Eugene Wesley “Gene” Roddenberry in 1976.
|Born||Eugene Wesley Roddenberry
August 19, 1921
El Paso, Texas, U.S.
|Died||October 24, 1991 (aged 70)
Santa Monica, California, U.S.
Cause of death
|Residence||Bel Air, Los Angeles, California|
|Other names||Robert Wesley|
|Education||Franklin High School|
|Alma mater||Los Angeles City College|
|Occupation||Television writer, producer, de facto populistic philosopher, satirist, and futurist, pilot, police officer|
|Notable work||Star Trek
Earth: Final Conflict
|Home town||Los Angeles, California|
|Spouse(s)||Eileen-Anita Rexroat (1942–1969)
Majel Barrett (1969–his death, 1991)
|Parent(s)||Eugene Edward Roddenberry (1896–1969)
Caroline "Glen" Goleman (1904–1998)
|Service/branch||United States Army Air Forces|
|Years of service||1941–1945|
|Unit||394th Bombardment Squadron|
|Battles/wars||World War II|
Distinguished Flying Cross
Eugene Wesley "Gene" Roddenberry (August 19, 1921 – October 24, 1991) was an American television screenwriter, producer, populistic philosopher, satirist, and futurist. He is best remembered for having created the original Star Trek television series and thus the Star Trek science-fiction franchise.
Born in El Paso, Texas, Roddenberry grew up in Los Angeles, California where his father worked as a police officer. Roddenberry flew 89 combat missions in the United States Army Air Forces during World War II, and worked as a commercial pilot after the war. Later he followed in his father's footsteps and joined the Los Angeles Police Department to provide for his family, but began to focus on writing scripts for television.
As a freelance writer, Roddenberry wrote scripts for Highway Patrol, Have Gun–Will Travel, and other series, before creating and producing his own television series The Lieutenant. In 1964, Roddenberry created Star Trek, which premiered in 1966 and ran for three seasons before being canceled. Syndication of Star Trek led to increasing popularity, and Roddenberry continued to create, produce, and consult on the Star Trek films and the television series Star Trek: The Next Generation until his death. In 1985 he became the first TV writer with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and he was later inducted by both the Science Fiction Hall of Fame and the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Hall of Fame. Years after his death, Roddenberry was one of the first humans to have his ashes carried into earth orbit.
The Star Trek franchise created by Roddenberry has produced story material for almost five decades; resulting in six television series consisting of 726 episodes, and twelve feature films. A thirteenth film is in production, and is expected to be released in 2016. Additionally, the popularity of the Star Trek universe and films inspired films, books, comic books, video games, and fan films set in the various "eras" of the Star Trek universe.
- 1 Early life (1921–1941)
- 2 Military service and civil aviation (1941–1948)
- 3 Los Angeles Police Department (1949–1956)
- 4 Career as full-time writer and producer
- 5 Personal life
- 6 Health and death
- 7 Legacy
- 8 Filmography
- 9 See also
- 10 Annotations
- 11 Notes
- 12 References
- 13 Further reading
- 14 External links
Early life (1921–1941)
Roddenberry was born on August 19, 1921 in his parent's rented home in El Paso, Texas, the first child of Eugene Edward Roddenberry and Caroline "Glen" (née Goleman) Roddenberry. He was delivered by Dr. Herbert Stevenson, who some seventeen years earlier had also delivered his mother. The labor took around an hour, with the young Roddenberry weighing just under 9 pounds (4.1 kg), and being named after his father and referred to as "Little" Gene. Roddenberry would later describe his father as "very intelligent" but a "very common man". At the time of Gene's birth, his father had been working as a linesman, but shortly after he rode the rails to Los Angeles to seek better employment. He joined the Los Angeles Police Department as a emergency appointee on December 7, 1922, and during the following March he sent a message back to his wife to tell her to come to Los Angeles with their son. Two months later, Gene Sr. passed the Civil Service test and was given a police commission.
Gene's father became a patrolman, and remained at the rank for the following twenty years. During that time the family expanded, with the birth of Robert Leon Roddenberry in 1924 and third and final child, Doris Willodean Roddenberry in 1925. During this time, Gene Sr. and Glen bought their first home, at 3243 Drew Street, near to the Forest Lawn Memorial Park. During Gene's early life, he was saved by a quick thinking milkman who had spotted that the house was on fire. He pounded on the door until Glen awoke, and rushed out of the house with the children in tow. When Roddenberry started school, he attended Estara Avenue School, renamed in 1928 to Fletcher Drive Elementary. His father kept rabbits, and the children would sell them outside of the house. It was these animals that became the subject of Gene's first published work, which had been placed in the school's twice-yearly newspaper, The Ace. He was interested in reading during his childhood, especially pulp magazines, and was a fan of stories such as John Carter of Mars, Tarzan and the Skylark series by E. E. Smith.
In 1933, when Gene was 12 years old, the family moved to 4906 Monte Vista in the shadow of Mount Washington, and he began attending Luther Burbank Junior High School. This was the house that Gene would later describe as his childhood home. Gene's father helped his boys gain local jobs with Gene working as a newspaper delivery boy and an attendant at a gas station on Saturdays and after school. The young Roddenberry moved to Franklin High School during the middle years of the Great Depression. His father was somewhat immune to the effects of this period, due to his stable employment with the Police Force. Together the family distributed food to friends and family who did not have a paycheck coming in. Glen's parents and her younger sister, Willodean, moved into the house for a time before finding further accommodation in Redondo Beach. During his time at Franklin, Gene joined the Varsity Debate Team and was a member of the Authors Club under Mrs. Virginia Church. He graduated in 1939.
