Remembering the First Female ‘Star Trek’ Superhuman: Sally Kellerman

Sally Kellerman

Paramount Sally Kellerman on "Star Trek."

Actor Sally Kellerman, who helped launch “Star Trek” as a lead character in the series’ first successful pilot, died February 24, 2022, at the age of 84, according to Variety.

As so many know, there were two first tries for “Star Trek” at the show’s beginning. The first attempt was the “cerebral” tale, featuring aliens torturing the captain of the Enterprise. “The Cage” starred film actor Jeffery Hunter as Captain Christopher Pike and ultimately was rejected by NBC. But the network asked the show’s creator, Gene Roddenberry, to try again, as The Hollywood Reporter reminded fans in 2014 when actor Leonard Nimoy celebrated the 50th anniversary of shooting the first pilot. 

Roddenberry’s second attempt, “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” starred William Shatner as the dashing and charismatic Captain James T. Kirk. Along with Kirk, the Enterprise crew was diverse, featuring a physicist named Sulu (George Takei), the engineer Scotty (James Doohan) and the doctor (Paul Fix). And there was one holdover from “The Cage”: an alien officer named Spock, played by Nimoy. 

The story centered around the Galactic Barrier and how this natural phenomenon affected two Starfleet personnel, Gary Mitchell (Gary Lockwood) and Dr. Elizabeth Dehner (Sally Kellerman). These two characters suddenly had incredible powers to manipulate objects with their thoughts and shoot lightning from their fingertips. These two were known as “Espers,” which was an extension of “extra-sensory perception.”

Lockwood is now considered a science fiction star. Including his role on Trek, Lockwood portrayed one of the doomed astronauts in Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece, “2001: A Space Odyssey.” According to the book “Star Trek: The Original Series – A Celebration,” Kellerman worked with Lockwood before on an episode of “The Kraft Suspense Theatre.” 

Kirk and Spock had to figure out how to deal with these two, who were proving to be a menace aboard the Enterprise. As they remained on board, the ship was in danger of being taken over or destroyed. Kirk beamed down to the planet’s surface with members of the crew, the Espers, and a very famous phaser rifle. Thanks to the help of Dehner, Kirk took care of business and defeated god-like Lockwood. 

Most moviegoers remember Kellerman for her Oscar-nominated role in the Korean war comedy film “M*A*S*H.” But Trek fans remember her as Dr. Elizabeth Dehner. Some may also recognize her for her role in Rodney Dangerfield’s “Back to School.”

Remembering Kellerman

As did many others, the producer, author and co-host of the “Inglorious Treksperts” podcast, Mark A. Altmanposted a tribute to Kellerman.

“Rest in peace, Sally Kellerman, who always brought life to whatever characters she played,” Altman said. “A terrific actress in some great films and, of course, esper-rific in the second Star Trek pilot.”

Altman, along with writer Ed Gross, interviewed Kellerman for their book, “The Fifty-Year Mission: The Complete, Uncensored, Unauthorized Oral History of Star Trek: The First 25 Years.” She told Gross and Altman how she was unfamiliar with science fiction and thought Lockwood was an “amateur.”

Kellerman on Trek

“I’d just finished Kraft Theatre with Gary Lockwood, and the one time we were shooting our scene, and he didn’t know his lines, I thought, ‘Oh, what an amateur,’ Kellerman said in the book.

“Next thing I know, I’m cast in the pilot of ‘Star Trek’ with Gary Lockwood, the amateur,” she said. “When I saw him stage all the fight scenes, I got over that amateur stuff! I was swooning offstage.” 

Kellerman told Altman and Gross that Shatner had a “great sense of humor,” and she knew Nimoy from a stage play in which he was the director. 

“Last year, someone came up to me and said, ‘You are the reason the pilot sold,” and I said, ‘I always felt that was true. Of course, it was me!’”

UPDATE: After feedback from readers, we have changed the headline from ‘supervillain’ to ‘superhuman.’ 

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David Markham
David Markham
1 year ago

In addition to a slew of television appearances stretching from the late 1950s to 2021, Kellerman was also in the 1973 musical remake of Lost Horizon.