The Philadelphia Inquirer
January 15 to 21, 1995
New 'Trek,' new captain
By Eirik Knutzen
When "Voyager" launches tomorrow, Kate Mulgrew will be among the stars. 

‘MOM, MOM, YOU’RE the captain pick up the phone messages!” screamed Alexander, Kate Mulgrew’s 10-year-old son, as she returned from a dangerous all-day shopping expedition — dodging van-loads of screaming kids in the filled-to-capacity parking lot of the local mall.

“I dropped everything and played back the messages in front of Alexander and his brother,” 11-year-old Ian, Mulgrew says. “When it became clear that I had the part, I could see pride and joy on their faces. ... They knew how important to me it was to get the role. And because we’re all big Roman Catholics, I made everybody get down on their knees to thank God…

“It was strangely calm, as all great moments are,” she continues, blowing a puff of smoke through the door of her trailer dressing room on the Paramount lot. “They don’t come cascading down; they come in through the back door and are absolutely terrific. I suspect that I was one of hundreds of actresses considered for the part, but I’m the fortunate one.”

Technically, Mulgrew is the second woman to sit in a place where no woman has starred before - in the captain’s chair of a Federation starship. She inherited the seat while it was still warm from Genevieve Bujold, the Canadian actress who walked out after only two days of filming. Bujold reportedly didn’t like the long hours, frenetic pace or uplifting bras that went with the role.

Star Trek: Voyager is the third one-hour series to be spun off from Gene Roddenberry’s original steam-driven Star Trek series that ran from 1966 to 1969. Voyager will premiere tomorrow at 8 p.m. on Channel 57 with a special two-hour episode.

As Capt. Kathryn Janeway, the commanding officer of the U.S.S. Voyager, Mulgrew is in total control of a new Intrepid-class vessel of the 24th century, much smaller than the Enterprise. But the 200 crew members are able to maneuver faster and farther due to superior technology in propulsion and weaponry.

The adventure blasts off when the Voyager is dispatched to track down a Maquis ship (staffed by disgruntled Federation colonists and former Starfleet officers) in a distant quadrant called the Badlands. But soon both ships are blown way off course by a terrifying phenomenon, leaving them at least 70 years from home —even at warp speed.

Mulgrew, 39, got her first brush with series stardom in 1979 with Mrs. Columbo (renamed Kate Columbo, Kate the Detective and Kate Loves a Mystery, all before its demise that year). She’s taking her new job very seriously. “There are going to be 18-hour days that are going to be tough on me and my family. But I also have to be realistic. I’ve had a wonderful career so far, but I am conscious of the fact this industry isn’t kind in its view of women as central characters. I’m at an age now where I appreciate luck and circumstances with more clarity than when I was a young girl.”

Though still refining her Janeway character, Mulgrew feels she is getting close to the captain’s core. “We have a lot in common, but Kathryn’s better than me,” she says, laughing. “We both have strength, ferocity and dedication to things we’re passionate about. Hers is space and science. Mine is acting. In general, her personal life will slowly unfold. We do know that she has a boyfriend on Earth named Mark, a civilian, and an unnamed Irish setter, a beautiful dog. But, of course, I’m lost in space for a long, long time.”

Given her hefty central role, Mulgrew is convinced that she’s becoming part of television history. “The people responsible for the Star Trek franchise have always prided themselves on taking social and cultural risks, and the biggest one they could take is putting a woman in a position where she won’t be a victim or have to overcome obstacles because of her gender. She is the captain of a starship simply by dint of her excellence of character, scientific background and discipline.

“It may be science fiction, but it’s the first time in our TV history where a woman has been depicted in this great and true way.”

The oldest girl in a brood of eight, Mulgrew was born in Dubuque, Iowa, to a homemaker and an engineering contractor. “Two of my sisters died early on, but we still count them,” she says softly, then quickly perks up. “The strange thing is that most of my people live forever. They’re drinkers and some smoke, but nobody eats. I’m starting to believe that if you don’t eat, you’ll live forever. My great-grandmother lived to be 105. My grandmother died last year at 98. My grandfather just married for the third time at 96.”

Mulgrew, taking part in every school production for miles around, made acting a way of life from the age of 12. At 17, she told her father about enrolling at New York University — which she did, sort of. She attended a couple of classes during the first semester, but reserved the bulk of her energy for two years of advanced classes at Stella Adler’s Conservatory, financed by waiting tables at some of Manhattan’s lesser establishments. Just two weeks after signing with an agent, she made her simultaneous professional debuts on the daytime soap Ryan’s Hope (1976-77) as Mary Ryan, and as Emily in a production of Our Town at the American Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford, Conn.

Mulgrew went on to make her movie debut opposite Richard Burton in Lovespell: Isolt Of Ireland, and followed it up as Kate Columbo in her first starring role in a television series. Heavily pursued by NBC executives apparently anxious to bring Peter Falk to the negotiating table for more Columbo episodes, Mulgrew was asked to write her own terms. Only 23 and inexperienced, she demanded $50,000 a week, the use of a limousine and a leased house in Beverly Hills with a staff of five. It was a done deal in minutes.

Since then, Mulgrew has been in such films as Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins and Throw Momma From the Train, and starred in such series as HeartBeat (1988-89) and Man of the People (1991).

Along with that professional success, she’s had to deal with a painful divorce from Robert Egan, the producing director for L.A.’s Mark Taper Forum.

“You can’t have it all,” she muses. “So now I’m completely on my own with the boys, who are demanding of my time but understand the gift of a mother happy in her work.” 

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