Despite its current ubiquity in pop culture, Star Trek had a famously difficult birth. It was the rare TV show to have two pilots — the first one was rejected. Without the will and passion of Lucille Ball (yes, that Lucille Ball) the series might have never made it to air.
Filming for "The Cage," the first pilot episode, began on Thanksgiving weekend in 1964, nearly two full years before Star Trek premiered in the fall of '66. This was after months of pre-production. Throughout that long process, there was much back-and-forth between visionary creator Gene Roddenberry, the network and the studio.
The casting was one significant area of debate. William Shatner and his Captain Kirk do not even appear in "The Cage," of course. Before Shatner beamed aboard, several famous actors were considered for the lead. As hard as it is to imagine anyone other than Leonard Nimoy as Spock, a handful of names were tossed around for the Vulcan role. Roddenberry even offered DeForest Kelley the part of Spock. Imagine that — Bones as Spock.
Let's take a look at some notable actors and characters that might have given Star Trek a far different look. Perhaps they won the part in some alternate dimension.
Jack Lord as Captain Kirk
Captain Kirk grabs a Klingon by the collar. "Book 'em, Spocko," he commands. Okay, that's a silly scenario, but it is also difficult to envision James T. Kirk played by Det. Steve McGarrett of Hawaii Five-O. What is Kirk without his Shatnerism?
James Coburn as Captain Pike
A man's man, Coburn sizzled and smoldered in classics like The Magnificent Seven and The Great Escape. That being said, he proved he could also do lighter fare in the spy spoof Our Man Flint. According to the book These Are the Voyages: TOS Season One, Coburn was one of three finalists for the lead role in the pilot.
Martin Landau as Spock
The late Landau instead took a lead role in another Desilu production, Mission: Impossible. Years later, he explained his passing on Spock to Starlog in 1986: "I can't play wooden. It's the antithesis of why I became an actor." Landau left Mission: Impossible after its third season, just as Star Trek was ending. Leonard Nimoy filled his shoes as the show's resident master of disguise. Funny how that works out.
James Hong as Sulu
Minneapolis born Chinese-American actor Hong has a stunning resume that stretches from the 1950s to Kung Fu Panda movies. (He's the voice of Mr. Ping.) He's been in everything — including T.J. Hooker. Which means he at least got to work alongside Shatner in some capacity.
Dawn Wells as Roberta Lincoln
The season two Star Trek finale served as a backdoor pilot for a proposed spin-off, "Assignment: Earth." The story centers around Gary Seven, a human sent back to earth from the future. By his side is the young and lovely Roberta Lincoln, a 1960s secretary. In the end, the role was played by Teri Garr. However, this Gilligan's Island veteran almost nabbed the role. However, Roddenberry preferred the lesser-known Garr's look.
Anne Baxter as Spock's mother
A film star of the 1940s, Baxter already had an Oscar and a Golden Globe on her shelf back home when she was offered the role of Amanda Grayson, Spock's human mother. She later explained to Star Trek Magazine, "I don't do comic strips, and Star Trek is six or seven comic strips rolled into one." It should be noted that Baxter appeared as a villain on Batman. Twice.
Jon Voight as Apollo
Before his breakout role in Midnight Cowboy, Angelina Jolie's dad was considered for the god Apollo in "Who Mourns for Adonais?"
Michael Dunn as Spock
A fascinating production memo written by Gene Roddenberry and dated October 14, 1964, names several actors under consideration for key roles in "The Cage." Some of these might have been mere gestures, but they are there in type. Most fascinating of all is the list for Spock — because it's Spock. Michael Dunn, a pioneering little person in Hollywood, would have been a groundbreaking choice. Dunn was later considered for "The Corbomite Maneuver," but the role went to Clint Howard. At last, he made his way on Star Trek in "Plato's Stepchildren," explaining the episode title in the opening scene.
Rex Homan as Spock
The same memo names Rex Holman, who would turn up as a cowboy in "Spectre of the Gun."
Lloyd Bridges in "The Cage" and "Assignment: Earth"
Father of Beau and Jeff, Lloyd Bridges had the opportunity to man the bridge in "The Cage." Roddenberry reached out to Bridges, who balked at another sci-fi project after his Rocketship X-M bombed. Nevertheless, Bridges was also offered Gary Seven a couple years later for "Assignment: Earth." He did end up in outer space again, on Battlestar Galactica in 1978, seen here.
Patrick O'Neal in "The Cage" and "Assignment: Earth"
The lesser-known Patrick O'Neal was also up for the same roles as Bridge. Interesting that Roddenberry went back to his Pike casting shortlist for Gary Seven. He must have liked these guys. Here is O'Neal in an episode of The Outer Limits.
Gloria Calomee as Uhura
A trio of relatively unknown actresses were considered for Uhura. They all have a few bit roles on other TV shows. Here is Calomee in an episode of Mannix.
Ena Hartman as Uhura
Hartman eventually landed a regular role in the series Dan August (1970–71). Here she is in her very first screen credit, an episode of Bonanza, "Enter Thomas Bowers."
Mittie Lawrence as Uhura
The final of the three potential, not–Nichelle Nichols Uhuras was Mittie Lawrence, who earned a scattering of small roles in that era. She helped Katie Miller Douglas deliver triplets as a nurse on My Three Sons.
John Drew Barrymore as Lazarus
Barrymore, part of the acting dynasty and father to Drew Barrymore, was hired to play Lazarus in "The Alternative Factor," according to the ultimate Trek resource, Memory Alpha. However, he failed to show up for the filming. This led to the Screen Actors Guild suspending his membership for half a year, putting him briefly out of work. Oops.