He attended Los Angeles City College from 1939 onwards. Although Roddenberry ranked the ninetieth percentile in an intelligence test and in the 99th percentile in a reading test administered as part of his college entrance examination, he elected to major in the police science curriculum;[n 1] as president of the school's Police Club, he communicated with the Police liaison, Stanley Sheldon. During his second year he developed an interest in aeronautical engineering and obtained a pilot's license through the United States Army Air Corps-sponsored Civilian Pilot Training program. He graduated from Los Angeles City College on June 26, 1941, with an Associate of Arts degree in police science in 1941, becoming the first member of his family to earn a college degree. After graduating, he travelled to March Air Base and signed up for the Army Air Corps but due to the lack of training spaces, his entrance was delayed but he was made a Army Cadet for the time being. For the remainder of the summer, he attended Peace Officer training at the University of California, Los Angeles.
Military service and civil aviation (1941–1948)
In the days following the Attack on Pearl Harbor, he received a telegram with orders to attend Kelly Field Air Force base. Following the completion of boot camp, he was sent to Corsicana, Texas for pilot training under civilian instructors. He completed sixty hours of flight time there, including 32 hours solo. He moved in March 1942 to Goodfellow Field (now Goodfellow Air Force Base) in San Angelo, Texas for basic flight training where he flew a Vultee BT-13 Valiant. Gene graduated on August 5 and was commissioned as a second lieutenant.
His initial posting to the Pacific Theatre was delayed by a month, during which he completed further training on the Cessna AT-17 Bobcat. By virtue of this additional training, and because Gene's height made it unlikely that he would be suitable for a combat fighter pilot, he was assigned to bombers. He received his orders to report to Bellows Field, Oahu, to join the 394th Bomb Squadron, 5th Bombardment Group, of the Thirteenth Air Force. The squadron flew Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, which had previously been used by the 19th Bomb Group and were en route to a maintenance overhaul when they had to flee due to the Japanese invasion of the Philippines. Gene was assigned as co-pilot to Captain William Ripley for the flight that the squadron was to take to Christmas Island, and the following day onto Canton Island. A further flight on November 17 took the squadron to Nadi, Fiji, where they were expected to go onto the New Hebrides but they were ordered to remain in Nadi to fly reconnaissance missions.
The squadron was ordered in January 1943 to conduct bombing missions, alternating between being based in Espiritu Santo, Nadi and Guadalcanal. These missions would consist of teams of four to eight planes, without any fighter support. It was during these trips that Gene faced Japanese fighters for the first time. On August 2, 1943, while flying out of Espiritu Santo, Gene was piloting a B-17 on take-off but realised he did not have enough speed, he applied the brakes to stop the aircraft but they did not respond. The tail brake was tried, but that also failed. The plane overshot the runway by 500 feet (150 m) and impacted trees, crushing the nose and starting a fire. Bombardier Sgt. John P. Kruger and navigator Lt. Talbert H. Wollam were both stationed in the nose and died on impact. While an official report absolved Gene of any responsibility, there were those in the squadron who blamed him for the men's deaths. Early in September 1943, the squadron were rotated back to the United States. The crew were transported on an elderly Dutch freighter across the Pacific; upon his arrival and reuniting with his wife, his picture was featured in the Los Angeles Times.
Gene spent the remainder of his military career in the United States, and while he didn't keep an ongoing record, Gene estimated that he had flown 89 combat missions. In October, he was assigned to Fort Worth, Texas and then the 18th Replacement Wing at Salt Lake City. He was subsequently moved to the Office of Flight Safety based in Oakland, California. In February 1944, he moved back to March Field and was promoted to Captain and subsequently flew all over the United States as his role was to investigate plane crashes. During this time, he was in another accident, this time as a passenger. The military flight had crashed and caught fire. Roddenberry pulled three men to safety from the wreckage.
In March 1945, he applied to the Civil Aeronautics Administration for a commercial pilot licence. He was subsequently certified to fly both single and multi-engined aircraft between 225–1500 horsepower, and began to fly for Pan American World Airways before being discharged from the Army Air Force in July 1945. During his time in the military, he had been awarded the Air Medal and the Distinguished Flying Cross. He was first based in Miami with Pan-Am, before moving to New York City for their long-haul flights. He began to fly routes from New York to Johannesburg or Calcutta, the two longest routes run by Pan-Am at the time. He and Eileen lived in River Edge, New Jersey. He continued to pursue his dreams of writing, and had a poem published in the Op-Ed section of the New York Times on June 17, 1943. He took two extension courses at Columbia University in the Spring of 1946 during his time at the airline. On June 18, 1947, he picked up the Clipper Eclipse in Karachi, India, on a flight to Istanbul. Five hours into the flight, the number one engine developed a fault and was shut down, but this wasn't an issue as the crew knew the plane was able to fly on three engines. However the engines began to overheat, and the pilot dropped the plane down to a lower altitude to allow the engines to cool.
