Diane talks with Kendra Pierre-Louis, senior reporter on the podcast "How To Save A Planet," and a former climate reporter for the New York Times.
Guest Host: Derek McGinty
George Takei found stardom through his role as Sulu on the original “Star Trek” television series. But today many people know of him through his (often humorous) online presence: prolific sharing of memes and a prominent voice for LGBT rights have earned him millions of followers on Facebook and Twitter. Now, Takei has turned his focus to a painful chapter in his family’s past – and a moment in American history he says is still not discussed enough: Japanese-American internment in the ’40s. His Broadway musical “Allegiance,” on stage now, was partly inspired by his own experience as a young boy forced to live in internment camps. Takei discusses his career, his musical and why he’s saving a seat at the theater for Donald Trump.
- George Takei Best known as one of the original stars of the “Star Trek” television series; now an actor, social media icon, and activist. His new musical "Allegiance" is on Broadway now.
Broadway Video: ALLEGIANCE, Starring George Takei, Lea Salonga & Telly Leung
MR. DEREK MCGINTYWell, thanks for joining us. I'm Derek McGinty sitting in for Diane Rehm. She's having a voice treatment. Actor George Takei became a household name driving Hollywood's most iconic starship, but for much of his life, he's been a pioneer right here on old planet Earth. Sure, Mr. Sulu was the helmsman for the USS Enterprise, but the real life George Takei was an inspiration for millions of Asian American kids who, at the time, barely got to see themselves on TV.
MR. DEREK MCGINTYIn 2005, Takei told the world that he is gay and became a leader in the movement for LGBT rights. And most recently, Takei has taken on one of the most shameful periods in American history, that is the internment of more than 100,000 Japanese Americans during World War II. Turns out, he and his family were among those families. But get this, he's taking it on with a Broadway musical called "Allegiance."
MR. DEREK MCGINTYJoining me now from the NPR studios in New York City to talk about the show, his life, his career, George Takei. Welcome.
MR. GEORGE TAKEIGood morning. Good to be talking with you.
MCGINTYGood to be chatting with you as well. You know, I have to tell you, George, everybody I tell about this show pretty much says the same thing. A musical? Really? You know, they seem to think it's too somber, maybe too sad a topic to sing and dance your way through. How did you get past that?
TAKEIWell, the other part of the story is, you know, Japanese Americans' resilience made it possible for us to endure that imprisonment. But part of that ability to endure is the strength to be able to find beauty in those harsh, sheer landscapes or in the case of my family, we were sent to the swamps of Arkansas. To see beauty and to find joy and love and all those aspects were part and parcel of the ability to survive that imprisonment and we wanted to make that whole.
MCGINTYYou know, I saw a little piece of this musical and there is a segment during which your character, the one you play, says, I don't want to remember this. I don’t want to talk about this. How important is it to remember and talk about?
TAKEIIt's very important. I play two characters. One, I play the grandfather in the family that was -- excuse me -- the grandfather that was -- grandfather of the family, the Kimura family, that was incarcerated and I also play the old aged grandson, Sammy, of that family who went and fought for this country, but because of that, he became estranged with his family because his sister and his father answered no to the loyalty questionnaire and he answered -- he bit the bullet and answered yes and he went and fought for this country with incredible heroism.
TAKEIAll this is based on the actual historic facts. But because of the fracturing of the family, he didn't want to remember that and he didn't talk about it. And there are so many Japanese American families that were similarly fractured and also, even those that were not fractured, because those that experienced the internment didn't want to impose that pain and their anguish onto their children. So after seeing the musical, so many younger Japanese Americans, and from my vantage point, I consider people under 65 youngsters, they came up to me backstage and said, I knew dad and mom or grandpa and grandma were in camp, but that's all I knew.
TAKEII didn't know anything about their pain, their anguish and their having to answer to an offense loyalty questionnaire. And they're discovering their own family histories for the first time in a musical, "Allegiance."
MCGINTYYeah. And you thought the music would actually kind of capture more of the emotion of this, correct?
TAKEIExactly. You know, the Japanese culture is one -- excuse me. I'm doing eight shows a week.
TAKEIIt takes its tolls on the voice.
MCGINTYI can only imagine.
