Living & Entertainment

Denise Crosby may travel to distant planets, but the ‘Star Trek’ star has roots in South Sound

Though actress Denise Crosby may have traveled to distant planets with the rest of the “Star Trek” crew, she keeps ties to her Washington roots. She just didn’t know until recently how deep they were.

Crosby, who played Lt. Tasha Yar on “Star Trek: The Next Generation” in the 1980s, was appearing at a comicon in Spokane in October and took her high school-age son Augie to visit Gonzaga University.

Crosby is the granddaughter of legendary crooner and Tacoma native Bing Crosby. Though born in Tacoma, he moved to Spokane in 1906 with his family at age 3. He later attended Gonzaga.

“We saw a photo of Bing in the halls of Gonzaga,” Crosby recalls. He was wearing a baseball uniform. “I didn’t know he played baseball. My son Augie (who plays for his high school baseball team) wears the same numbered jersey as Bing does — number 17. Our jaws dropped.”

Crosby — who will be in Bellevue this weekend for Creation Entertainment’s Star Trek Convention — was in Olympia in 2013 for the Olympia Film Festival with her “Ray Donovan” co-star Elliott Gould. While there she toured the historic Crosby House, the home of her great-great-grandparents.

“They gave me a wonderful tour of that house. How many get to visit — that far back — our relatives’ home?”

Something that will probably outlive Crosby herself is the “Star Trek” phenomenon. This weekend she will be appearing at a “Star Trek” convention in Bellevue with many of her fellow cast members.

First aired in 1966 with William Shatner as Captain Kirk and Leonard Nimoy as the Vulcan Spock, “Star Trek” has spawned four subsequent TV series, three movie series, spinoffs in every media and pop culture category imaginable — and legions of devoted fans.

For Crosby, “Star Trek” is the gift that keeps on giving.

“Gratitude is the most pronounced feeling that comes up. That I could be in this family, this iconic TV show. I had no idea this was possible. The kind of meaning it has for people. Generation after generation. It just continues on and on,” Crosby said.

Crosby produced two “Star Trek” documentary movies (“Trekkies” in 1997 and “Trekkies 2” in 2004) that portrayed the adoration fans have for the franchise. It also included emotional interviews with cast members on what the show meant to them.

“There are times when you are sitting there signing autographs and thinking, ‘I studied Shakespeare. I worked on Chekhov.’ But then someone will come along who will tell you that (“Star Trek”) got them through some stuff or they changed careers or knowing women could be in positions of power and strength. It’s more than just a TV show,” Crosby said.

Crosby’s devotion to “Trek” and fans’ devotion to her comes even though her character didn’t make it to the end of season one. The decision to leave the show was hers, she said.

“It was something I was wrestling with. I was seeing the writing on the wall. There were many episodes going by where I had simply nothing to say but ‘Aye aye, captain.’ ”

Gene Roddenberry, the creator of “Star Trek,” told Crosby that he had a template for “Next Generation,” and he wasn’t going to change it. Each episode’s story involved the captain, first officer, the android Data and the planet of the week.

“I wasn’t looking to be the lead, but it was getting more and more frustrating,” Crosby said. “If not for the fact Gene had complete control, I would never have been able to leave. They don’t let you out of a contract. But Gene said ‘I know your hunger. I know what it’s like. I don’t want you to go, but I’ll support it. But I think I’m going to kill you. I’ve never killed a main character before. But the only problem with that is you won’t be able to come back.’ But I did come back.”

In season three of “Next Generation,” Crosby’s character returned in an episode, “Yesterday’s Enterprise,” that involved time travel and alternate realities. She also played her own daughter in a subsequent episode.

“Yesterday’s Enterprise” is often cited as a fan and cast favorite.

Crosby has no regrets about her decision to leave the show.

“Our careers are out of our hands in many ways. I know that was the only decision I could make at the time. I was getting so frustrated. I couldn’t bring that frustration on to the set and cast,” she said.

Crosby didn’t stay idle for long. Soon after “Next Generation” came a role in the 1989 film adaptation of Stephen King’s “Pet Sematary.” “From there I’ve been able to keep working and stay in the game,” she said.

Crosby just finished a four-episode run on AMC’s zombie series, “The Walking Dead,” and in January she will begin her third season on Showtime’s “Ray Donovan,” in which she plays the wife of Elliott Gould’s character.

Crosby is also a member of an LA-based ensemble theater company that produces original work. Gates McFadden, who played the doctor on “Next Generation,” is the artistic director.

Fan interest keeps Crosby attending about 10 “Star Trek” conventions or comicons a year, often to take part in “Next Generation” reunions like she’ll be doing on Saturday in Bellevue.