A second engine caught fire, and fire suppressant measures failed to put it out. While the pilot attempted to bring the plane down, Gene went into the main compartment to calm down the passengers. Despite this, Gene was certain at the time that he was going to die, as the engine fell from the wing exposing fuel lines and causing the fire to spread. The plane was coming down rapidly, and Gene unbuckled himself from a seat to calm a woman when it impacted with the Syrian desert. He broke two ribs, but despite this he began to evacuate the passengers from the burning plane with the other crew. Gene had to force the broken seatbelt of the Maharani of Phaltan open, so that she could leave the plane. He repeatedly re-entered the plane to pull out more passengers, including those who were on fire which he put out with pillows. The wind turned, causing the fire to engulf the plane and he was unable to make any further trips. Gene took charge in the aftermath, and after a group of local tribesmen proved to be of no help, he formed two teams to search for civilisation. The team led by Roddenberry trekked four miles across the desert into the town of Mayadine, where he telephoned the emergency landing strip at Deir ez-Zor, some 38 miles (61 km) away. In response, the Syrian Army launched planes and medical teams to head to the crash site, which Gene also returned to in order to oversea the survivors. Fourteen people died in the crash, eleven passengers needed hospital treatment and eight were unharmed.
Two weeks later, the Syrian authorities allowed Roddenberry to return to the United States. The near death experience had increased his desire to have children, and his wife, Eileen, became pregnant shortly after his return. While back in the States, he testified at a Civil Aviation Authority enquiry in New York alongside two other surviving crew members. All three were commended for their work following the crash for "devotion to duty, their calmness and efficiency in the difficult and hazardous experience." The investigation into the crash questioned the maintenance of the engines on the plane, as issues with them had been identified on a previous flight. The Roddenberry's first child, Daleen Anita, was born on April 4, 1948, and Eileen expressed concerns following the crash about raising the child alone. After the birth, Gene continued to fly for Pan-Am, but a further incident while flying out of La Guardia Airport proved to be the final straw on his career as a pilot. On a particular cold and snowy day, the controls froze during takeoff nearly causing the plane's engine to stall. He resigned from Pam-Am on May 15, 1948, and he decided to pursue his dream of writing, in particular for the new medium of television.
Los Angeles Police Department (1949–1956)
|Department||Los Angeles Police Department|
|Years of service||1949–1956|
|Rank||Sworn in as an Officer – February 1, 1949;
Police Officer III – 1951;
Sergeant I – 1953.
Initially on arriving back in Los Angeles, the Roddenberry family lived with Gene's parents at 2710 Green Street, Temple City. He initially gained employment as a sales manager with the Tri-Vision corporation in Alhambra, who sold stereo "3-D" cameras, however he realised that this would only be temporary and sought more permanent employment elsewhere. Gene applied for the Los Angeles Police Department on January 10, 1949, quitting Tri-Vision on the following day, and was enrolled in the department on February 1, gaining badge number 6089. His initial training was completed on March 16, and he spent the following sixteen months in the traffic division. Gene was subsequently transferred to the newspaper unit, his first job as a writer as his new role was to write press releases and teach traffic safety. He became friends with Deputy Chief William H. Parker through Gene's father who had previously worked with Parker, who was promoted to LAPD Chief on August 9, 1950.
As part of the modernisation efforts headed by Parker, the newspaper unit became the "Public Information Division", placing Captain Stanley Sheldon in charge. He and Gene had known each other since Roddenberry attended Los Angeles City College. Gene became the speech writer for Parker, and wrote of the Chief's professional philosophy in the in-house magazine, The Beat, in September 1952. He reputedly based the Star Trek character Spock on Parker's rational and unemotional behaviour. In the new office, he worked alongside Don Ingells, who would go on to create Fantasy Island, and write episodes for Star Trek such as "The Alternative Factor". The Association for Professional Law Enforcement was founded on November 12, 1952, with Roddenberry as one of the founding members and spokesman. He said at the time that "We are of the opinion that professional ethics and practical police work are completely compatible and we intend to meet together to promote this compatibility." Following this, Gene began a correspondence via "audiogram" with Erle Stanley Gardner, creator of the Perry Mason novels. The duo would record audio letters and send them to each other. Gardner forwarded Gene's comments onto Harry Steeger, who felt that he and Roddenberry had similar opinions on law enforcement. Gardner began to seek Roddenberry's opinion on his work, including a preview of The Court of Last Resort.
Over time, Roddenberry sought to provide his family with more money. On March 28, 1951, he requested permission to gain a second job which he described as "of a dignified nature"; it was a salesman position on freezers for the Amana Corporation. This was turned down, but he found a further way to make money. The Dragnet radio series and the 1951 television series sourced its stories from the LAPD. Gene sourced stories from his colleagues on the force and would write them up on their behalf for submission to the show, splitting the $100 payment fifty-fifty if it sold. This extra income was substantial for the time, as he was on $400 a month from the Department. The Roddenberry's second child was born on August 31, 1953, named Dawn Allison. Later in the year, Captain Sheldon passed on an additional position to Roddenberry – technical advisor for a new television version of Mr. District Attorney. Having spent the intervening years disecting any scripts he could get his hands on and comparing them to the television output, Roddenberry declared on set to the head of the studio's story department that he could write scripts as good as the ones they were using. He submitted his first script on October 22, 1953, which was credited to his pseudonym "Robert Wesley" and went into production as episode 9b, "Defense Plant Gambling". He made a further request to the Department for a second job on December 1, as a free-lance writer and advisor, this time it was approved. He later said during the production of the second season of Star Trek that the pseudonym was used after a fortune cookie revealed a message saying "A change of name will bring you fame."