TAKEIThe Japanese American culture is one where you hold in some of the emotions, but with a musical, you can probe your thoughts, your withheld emotions, your contained emotions. And with song, you can tell that story. And, in fact, we did have songs and dances in camp. The teenagers, once a month, were allowed to have dances in the mess hall. The tables and benches were cleared away and they had their dances. And our barrack happened to be across from the mess hall so after our mother put us to bed, I was a child then, I could hear the Big Band sounds wafting over from the mess hall when the teenagers were having their dances.
TAKEISo we have a mess hall dance sequence, which becomes a production number. And my father was a block manager and he felt that it was important to build a sense of community and he organized a baseball team. And that brought about a sense of working together, rooting for each other and becoming a community. And so we have a production number called, "Got To Get In The Game," a baseball number. So we do work in these musical numbers which are actually very true to the internment experience.
MCGINTYGeorge Takei, you know him as Mr. Sulu from "Star Trek," of course, but he has done far more than that. Right now, he's got a musical on Broadway called "Allegiance" which details much of the experience of Japanese Americans interned in the '40s during World War II. I'm Derek McGinty in for Diane Rehm today and I want to note that we are going to take your questions and comments throughout the hour. Give us a call, 800-433-8850 or you can send us your email at firstname.lastname@example.org or join us on Facebook or Twitter.
MCGINTYGeorge, I want to go back to that loyalty pledge you mentioned because I guess that also has to do with the title of your show, "Allegiance."
MCGINTYYour father refused to sign the pledge, saying that he didn't support the Emperor or no longer supported the Emperor. And there's a very important reason why he wouldn't sign it.
TAKEIHe actually did sign it with a "no," rather than leaving it unanswered.
MCGINTYRight, right. Okay.
TAKEIImmediately after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, young Japanese Americans, like all young Americans, rushed to their recruitment centers to volunteer to fight for this country, to volunteer to serve in the military. That act of patriotism was answered with a slap in the face. They were denied military service and categorized as enemy aliens. And when they protested that they're not aliens, they were born in Sacramento or San Francisco or Seattle, then they changed it to enemy non aliens. They couldn't use the word citizen.
TAKEIThey used the negative version of citizen, a non alien, and they put us into these internment camps. But a year into imprisonment, the government realized that there's a wartime manpower shortage and here are all these young people that they categorized as enemy non aliens. How do we tap that manpower? And so they came down with this offensive, notorious loyalty questionnaire. And the most offensive was question 28, which was one sentence with two conflicting ideas. It asked, will you swear your loyalty to the United States of America and forswear your loyalty to the Emperor of Japan?
TAKEIThe government assumed that we have a genetic inborn organic loyalty to the Emperor. We're Americans. You know, we are of Japanese ancestry, but we were born, educated, raised here. And for the government to assume that we have a loyalty to the Emperor was outrageous and so if you answered "no," meaning I don't have a loyalty to the Emperor to forswear, you were also saying "no" to the first part of the very same sentence. Will you swear your loyalty to the United States? If you answered "yes," meaning I do swear my loyalty to the United States, that meant you were forswearing, setting apart, setting away the existing loyalty the Emperor.
MCGINTYThe loyalty to the Emperor that you never had.
TAKEIThat we never had.
TAKEIIt was outrageous. And my father said, they took my business. They took our home. They took our freedom. The one thing I'm not going to give them is my dignity. I am not going to grovel before this outrageous government. It was a very sloppily worded, you know, when did you stop beating your wife kind of question. So both my parents, my mother and my father, answered "no." But the amazing thing is, thousands of young Japanese Americans bit the bullet, swallowed the bitter taste and answered it the way the government wanted them to answer it, with a "yes" and they went from behind those barbed wire fences, leaving their families imprisonment to fight for this country.
TAKEIThey were put into a segregated all Japanese American unit, sent to the battlefields of Europe and used literally like cannon fodder. They sustained the highest combat casualty rate, but also they fought with incredible, amazing heroism, bravery and they came back the single most decorated unit of the entire second world war and that record still stands today as the most decorated unit in American military history.
MCGINTYWow. Somehow they kept their allegiance, which, of course, is the title of George Takei's musical now playing on Broadway. George Takei, he was Mr. Sulu on "Star Trek." He has been in many movies, many productions and he has taken on several roles now as also an activist for LGBT rights and other political causes. I'm Derek McGinty sitting in for Diane Rehm. And coming up, we're going to take your phone calls and your questions.
