Who was Grace Lee Whitney?
Grace Lee Whitney was an American actress and singer, best known for her role as Janice Rand on the hugely popular science fiction film and television series ‘Star Trek.’ Born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, as Mary Ann Chase, she was adopted by the Whitney family. She was interested in the prospect of becoming an actress ever since she was a kid. As a teenager, she worked at Detroit’s WJR Radio as a ‘girl singer.’ She left home and moved to Chicago and sang in the Nightclubs of Chicago. She made her big screen debut in 1954 with an un-credited guest role as Miss Holland in the film titled ‘Top Banana.’ She followed with small roles in series’ such as ‘The Walter Winchell File,’ ‘Mike Hammer,’ and ‘The Naked and the Dead.’ She had her major career breakthrough in 1966 when she was signed to play a supporting role as Yeoman Janice Rand in the series titled ‘Star Trek.’ She then reprised her role in the subsequent four ‘Star Trek’ films. In addition, she also appeared in films such as ‘Irma la Douce’ and ‘House of Wax.’ In the 1960s and 1970s, she remained closely associated with music and played with the band titled Star as a singer.
Childhood & Early Life
Grace Lee Whitney was born Mary Ann Chase, on April 1, 1930, in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Soon after she was born, she was adopted by the Whitney family and hence, her name was changed to Grace Elaine.
Grace was interested in acting ever she was 3 years old. She began singing around the same age. She became heavily drifted towards performing arts around the same time, taking dancing lessons as well. She performed on-stage during her school years in plays, dancing and singing competitions.
As a teenager, she also began writing song lyrics and performed them on-stage, gaining further confidence for her career. She mainly worked towards polishing her singing skills and also acted in theatrical plays on occasions.
She also began her professional singing career at the age of 14 when she started working at the WJR Radio in Detroit as a ‘girl singer.’ She had also joined a local school band along with an a cappella group.
She moved to Chicago following her high school graduation, all by herself. There, she began working as a model and also participated in the Miss Chicago contest. However, singing remained her core interest during all that time. In Chicago she also joined a band named Prevue.
A few years later, she gained an interest in acting and used her theatre background to participate in theatrical plays. She moved to New York for that and appeared in the Broadway play titled ‘Top Banana,’ which was later turned into a film as well.
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Whitney made her Broadway debut in1953 playing Miss Holland in the Broadway titled ‘Top Banana’ and later when it was turned into a film, in 1954, she reprised her role in the feature film based on the show. In addition, she also appeared playing one of the key roles in the Off-Broadway titled ‘The Threepenny Opera.’
Following her screen debut with the film ‘Top Banana,’ she took a four years break and appeared in the series titled ‘The Walter Winchell File,’ playing a guest role as Midge in the episode titled ‘Night People.’
She followed it with guest roles in series’ titled ‘Mike Hammer’ and ‘The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp’ in the late 1950s. Around that time, her acting career was slow while she focused more on her singing career.
Ever since she moved to Los Angeles, she had joined many bands and orchestras, such as Keith Williams Orchestra. Around the 1960s, she focused more on Jazz/pop sounds and sang as the lead singer with the band named Star.
She continued her television career in the early 1960s with guest roles in series’ such as ‘Peter Loves Mary,’ ‘The Islanders’ and ‘Michael Shayne.’ She eventually began getting slightly better roles with television series’ such as ‘The Roaring 20s’ and ‘The Detectives.’
Until the mid-1960s, she had appeared in more than a dozen television series’ such as ‘The Eleventh Hour’ and ‘Sam Benedict,’ without her career finding a straight path. She was mostly limited to playing small/guest roles in television.
From 1961 to 1963, she played different characters in the series titled ’77 Sunset Strip.’ She followed with further small role as Texas Rose in the 1963 series ‘The Man from Galveston.’
She received a huge film break in 1963 when she was signed to play a supporting role as Kiki the Cossack in the Billy Wilder directed film titled ‘Irma la Douce.’ The film was a huge critical and commercial success and was nominated for a few Oscar awards. The success of the film somehow paved Grace’s way to better things in Hollywood.
The success of ‘Irma la Douce’ had her receiving attention of some major Hollywood studios, which ended up her having the breakthrough television role of her career. She was signed to play Yeoman Janice Rand in 8 episodes of the first season of science fiction series titled ‘Star Trek.’ The series went on becoming a huge critical and commercial success.
Grace further received accolades for her portrayal. However, her character was abruptly taken out of the show. She also reprised her role as Janice Rand in the 1979 film titled ‘Star Trek: The Motion Picture.’ The film initially met with very bad reviews, but the reviews got better overtime. The film was a huge box office success though.
She reprised her role in the following three ‘Star Trek’ films as well. In 1996, ‘Star Trek: Voyager’ came on-air and Grace was now playing Lt. Commander Janice Rand.
Apart from the ‘Star Trek’ franchise, Grace did not work quite enough and remained limited to playing guest roles in series’ such as ‘Diagnosis Murder.’
She has also written quite a few songs based on the ‘Star Trek’ franchise. Some of her more popular singles are ‘Charlie X,’ ‘Enemy Within’ and ‘USS Enterprise.’
Family & Personal Life
Grace Lee Whitney wrote her autobiography titled ‘The Longest Trek: My Tour of the Galaxy,’ which was released in 1998. In her book, she opened up about her issues with alcoholism and drug abuse. She was also addicted to marijuana. However, she overcame her addictions but it had irreversibly ruined her acting career.
She married Sydney Stevan Dweck in 1954 and got divorced in 1966. She later married Jack Dale in 1970 and got divorced in 1991. She had two sons, Jonathan and Scott Dweck from her first marriage.
Grace passed away on May 1, 2015, at the age of 85, in Coarsegold.