Roddenberry took his Sergeants exam in early 1954 and passed on the first occasion, at the same time he wrote a second script for Mr. District Attorney, being paid $700 for the script for "Wife Killer". During his six months of Sergeant's probation, he became friends with Wilbur Clingan, who would later have the Klingon race named after him. He sold a further script in July, entitled "Police Academy"; the sales of the three scripts alone had nearly increased his Sergeant's yearly salary of $5,000 by fifty percent. In the following December, he began to write the script for his first science fiction work, which went on to be called The Secret Defense of 117 and would be aired two years later as part of an anthology package, once again crediting Roddenberry as Robert Wesley and starring Ricardo Montalbán. That was the first part of a collaboration with Ziv Television Programs, and he went on to submit further science fiction ideas such as "The Transporter" on January 4, 1955, but it wasn't purchased. But Roddenberry sold several scripts through the rest of the year, first "Court Escape", "Patrol Boat" and "Police Brutality" for Mr. District Attorney and then "Reformed Criminal", "Human Bomb" and "Mental Patient" for Ziv's Highway Patrol. In early 1956, he sold two story ideas for I Led Three Lives, and he found that his time spent writing was becoming impossible alongside his police work.
Ziv was developing a series called The West Point Story and wanted Roddenberry to write for it, this caused him to make the decision to go into writing full-time. He informed Parker that he was intending to resign, and to his surprise the Chief revealed that he had been intentionally connecting Roddenberry with professionals in television for the past few years in the hope that one would give him a permanent offer so he could pursue his dreams of writing. On June 7, 1956, he resigned from the police force to concentrate on his writing career. In his brief letter of resignation, Roddenberry wrote "I find myself unable to support my family at present on anticipated police salary levels in a manner we consider necessary. Having spent slightly more than seven years on this job, during all of which fair treatment and enjoyable working conditions were received, this decision is made with considerable and genuine regret."
Career as full-time writer and producer
By August 1958, Roddenberry was approaching burn out from his writing career. Gardner had previously offered to tell him his secret to coming up with story ideas, which he described as "The Fluid or Unstable Theory of Plots". However, Gardner admitted that he didn't reveal the full system, but it solved Roddenberry's problem. Meanwhile, Roddenberry was promoted to head writer for The West Point Story, and wrote ten scripts for the first season, about a third of the total episodes. While working for Ziv, he pitched a series to CBS set on-board a cruise ship but they didn't buy it, as he wanted to become a producer in order to have full creative control. However, he wrote a further script for Ziv's series "Harbourmaster" entitled "Coastal Security" and signed a contract to develop a show called Junior Executive with the company alongside Quinn Martin, but nothing came of the series.
He wrote scripts for a number of series in the early years of turning professional, including Bat Masterson and Jefferson Drum. Roddenberry had success with "Helen of Abajinan", an episode of the series Have Gun – Will Travel, which won the Writer's Guild of America award for Best Teleplay in 1958. But he continued to create further series of his own, such as a series based on an agent of of Lloyds of London called The Man from Lloyds, and pitched a police based series called Footbeat to CBS, Hollis Productions and Screen Gems. It nearly made it into the Sunday-night line-up for ABC but they opted to only show western genre series for that night.
Roddenberry was asked to write a series called Riverboat, set in the 1860s in Mississippi. But upon finding out that the producers wanted no black people on the show, he argued so much with them that he lost the job. He was also considering moving to England around the same time, as Sir Lew Grade of Associated Television wanted Roddenberry to develop series and set up his own production company. This didn't occur, but he leveraged the deal against Screen Gems to land a contract including a guaranteed $100,000, and became a producer for the first time on a summer replacement for the Tennessee Ernie Ford Show, entitled The Wrangler.
Screen Gems backed Roddenberry's first foray into the creation of his own pilot. His series, The Wild Blue, went to pilot but was not picked up. The three main characters had names which would later form part of those which appeared in the Star Trek franchise; Philip Pike, Edward Jellicoe and James T. Irvine. While working at Screen Gems, a new actress to Hollywood wrote to him asking for a meeting. They quickly became friends and would meet every few months – the woman was Majel Leigh Hudec, later known as Majel Barrett. He created a further pilot called 333 Montgomery, this type about a lawyer - the main character was played by DeForest Kelley. It wasn't picked up by the network, and was later re-written into a new series called Defiance County. His career with Screen Gems ended in late 1961, and shortly afterwards he had issues with his old friend Gardner. The writer of the Perry Mason claimed that Defiance County had infringed his character Doug Selby. The two writers had a falling out via correspondence and stopped contacting one another, even though Defiance County never proceeded past pilot.
In 1961, he agreed to appear in an advertisement for MONY (Mutual of New York), as long as he had the final review. With the money from Screen Gems and other works, he and Eileen moved house to 539 South Beverly Glen, Beverly Hills. He discussed an idea about a multiethnic crew on an airship travelling the world, based on the 1961 film Master of the World, with fellow writer Christopher Knopf at MGM. But while the time wasn't right for science fiction, he began work on The Lieutenant for Arena Productions. This made it to the NBC Saturday-night line-up at 7:30pm. He worked there with several cast and crew who would later join him on Star Trek, including Gene L. Coon, Joe D'Agosta, Leonard Nimoy, Nichelle Nichols and Majel Barrett. However the show wasn't renewed and only lasted one season, but he was already writing up a new series idea. This took his ship location from Hawaii Passage and added Horatio Hornblower, plus the multi-racial crew from his airship idea. He decided to place this in a science fiction setting, and by March 11, 1964, he brought together sixteen pages as a pitch. On April 24, he sent three copies and two dollars to the Writers Guild of America to register his series. He called it Star Trek.
