TV's First Interracial Kiss

Neatorama presents a guest post from actor, comedian, and voiceover artist Eddie Deezen. Visit Eddie at his website.

The story of TV's first-ever interracial kiss is actually one of the medium's biggest urban legends. Most believe it occurred on Star Trek in 1968. The common belief is that the first kiss between an African-American and a Caucasian happened in a third season Star Trek episode called "Plato's Stepchildren." Before I correct the common misconception, I will fill you in on the details of the Star Trek kiss, which is historic in its own right.

The "Plato's Stepchildren" episode involved the crew of the starship Enterprise being made into unwilling slaves, the condition being enforced by the "superior" beings called Platonians who have the power of telekinesis, which they employed to make the crew behave as their masters desired. William Shatner (Captain Kirk) and Nichelle Nichols (Uhura) are thereby "forced" to kiss.

The telekinesis made it easier for NBC to explain the kiss, as in the big scene Captain Kirk is forced to kiss the African-American Uhura against his will. Shatner, in his inimitable manner, emotes, "I-won't-kiss-you! I-won't-kiss-you!" But because of the great counter-effort, the kiss does, indeed, take place.

William Shatner, in his book Star Trek Memories, insists that he and actress Nichols never actually kissed during the scene; he maintains that their lips never touched. However, Nichols positively declares that they did lock lips. It seems incredible that such a major event is not more clearly recalled, as obviously either Shatner or Nichols is mistaken. The kiss itself is obscured by the back of Nichols' head, so we, the viewers, can't tell who is right.

(YouTube link)

NBC, nervous about the reaction from their Southern affiliates, insisted that an alternate take be shot, one without the kiss. After Shatner and Nichols shot several kisses, the alternate takes were attempted. Both Shatner and Nichols agree on what happened next.

During every alternate take, Shatner crossed his eyes goofily, thus ruining any further takes. According to Nichols, NBC was still against using the kiss, so she went to view the dailies and see the reaction of the NBC brass. After viewing the kiss and the "cross-eyed" alternate takes, the NBC suits finally conceded and said, "To hell with it. Let's go with the kiss."

Nichols recalled the flood of mail the show received after the episode was aired. To her surprise, it was all positive. She even recalled one letter from a Southern viewer, which said: "I am totally opposed to the mixing of the races. However, any time a red-blooded American boy like Captain Kirk gets a beautiful dame in his arms that looks like Uhura, he ain't gonna fight it."

Okay, now that the misconception has been clarified, let's take a look at television's actual first-ever interracial kiss.

On December 11, 1967, several months before "Plato's Stepchildren," Nancy Sinatra starred in a TV special called "Movin' with Nancy." The special was directed by Jack Haley, Jr. and showcased Nancy traveling around, i.e. driving a car, strolling along the California countryside, riding in a hot-air balloon, and singing different songs. Her dad, Frank Sinatra, makes a guest appearance near the end and sings "Younger Than Springtime." Nancy's god-uncle Dean Martin also makes an appearance, singing a duet with Nancy ("Things") and a solo ("Just Bummin' Around"). But it is in the second half of "Movin' with Nancy" that television history was made.

In this segment, Sammy Davis, Jr. joins Nancy, playing a photographer who snaps various photos of her as she sings "What'd I Say." Sammy dances around, mugs for the camera, and clicks away. Then, at the end of the bit, Sammy gives Nancy a quick little kiss on the cheek. There is nothing sexual about the kiss; it is obviously a kiss of great affection, the affection of two close friends (which they were).

(YouTube link)

According to Nancy, the apparently spontaneous kiss was actually carefully planned. She had Sammy shoot the scene late in the day, knowing he had to leave to get to another job, thus making it impossible for the brass to ask for a re-take sans the kiss.

And so, television history was made- the first-ever interracial kiss.

The Star Trek kiss, nonetheless, does hold its own place in TV history, as the very first scripted interracial kiss in a TV series.


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Working as an executive for NBC way back in the "Start Trek" years, I remember the VP of programming (who also was responsible for putting Star Trek on the schedule and keeping it on the air after the first season) figuring out a way to advertise the fact that this was TV's (and NBC's) "First Interracial Kiss" to obtain two objectives: To "Get Ratings" and to "Get Ratings". No one back then ever did any research to prove or disprove anything to the contrary. Anytime NBC received a ton of mail, whether good or bad, it was great for ratings!

I wonder if anyone today has REALLY looked into this... I mean, didn't Sammy Davis Jr. give Frank Sinatra a big hug and kiss on the cheek (in fun) years earlier? How about Timmy kissing Lassie? - Oh wait, that another species... Never mind....
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The first interracial kiss on TV wasn't even in the US. It was in the UK's Emergency Ward 10 in 1964.

"Nevertheless, although sedate by today's standard the series did set a landmark in 1964 and courted a considerable amount of controversy with its portrayal of an interracial relationship between surgeon Louise Mahler (Joan Hooley) and Doctor Giles Farmer (John White) which
included the first ever on-screen interracial kiss."

http://www.televisionheaven.co.uk/ward.htm
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Sorry but I disagree...a kiss is a kiss, whether it's a peck on the cheek or an all out lip locker. The difference is the passion and that one is far more fun than the other. What I wonder about though is whether there were any other "cheek pecks" that went unnoticed before Sammy and Boots had theirs. Did Mary ever give Rochester a kiss to say thank you or happy birthday on the old Jack Benny Show? Did Sammy ever give a cheek kiss to someone else before the Nancy kiss, perhaps on The Ed Sullivan Show, Jack Paar Show or Steve Allen? Hard to say. But I like the subject Eddie. The younger generation may not realize it but kissing someone of a different race back in the 60's was like planting an open mouth frenchie right on Osama Bin Laden. Would not go over well at all. Very troubled times back then. Nice piece Eddie.
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First off, if there are any errors or mistakes in my articles, it certainly is not Miss Cellania's fault. Miss C just writes up what i wrote, and she does a great job proof-reading for typos, typing up and dressing up the articles with great pictures. That said, I can see how there are two different definitions of the word "kiss". One is the romantic, sexual definition and the other is a kiss of affinity of friendship. I still believe Nancy Sinatra was very brave to kiss Sammy Davis Jr. like that in the midst of such turbulent times. I admire her for her courage. And I don't even think there was even as much as an "air kiss" between a man and a woman of different races before hers. I can see both viewpoints of the question "Which is the first interracial kiss?"
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