News of Lenoard Nimoy’s passing was felt far and wide at the National Air and Space Museum. It may come as no surprise that many members of our staff—the same folks who have dedicated their careers to inspiring and educating the public about aerospace history—are also huge Star Trek fans.
As we remember Nimoy’s legacy, we can’t help but recall our own experiences meeting the man and celebrating the series. In 1992, the Museum opened a temporary exhibition on Star Trek and cast and crew of the beloved show descended upon the Museum throughout its run. Two staff members, past and present, reflect on that experience.
Marilyn Kozak retired from the Smithsonian as director of donor relations in 2011, but in 1992 she was asked to serve as the gallery supervisor of the Museum’s Star Trek exhibition. They kept coming. Sometimes over 4,000 a day. Some wore uniforms, others had memorized entire scripts, many were just curious. The president of Mozambique, Sonny Bono, Chelsea Clinton, David Copperfield, and Gary Busey all came to see. But the usually crowded Star Trek gallery at the National Air and Space Museum was quiet and empty early one morning when Leonard and Adam Nimoy came to visit. How can a fan (me) NOT be excited about standing under the model of the Starship Enterprise with Spock in the flesh. But my role that morning was gallery supervisor, not "fan." That meant no pictures, no autographs, just a casual conversation about how the ears took SO long to get JUST right, the raging controversy over that first bi-racial kiss, and the "state-of-the-art" special effects that, well, just didn't look quite that special anymore. We ended the visit watching the video clip of Joan Collins getting killed by a car as a devastated James T. Kirk looks on. The Nimoys smiled, it was time for them to move on. As we exited the gallery, I showed them the guest book with the names of, and comments from, thousands of visitors. Mr. Nimoy seemed genuinely moved as he paused to read the many pages of tributes, recollections, and expressions of appreciation from fans of a low-rated, often panned, sometimes cheesy but highly relevant television show.
Not everyone at the Smithsonian thought the Star Trek gallery was a good idea and they were unprepared for the huge crowds that visited every day during its short run. Leonard Nimoy was initially conflicted about his role as Spock and I suspect he was just as unprepared for the intense notoriety that waned and waxed over the years.
But just as the Smithsonian remains a much beloved institution, Nimoy, as an actor, artist, musician, director, and of course as Spock continues to inspire. Thank you for encouraging us to go boldly and allowing us to join you on your journey to explore strange new worlds. It's been a blast!
Linda King currently serves as a project manager at the Museum, but in 1992 she found herself momentarily stuck in a freight elevator with the cast of Star Trek. The Museum hosted two events before opening the Star Trek exhibition—a morning press conference and an evening reception. For these events, each Star Trek cast member was paired with a staff escort; I was paired with Nichelle Nichols who played Lieutenant Uhura. I remember the evening event in particular. We all assembled in the parking garage and then boarded the freight elevator on our way to the second floor where the exhibition was on display. Before the elevator ascended to the second floor, it abruptly stopped. That’s right, the freight elevator momentarily stopped operating. To this day I don’t remember who said it, but within moments one lone voice on the elevator said, “Scotty, we have engine trouble.” The elevator roared with laughter. Moments later it became operational again and we were taken up to the second floor to attend the opening reception.
As I was looking through some of my project files, I stumbled across the logistics memo for that day and wanted to share with you who attended and who in the Museum served as escort.
Star Trek Cast Member .... Staff Escort
- William Shatner (Captain Kirk) ..... Valerie Neal/Kathie
- Spraggins Leonard Nimoy (Mr. Spock) ..... Bob Craddock/Patti Woodside
- DeForest Kelly (Dr. McCoy) ..... Bea Matkovic (Mowry)
- Nichelle Nichols (Lt. Uhura) ..... Linda King
- James Doohan (“Scotty”) ..... Mandy
- Young Walter Koenig (“Chekov”) ..... Mike Tuttle
- George Takei (“Sulu”) ..... Priscilla Strain
- Majel Barrett Rodenberry ..... Raymond Stephens
- Bill Theiss (costume designer) ..... Barbara Brennan
- Robert Justman ..... Jack Van Ness
- Martin Davis
- & Brandon Tartikoff,
- Larry Levinson
- Harry Anderson
- (all Paramount execs) ..... Susan Beaudette
You’ve heard from Marilyn, Linda, and previously from Bob. Now, we encourage you to share your own stories here in the comments. What did Mr. Spock mean to you?