Maybe, finally, Walter Koenig has found some serenity.
The man who gained fame — if not fortune — as Ensign Pavel Chekov on the original “Star Trek,” then renewed his sci-fi career with a recurring role on syndicated hit “Babylon 5,” has spent much of his career tilting at authority. And not usually happily.
This is, after all, the man who wrote a memoir called “Warped Factors: A Neurotic’s Guide to the Universe.”
On a TV movie, seething because he thought he was right for the lead but instead was cast as a struggling actor in a Chicken Delight uniform, he gave the director such a withering look he was fired on the spot.
Is he more patient today? “I haven’t been tested, so I don’t know,” he says thoughtfully. “I think I’m a little more mature, a little healthier than I was in those days. I think.”
The career highs and lows that fueled his rebellious streak will ring familar for thesps. After graduating from the Neighborhood Playhouse, he found some success in TV in the early 1960s. He auditioned for “Star Trek” and was left for two hours in the waiting room when the producers forgot he was there.
He found out he’d won the part that made him famous when a stranger led him to wardrobe. “He dropped to his knees in front of me, put his hand on my crotch. And I said ‘What are you doing?’ ” says Koenig. “He said ‘I’m measuring you for a costume.’ ”
Just another one-off TV job, he thought, and it might have been — but for John Wayne running over schedule on his Vietnam movie “The Green Berets.” George Takei, who played Lt. Sulu on “Star Trek,” was on Wayne’s picture and had to miss several episodes. Koenig got Takei’s lines and a new Trek regular was born.
Koenig was frustrated because Chekhov was “an expository character” who rarely did much but call out readings from the instruments. Then, after the show ended, he says, “the phone did not ring.” Feeling the pressure of a young family and a stalled career, he took up writing. That turned into an important sideline; he has several TV scripts, books and a produced screenplay to his credit.
The “Trek” features gave him some financial security, but it was “Babylon 5” and the recurring role of sinister telepath Alfred Bester that gave him the second act he’d craved for his acting career. The role was “the silver lining of the gray cloud”: He’d had a heart attack, and had to give up the first “B5” role he’d been cast in. Creator J. Michael Straczynski wrote Bester for him instead.
It was just 12 episodes over five years, but “I was in hog heaven playing that (“B5″) part,” he says. “I got along with everybody, we got along with each other. It was a great group.”