MCGINTYActor Telly Leung singing in the Broadway musical "Allegiance," put on by George Takei, our guest here on "The Diane Rehm Show." I'm Derek McGinty sitting in. And, again, we'll be getting to your phone calls at 800-433-8850. I want to take you back, if we can, George, to when you were I guess about eight years old and you were set free from that camp. You said it was actually a very sad and scary time for you.
TAKEIIt was. Because I was imprisoned from age five to eight-and-a-half and the thing is children are amazingly adaptable. I, you know, the fences -- the barbwire faces became no more intimidating than a chain-link fence around a school playground. The sentry towers became just part of the landscape. Lining up three times a day to eat -- take our meals in a noisy mess hall was, you know, routine. And so that became the normality of our lives. My sister was not even one year old, so that was all she knew of life. And that was our community. That as our little village. That was our -- the barracks were our home. And to leave that was being wrenched away from that.
TAKEIAnd when we came back, coming home was the most terrorizing part for us because, you know, we were penniless, literally penniless. We didn't have a thing except the $25 that the government gave us. So our first home was on Skid Row in downtown Los Angeles. And the stench of human urine everywhere -- on the sidewalk, in the hallways, in some of the rooms -- was terrifying. Seeing all those people lined up, leaning against the wall, smelly, ugly, scary looking people. And some would come staggering toward us and then collapse in front of us and barf. I mean, you know, my baby sister shrieked, Mama, let's go back home. This is terrible.
TAKEII mean, coming home was the most traumatic part for us kids.
MCGINTYThat sounds like it was just...
MCGINTYGo ahead. I'm sorry.
MCGINTYI was going to say, it sounds like a tremendous adjustment and something that would have left a lot of bad feelings on your part.
TAKEIIt was. And then I started school and the teacher kept calling me the little Jap boy. What had I done to that old lady, you know? She was mean to me. She never called on me when I raised my hand. So it was that, that we came back home to. But my father found a dry cleaning shop in East Los Angeles, an all Mexican-American neighborhood, which again was, you know, a dramatic change for us, from an all Japanese-American village, so to speak, to an all Mexican-American community. But they were very warm and welcoming, very friendly, and primarily an immigrant community.
TAKEIAnd my -- I would be invited by my friends walking home from school to come into their mother's kitchen and enjoy a fresh-made tortilla with peanut butter on it, you know? So, as an after-school snack. And my mother made friends with our neighbor, Mrs. Gonzales. And she cooked -- made the best Mexican foods, the best enchiladas and tacos in all of East L.A. So that part was the part that made us feel like we were coming back to a warm, friendly community. But the Skid Row part was, for us, a terrorizing experience.
MCGINTYLet's talk to some of our listeners. Seth in Washington, D.C., you're on the air.
SETHHi. Thanks for taking my call. So my comment is for Mr. Takei. And I really just would like to thank you. Because I'm an up-and-coming actor in Washington, D.C., which means I have a lot of opinions about theater and musical theater.
SETHAnd I'd like to thank you for taking on such a controversial era in our nation's history with a Broadway musical. Because that's a really great way to reach a very wide audience, especially when you've got something like "Hamilton" on Broadway. It's a really cool counterpoint, so thank you. And I'll take your response off the air.
MCGINTYAll right. Thank you, Seth.
TAKEIWell, thank you very much for that comment. Yes. To tell my childhood story and do it on a Broadway stage is the most fulfilling, gratifying experience. And to use my own life experience in my professional work was very, very fulfilling. And we hear the reaction of the audiences, the laughter certainly, but we hear the sobs too. And when we come out for our curtain call, literally the cheering that we hear and the spontaneous standing ovation is probably the most heartwarming experience for an actor to have. And so doing it on Broadway has been a great fulfillment. But now we're going to take the story to the rest of America and move from city to city, sharing a little bit of a still-unknown chapter of American history.
MCGINTYSo the show, I know, is to close I think at the end of next month, correct?
TAKEIThe middle of next month.
MCGINTYMiddle of next month.
TAKEIOn February 14, unfortunately, yes.
MCGINTYAre you a little disappointed that it wasn't a bigger hit on Broadway?