When Roddenberry pitched Star Trek to MGM, it was warmly received but no offer was made. Instead, he went to Desilu Productions, but rather than having a one script deal, he was hired on staff as a producer; one which he could work on his own projects. His first was a half hour pilot called Police Story which wasn't picked up by the networks. At the time, Desilu was having financial difficulties as they hadn't sold a pilot for five years and their only success was I Love Lucy. He took the Star Trek idea to Oscar Katz, head of programming and the duo immediately started work on a plan to sell the series to the networks. They took it to CBS, who asked them all manner of questions about the show and the genre. However they passed on it, and the duo later found out they were so keen to find out about Star Trek because they had their own science fiction series in development – Lost in Space. Roddenberry and Katz took the idea to Mort Werner at NBC, this time downplaying the science fiction elements and highlighted the links to Gunsmoke and Wagon Train. The network funded three story ideas, and selected "The Menagerie" to be made into a pilot – later known as "The Cage". While NBC mostly funded the pilot, the remaining budget was topped up by Desilu. Roddenberry hired Dorothy Fontana, better known as D.C. Fontana, as his assistant. They previously worked together on The Lieutenant and she had eight script credits to her name.
Roddenberry and Barrett had begun an affair by the early days of Star Trek, and he specifically wrote the part of Number One in the pilot with her in mind; no other actresses were considered for the role. Nimoy, who had worked with both Roddenberry and Barrett on The Lieutenant was suggested for the part of Spock by Barrett, and once Roddenberry remembered the thin features of the actor, he couldn't consider anyone else for the part. The remaining cast came together, and filming began on November 27, 1964, and completed on December 11. After post-production, it was shown to NBC executives and it was rumoured that Star Trek was going to be broadcast at 8pm on Friday nights. But it failed to impress test audiences, and after the executives became hesitant, Katz offered to make a second pilot and on March 26, 1965, NBC ordered a new episode.
Roddenberry developed several possible scripts, including "Mudd's Women", "The Omega Glory", and with the help of Samuel A. Peeples, "Where No Man Has Gone Before". NBC selected the latter, leading to rumours later that Peeples created Star Trek, something he has always denied. Roddenberry was determined to make the crew racially diverse, something which impressed actor George Takei when he came in for his audition. The episode went into production on July 15, 1965, but was complete at around half the cost of "The Cage" since the sets were already built. Roddenberry worked on a several projects for the rest of the year, and in December he decided to write lyrics to the Star Trek theme, angering the writer of the theme, Alexander Courage, as it meant that royalties would be split between the pair. In February 1966, NBC informed Desilu that they were buying Star Trek and it would be included in the fall 1966 television schedule.
On May 24, the first episode of the Star Trek series went into production, at that time Desilu were contacted to deliver thirteen episodes. Five days before the first broadcast, Roddenberry appeared at the 24th World Science Fiction Convention where he previewed "Where No Man Has Gone Before". After the episode was shown, he received a standing ovation. The first episode to air on NBC was "The Man Trap", on September 8, 1966, at 8pm. Roddenberry was immediately concerned about the ratings being received by the series, and wrote to Harlan Ellison to ask if he could use his name in letters to save the show. The writer agreed, and sought the help of other writers to help Roddenberry. Among the other writers Gene liaised with was Isaac Asimov, with whom he corresponded with the issue about Spock's growing popularity possibly overshadowing Kirk and wanting to re-dress the balance. He suggested having Kirk and Spock work together as a team, so that when "to get people to think of Kirk when they think of Spock." However, Roddenberry and Ellison would have a falling out over "The City on the Edge of Forever", after Gene re-wrote Ellison's script in order to bring it into budget. Ellison won the Writer's Guild Award for the original script, while the episode won a Hugo Award in 1968. The series was renewed by NBC, first for a full season order and then for a second season. However, an article in the Chicago Tribune had a statement from studio executives that the letter writing campaign had no effect and they were planning to renew Star Trek already.
Roddenberry re-writing submitted scripts was commonplace, although he did not always take credit for these. Even his close friend, Don Ingalls had his script for "A Private Little War" drastically changed, and as a result he declared that he would only be credited under the pseudonym "Judd Crucis" – a play on Jesus Christ as he said he had been crucified by the process. As the second season was drawing to a close, Roddenberry was once again concerned by the threat of cancellation. He enlisted the help of Asimov, and even encouraged a student-led protest march on NBC. On January 8, 1968, a thousand students from twenty different schools across the country marched on the studio. He began to liaise with Star Trek fan Bjo Trimble, who led a fan writing campaign to save the series. She later noted that this campaign, where she would write back to fans who had previously written into Desilu about the show to ask them to write to NBC had inadvertently created an organized Star Trek fandom. The studio started receiving around 6,000 letters a week from fans, petitioning them to renew the series. On March 1, 1968, NBC announced on the air at the end of "The Omega Glory" that Star Trek would return for a third season.
The network initially planned to place Star Trek at 7:30pm on a Monday night, in a timeslot that was freed up by The Man from U.N.C.L.E. completing its run. However, they instead slotted in Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In as a direct replacement and moved Roddenberry's series to 10pm on a Friday. Realising that the show couldn't survive in that slot, Gene stepped back from day to day running of Star Trek although he remained credited as an Executive Producer. Roddenberry cooperated with Stephen Edward Poe (as Stephen Whitfield) on the 1968 nonfiction book The Making of Star Trek (Ballantine Books). By his demand that Whitfield accepted, they split the royalties evenly. Roddenberry explained to Whitfield in 1968, "I had to get some money somewhere. I'm sure not going to get it from the profits of Star Trek." Herbert Solow and Robert H. Justman observed that Whitfield never regretted his fifty-fifty deal with Roddenberry since it gave him "the opportunity to become the first chronicler of television's successful unsuccessful series."
