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.
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).
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.
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....
"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."
It is interesting to think how much times have changed...