Jeri Ryan: Rise To Fame, ‘Star Trek’ & Untold Life Details

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Fans of Star Trek will recognize Jeri Ryan as the intriguing Seven of Nine, but her time on the show was characterized by strife, both personal and professional.

Strife From The Start

Though it was the role that shot her to stardom, Jeri Ryan’s time on Star Trek was characterized by a number of difficulties with her costars. Now she’s finally opening up about what happened on set. But what did she do to end up in such a precarious situation?

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A Colorful Life

Jeri Ryan has had more than enough excitement for one lifetime. From the constant moving from location to location she experienced as the child of a military family, to her surprising entrance into show business. It was a long and winding journey for Jeri, but she eventually made it to Hollywood, only to find that her costars were going to make her work life as difficult as possible. This was all before her marriage began to fall apart.

Foreign Origins

Jeri Ryan, née Zimmermann, may seem like an all American girl, but she was born on foreign soil in Munich, Germany. Jeri’s early life was characterized by the kind of instability familiar to anyone who grew up in a military family. The Zimmermann family bounced from Munich back to the United States where they moved between exotic locales like Hawaii to the more mundane Texas, Kansas, Maryland, and Georgia. So much moving around can be hard on anyone, but luckily for Jeri, she found her niche onstage.

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Becoming A Beauty Queen

As Ryan began to contemplate her future, the brainy beauty was accepted into the prestigious Northwestern University in Illinois. It was a decision that would have ramifications for the rest of her life, in ways she could never have imagined. But in the course of Jeri’s undergraduate studies, she discovered that she could use her beauty as well as her brains, and took a chance on becoming a pageant queen, which used to be a popular point of entry for aspiring young actresses.

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Crowned Miss Illinois

In 1989, Jeri Ryan decided to really put herself on the line, and began to compete for the title of Miss Illinois, which would put her on track to compete for Miss America if she were to win the pageant. The path to becoming a beauty queen is long and grueling, as it is necessary to win local pageants before entering the statewide pageant. For Ryan, she had to prove that she had the brains, and the talent, on top of being stunningly gorgeous.

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Swimsuit Champion

Jeri Ryan managed to beat out the competition and win the crown of Miss Illinois in the 1989 pageant, which also awarded her a place in 1990’s Miss America competition. Jeri realized early on that she was going to have her work cut out for her on this stage. Jeri managed to come out on top during the preliminary swimsuit competition, never knowing that the same body she was being lauded for in the pageant would cause so much trouble later on.

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Faltering In The Finale

Jeri’s early victory wasn’t going to be enough, however. Though she gave the pageant her all, her all just wasn’t enough when competition was so fierce. At the end of the day, Debbye Turner was awarded the tiara, the first ever Miss Missouri to become Miss America. It wasn’t a total wash for Jeri following her early lead. She finagled her way into being the third runner up, exposure she parlayed into becoming an professional actress.

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Hitting The Jackpot

Even if Jeri didn’t manage to take home the Miss America crown, the publicity from the pageant managed to help her jumpstart a performance career, leading to opportunities like being a celebrity blackjack dealer. It was at this fateful charity event that Jeri met Jack Ryan, who was instantly smitten with the blonde bombshell. In the throes of their passion, they never considered the effect that their disparate career ambitions would have on their relationship in the future.

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Who Was Jack Ryan?

When Jeri and Jack met, Jack Ryan was an accomplished academic, with an undergraduate degree from Dartmouth and two graduate degrees from Harvard, and MBA from the business school, and a JD from Harvard Law. He was instantly smitten with the beauty queen turned temporary blackjack dealer, and the two quickly embarked on a new relationship. Ryan would never have guessed that the Miss America runner up would eventually spell the downfall of his career ambitions.

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Strife From The Start

Even as Jeri and Jack settled into married life in 1991, their careers were already taking their tolls on the marriage. Jack was an investment banker working for Goldman Sachs who was tied to his life in Chicago, while Jeri’s ambitions precipitated a move to Hollywood. From the start, Jeri was finding moderate success on television, booking small roles on shows like Who’s The Boss, Melrose Place, and Matlock. But their competing career demands required the couple to spend their time flying between the two cities.

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Her Television Break

Despite Jeri’s bit roles on a smattering of television shows in the early 1990s, her work failed to earn her critical attention. Most series she booked, she only managed to earn herself for only a singular episode, in some cases she got a two episode arc. Just like with her beauty pageant aspirations, Jeri was finding moderate success, but was just falling short of her goals. After years of toiling in the background, that was about to change.

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Family In The Way

As Jeri struggled to find a foothold in Hollywood, it proved to have some benefits to her personal life. Namely, she and then husband Jack Ryan welcomed a son, who they named Alex, in 1994. Her work had been sparse in the years before and after Alex’s birth, which made it easier for Jeri to focus her energies on being a new mother. But she still wanted more for her career, even has her husband was still the primary bread winner of the family.

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The Dark Sky

Six years after her Hollywood debut, Jeri finally managed to score a break through when she was cast in the science fiction show, Dark Skies. She played Juliet Stuart, an alien investigator, which was her first recurring role. The show set in an alternate reality 1960’s America where aliens had been living among humans since 1940s. Unfortunately, the show was short lived, but Ryan’s role caught the attention of other science fiction producers, leading to a career defining role.