Having stepped aside from the majority of his Star Trek duties, Gene instead sought to create a film based on Asimov's I, Robot, and also began work on a Tarzan script for National General Pictures. After initially approaching them with a requested budget of $2 million and being refused, they made cuts to reduce it down to $1.2 million. But after they found out that they were only being offered $700,000 to shoot the film, which by now was being called a TV movie, Roddenberry ended the deal. Meanwhile, Star Trek's cancellation was announced by NBC in February 1969. A similar letter writing campaign followed, but wasn't nearly as large as the previously year. Because of the manner in which the series was sold to NBC, it left the production company $4.7 million in debt. The last episode of Star Trek aired 47 days before Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon, as part of the Apollo 11 mission.
Following the cancellation of Star Trek, Roddenberry felt typecast into science fiction, despite his background in westerns and police stories. He later described the period saying that, "My dreams were going downhill because I could not get work after the original series was cancelled." He felt that he was "perceived as the guy who made the show that was an expensive flop". Roddenberry had sold his interest in Star Trek to Paramount Studios in return for a third of the ongoing profits. However this did not result in any quick financial gain for him, as by 1982, the studio was still saying that the series was $500,000 in the red.
Faced with a $2,000/month alimony obligation from his 1969 divorce, he began to largely support himself on the college lecture and science fiction convention circuits at the instigation of Arthur C. Clarke, offering a program that included the Star Trek blooper reel (much to the consternation of Leonard Nimoy, who felt that Roddenberry's dissemination of the material amounted to private inurement and constituted a violation of the creative process), a black and white print of the first Star Trek pilot that included scenes excised from "The Menagerie", and his futurological speculations. He wrote a script called The Nine based on his own experiences attempting earn a living attending science fiction conventions.
He wrote and produced Pretty Maids All in a Row (1971), a sexploitation film directed by Roger Vadim, for MGM. The cast included Rock Hudson, Angie Dickinson, Telly Savalas, and Roddy McDowall alongside Star Trek regular James Doohan and William Campbell (who appeared as a guest in two Star Trek episodes). Variety magazine was unimpressed: "Whatever substance was in the original [novel by Francis Pollini] or screen concept has been plowed under, leaving only superficial, one-joke results." In 1972-73 Gene made a comeback into science fiction, having sold the ideas for four new series to a variety of networks. Roddenberry's Genesis II was set on a post-apocalyptic Earth. He had hoped to re-create the success of Star Trek without "doing another space-hopping show". He created a 45-page writing guide, and proposed several story ideas based on the pretence that the scenario would have caused pockets of civilisation to regress to past eras or change altogether. The pilot aired as a TV movie in March 1973, setting new records for the Thursday Night Movie of the Week. Roddenberry was asked to produce four more scripts for episodes, but before production began once again CBS aired Planet of the Apes. The ratings were such that Genesis II was scrapped and replaced by a Apes television series.
The Questor Tapes, was a project that reunited him with his Star Trek collaborator, Gene L. Coon, who was in failing health at the time. NBC ordered sixteen episodes and tentatively scheduled the series to follow The Rockford Files on Friday nights; the pilot launched on January 23, 1974, to positive critical response. Roddenberry balked at the substantial changes requested by the network and left the project, leading to its immediate cancellation. During 1974, Roddenberry reworked the Genesis II concept as a second pilot, Planet Earth, for rival network ABC, with similar results. The pilot was aired on April 23, 1974. While Roddenberry wanted to create something that could feasibly exist in the future, the network wanted stereotypical science fiction women and were unhappy when that was not delivered. Roddenberry was not involved in a third reworking of the material by ABC, Strange New World. He began developing MAGNA I, an underwater science fiction series, for 20th Century Fox Television. But by the time the work on the script was complete, those who had approved the project had left the company and their replacements were disinterested. A similar fate was faced by Tribunes, a science fiction police series, which Roddenberry attempted to get off the group between 1973-77. He gave up after four years, the series never reaching the pilot stage. The pilot for the series Spectre was released as a television movie, and was an attempt by Roddenberry to create an occult detective duo similar in operation to Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson.
Star Trek revival
Credited as "executive consultant" and paid $2,500 per episode, Roddenberry was granted full creative control of Star Trek: The Animated Series (1973–1974); although he read all scripts and "sometimes [added] touches of his own," he relinquished most of his authority to de facto showrunner/associate producer D.C. Fontana.
Following the rapturous commercial reception of Star Wars, Paramount green-lit Star Trek: Phase II in June 1977, with Roddenberry and most of the original cast set to reprise their respective roles. It was to be the anchor show of a proposed Paramount-owned "fourth network" (thus antedating UPN, which later became part of The CW Television Network), but plans for the network were soon scrapped and the project was reworked into a feature film. The result, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, received a lukewarm critical response, but was a hit at the box office – adjusted for inflation it was the third-highest-grossing of all Star Trek movies, with the 2009 film coming in first and the 2013 film in second.
