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Happy Birthday, Walter Koenig

Today, Gateway wishes a very happy birthday to everyone’s favourite Russian helmsman, Pavel Chekov – or, more to the point, the actor who brought him to life on gib screen and small, across five decades: Walter Koenig.

Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry was keen to add a younger face to his bridge crew, allegedly to take advantage of the popularity of the Beatles and The Monkees, at the time – indeed, it’s said that Walter Koenig won the role because of his resemblance to Monkees front man, Davey Jones. Ironically, Koenig was thirty at the time, with hair already beginning to recede and so a ‘moptop’ style hairpiece was developed for him.

Adding a Russian to the bridge crew of the USS Enterprise was an audacious move at the height of the Cold War, but Rodenberry’s insistence on emphasising the international (indeed, interplanetary) nature of the crew proved to be a masterstroke, and no doubt contributed to Star Trek‘s enduring popularity.

 Like all of his USS Enterprise alumni, Koenig will for ever be identified with his Star Trek character, but he has had a long and productive career as actor, writer, director and producer, including roles in Babylon 5, Futurama, Columbo and Ironside, to name but a few.

Walter Koenig turns 79, today, but to millions of SF fans around the world, he will always be the young, wide-eyed Ensign Pavel Chekov.