TAKEII am. We were expecting for it to have a long run and become a big hit. But, you know, the Broadway marketplace is very competitive and particularly this season. There were 41 other productions and every theater on Broadway was filled. And there were about four or five shows that were skimming the cream off the top, so to -- "Hamilton" being one of them, "Wicked," "Lion King." They're the big, popular multi-season successes and they're still filling their houses. We've had our share of full houses. But the beginning of the weeks have been very soft. And the realities of the marketplace, you know? That meaningless but so powerful statement, that's showbiz.
MCGINTYYes, it's like -- it is. Like you've done television for so long, you understand ratings very well.
TAKEITV shows get cancelled. Movies wrap. And Broadway shows close. That's the reality of showbiz.
MCGINTYJeffrey in Newton, N.C.
JEFFREYAh, this question or this comment's for George. I just want to tell you that I really loved you on "Star Trek." And you're just like my hero, right.
TAKEIWell, thank you. Live long and prosper. Yeah, we appreciate the support that you guys have been giving us. Would you know, this year, 2016, is the 50th anniversary -- the golden anniversary...
TAKEI...of "Star Trek." And we're celebrating with another "Star Trek" movie -- the rebooted version opening in June. So stay tuned. We're going to keep on trekking.
MCGINTYYou know, George, I've got to have to -- I have to ask you about your time on "Star Trek." I had the good fortune to interview Leonard Nimoy many years ago.
MCGINTYAnd of course we lost him...
MCGINTY...this past year. Certainly. And he talked about having to come to terms with the popularity of his character, Mr. Spock. Right? First, he does the book, "I Am Not Spock." And then he does the book, "I Am Spock." You, on the other hand, from what I can see, you've always embraced it. How did you do that?
TAKEIWell, I -- first of all, it was a tremendous career break. Because, you know, most roles that were available at that time -- I've been fairly lucky -- but they were pretty much stereotype roles: servants or comic buffoons or the enemy, the villain. And for the first time, I had a role where I was part of the leadership team, a crack professional, speaking without an accent, and part of a multi-racial crew working together in concert as a team. I loved that idea. I was proud of being a part of that idea.
TAKEIAnd Gene Roddenberry, the creator of "Star Trek," had that vision. He said, you know, he reminded us constantly, the Starship Enterprise was a metaphor for Starship Earth. And the strength of the starship lay in its diversity, coming together and working in concert as a team. And that's what our future has got to be. And so it was that vision that gave me this wonderful career opportunity. And I really didn't care, as Leonard did, about being associated with that show. Leonard is a very versatile actor and he didn't want to be pigeonholed in that very unique, singular and kind of quirky character called Spock -- pointy eared...
TAKEI...extremely logical, but totally emotionless, you know? Wonderful character that he created. It was a difficult character to create and make interesting because he's emotionless.
TAKEIAnd yet he did it. And he is also someone who shared Gene Roddenberry's vision of telling stories of the future, science fiction stories, that are metaphors for issues of our time. So...
TAKEI...you know, and the '60s was a turbulent time, with the Civil Rights Movement going on, the Vietnam War, the Cold War. And television wasn't dealing with any of that and -- because of the censorship. But Gene Roddenberry found a way to get around that by telling science fiction stories...
TAKEI...that were metaphorically those issues of the time.
MCGINTYYou know, I was surprised to find out that your favorite "Trek" episode was "Naked Time," the one where we see you practically naked, or at least without a shirt.
TAKEIOh, I kept my trousers on.
MCGINTYWithout a shirt, running around, swinging a sword at everybody. And that, you said that that sort of let you cut loose.
TAKEIThat's right. Because that's another stereotype. You know, Asians are staid. We don't cut loose. We're very conscientious. We're sober, serious. We're very disciplined. You know, all that. And I was the best helmsman on the -- in the galaxy. And the other stereotype then was, Asians are terrible drivers. Well, I showed them. I drove that huge, giant starship...
MCGINTYYes, you did.
TAKEI...and maneuvered all through the galaxies.
TAKEIAnd I showed that we had quirky hobbies too. I was - Sulu was in to fencing. And he didn't have any compunctions about showing off his swashbuckling prowess.
MCGINTYYou know, I was wondering if you had a sense, at the time, of how much of an inspiration you were to other Asian kids out there, who had never seen anything but the roles you talked about before, the stereotypical roles with the accents and the buffoonish activity?
