Nichelle Nichols Sets It Right in Pre-Uhura Role in Gene Gene Roddenberry’s First TV Series ‘The Lieutenant’

Before she was cast as Lieutenant Nyota Uhura, the late great Nichelle Nichols, who passed away on July 30, 2022, had a small but powerful role on a then unaired 1964 episode of The Lieutenant, her first role in television. This was also Gene Roddenberry‘s first television show. The episode, which was called “To Set It Right”, explicitly dealt with issues of race.

Nichols played the fiancée of Private Ernest Cameron (Don Marshall), a black marine who was the subject of racial taunting by fellow marine Corporal Peter Devlin (Dennis Hopper). Lieutenant William Tiberius Rice (Gary Lockwood) sought to quell the differences between the men with a boxing match.

Rice tries to play peacemaker when he has to resolve a racial dispute between two young members (Dennis Hopper and Don Marshall) of his platoon. Nichelle Nichols plays the black soldier’s fiancee

The episode, which wasn’t aired during the season (and not until the mid-1990s), caused the series’ cancellation. Roddenberry had partnered with The Pentagon to produce the series. Because “To Set It Right” dealt openly with racial issues, The Pentagon chose to step away from production, as was documented in Brian J. Robb‘s book A Brief Guide to Star Trek.

The Lieutenant was developed in conjunction with the Pentagon, but following a series of plot points featuring in the series that concerned officials there, relations were strained. They were concerned with the plot of “To Set It Right” and warned the producers that the airing of the episode could result in the production no longer being able to use the equipment and extras provided by the Marines for free. …The assistance of the Pentagon was withdrawn, and the series was officially canceled a week later.

Bravo to you, Nichelle, for going where no woman had gone before. You will be greatly missed by so many of us who were inspired by your trailblazing spirit.

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