She played Red in Orange is the New Black. She was even Columbo’s wife. But perhaps actress Kate Mulgrew is best known for playing Captain Kathryn Janeway on the long-running TV series Star Trek: Voyager.
LONG AND STORIED
Kate Mulgrew has been around the block a time or two. Her career began in the mid-70s with an appearance on The Wide World of Mystery as well as the long-running soap opera Ryan’s Hope. In fact, she was part of Ryan’s Hope for 14 years.
Before, during, and after her Ryan’s Hope years, Mulgrew spread her wings. She first became Mrs. Columbo, the wife of famous TV character Lieutenant Columbo (portrayed brilliantly by Peter Falk) from the TV series Columbo. Unable to grab fans the way the original series did, it lasted one season.
That cancellation didn’t slow Mulgrew down. She continued to work both sides of the ledger, small and big screen. She grabbed roles in the TV series Cheers, St. Elsewhere, Man of the People, and Heartbeat while also starring in movies such as A Stranger is Watching, Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins, and Camp Nowhere. All this was leading up to her most iconic role: the first female captain on a Star Trek series.
THE STAR TREK YEARS
The first three seasons of Star Trek: Voyager for Kate Mulgrew as Captain Kathryn Janeway were good for the actress. It was a solid series, breaking barriers as Mulgrew took on a position within the Starfleet that no other female had before seen. But the ratings weren’t jumping as much as those in charge were wanted. So, in season number four, Jeri Ryan came on board as Seven of Nine. The script flipped. So did Mulgrew. It didn’t help Kate Mulgrew’s cause when there was an immediate rise in the ratings.
According to Voyager’s executive producer Rick Berman, things were tense between the two women from the beginning. “Kate was sort of the Queen of Star Trek at that point. She hung out with astronauts, she hung out with Hillary Clinton, and she was the spokesman for women in leadership roles, and for a lot of things. All of a sudden, this busty, gorgeous, blond babe appears who took away everybody’s breath. I literally once remember some press being on the stage and just sort of pushing by Kate to get to Jeri. So there was a little antagonism that existed right through to the end of the show with those two ladies.”
Berman wasn’t the only one who saw this. Garret Wang, who played Operations Officer Harry Kim said, “Kate’s anger was not directed toward Jeri Ryan, it was directed toward the character of Seven of Nine. She was the female captain, and now you bring in this borderline T-and-A character. When the writers/producers said no [about getting rid of her], she kept complaining. Finally her anger was turned toward the actress playing the character, Jeri Ryan. That’s when it became horrible.”
He also added this unbelievable anecdote. “At one point, Kate pulled the line producer aside and said, ‘Jeri Ryan is not allowed to use the bathroom unless she uses it before work or after work, but not during work,” another castmate added. “It takes too much time to get her in and out of that suit. It’s wasting time.’ Okay, so you’re trying to tell another human being that they’re not allowed to urinate? She’s just got to hold it? Are you kidding me? Obviously it didn’t happen; they didn’t honor that request.”
There are quite a few more stories that fall in line with Wang’s. Jeri Ryan even commented on the situation with Mulgrew: “The situation with Kate was very… difficult. It was not a fun work experience, particularly the first season. It was very difficult. I completely understand why. I get it, believe me, but it was very difficult. I had mornings, that first season especially, where I’d be nauseous before I went to work that morning, because I was so stressed.”
KATE MULGREW COMES CLEAN
Kate Mulgrew finally sat down with author Edward Goss to clear the air. He was in the process of writing The Fifty-Year Mission: The Next 25 Years: From The Next Generation to J. J. Abrams: The Complete, Uncensored, and Unauthorized Oral History of Star Trek (yes, that’s the title of the book!) and was hoping to get Mulgrew on the record concerning the horrible stories about her.
He got more than he bargained for in Mulgrew’s own words, “Let’s be very straight about something,” said Mulgrew to Goss via Closer Weekly. “This is on me, not Jeri. She came in and did what she was asked to do. No question about that, and she did it very well. It’s on me, because I’d hoped against hope that Janeway would be sufficient. That we didn’t have to bring a beautiful, sexy girl in. That somehow the power of my command, the vicissitudes of my talent would be sufficient unto the day, because this would really change television, right? That’s what dug me the hardest, that to pick up the numbers they did that… That was my interpretation of it. And that hurt me. I found it sort of insulting. And, of course, she embodied the part, this beautiful girl. But we certainly were utterly professional. I had been nothing short of completely professional, and she did her job. Very well! It was a very good idea that she was half Borg, but it’s on me. I’m sorry it has to be part of this legacy, and I probably should have comported myself better. I should have been more philosophical about it, but in the moment it was difficult.”
That is a lot to swallow but very important in terms of Kate Mulgrew understanding her part in all that happened on Star Trek: Voyager.
KATE MULGREW AFTER TREK
Kate Mulgrew’s time as Captain Janeway ended in 2001. But even with Mulgrew’s difficulties on the Voyager, her career did not stall. She moved on from series to series, movie to movie. She was seen in The Black Donnellys, Mercy, Warehouse 13, finally catching on to the hit series Orange is the New Black.
KATE MULGREW NOW
Orange is the New Black ended in 2019. Now 65-years-old, Kate Mulgrew is slowing down a little. These days she’s doing voice work, voicing the part of Cat on Infinity Train.
She’s also extremely active in the Star Trek fan community, doing various fan events and getting together with her old castmates. That includes Jeri Ryan who, it seems, bears Kate no ill-will for their contentious time together on Star Trek: Voyager.
As a lifelong, devout Catholic, Kate Mulgrew is also a staunch pro-life activist and also campaigns against capital punishment. She has received awards from the pro-life group Feminists for Life. Mulgrew says, “Life is sacred to me on all levels”.
In addition to her pro-life work, Kate is also a member of the National Advisory Committee of the Alzheimer’s Association. Her mother died of Alzheimer’s in 2006.