'Star Trek': Walter Koenig on Lean Years After Cancellation and How Writing Ultimately Saved Him

"I was very depressed when the show went off the air. My phone didn't ring. My agent didn't call," says Koenig, who decided to "move forward and try to create a new future" for himself and his family.
Courtesy of Photofest

Mr. Chekov may be part of a legendary crew, but the voyage had its ups and downs for Walter Koenig.

The actor faced uncertain financial and professional times following his two-year run on the original Star Trek TV series, which was canceled in 1969 and forced him to reevaluate his career. 

"They weren't good, at least initially," he tells Heat Vision of the post-Trek years. "Life is full of situations where you either surrender and give up and accept things the way they are or you try to move forward and try to create a new future for yourself. I was very depressed when the show went off the air. My phone didn't ring. My agent didn't call. There were no offers. It really was like I was in some sort of isolation."

Koenig, who had a young son and wife at home, turned to writing to pull him out of his funk and give him purpose, even if he wasn't getting paid for it (at first). He got an idea for a novel and spent up to five hours a day writing at the library.

"I needed to stop feeling sorry for myself. I needed some structure," he says. "I came home thinking, 'Well, I've accomplished something.' Whether what I'm doing was any good or not was almost beside the point. It was being goal-oriented again and having something to look forward to. I did that for about six months and helped me survive."

Eventually, he landed a literary agent and started getting work as a TV writer while also performing onstage. At one point, he left a steady TV gig because the episodes kept being rewritten to the point they were unrecognizable ("I had no intention of being the hack and just taking the money and running," he says). He turned to features, with Cher and other high-profile actresses being courted for a script he had optioned as a movie of the week, but the deal never made. 

"That kept my moral going, but I was barely getting by financially. I was looking into driving a cab," says Koenig. "My wife kept saying, 'Don't do that. It's going to work out.' " 

His wife, Judy Levvitt, turned out to be right. Though Koenig did not voice act in Star Trek: The Animated Series (though he did write an episode), Trek came back in full force with 1979's Star Trek: The Motion Picture. The revamped popularity propelled Koenig's acting career back on track, and in addition to six Trek films (plus a cameo in 1994's Star Trek: Generations), he also had a meaty role on Babylon 5 and has enjoyed the kind of career most actors would envy.

"Ultimately, we came back to Star Trek and a few other things popped up, and I was able to maintain a sense of self image and a sense of dignity," says Koenig.

For more from Koenig, check out what he had to say about his favorite Trek episode over in our hundred greatest episodes list.  And follow Heat Vision on Facebook and Twitter for the latest from Star Trek.