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George Takei Visits the ToonSeum

on Thu, 03/28/2013 - 00:00

Joe Wos and George Takei
Over the course of three television seasons and six major motion pictures, Hikaru Sulu was both a popular and instrumental character on the original Star Trek. Initially the third officer and senior helmsman on the USS Enterprise under the command of James T. Kirk, Sulu rose in rank from lieutenant to commander to eventual captain of the USS Excelsior.

Actor George Takei has lived an impressive and memorable life as well. Born in Los Angeles during the late 1930s, Takei and his family were forced into an internment camp shortly after the United States entered World War Two. The experience left an indelible mark on the young Takei, who has been a strong proponent of Japanese-American Culture ever since. After the cancellation of Star Trek, meanwhile, Takei entered public service as a member of the Los Angeles Transit Authority Board and even cast the tie-breaking vote for construction of the city’s subway system. Then in 2008, George Takei married his lifelong partner Brad Altman, and has emerged as one of the major advocates for gay rights during the early part of the Twenty First Century.

Acting is still in George Takei’s blood, however, and the veteran thespian spent a large portion of the summer of 2012 filming Nickelodeon’s Supah Ninjas in Pittsburgh. To coincide with his appearance on the ABC comedy The Neighbors, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette interviewed Takei for its March 27, 2013, edition, during which he discussed topics ranging from William Shatner to the Star Trek vs. Star Wars debate, as well as his time in the Steel City.

“I do Star Trek conventions so I’ve been to Pittsburgh a few times before,” Takei explained. “The first was in the late 1970s, and I went expecting the classic vision of Pittsburgh as a steel town, and I arrived and there were all these tunnels and we came through the last tunnel and what an entrance to Pittsburgh. Bam! You come out of the tunnel and Pittsburgh hits you with glossy, glistening high rises over two historic rivers, the Allegheny and the Monongahela—I love that name Monongahela, a wonderful Native American name—and the park at the confluence.”

While working on Supah Ninjas, George Takei attended a performance at the Pittsburgh Public Theater and names Cioppino in the Strip District, Teppanyaki Kyoto in Highland Park and NOLA in Market Square as his personal favorite restaurants in the region. In addition to these popular nightspots, however, Takei also took time from his busy schedule to visit the ToonSeum—one of only three museums in the country that caters to the cartoon and comic arts—in conjunction with its “Ka-Blam! Gotham Nights” fundraiser in July 2012.

“George Takei has always been on my dream list of guests for the ToonSeum,” founding executive director Joe Wos explained of the appearance. “When I found out he was in Pittsburgh, I was ecstatic. I contacted the Pittsburgh Film Office to see if they could get a message to him but was told they couldn’t help. I didn’t have much to go on, so I tweeted him. To my surprise I heard back immediately. We discussed several ideas for having him speak at an event, but his schedule just wouldn’t allow for it. So I thought, ‘So close, but not this time.’”

Fortunately, that was not the end of the story. “When we were planning our annual fundraiser, I sent out a few invites to some special guests,” Wos continues. “He was on that list, and I didn’t think he would respond at all. To my surprise, he and his husband Brad said they would like to attend. I was sure he wasn’t going to show, and we didn’t announce it to anyone. When they showed up he lit up the room! I had never met a more gracious person. He shook hands, signed autographs and posed for what must have been a hundred photos. He stayed for the VIP event and then joined us at the main event, again greeting everyone. Most important he personally went and thanked many of our volunteers, and thanked board members for the important work they were doing. I have truly never met anyone more kind and gracious than George and Brad Takei. May he live long and prosper!”

George Takei, meanwhile, has an equally positive opinion of the Steel City. “I studied architecture and I’m a city kid, and I fell in love with Pittsburgh,” he told the Post-Gazette. “I call the sole of my shoe the urban tongue, and I roamed all over it this past summer when we worked there three months consecutively. I really got to get the feel and flavor and the sense of pride the people of Pittsburgh have.”

For Joe Wos and many other Pittsburghers, that same sense of pride was felt after their own encounters with George Takei.

(Photo of George Takei and Joe Wos is courtesy of the ToonSeum.)

Anthony Letizia

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