George Hosato Takei was born in Los Angeles, California in 1937 to middle class Japanese-American parents. He began his acting career as a young man in the late 1950s, moving through the limited voiceover, dubbing and television bit part opportunities made available to Asian-American actors at the time. It was a troubling era for Takei – the Hollywood climate was such that even when a role was written specifically for an Asian character, it would often go to a Caucasian disguised with phony Asian features.
In 1965, however, George Takei took a job that would forever change the public conception of Asians in the media. He was cast as Hikaru Sulu in the original “Star Trek” television series, taking his place within the diverse, futuristic ensemble cast. At a time when most Asian-appearing actors were cast as untrustworthy villains, Takei’s Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu indicated a tremendous step forward for Asian-Americans on television.
Though NBC canceled “Star Trek” after a brief three-season run, the show reached a new audience in syndication and gained a loyal cult following. George Takei continued to play a major role in shaping the public image of Asian-Americans, entering into state politics while continuing to act in television and film.
George Takei: “Enemy Non-Alien”
Actor George Takei’s intimate knowledge of racial hysteria dates back to his early childhood, when he and his family were removed from their comfortable Southern California home and forcefully relocated to a Japanese internment camp. Takei and his family were just a few of thousands of Japanese-Americans that suffered a similar trauma during the onset of World War Two, when a suspicious, paranoid U.S. moved to detain anyone of Japanese heritage. As a group, the government labeled these citizens “enemy non-aliens.”
“We were taken to the horse stables. And thinking back now, I can’t imagine how degrading and humiliating it must have been for my parents to take their three children – one a baby – from a two bedroom home, and told to sleep in that narrow, smelly, horse stall,” recalled a tearful Takei in his “Pioneers of Television” interview. “It was a racist act, pure and simple, an unconstitutional act. You can’t imprison people for their race, and that’s what we’re imprisoned for.”
Because of the internment, the Takei family, like so many others, lost their home and their business. While young George never gave up on his dream of being an actor, he also never forgot what happened to him. “I was always mindful of the fact that I had a special responsibility in the roles that I played,” Takei later reflected on how the experience shaped his career. This first-hand encounter with devastating racism deeply informed Takei’s public persona, guiding him to scripts that were sure to have profound and lasting impact.