Was Edith Keeler on ‘Star Trek’ Inspired by a Real Person?

edith keeler star trek, was edith keeler a real person, inspiration for edith keeler

YouTube Edith Keeler in the episode "City on the Edge of Forever".

One of the common questions new Star Trek fans are compelled to ask is if there was a “real” Edith Keeler. For many fans who have just watched “The City on the Edge of Forever” for the very first time, the portrayal of Edith Keeler seems grounded in reality, prompting some to wonder if the character was based on a real woman. The optimistic, compassionate woman that Kirk fell in love with also cast a spell over audiences, with fans regularly asking to this very day whether Edith really had to die for the greater good. Here’s everything you need to know about this character on “Star Trek”, and who may have inspired her creation.


No, Edith Keeler Wasn’t a Real Historical Figure

The crew of the starship Enterprise met a number of historical and mythological figures over the years, but Edith Keeler wasn’t one of them. Edith Keeler is a fictional character, albeit one who may have been inspired by some real-life figures. In other words, Keeler is as “real” as other “historical figures” from the Trek universe like the fictional inventor of the warp drive, Zephram Cochrane.

In the fictional backstory of Star Trek, Keeler was a social worker and pacificist from Earth’s 20th century. In the “proper” timeline, Keeler was destined to die in a traffic accident. However, this timeline was altered when Dr. McCoy traveled back in time, met Keeler, and saved her life. This caused a ripple effect in American history that ultimately lead to the US being defeated by the Axis powers in WWII. Kirk travels back in time to correct McCoy’s act of compassion, restoring the proper timeline where Germany was defeated and Starfleet was eventually founded. According to some Redditors, Edith Keeler’s ability to foresee humanity’s glorious future in space may have been down to supernatural abilities, though this is only a fan theory.

There are quite a few examples of real historical figures that have appeared on Star Trek over the years. Abraham Lincoln famously appears in a TOS episode called The Savage Curtain, while later Trek series like Voyager featured appearances from the real Amelia Earhardt and a holographic Leonardo da Vinci.


Edith Keeler Was Inspired by Aimee Semple McPherson

In their book These Are the Voyages: TOS, Season One, authors Marc Cushman and Susan Osborn note that Ellison was reading a biography of Aimee Semple McPherson while working on his script. This is backed up by Ellison himself, on page 77 of the published version of his original, unedited teleplay. For those not well-read in American religious history, Aimee Semple McPherson was a celebrity in the 1920s. According to Smithsonian Magazine, she was an evangelist, but also a source of mystery, thanks to a well-publicized but short-lived disappearance in 1926.

According to NPR, McPherson was both a radio pioneer and a household name, thanks to her relgious broadcasts. As NPR describes McPherson, she was “the most famous minister in America during the interwar years.” Aimee Semple McPherson was a founder of the Foursquare Church, which exists to this day.

Edith Keeler wasn’t the only fictional TV character who was inspired by Aimee Semple McPherson. According to Den of Geek, the character Sister Molly from Penny Dreadful: City of Angels is also based on Aimee Semple McPherson. A 1976 TV movie about McPherson’s life, “The Disappearance of Aimee”, featured Faye Dunaway and Bette Davis.


Edith Keeler Was Played By Joan Collins

Joan Collins is well-known to “Star Trek” fans, but she’s arguably better known to the rest of the world for her novels, and for her iconic turn on the TV show Dynasty. In an interview with StarTrek.com, Collins revealed that she took the role in “The City on the Edge of Forever” partially at the encouragement of her children. In the same interview, she also stated that she didn’t realize she was making such a classic episode of television until years later. “I didn’t even have a clue at the time that we’d made a memorable episode,” she said.

Edith Keeler remains a fan-favorite character, even though she only appeared in one episode. However, her star-crossed love affair with Kirk, combined with her optimistic view of humanity’s potential, made a lasting impression on generations of TV viewers. Keeler’s best line, as recited by the talented Joan Collins, speaks to a brighter future for humanity, a message that speaks to the very core of why people love Star Trek so much.

“One day soon, man is going to be able to harness incredible energies,” Keeler says during the course of the episode. “Energies that could ultimately hurl us to other worlds in… in some sort of spaceship. And the men that reach out into space will be able to find ways to feed the hungry millions of the world and the cure their diseases. They will be able to find a way give each other hope and a common future. And those are the days worth living for.”

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