TAKEIWell, I had a sense of that. But I always was reminded by other Asian young people who came up to me and thanked me for being on television, because they said there was -- this -- Sulu was the first time that they were able to say, there's somebody I admire that looks like me.
TAKEII mean, I think every minority kid has that same experience. African-Americans or Latinos, you know, they don't see themselves as admirable figures on the media -- television or movies or on the Broadway stage. And it was so gratifying for me to hear those comments, reinforcing what I felt as well. And I take great pride in my participation with...
MCGINTYDid we just lose George Takei? Do you still have a -- can we still hear you, Mr. Takei? Are you there? Uh-oh, I think we've lost him. We're going to continue our conversation as soon as we get him back. I'm having a talk with George Takei. He is, of course, Mr. Sulu of "Star Trek" fame. But right now he is starring in a musical on Broadway called "Allegiance." It's talking about his time -- three of his life he spent as an interned prisoner during World War II. He and his family were taken prisoner by their own government, the United States Government, in one of the most shameful acts this country has ever perpetrated on its own people.
MCGINTYThe phone number here is 800-433-8850, 800-433-8850. We've also got your emails here. We're going to take them and talk more with George in just a minute. Right now, you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." All right. We've got nothing from George Takei right now. But we will take a few of your phone calls in the meantime. Let's go and talk to Catherine in Holland, Mich. Go ahead, Catherine.
CATHERINEI wanted to talk to George, but I understand.
MCGINTYHopefully we'll have him back.
CATHERINEI understand. First off, I'm a huge "Star Trek" fan, as everyone I hope is. Secondly, I would encourage people to check out Mr. Takei on Facebook. That is a highlight of my friends and I -- our days, because he's got such a warm and gracious public presence on there. But the main point of my call was, I went to a conference of the Association of Personal Historians in California this year. And one of the keynote speakers was Dr. Satsuki Ina, who talked about the camp experiences.
CATHERINEAnd the main point was how telling that truth, as Mr. Takei does with his show, is so crucial to healing and reweaving the generations that had this chasm of silence between them when the children and grandchildren didn't know what their parents' experience had been. And so that healing takes place...
MCGINTYCatherine, I think we have George Takei back again.
TAKEIOh, I hear you.
MCGINTYOh, yes. There we go.
TAKEII hear you, Derek.
MCGINTYAll right. You know, we're talking to Catherine who's from Holland, Mich., and she loves your work on "Star Trek." She loves your social media presence on Facebook and Twitter. I think you probably make her life like you do a lot of people. But you were talking about the issue of the internment camps, Catherine.
CATHERINEYes, sir. I was saying how, Mr. Takei, how I went to a conference with Dr. Satsuki Ina this fall and she was talking on...
CATHERINE...how telling the stories and telling the truth reweaves the generations and bridges that chasm of silence and how important that work is, especially, you know, all over, but especially with your show to bring it out of the shadows. And then, secondarily, I'm having a blank. I had a note. Oh, how she said that we always try to step our sins up one less egregious step than they really were, so that how really, technically, we should call the camps in the U.S. concentration camps and the camps in Germany and Europe were death camps. That internment camps kind of pretties-up the picture a little bit.
MCGINTYWell, let's take -- let's ask George Takei if he agrees with that. What do you think?
TAKEIWell, yes. They were -- the definition of the word concentration camp applies to what we call internment camps. That's something like a euphemism. We were Japanese-Americans concentrated behind these barbwire fences and it was politics that put us there. So by that definition, it was a concentration camp. But particularly on the East Coast, when I use that term when I do speaking engagements, so much of the time is taken up in explaining that. And I have limited time, you know, one hour. I have to explain that the camps in Europe were death camps, as you said. They were extermination camps. Ours was a concentration camp.
TAKEIBut the Jewish-American community has very strong, powerful, emotional connection with that work. And so rather than losing some of my limited speaking time, I always use the term internment camps.
TAKEIBut a better word has been suggested.
MCGINTYAll right. We will get to...
MCGINTYAll right. We'll get to that. This is "The Diane Rehm Show."
MCGINTYWelcome back. I'm Derek McGinty, sitting in for Diane Rehm, and we are having a fascinating conversation with George Takei, one of the original stars of "Star Trek," the television series, Mr. Sulu they used to call him. He became a captain before it was all over, though. He's now an actor, social media icon, he's an activist, and his musical, "Allegiance," is playing on Broadway right now, although it's about to go on the road sometime in the middle of next month.
