Think William Shatner is the only person who could have played Captain Kirk? How about James Coburn, Lloyd Bridges or Jack Lord? They were all in the frame to be captains of the U.S.S. Enterprise, long before William Shatner was offered the role.

When Gene Roddenberry started work on Star Trek in 1964. the actor he really wanted to captain his ship was Lloyd Bridges. Today, Lloyd is probably best known as the father of Jeff and Beau and for his role in the movie Airplane! but back in 1964, he was famous for playing expert diver Mike Nelson, the lead in the TV series Sea Hunt. Nelson was very much a square-jawed hero, and since the action was largely set underwater where no one could hear him speak, the episodes opened with narration, not unlike the Captain’s Log. Bridges, however, had no interest in working on a science-fiction show and, sadly, turned Roddenberry down.

Other names on Roddenberry’s list included Peter Graves, who would go on to star in Mission: Impossible!, Rod Taylor, known for his role in The Time Machine, and James Coburn, who by that point had already appeared in The Magnificent Seven. In the end, Roddenberry and the studio decided to go with another movie star – Jeffrey Hunter.

But the first Star Trek pilot, The Cage, wasn’t exactly what NBC was looking for. They wanted the show to be more action-packed so they commissioned a second pilot. Everybody wanted Hunter to come back but, apparently influenced by his wife, got cold feet about doing a sci-fi TV show and turned them down.

Roddenberry then took the chance to rename the ship's captain to James Kirk, and, working with the studio, came up with the perfect actor. This time it was a good-looking, young male who had starred in some promising television shows but hadn’t really broken through. His name was Jack Lord.

A couple of years earlier Lord had played Felix Leiter in Dr. No alongside Sean Connery’s James Bond. He’d followed this up with a starring role in Stoney Burke, a show about a rodeo rider. That show wasn’t a hit, but Lord was hot property and he knew it. According to legend, he told Roddenberry he’d play Kirk in return for part ownership of the show. Roddenberry swiftly turned him down!

Fortunately, the studio had come up with another name – William Shatner, who had just become available because his show, For the People, had been canceled after 13 episodes. Shatner flew out to Los Angeles, met with Roddenberry, watched The Cage, and took the role. And it turned out to be one of the best pieces of casting in television history!