Thursday, May 7, 2015

Grace Lee Whitney R.I.P.

Grace Lee Whitney, best known for playing Yeoman Janice Rand on Star Trek, died on May 1 2015 at the age of 85.

Grace Lee Whitney was born Mary Ann Chase on April 1 1930 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She was adopted by the Whitney family, who renamed her "Grace Elaine". She started out in show business when she was only 14 as a singer on radio station WJR in Detroit. She started calling herself "Lee Whitney" before finally settling on the name "Grace Lee Whitney".  She moved to Chicago and as a singer opened for acts from Billie Holiday to Buddy Rich. She toured with both Spike Jones and Fred Waring's bands.

Miss Whitney made her debut on Broadway in the role of Miss Holland in Top Banana starring Phil Silvers. She would reprise the role in the 1954 film. She made her television debut in an episode of The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp in 1958 and appeared as one of the band members in Some Like It Hot in 1959.

In the Sixties Grace Lee Whitney guest starred on episodes of Gunsmoke and Death Valley Days before being cast as Yeoman Janice Rand on Star Trek. Sadly, she would only appear in eight episodes of the classic show. It was decided that Captain Kirk needed more "romance" in each episode, wooing a different woman each week. Since Yeoman Rand and Captain Kirk had a bit of a flirtation, then, she had to be written out of the series for this happen. Matters would be made worse by a sexual assault by an unnamed NBC executive while she was on the show. As a result she spiralled in alcoholism and did not work for many years.

Despite her experience on the show, Grace Lee Whitney appeared as Yeoman Rand in several of the Star Trek movies, including Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979), Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984), Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986), and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991). She also guest starred as Janice Rand (now a Commander) on Star Trek: Voyager.

In many respects it is very sad that Grace Lee Whitney did not get to play Janice Rand throughout the run of Star Trek. She was quite good in the role, and gave an impressive performance in the episode "Charlie X". While it is doubtful that her role on the show would have grown much larger (Lt. Uhura, played by Nichelle Nichols, was more important on the show, yet never had substantial screen time), Yeoman Rand would have given the show even more of a female presence than it had.

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