Walter Koenig (Star Trek)

Best known for his roles as Pavel Chekov in Star Trek and Alfred Bester in Babylon 5, the American actor, writer, teacher and director Walter Koenig was born September 14, 1936 in Chicago, Illinois. He attended Grinnell College in Grinnell, Iowa with a pre-med major. He transferred to UCLA and received a BA in psychology. After a professor encouraged Koenig to become an actor, he attended the Neighborhood Playhouse with fellow students Dabney Coleman, Christopher Lloyd, and James Caan.

Koenig played Ensign Pavel Chekov, navigator on the USS Enterprise, in the original Star Trek television series (starting in Season 2) and in several movies featuring the original cast. One of only two actors to audition, he was cast as Chekov almost immediately primarily because of his resemblance to British actor/musician Davy Jones of the Monkees, to attract a younger audience. As the 30-year old’s hair was already receding, costume designers fashioned a Davy Jones-style “moptop” hairpiece for him. In later episodes, his own hair grew out enough to accomplish the look with a comb-over. Gene Roddenberry asked him to “ham up” his Russian accent to add a note of comic relief to the series. Chekov’s accent has been criticized as inauthentic, in particular Koenig’s substituting the “w” sound in place of a “v” sound (e.g., “wodka” for “vodka”). Koenig has said the accent was inspired by his father, who had the same difficulty with the “v” sound. Having been told that Chekov would be a recurring role based on his popularity, Koenig was pleasantly surprised when he immediately became a regular cast member, and most of his fan mail indeed came from children.

When the early Season 2 episodes of Star Trek: The Original Series were shot, George Takei (who played Sulu) was delayed completing the movie The Green Berets, so Chekov is joined at the Enterprise helm by a different character. When Takei returned, the two had to share a dressing room and a single episode script. This reportedly angered Takei to the point where he nearly left the show. But the two actors have since become good friends, and the image of their two characters manning the helm of the Enterprise became iconic. Koenig is also credited for writing the Star Trek: The Animated Series installment “The Infinite Vulcan”, making him the first “original cast” member to write a Star Trek story for television. The character of Pavel Andreievich Chekov never appeared in the animated version of Star Trek due to budget reasons, so Koenig never got to reprise his character on the animated series. Koenig also received Saturn Award nominations for Best Supporting Actor in Film for both Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. Koenig reprised his role of Pavel Chekov for the fan webseries Star Trek: New Voyages, To Serve All My Days and the independent Sky Conway/Tim Russ film Star Trek: Of Gods and Men, both in 2006. 

Following Star Trek, Koenig had a starring role as Psi Cop Alfred Bester on the television series Babylon 5 in twelve episodes and, at the end of the third season and a handful of episodes for TV shows: Star Trek: The Animated Series, Land of the Lost, Family and The Powers of Matthew Star. He has also written several books, including Warped Factors: A Neurotic’s Guide to the Universe (an autobiography), Chekov’s Enterprise (a journal kept during the filming of Star Trek: The Motion Picture) and Buck Alice and the Actor-Robot (a science fiction novel), which was re-released in 2006. He created his own comic book series called Raver, which was published by Malibu Comics in the early 1990s, and appeared as a “special guest star” in an issue of the comic book Eternity Smith, which features him prominently on its cover. He also wrote the script for the 2008 science fiction legal thriller InAlienable.

In 1987, Koenig and his wife directed his original one-act plays The Secret Life of Lily Langtree, Tech Night: Hands on Demo and Encore: Long Distance Lady — all under the umbrella title Public Moments at the Theatre of N.O.T.E. in Los Angeles. In 1997, Koenig starred in Drawing Down the Moon, an independent film about a Wiccan woman who attempts to open a homeless shelter in a small Pennsylvania town. In 2004, Koenig co-starred in Mad Cowgirl, an independent movie about a meat-packing health inspector dying from a brain disorder in which he played televangelist Pastor Dylan, a character described as “a sleazy, slimy, sex-addict”.In 2007, Koenig was asked by the human rights group U.S. Campaign for Burma to help in their grassroots campaign about the humanitarian crisis in Burma. As detailed on his official website, he visited refugee camps along the Burma-Thailand border from July 16 to July 25, 2007 and on September 10, 2012 Koenig received the 2,279th star of the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

 

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