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Adding Feminine Appeal

In the ultimate episode of the third season of Star Trek: Voyager, Jeri Ryan made the television appearance that would end up defining her acting career. Squeezed into a skin tight costume, Ryan was first featured as a Borg drone that was freed from the collective consciousness of the remaining Borgs. The character was a hit with fans of the show, and Ryan was signed on as a series regular for subsequent seasons. But she didn’t know how much trouble she’d cause.

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Ratings Increased

After Jeri Ryan joined Star Trek: Voyager as a regular character in its fourth season, there was a noticeable effect on the show’s reception. Producers added her to be another female foil to the series lead, Captain Janeway, played by the fierce Kate Mulgrew. The addition of Ryan changed the dynamic of the situations Captain Janeway often found herself in, and with Ryan’s sleek and form fitting costumes, the show saw a 60% spike in its ratings almost immediately.

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The Struggle Begins

Jeri Ryan’s big break was not the happy event she had anticipated, however. Though audiences were receptive to Seven of Nine, the mysterious Borg learning to integrate into the crew of the USS Voyager, and Ryan’s good looks no doubt helped with that, her fellow cast members were not as happy about working with Ryan. Jeri worked hard to prove that she was a worthy costar, even as her home life began falling apart, but it was to no avail.

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Seven Takes Center Stage

Due to Seven of Nine’s popularity, the writers began to focus on her character more than ever, which understandably caused tension on the set. Ryan commented, “Consequently, all the scripts revolved around Seven of Nine and her relationship with the other characters, of course — which actually ended up leading to some really rich storylines for the other characters.” But for a cast who had been used to being in the spotlight, turn of events was tough to digest.

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Hit The Road Jack

Ryan wasn’t having it any easier at home. Now that she’d finally booked a recurring role on a television show, she was more tied to Los Angeles than ever, and it put a strain on her long distance marriage. By 1999, there was no salvaging the relationship, and Jeri and Jack filed for divorce. When they spelled out the details of their allegations against one another, they never imagined how their words would be twisted in the future.

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Buying Protection

Though her divorce battle was not over, as the couple needed to resolve the question of how they would divide custody of their child, Ryan was certainly ready to move on. She set her sights on Brannon Braga, who was one of the producers of the current incarnation of the Star Trek franchise. Until that point, Ryan was still struggling to get along was her costars, but the minute their relationship went public, her costars’ attitudes began to change.

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Her Cyberstalker

Jeri Ryan’s temporary happiness couldn’t last. Even as her work life was beginning to improve, and her lengthy divorce and custody negotiations were finally drawing to a close, her new relationship was marred by a cyberstalker. The man was a super fan of Star Trek who frequented one of the many message boards related to discussions of the show, continuously posting about his love for Jeri, and how she would see he was harmless, if only she would go out with him. But it didn’t stop there.

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She Was Scared

It didn’t end with the desperate pleas left on message boards. Ryan’s stalker, Marlon Estacio Pagtakhan, began sending the actress a barrage of threatening emails that numbered in the hundreds between the months of February and November in 2000. As the messages continued, unrelenting, Ryan began to fear for her safety. Pagtakhan was finally arrested in mid-November, and ordered to stand trial for “two counts of stalking and three counts of extortion,” and was ultimately convicted of the charges.

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New Trials Erupt

If Jeri Ryan thought she could quietly leave all of her past drama behind her, she was mistaken. During the same time period that she was dealing with her stalker, she was also working out the final custody agreement for her son with her ex husband. But when Jack Ryan decided to run for Senate in Illinois, suddenly the details of their divorce became open for public scrutiny. Both Jack and Jeri asked that their custody agreement remain sealed, but their request was eventually ignored.

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Dropping A Bomb

Though Jeri and Jack had tried to protect their son, the California judges didn’t care and released their custody files anyway. What the public discovered inside became the downfall of Jack Ryan’s political aspirations, even if it’s one of the most tame scandals of its nature to hit a politician. In the files, Jeri alleged that Jack had repeatedly taken her to adult clubs where patrons were encouraged to engage in public displays of intimacy. The public was shocked and Jack quit the race.

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She Can’t Escape

Unfortunately for Jeri, her Star Trek feud has still followed her to this day, as cast members continuously like to speak about what went wrong. Without holding back, a number of cast members discussed Kate Mulgrew’s real problem with Jeri. As a feminist icon blazing a trail as the first female captain, Mulgrew was dismayed that Jeri’s character was being sold for her looks. But according to a recent interview, Ryan shared that Mulgrew’s reaction went beyond disappointment.

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In Jeri’s Words

Jeri Ryan was a recent guest of the podcast, Girl on Girl, hosted by Aisha Tyler, where she finally shared what went on on the Star Trek set. Though she refused to name Mulgrew directly, she claims the Orange is the New Black actress was so hostile towards her on the set, that she often wouldn’t even bother looking at her to read lines from off camera. Ryan said the only thing that alleviated the situation was when she began dating Brannon Braga.

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