MCGINTYYou know, George, I had a chance to watch your documentary, "To Be Takei."
MCGINTYWhich I enjoyed greatly. And look, I have to ask you about this because I saw at the end, toward the end, you had the roast you did of William Shatner. And, you know, we'd all heard that there might have been some bad blood or some kind of feud between the two of you, but that roast you were -- you know, the last line, I don't know how to put this because this is a polite, family show here, but you just ripped the guy.
MCGINTYYou talked about him mispronouncing your name. You said he called you Tukai when it's Takei, which rhymes with toupee. And then at the end, you said, this is what I've been waiting to saw for 40 years, you know, F-you and the horse you rode in on.
TAKEII shot it at him.
MCGINTYOh my goodness. So I'm thinking that did not sound like roast material. That sounded like I'm really mad at this guy, and I'm going to let him know. What did he do to deserve that?
TAKEII'm an actor. I know how to make lines have power. He came -- when the roast started, he rode into that huge room on a horse.
TAKEII mean, who does that? So I thought, well, that's something to comment on. And then I thought, well, I'll save that for the last. And yes, there has been tension, by -- you know, he has great self-confidence. He's very self-conscious, self-involved, self-important. And inevitably that -- you know, there's a little friction with all the members of the cast. The most outlandish was with Leonard Nimoy, but every one of the cast members had that feeling. Nichelle Nichols told him right to his face, when he was writing his autobiography, we don't like you.
TAKEIAnd Jimmy Doohan went to all the conventions talking about the difficulties that he's had with Bill Shatner. The one with Leonard was a huge, classic confrontation of two stars. The first season, Bill was supposed to be the titular star of the show, but Leonard Nimoy, particularly because he created such a magnetic character in Spock, was getting many times more fan mail. Back in those days, we measured fan mails, and he was getting, like, about three or four times Bill's fan mail. And so there was a little bit of tension between the two.
TAKEIOne morning, and Leonard, Leonard always came into the makeup room first in the morning, about 5:30, because of the more elaborate makeup that he had, and TV Guide was doing a photo series on Leonard Nimoy becoming Mr. Spock and capturing each of the process, when his eyebrows shot up, when the pointy ears got put on. And about 6:30, Bill Shatner would show up, and when he came in that morning, he saw the photographer capturing each of the stages of the makeup session, and he walked out of the makeup room, made a telephone call to the front office and went back into his dressing room.
TAKEIAnd then a minion from the front office came and dismissed the photographer. Leonard was only half in makeup. He said, what's happening, why was the photographer dismissed. And he was told that Bill had, in his contract, approval rights for the photographer on the soundstage, and he had exercised that.
TAKEIThe photographer had to be dismissed. And so Leonard said, well, I'm not going to have another dab of makeup put on, and he walked into his dressing room. And shortly thereafter, a covey of black suits came and went into Leonard's dressing room, and they were there for about a half an hour, and then they went into Bill's dressing room. And in the meantime, the rest of us came, got made up, got into wardrobe. We sat around the set waiting for the day's work to begin, and we waited, and we waited.
TAKEIAnd the assistant director came and said, why don't you guys go to the commissary for a bit of coffee and some snacks? It's going to be a while. And so we went, spent about a relaxed hour there, came back, and the same thing was still going on, the covey of black suits were going in one dressing room, talking for about a half an hour and then going...
MCGINTYSo long story short, there was -- as you say, there was a major confrontation between those two.
MCGINTYHow did it end up? What ended up happening?
TAKEIWell, we were dismissed for an early lunch, came back after a two-hour lunch, and finally the set was being lit, and it was resolved. Bill caved, and Leonard got all of his makeup put on, and the whole photo session was done. A whole morning of filming was lost because of the temperament of one star.
MCGINTYThis sounds like he had...
TAKEIThat sort of thing happened on a small scale with all of us.
MCGINTYI see, so it's basically his ego was the issue is what you seem to be saying.
TAKEIYes, in a long-winded story, yes.
MCGINTYSo after all this, as you said, it's been 50 years, right?
MCGINTYIs it time to bury the hatchet on this one, you think, or can that be done?
