For the record: NO, the Star Trek kiss between Kirk and Uhura was not the “first interracial kiss” on television. Not by a long shot.
Yes, Star Trek was ahead of the curve and very progressive (in some areas). But contrary to popular opinion, this wasn’t one of them. The interracial kiss between William Shatner and Nichelle Nichols was not American television’s first.
In fact, there have been a number of “interracial kiss” moments, in American and British TV. Even William Shatner himself, central to this myth, could set you straight, because he was involved in a similar incident a decade before Star Trek. And even that wasn’t the first.
Have a taste of truth, from Wikipedia:
I Love Lucy
The 1950s American television programme I Love Lucy broadcast multiple instances of real-life husband and wife Desi Arnaz, a Hispanic male, and Lucille Ball, a woman of North European ancestry, kissing. However, despite Arnaz and Ball being frequently described as an “interracial couple”, “Hispanic” is generally understood to be a catchall indicating persons of a Latin American, Spanish, or Filipino cultural background, as opposed to a race. Arnaz was usually considered to be a white male of Cuban ancestry.
The Ed Sullivan Show
In a 1958 episode of The Ed Sullivan Show, France Nuyen (French-Vietnamese) and William Shatner kissed during a scene from the then current Broadway production of The World of Suzie Wong. (They later re-enacted that moment in the Star Trek episode “Elaan of Troyius,” aired in December 1968— Trekipidian Steve.)
In the Sea Hunt episode “Proof of Guilt” aired 16 August 1959, Lloyd Bridges and Nobu McCarthy (nee Atsumi, Japanese-Canadian) shared a kiss near the end of the episode which Bridges’ character described as “the best testimonial I’ll ever get in my life”.
Adventures in Paradise
An episode of Adventures in Paradise titled “The Big Surf,” broadcast in 1960, featured two scripted kisses: One between actress Pilar Seurat (Phillippine-American) and actor Robert Sampson, and another with Seurat and Gardner McKay.
An episode of I Spy titled “The Tiger” broadcast on January 5, 1966, featured a scripted interracial kiss between Eurasian actress France Nuyen (the only other actor mentioned more often on this list, just behind William Shatner) and Robert Culp.
Movin’ with Nancy
A December 1967 TV special, Movin’ with Nancy, featured a kiss between Nancy Sinatra and Sammy Davis, Jr. Although this was technically the first time a Caucasian kissed an African American on television in the United States, it differed from “Star Trek” in that Sinatra only kissed Davis on the cheek instead of lip-to-lip.
The episode “Space Seed“, which originally aired on February 6, 1967, featured a scripted interracial kiss between Ricardo Montalbán (Hispanic) and Madlyn Rhue. Strictly speaking, this would be Star Trek‘s first interracial kiss.
In November 1968, the episode “Plato’s Stepchildren” presented what was often referred to as the first interracial kiss on American television, between William Shatner and Nichelle Nichols (African-American). In an attempt to add controversy to the event, there was speculation about whether the kiss actually happened, or if the actors staged the scene to obscure their lips and suggest that they never actually touched. (Nichelle Nichols insists to this day that their lips touched.) But as the record clearly shows, this wasn’t even the first interracial kiss on Star Trek, much less on television.
Add to this the December 1968 kiss between Shatner and France Nuyen in “Elaan of Troiyus” and, I suppose, Star Trek and William Shatner gets the hat trick as the most interracial kisses made by one guy in a single series.
And just for the record, an even earlier TV kiss by Lloyd Reckord (Jamaican), with Andrée Melly, in the ITV Armchair Theatre adaptation of Ted Willis’s play Hot Summer Night, broadcast on British TV in February 1959.
None of which means a damned thing, since we’re ALL of the same race—the HUMAN race—and making distinctions like this are every kind of pointless and stupid.
But, y’know, as long as we’re on the subject…
One thing you may have noticed about these references: They tend to be framed between a European man and a woman of some non-European race (I Love Lucy, Hot Summer Night, Space Seed and Movin’ with Nancy being the exceptions). Most of these kisses have involved an Asian, Eurasian or Hispanic actor; and in these cases, no big deal was made about the interactions. In fact, it’s apparent from the heritages of many of the women cited above that they are products of mixed marriages, adding an additional “all right” to the idea of their kissing a European man.
But the one everyone talks about is the Star Trek kiss, specifically, because it involved a European male and an African female kissing on the lips.
Fetch the smelling salts, Junior, your Aunt Bea just fainted.
Except she probably didn’t… because southern American TV markets generally refused to show the episode Plato’s Stepchildren, in prime time or in later years of airing the syndicated episodes, so Aunt Bea probably never saw it. (But they showed Mirror, Mirror.)
Because this myth was never an interracial thing, as the lack of concern over earlier incidents clearly demonstrated; it was always specifically a Black vs White thing, that particular combination that (ahem) trumps concerns over every other racial combination in America. That makes it an issue, much more than kissing any Asian or Hispanic cutie. As such manufactured “miscegenation” between Blacks and Whites was always considered so taboo in American culture (despite the fact that, hey, it happened all the time), it amounted to blasphemy to even suggest a physical attraction between Whites and Blacks on American television.
Thus, the Shatner-Nichols kiss was controversial specifically for being an affront to the great American taboo of mixing between European and African races (not to mention being a moment of violation, not affection). It stands as a prime example of how far we wanted to believe we’d evolved socially in 1968… a particularly laughable attitude, when you consider the state of American race relations of the 2020s. But then, you already knew that.
So let’s dispel this 50-plus-year-old myth once and for all: Star Trek was a great series, progressive, ground-breaking and ahead of its time. And it included no less than three interracial kisses (four, if you count Nichelle Nichols and Majel Barrett in “What Are Little Girls Made Of?”— Seriously Nerdy Steve). But the first? Not even.
And if anyone wonders why I’ve stopped writing and cut back on blog posts, this is a perfect example: While this post has, in its first week, garnered just a few likes and no comments on multiple Facebook forums, an almost identical article on Heavy.com coincidentally came out days later, and has already generated hundreds of reactions and comments. As an author friend of mine is fond of saying: Draw yer own conclusions.