Ronald Reagan was a fan of Star Trek—and even a critic of it sometimes. In his diary he talks about watching Star Trek III in the White House theater and how he thought it sucked. In his post-presidential years apparently this interest in the franchise continued, and in 1991 he visited the then-highly popular Next Generation Set.
The Gipper’s attendance at Paramount Studios Stage 8 came as the cast and crew were filming the season four Klingon-centric two-part finale, Redemption. There were Klingons running around everywhere, to which Reagan supposedly noted “I like them, they remind me of Congress.”
In another encounter, then-ailing Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry was walking Reagan through the elaborate Klingon ceremonial hall set when he dropped his cane. Supposedly Reagan reached down to picked it up for him, after which Gene noted “I felt as if I had been knighted.”
Yet the best story from this obscure cross-section in pop culture and American history comes from Patrick Stewart himself. During a recent appearance on Late Night with Seth Meyers, Stewart recalled a peculiar moment during Reagan’s visit. He said that during VIP visits, people—even members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff—politely asked him if they could sit in the captain’s chair. But not Reagan:
Reagan just went over and sat in it, without asking. Perks of the job.
Star Trek: The Next Generation was born in the mid-1980s, during the middle of the Reagan Administration and the height Cold War. Both the series and the motion pictures often pulled concepts from the headlines and provided commentary on them in the neutral ground of science fiction. Star Trek VI The Undiscovered Country, which opened in theaters the same year as Reagan’s visit to the Next Generation set in 1991, was largely a commentary on the possibilities and pitfalls of the end of the Cold War.
The Pentagon also lauded Star Trek: The Next Generation for its message of service and sacrifice for a greater cause, and of course Star Trek is embedded in the soul of NASA, with many engineers and astronauts being inspired by the franchise.
With all this in mind, you can see how the franchise has captured the minds of world leaders, even “Ronald Ray-Gun” himself. And it is telling that even after having had his hands on the nuclear codes and ridden as the VIP passenger aboard Air Force One, sitting in the captains chair on the bridge of the Starship Enterprise is still a sought after experience.
Contact the author at Tyler@jalopnik.com.
Photo credit- “Intergalactic Guest Stars - Presidential Visit: Ronald Reagan”, TNG Season 5 DVD special feature. Note that is you have not seen this series on Blue Ray you are robbing yourself. It is an entirely new experience, treat yourself for Christmas!