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Takei, George (b. 1937)  
 
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Best known for his role as Mr. Sulu on the cult-classic television series Star Trek and subsequent films, George Takei has, since coming out as a gay man, also been an articulate advocate for glbtq rights.

The son of second-generation Japanese-Americans, George Hosato Takei was born in Los Angeles on April 20, 1937. Some of his earliest memories, though, are of Arkansas, where he and his parents were interned at a camp after the outbreak of World War II. They were later moved to another camp in northern California.

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Only aged four to eight during the time of his family's internment, Takei was too young to understand the social and political context: "Yes, I remember the barbed wire and the guard towers and the machine guns," he stated, "but they became part of my normal landscape" along with catching tadpoles and watching them grow into frogs and seeing snow for the first time.

Once the family was out of the camps, however, he felt a sense of shame upon hearing a teacher refer to him as "that little Jap boy." His sense of being an "other" in society increased when he realized that he was gay. At the time, he "just swallowed the pain" in silence.

After graduating from Los Angeles High School, where he had been a member of the drama club as well as student body president, Takei enrolled at the University of California at Berkeley and declared as an architecture major in deference to the wishes of his parents, who were concerned that acting was too risky a profession.

While he was a student, however, Takei met an importer of Japanese science-fiction films who needed someone to dub the soundtracks. Uncredited, Takei did voices in Gojira no gyaskushû (1955, directed by Motoyoshi Oda) and Sora no daikaijû (1956, directed by Isihirô Honda).

After two years at Berkeley, Takei transferred to the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) and changed his major to theater. He received his bachelor's degree in 1960 and then continued his studies at the Shakespeare Institute in Stratford-Upon-Avon before returning to UCLA and earning his M. A. in theater in 1964. While pursuing his advanced degree, he also attended the Desilu Workshop for actors and appeared, sometimes uncredited, in both films and television shows.

His work brought him to the attention of producer Gene Roddenberry, who offered him the role of Mr. Sulu on the science-fiction series that he had created and that was destined to become a cult classic, Star Trek. The Sulu character, an American of Japanese and Filipino descent, was an astrophysicist in the pilot episode, but when the series began its run in 1966, he was changed to the position of helmsman in order to give Takei a more integral role in the show and to increase his interaction with other principal characters.

In a 2008 interview, Takei stated that Roddenberry "was an extraordinary man, a real visionary. He used to tell the Star Trek cast frequently that the Starship Enterprise was a metaphor for the Starship Earth. And the strength of the starship was its diversity, the crew coming together and working in concert."

Takei added that Roddenberry was a person strongly opposed to " and . . . prejudice against equality" but also one who realized that "network television is the most conservative medium of communication. If he pushes the envelope too far, the envelope gets burned up."

As it was, Roddenberry had a hard time keeping Star Trek on the air. The show's ratings were not strong in its first year, and when the second season's results were also disappointing, NBC announced plans to cancel it. Devoted fans, later to become known as Trekkies, launched a letter-writing campaign to save the series but only won a reprieve: NBC continued Star Trek but buried it in an unfavorable late-Friday time-slot, dooming it to cancellation in 1969.

Takei continued his acting work, appearing on numerous television shows. He also entered the political arena, serving as a delegate to the 1972 Democratic National Convention and running for a seat on the Los Angeles City Council in a special election in 1973. He finished second in an extremely close race.

Also in 1973, Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley appointed Takei to the board of directors of the Southern California Rapid Transit District. A self-described "urbanist," Takei was a vocal proponent of the building of the subway, which he calls "vital to the mobility of our city." He also championed the Arts in Transit program "in which every Metro Rail subway station is given its own distinctive look, thereby fostering neighborhood pride." He remained on the board until 1984.

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George Takei at a Star Trek Convention in Hamm, Germany in 1996. Photograph by Diane Krauss.
  
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