TAKEII think it is. I think it is, and I've made overtures. You know, when Brad and I got married, our best man was Walter Koenig, who played Chekov, and our best -- we asked her to be the best -- or the matron of honor, Nichelle Nichols, because she's a dear friend, and she said I am not a matron. If Water can be the best man, why can't I be the best lady? And we said of course, Nichelle, you are the best lady.
TAKEIBut because of that, we sent invitations to all the cast members of "Star Trek" to be as inclusive as possible. The only one who didn't RSVP was Bill Shatner, which was not surprising.
MCGINTYHe said he didn't -- he said he didn't get an invitation. He said he didn't...
TAKEIExactly that, but we did send him an invitation, and Nichelle was witness to it, Walter was witness to it. We talked to the press about it because they questioned us before the wedding. But he complained about it two months after the wedding and went on YouTube and publicly ranted and raved. I mean, if he wanted to come that badly, why didn't he call us before the wedding?
TAKEIMaybe there was a mishap in the mail or in his office or whatever. You know, but that's the kind of thing he does because he was opening with a new talk show called "Raw Nerves," and there was a great, big billboard, and I pointed that out to Brad. That's why he made that big fuss. And whenever he's got a new book that's been ghostwritten coming out, or whenever something other...
TAKEIHe pumps up the controversy again. So I've invited him to the opening of "Allegiance." I sent him a handwritten invitation, no RSVP, typical of Bill Shatner.
MCGINTYBill Shatner says, for his part, that he doesn't know what the problem is, you had no relationship when you were on the show.
TAKEIAnd yet he psychoanalyzes me.
TAKEIHe says I'm a very disturbed guy. He psychoanalyzes people that he has no relationships with. Makes sense, doesn't it?
MCGINTYI want to go back to "Allegiance" for just a second because you've been saving a seat for Donald Trump at that show.
MCGINTYSince it started. What's that all about?
TAKEIWell, it's about when -- you know, "Allegiance" is about, with a broad brush, painting all people who looked like the people that bombed Pearl Harbor, as the enemy. You know, we were considered the enemy, with a broad brush, and there were no charges, there was no trial, no due process. And the exact same thing is what Donald Trump is talking about. With that same broad brush, he says Muslims will not be allowed into the United States, with no -- I mean, we have a very intense vetting process.
TAKEIThe fact is, and what he's ignorant of, is that Muslims have fought and died for this country. When you go to Arlington National Cemetery, there are headstones, and the headstones bear the symbols of the faith of the person who's lying in the ground below that headstone. And there are a number of headstones that have Muslim symbols on them. They have fought for this country and died for this country, and yet, you know, he considers that small fraction of Muslim population that's reactionary, that is radical and extremist, as characterizing the whole people of Muslim faith.
TAKEIWe have congressmen that are Muslim. We have college professors that are Muslims. We have had soldiers that died for this country who are Muslim. And so he needs to learn from the Japanese-American internment experience. And we have that seat. He's now missed 31 performances, and the invitation is open.
MCGINTYWe're going to hope he takes you up on that.
TAKEIReady to have him come in.
MCGINTYLet's talk to Joe in Rochester, New York. Go ahead, Joe, you've waited a while.
JOEIs hailing frequencies open?
MCGINTYHailing frequencies are open, my friend, subspace radio.
TAKEIUhura has opened the frequencies.
JOEI always wanted to say that. So hi, George.
JOEMy wife and I -- my wife and I, we're volunteers are "Star Trek: New Voyages," which is a bunch of fan films that are done up in Ticonderoga, New York.
TAKEII know, and you probably know that I did one of them.
JOEYes, you did the third episode.
TAKEI"World Enough and Time."
JOEThat's right, that's right, and we've got two new episodes coming out this year. So everybody Google it and check it out. We've got a big convention coming up on Labor Day weekend. But my -- so now that I got the plugs in, my question is, James Cawley, who is the Gene Roddenberry of fan film.
TAKEIYes, I know him.
JOEAnd he runs that production, how did he get the script to you for you to be a guest star on the episode?
TAKEIWell, there's a little history to that. You know, "Star Trek" was supposed to run for five seasons. At the beginning of each episode, we announced that we were boldly going on a five-year mission. But more dangerous than the Klingons, we discovered, were the NBC programming executives. They canceled us in three seasons. And so "Star Trek," the run of "Star Trek" was aborted. However, when it went into reruns and into stripping, showing five days a week as reruns, the popularity shot up.
