Robin Curtis posted a lovely tribute to Kirstie Alley on Facebook.
For years, I loudly let it be known I preferred the way Kirstie Alley played Lieutenant Saavik in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan to the way Robin Curtis played Saavik in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock and—very briefly—Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. I used to jokingly (mostly) ask other Star Trek fans, “Who’s the better Saavik, and why is she Kirstie Alley?”
I modified my appraisal of Robin Curtis as Saavik as I grew older. She had been directed to play Saavik as a full Vulcan by Leonard Nimoy himself, after all. Actors have a professional obligation to help directors realize their vision. If Nimoy saw Saavik as more reserved and dispassionate than Alley had played her, Curtis correctly played her that way.
As Saavik was Kirstie Alley’s breakout role, so Saavik was for Robin Curtis. While Curtis’s acting career did not go on to rival Kirstie Alley’s for visibility—she is now a successful real estate agent near Syracuse, NY—she made an extensive series of TV guest appearances before leaving the profession. Star Trek: The Next Generation fans still enjoy her memorable turn as the Vulcan isolationist Tallera in the two-part episode “Gambit.”
Ultimately, I’m glad Star Trek got to introduce to the world two talented actors as a character whose importance to the franchise’s non-canonical lore lasted far longer than either of their onscreen performances. Indeed, Saavik may even be a richer and more fascinating character because two actors played her, rather than despite the fact.
And today, just days after the first of those actors died, the second paid her a moving tribute on Facebook.
Robin Curtis praises Kirstie Alley as “truly one of a kind”
Earlier this morning, Robin Curtis posted on her Facebook page the following heartfelt tribute to Kirstie Alley, her fellow Saavik:
"It’s strange to be connected to another human being and to never have met them. You might say we occupied the same beautifully lit room for a time, but not at the same time. And just like that, our lives were forever linked. In 1983, I was cast as the second actress to play the role of Lt. Saavik in Star Trek III. I was twenty-eight years old. No doubt, I understood the magnitude of being cast in a popular science fiction franchise. But little did I comprehend that this association would be with me for the rest of my life. I’ve attended countless conventions and have had the pleasure of meeting countless wonderful people who love Star Trek as they love life itself. And the question frequently arose, what was it like to assume the role someone else established?I write about Kirstie Alley.And my stock answer, my sincere from the heart answer was always that, at the time, it meant everything to me that my good fortune hadn’t come as a result of Kirstie’s misfortune. That as far as I understood the situation, she had intentionally negotiated herself away from the role because other more compelling opportunities had come to her. As time went on and the years unfolded, I think I held hope that one day when someone asked that question, I could share that I had actually met Kirstie!That serendipity had put us in the same restaurant, studio parking lot or sound stage. And that she and I acknowledged one another with a loud hello and great belly laughs! Imagine, the two of us, each in our own right, an effusive, ball-busting, sassy female, strong and opinionated and anything but reserved being cast as a controlled, stoic and unemotional Vulcan! I fantasized that we’d share the bizarreness and wonder of that and that the connection would give birth to an enthusiastic and hilarious repartee between us.Perhaps for me, running into her, would become the ultimate cherry on the cake of my whole relationship to Star Trek.I don’t know.Whatever it would have been, it would have been rich.Kirstie, you made your own way and you were truly one of a kind. I missed you on this side but I’ll be sure to find you on the other.I know it’ll be a hoot."
Even a full-blooded Vulcan would be hard pressed not to feel the warmth and respect Robin Curtis expresses to Kirstie Alley in this post.
Curtis mentions that, when she was cast as Saavik, she thought—as Star Trek fans thought for decades—that Alley had demanded too much money to return for Star Trek III.
We now know this story is likely not the case. According to Leonard Nimoy, Alley’s agent put too high a price tag on her return. More recently, Alley herself speculated William Shatner did not want to work with her again. Either way, Alley, who was a Star Trek fan since her teen years in Kansas, would have loved to reprise the role of Saavik.
In her tribute post, Curtis also uses a beautiful image to describe the connection she and Alley shared, even though they never met:
"You might say we occupied the same beautifully lit room for a time, but not at the same time. And just like that, our lives were forever linked."
Curtis also pays tribute to Alley for personal qualities she says the two shared:
"Imagine, the two of us, each in our own right, an effusive, ball-busting, sassy female, strong and opinionated and anything but reserved being cast as a controlled, stoic and unemotional Vulcan!"
Curtis concludes by imagining that having the chance to meet Alley in person would have been “the ultimate cherry on the cake of my whole relationship to Star Trek.”
It is certainly unfortunate Robin Curtis and Kirstie Alley never got to meet each other, let alone share a stage at a Star Trek convention or other event. The two Saaviks, together at last—what a packed room that would have been!
Curtis movingly concludes her Facebook post:
"Kirstie, you made your own way and you were truly one of a kind. I missed you on this side but I’ll be sure to find you on the other. I know it’ll be a hoot."
Thank you, Robin Curtis, for your excellent portrayal of Lieutenant Saavik, and for your touching tribute today to Kirstie Alley.