Grace Lee Whitney, the Coarsegold resident who is the oldest surviving member of the original "Star Trek" TV series cast, considers each day a blessed gift. That's because after a long period of alcohol, drugs and sex addictions, she's been clean and sober for 32 years.
"Only 2% make it to 30 years," Whitney says with great pride.
She was able to join that select group because of thousands of supporters -- fans who have crowded into conventions around the globe to see the actress.
There was a time when she appeared at 30 conventions a year, but she has cut back in recent years to focus on the huge "Star Trek" convention held in Las Vegas each August. Whitney's adding one convention stop this year: Fresno's Collect-A-Con 6 on Saturday.
She loves getting the opportunity to talk with the fans whether it's a large or small convention.
"I have fans all over the world, some who don't even speak English. When they bring me on stage, everyone will stand up and cheer. I practically weep and then I give them my all," Whitney says.
She attracts a crowd despite only being on part of the first season of "Star Trek." After a series of roles on television ("Batman," "Rifleman") and film (including the Billy Wilder classic "Some Like It Hot"), Whitney was cast in 1966 to be part of Gene Roddenberry's new "space wagon train series" called "Star Trek."
Whitney's role as Yeoman Janice Rand originally was as Capt. James T. Kirk's (William Shatner) assistant and eventual love interest, but her time on the show ended halfway through the year. Why she was cut from the show remained one of the big mysteries with fans for years. Reports ranged from addiction and undependable behavior to a network decision that a love interest for Kirk would be too cumbersome.
Whitney said in her 1998 autobiography, "The Longest Trek: My Tour of the Galaxy," that she was sexually assaulted by a member of the "Star Trek" management team she only refers to as "the executive." Whitney says the assault happened late on a Friday in an isolated part of the Desilu Studios where the series was shot, and a few days later she got a call from her agent that she had been written out of the series.
Whitney's acting career -- and almost her life -- came to an end as she fell into a horrific spiral. Her recovery has been largely due to the fans who never forgot her. It was a "Star Trek" convention where Whitney went public with her addiction problems.
"When I told the fans I was an alcoholic, they all applauded. When I told them I had given myself to a higher power, they cheered again," Whitney says. "I'm in a great place because I've gone full circle."
Whitney left Hollywood when her first grandchild was born. After attending Fresno State, her son, Jonathan, settled in Kerman and now lives on the 30 acres Whitney bought in the Yosemite area. Her oldest son, Scott, is a pilot with Delta who lives in Santa Barbara.
Along with convention appearance, Whitney keeps busy with her family, is writing another book and using the influence she still has on the "Star Trek" world.
After she saw the relaunch of "Star Trek" by J.J. Abrams in 2009, Whitney called the producer to complain there were no blondes on the Enterprise. Her complaints may have been taken seriously because Whitney noticed that a young blonde has joined the crew, at least in the trailer for the upcoming "Star Trek Into Darkness."
Maybe that young blonde, like Whitney, will still talk about her "Star Trek" experiences and make convention appearances 50 years from now.
If you go
Collect-A-Con, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday, Picadilly Inn Airport, 5115 E. McKinley Ave. Admission: $1.
TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355, firstname.lastname@example.org
or@RickBentley1 on Twitter. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com.