TAKEIAnd so Paramount was planning to revive "Star Trek" as a television series, and they commissioned about half-a-dozen scripts. And "World Enough and Time" was one of them. And that script was taken under his arm by a director, and he passionately wanted to get that made, and Cawley contacted him, and in that script Sulu was the primary character. And he brought the script to me and said please read it. I read it, it was fantastic, very well-written, and Sulu was a powerfully interesting character in that script. And so I accepted it.
MCGINTYWow, I've got to look -- Google that and check it out myself. I enjoy those fan remakes.
TAKEIIt's a great episode.
MCGINTYIn fact, there's another one called "Star Trek Continues," which I think is very well done, as well.
TAKEIWe have passionate fans.
MCGINTYIndeed you do. I'm Derek McGinty, and you're listening to the Diane Rehm Show. My guest, of course, is George Takei. He is the former Mr. Sulu, Captain Sulu now, I guess if you're staying with the canon of "Star Trek," and he has a musical on Broadway called "Allegiance," detailing his life and his family's internment during World War II.
MCGINTYAnd I want to go back to that for just a minute, and at the end of "To Be Takei," you talked about a conversation that you had with your dad, and you said some tough things to him and some things you said you really wish you hadn't said.
TAKEIExactly. I was an idealistic young teenager. I read the civics books that talked about the shining ideals of our democracy, and I really wanted to understand more about my childhood imprisonment. And the only source for that wasn't history books or wasn't teachers at school. The only person that would talk about it was my father. And so I had after-dinner conversations with him.
TAKEIAnd one conversation became very intense and heated. I was involved in the civil rights movement, and I was inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King. And in one heated moment, I said, daddy, you led us like sheeps to slaughter into the internment camps. And suddenly the give-and-take of the conversation stopped. My father was silent. And I immediately sensed that I'd hit a nerve. I'd hurt him. And I felt terribly. And then he looked at me and said, well, maybe you're right. And he got up and went into the bedroom and closed the door.
TAKEII felt horribly. I wanted to apologize, but he'd closed the door. So I thought, well, tomorrow morning I'll apologize. And when tomorrow morning came, it was awkward, and I didn't, and the farther you get away from an event like that, the more awkward it becomes, and I never did apologize. And so I'm using that memory to play the final scene in "Allegiance." I'm apologizing to my father eight times a week on the stage of the Longacre Theater.
MCGINTYOh, that is -- that is heartfelt and powerful. I thank you for that. Let's take one more phone call. Benjamin in Gerard, Illinois, you're on the air.
GERARDHi, thanks a lot. I was calling in because I was kind of looking for some inspiration from George, possibly, because it's so easy to get frustrated with the United States.
GERARDAnd I don't even has as much of a beef as George was possibly have, you know, as being interned. But how -- you know, you just get frustrated with the way we treat immigrants or the way we treat the environment and the way we meddle in foreign affairs, and it makes you just want to say oh, you know, I'm out of here. But how do you find it in your heart to forgive America and stay here and be, you know, a part of American culture like you...
MCGINTYI think that's a very good question, Benjamin.
TAKEIThat is a very good question. And again, it was my after-dinner conversations with my father. My father was the one in our family who felt the pain of imprisonment the most. And yet he was able to explain to me about the workings of American democracy. He said our democracy is a people's democracy. Those people have the capacity to do great things, but they are also fallible human beings, and so our democracy is critically, vitally, existentially dependent on people who cherish the ideals of our democracy. All men are created equal. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. All those ideals.
MCGINTYThose are -- that's a perfect.
TAKEIThey have to be actively engaged in the democratic process, and he took me...
MCGINTYThat's a perfect way to end our broadcast. George Takei, our time has run out. I thank you so much for your time today.
TAKEIWell, I've enjoyed chatting with you.
MCGINTYI'm Derek McGinty, in for Diane Rehm. We'll see you next time.
Most Recent Shows
Diane asks Mary McCord, legal director at the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection and visiting professor of law at Georgetown University Law Center.
Diane talks with Norm Ornstein, resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, about the revelations ain Bob Woodward's new book "Rage," and the other major news events of the week.
Diane talks with Shane Harris, intelligence and national security reporter at The Washington Post, about Russia's latest disinformation campaign - as well as the one happening domestically.