sexually assaulted by someone associated with “Trek,” whom she never identified. As such, Whitney was fired after playing Rand in just eight episodes during season one, namely “The Corbomite Maneuver,” “The Enemy Within,” “‘The Man Trap,” “The Naked Time,” “Charlie X,” “Balance of Terror,” “Miri,” and “The Conscience of the King.”
Upon her departure from the show, Whitney’s drinking worsened. She became addicted to drugs and sex, eventually hitting bottom on Skid Row in Los Angeles. It took time, but she entered a 12-step recovery program, found God, and made amends with herself, her family, friends, and colleagues. Whitney embraced the “Star Trek” convention circuit, which brought her back in touch with Roddenberry.
“I’d made an amends to him,” Whitney told StarTrek.com, “and he, in turn, said to me, ‘Grace, I’ve never made such a big mistake in my life as allowing NBC and Paramount to write you out. If I’d only seen my way clear, I could have kept you aboard. You would be the only person, really, who knew the inside story of Captain Kirk, and you could have been waiting for him when he came back from the escapades. We would have had a whole new focus for the show and for the character.’ That’s what he told me. He said, ‘I’m going to put you in the next series,’ which of course turned out to be ‘Star Trek: The Motion Picture.’ I came for that and then was in (most of) the movies, except for ‘II’ and ‘V.’”
“Star Trek” legend Leonard Nimoy proved to be one of Whitney’s biggest supporters. A recovering alcoholic himself, he made sure to include her in the “Trek” features he directed and he wrote the foreword for her 1998 memoir, “The Longest Trek: My Tour of the Galaxy.” Whitney returned to the Paramount Pictures lot to play Rand again in “Flashback,” a 1996 “Star Trek: Voyager” episode that also featured George Takei as Sulu, and in two “Star Trek” fan films, “World Enough and Time” and “Of Gods and Men.”
The Golden Years
By all accounts, Whitney’s golden years were indeed golden. She stayed clean and lived on a 30-acre parcel of land close to Yosemite National Park, with a running creek. “It’s just gorgeous,” Whitney enthused to StarTrek.com in that same 2011 interview. “I still do conventions. I’m dedicated to helping people not drink and not use and… not die. So, I’m completely fulfilled. I have two sons – Jonathan and Scott; they were both in ‘Miri,’ stealing the communicators, and Scott was in ‘The Motion Picture,’ too — and Jonathan built a home down at the end of my property, where he lives with his family, including my grandchildren. They’re going to take care of me as I move through life to my home in heaven. But right now, I take my grandchildren to school and cart them around, and I’m of maximum service to them. I also line dance one night a week and I go to the gym three days a week. So, my life is happy, joyous, free, sober, and saved, and a lot of fun, too. I have a lot of fun.”
Whitney passed away peacefully on May 1, 2015, just a few weeks after Leonard Nimoy. She was 85.