In 1980, Roddenberry submitted a treatment for a proposed sequel about the crew preventing a Klingon attempt to thwart the John F. Kennedy assassination. Following its rejection by Paramount, he was replaced on the project by television producer Harve Bennett; and made executive consultant on the project instead, in which he was compensated with a producer's fee and a percentage of the net profits of any film projects in exchange for proffering non-binding story notes and liaising with the fan community. An initial script for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan was circulated for eight people, and the proposed death of Spock was leaked to the press – something that Bennett attributed to Roddenberry, despite the he felt that around 20% of the plot was based on Gene's ideas.
Roddenberry was involved in creating Star Trek: The Next Generation, which premiered September 28, 1987. Gene re-wrote the series bible from an original version by David Gerrold, who had previously written The Original Series episode "The Trouble with Tribbles" and The Animated Series follow-up, "More Tribbles, More Troubles". According to producer Rick Berman, "Gene's hands-on involvement in The Next Generation diminished greatly after the first season", but the nature of his increasingly peripheral role was not disclosed because of the value of his name to fans. Berman said that Roddenberry had "all but stopped writing and rewriting" by the end of the third season. Although commercially successful from its inception, the series was initially marred by Writers Guild grievance claims from long time franchise writers Fontana and David Gerrold, both of whom left the series under acrimonious circumstances; frequent turnover among the writing staff (24 staff writers left the show during its first three seasons, triple the average attrition rate for such series); and allegations that Roddenberry's attorney Leonard Maizlish had become the former's "point man and proxy", ghostwriting memos, sitting in on meetings, and contributing to scripts despite not being on staff.
Nicholas Meyer was brought into Star Trek to direct the sixth film in the series, Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country. He and Roddenberry clashed creatively, as Gene felt that having the Enterprise crew hold prejudices against the Klingons didn't fit with his view of the universe. Meyer described a meeting he later regretted with Roddenberry, saying "His guys were lined up on one side of the room, and my guys were lined up on the other side of the room, and this was not a meeting in which I felt I’d behaved very well, very diplomatically, I came out of it feeling not very good, and I've not felt good about it ever since. He was not well, and maybe there were more tactful ways of dealing with it, because at the end of the day, I was going to go out and make the movie. I didn't have to take him on. Not my finest hour."
In addition to his film and television work, Roddenberry wrote the novelization of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, although it has been attributed to several other authors. It was the first in a series of hundreds of Star Trek-based novels to be published by the Pocket Books imprint of Simon & Schuster, whose parent company also owned Paramount Pictures Corporation. Previously, Roddenberry worked intermittently on a novel (The God Thing) that he had based on his rejected 1975 screenplay for a proposed low-budget ($3 to $5 million) Star Trek film preceding the development of Phase II through 1976. Attempts to complete the project by Walter Koenig, Susan Sackett and Fred Bronson, and Michael Jan Friedman have proven to be unfeasible for a variety of legal and structural reasons.
While at Los Angeles City College, Roddeberry began dating Eileen-Anita Rexroat, who was two years younger than him, despite the displeasure of her parents as they saw him as the common son of a policeman. They became engaged before Roddenberry left Los Angeles during his military service. At the start of June 1942, he was moved back to Kelly Field for advanced training. While there, he made plans to get married to Eileen. They applied for a marriage license on June 13, and were married seven days later at the chapel at Kelly Field before Chaplain George W. Shardt. They had two children together, Daleen Anita, and Dawn Allison. Roddenberry was known during his time at the LAPD to have had affairs with secretarial staff, and it was well known in the Department that he was having marital problems.
Prior to his work on Star Trek, he began relationships with both Nichelle Nichols, and Majel Barrett. By the time he started on the series, he and Nichols were only good friends but his involvement with Barrett continued. Following the pressures of the first two years of Star Trek, Gene found that he had very little time for his family. He had planned to divorce Eileen after the first season of the show, but when it was renewed, he delayed doing so fearing that he wouldn't have enough time to deal with both the divorce and Star Trek. His oldest daughter, Darleen Anita, was married on July 27, 1968, to William Luther "Bill" Lewis. Two weeks later on August 9, Gene moved out of the family home. Majel later remarked that she went and stayed with him at the Century Plaza Hotel, and stayed by his side for the following 23 years. The divorce was not easy, and Roddenberry felt that he didn't get his fair share of the assets, and he never received some promised items such as his war medals.
While scouting locations in Japan for MGM in 1969, he realised he missed Majel and proposed to her by telephone. She accepted, and once she had a passport, she joined him there where they were married in Tokyo in a Shinto ceremony. Roddenberry had considered it "sacrilegious" to use an American minister in Japan. Gene and Majel had a son together, named Eugene Jr. (commonly referred to as Rod Roddenberry) in February 1974.
Roddenberry was raised as a Southern Baptist; however, he considered himself a humanist. He began questioning religion around the age of fourteen, and came to the conclusion that it was "nonsense". Whilst a child, he was in the choir at his local church, but often substituted lyrics. Early in his writing career, he received an award from the American Baptist Convention for "skilfully writing Christian truth and the application of Christian principles into commercial, dramatic TV scripts." Following this he liaised for several years with John M. Gunn of the National Council of Churches regarding the application of Christian teachings in television series. However Gunn stopped responding to Roddenberry after he responded with a letter that included "But you must understand that I am a complete pagan, and consume enormous amounts of bread, having found the Word more spice than nourishment, so I am interested in a statement couched in dollars and cents of what this means to the Roddenberry treasury."
