Wednesday, August 10, 2016
Babe of the Geek: Grace Lee Whitney!
It's been way too long since I did a "Babe of the Geek" post, so I figured it was high time to do one again! This time around, the spotlight is on Grace Lee Whitney, best known to us as Yeoman Janice Rand on Star Trek. But there's a lot more to her than just Trek!
Grace was born on April 1, 1930 in Ann Arbor, Michigan, with the birth name of Mary Ann Chase. She was adopted by the Whitney family, who changed her name to Grace Elaine. At 14, she started her career in entertainment as a singer on Detroit's WJR radio. After leaving home, she started calling herself Lee Whitney, and then finally Grace Lee Whitney. Towards the end of her teens, she moved to Chicago, opening in nightclubs for performers such as Billie Holiday and Buddy Rich, and touring with both Spike Jones and Fred Waring's bands.
Her career started taking off when she debuted on Broadway in Top Banana, which started Phil Silvers and Kaye Ballard, recreating the role for the 1954 movie. Later, she took over the role of Lucy Brown from Bea Arthur in the national tour of The Threepenny Opera (from which the song "Mack the Knife" comes). She later appeared in Some Like It Hot (1959), and had small roles in Hosue of Wax, The Naked and the Dead, and Pocketful of Miracles. Oddly, in A Public Affair (1962) she was billed as Tracey Phillips and as Texas Rose in The Man from Galveston (1963).
In 1966, Gene Roddenberry cast her as Janice Rand, appearing in eight of the first 13 episodes before being released from her contract. She later reported that she was taking diet pills (amphetamines) to stay thin for the series, but the final straw was when she was sexually assaulted by an executive (never named) who was associated with the series. She credited Leonard Nimy with being her main source of support at that time. She later said that she was written out of the series because they wanted Captain Kirk to have romances in each episode with a different person, and since Nichelle Nichols was a more important character, and the other blonde woman on the show "...was engaged to the boss, so guess who went?" She said she started drinking at that time to get rid of pain.
Along with acting, Grace continued to sing with orchestras and bands in the 60s and 70s, concentrating on jazz/pop singing later. In the 1970s, she wrote a number of Trek-related songs, which were released on a 45 rpm record, other songs were released in the 1990s on cassette tape. In 1998, her autobiography, The Longest Trek: My Tour of the Galaxy was released, which not only covered her Star Trek days, but also her work as the first Chicken of the Sea mermaid and her struggles with alcohol and substance abuse.
Grace had two sons, Scott and Jonathan Dweck. In 1993, she moved to Coarsegold, CA to be close to Jonathan and dedicated her life to helping herself and others find daily sobriety and stay out of addiction. She passed away on May 1, 2015 from natural causes at age 85.