Call Ripley! Walter Koenig, the actor who brought young Ensign Pavel Chekov to life on Star Trek: the Original Series, is now 85! It seems odd to realize that a man who is perennially 22 in our memories is now actually 85.
Koenig (pronounced Kaynig, not Koonig) is best known for his first major role: Ensign Pavel Andreivitch Chekov. Chekov is, of course not his only role. It’s not even his only science fiction role. In our mind’s eyes, Chekov is still as young as he appears in reruns, but the clock ticks. The calendar turns pages. Star Trek is fifty-five years old, and all of us, fans and actors, have aged along with it.
Pavel Chekov was intended to be a younger version of Kirk, basically a Kirk-in-training. Roddenberry wanted someone like Davy Jones of The Monkees to attract the youth audience. In ’66, the Soviet Union was currently ahead in the Space Race. Yuri Gagarin had been the first man in space. Valentina Tereshkova was the first woman in space, decades before Dr. Sally Ride would go up. The Man from UNCLE had a Russian agent, but the Enterprise didn’t have a Russian crewman. Roddenberry himself admitted that was a mistake, and Pavel Andreivitch Chekov was added to the cast of Star Trek. Pavel Chekhov was an exceedingly patriotic Russian. The terms chauvinistic and jingoist come to mind when discussing Chekhov’s attitude to his home country.
Star Trek was Koenig’s first major role on TV, but not his first role, nor even his first time working with Gene Roddenberry. Koenig’s first role was in the TV show Combat! in 1962. In 1964, he, like Nichelle Nichols (Lt. Uhura) and Gary Lockwood (Cmdr. Gary Mitchell) would appear in Gene Roddenberry’s other series, The Lieutenant. He was cast as Pavel Chekhov in 1967.
Bester, Nabrowski, and Timéon
Chekhov was his most famous role, but not his only science fiction role. On Joe Michael Straczynski’s Babylon 5, Walter Koenig appeared twelve times as the odious Psi Cop Alfred Bester. He was on the Canadian series Starlost twice as Oro, Koenig played an administrative assistant in Roddenberry’s failed pilot The Questor Tapes. In Neil Stryker and the Tyrant of Time, he shared the role of Ray Nabrowski with Michael Friedrichs. Koenig played future Nabrowski. Friedrichs played the present version of Nabrowski. In the steampunk short Cowboys and Engines, Koenig was Professor Timéon. Walter Koenig reprised the role of Chekov in the first seven Star Trek movies and in seven videogames.
More than an Actor
Beyond his acting, though, for which he received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2012, Koenig is also an accomplished writer and screenwriter. His books range from his experiences on Star Trek and works of science fiction.
We wish a happy 85th to Walter Koenig, and applaud his remarkable life of accomplishment. It is our sincere hope that we have not seen the best of him yet.
Susan Macdonald is the author of the children’s book “R is for Renaissance Faire”, as well as 26 short stories, mostly fantasy in “Alternative Truths”, “Swords and Sorceress #30”, Swords &Sorceries Vols. 1, 2, & 5, “Cat Tails” “Under Western Stars”, and “Knee-High Drummond and the Durango Kid”. Her articles have appeared on SCIFI.radio’s web site, in The Inquisitr, and in The Millington Star. She enjoys Renaissance Faires (see book above), science fiction conventions, Highland Games, and Native American pow-wows.