He said of Christianity, "How can I take seriously a god-image that requires that I prostrate myself every seven days and praise it? That sounds to me like a very insecure personality." At one point, he worked a similar opinion into the plot for Star Trek: The God Thing, which would have been stated by a Vulcan. He became close friends with philosopher Charles Musès prior to his death, who said that Roddenberry's views were "a far cry from atheism." Roddenberry explained his position as "It's not true that I don't believe in God. I believe in a kind of god. It's just not other people's god. I reject religion. I accept the notion of God." He had an ongoing interest in other people's experiences with religion, and called the Catholic Church "a very beautiful religion. An art form." However, he said that he dismissed all organised religions saying that for the most part they acted like a "substitute brain... and a very malfunctioning one." Roddenberry was also critical on the how the public looked at certain religions, saying that when the King David Hotel bombing took place in 1946, the American public accepted it as a action of freedom fighters; but a car bombing by a Muslim in Beirut is considered a terrorist. While he agreed that both parties are wrong in their use of violence, he said that the actions were both conducted due to their strong religious beliefs.
According to Ronald D. Moore, Roddenberry "felt very strongly that contemporary Earth religions would be gone by the 23rd century." Brannon Braga said that Roddenberry made it known to the writers of Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation that religion, superstition, and mystical thinking were not to be included. Nicholas Meyer said that Star Trek had evolved "into sort of a secular parallel to the Catholic Mass."
Health and death
In the late 1980s, Roddenberry was likely afflicted by the first manifestations of cerebral vascular disease and encephalopathy as a result of his longstanding "Valley of the Dolls type" of recreational use of legal and illicit drugs, including alcohol, cannabis, diazepam, secobarbital, methylphenidate, Dexamyl, and cocaine (which he had used regularly since the production of Star Trek: The Motion Picture). The effects of these substances were compounded by deleterious interactions with diabetes, high blood pressure, and antidepressant prescriptions. He was also a heavy smoker for years, of which William Shatner informed Christopher Kreski in Star Trek Memories and Star Trek Movie Memories.
Following a September 1989 stroke at a family reunion in Tallahassee, Florida, Roddenberry's health declined further, ultimately leaving him confined to a wheelchair by 1991. By the fourth season of The Next Generation, he seldom appeared at the show's offices.
While visiting his doctor's office on October 24, 1991, he had a cardiopulmonary arrest. He was taken to the Santa Monica Medical Centre across the street, where he was declared dead. After his death, Star Trek: The Next Generation aired a two-part episode of season five, called "Unification," which featured a dedication to Roddenberry.
Roddenberry's will left the majority of his estate to his wife Majel, in a trust. He also left money to his children and his first wife Eileen. However his daughter Dawn contested the will based on the grounds that Majel had undue influence on her father. The California Court of Appeal ruled that the original will would stand, but the will stated that anyone who contested the will would be disinherited. This meant that Dawn lost $500,000 from the estate, as well as a share of the trust upon Majel's death. The appellate court also overturned the 1987 decision to award Roddenberry's first wife, Eileen, 50% of the earnings from Star Trek after their 1969 divorce. The judge called that 1987 case, "a case that should never have been".
In 1992, a portion of Roddenberry's ashes flew and returned to Earth on the Space Shuttle Columbia mission STS-52. On April 21, 1997, a Celestis spacecraft — carrying portions of the cremated remains of Roddenberry, of Timothy Leary and of 22 other people — was launched into Earth orbit aboard a Pegasus XL rocket from near the Canary Islands. On May 20, 2002, the spacecraft's orbit deteriorated and it disintegrated in the atmosphere. Another flight to launch more of his ashes into deep space along with those of Majel (Barrett) Roddenberry, his widow, who herself had died in 2008, was initially planned to take place in 2009. Rather than as in previous trips, the intention was for these not to return to burn up in the Earth's atmosphere. This was delayed and is now planned for launch in 2016.
In 1985, Gene Roddenberry was the first television writer to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Japanese astrophysicist Yoji Kondo proposed naming a crater on Mars after Roddenberry in 1994. This proposal was supported by Carl Sagan and Arthur C. Clarke, and was agreed by the International Astronomical Union. The Roddenberry crater is located at Martian latitude -49.9 degrees and longitude 4.5 degress. He has also had an asteroid named after him, 4659 Roddenberry.
Roddenberry and Star Trek have been cited as inspiration for other science fiction franchises. When being interviewed for Rod Roddenberry's Trek Nation, Star Wars creator George Lucas said that "Star Trek softened up the entertainment arena so that Star Wars could come along and stand on its shoulders". J. Michael Straczynski, comic book writer and creator of the Babylon 5 franchise said that he had watched a number of 1960s science fiction series including Star Trek, saying "I was fortunate enough to see many of those shows on the occasion of their first broadcasts. But it was only much later, with the passage of time and repetition, that I was able to catch them all to truly appreciate what they had accomplished and what they had to say about who we are, and where we are going."
After meeting David Alexander at a Star Trek convention in the early 1970s, the duo collaborated on an biography. This was written over the following two decades, with Alexander conducting between 150 and 200 interviews with Roddenberry and others. In total, some fourteen storage boxes of material was collected by Alexander for the production of the book, which was the only authorised biography of Roddenberry. It was published in 1995, entitled Star Trek Creator.
Roddenberry and Majel were honored by the Space Foundation in 2002 with the Douglas S. Morrow Public Outreach Award, in recognition of their contributions to awareness of and enthusiasm for space exploration.
In October 2002, a plaque was placed at Roddeberry's birthplace in El Paso, Texas. It was paid from campaign funds by Representative Anthony Cobos, who described El Paso as a "big Trekkie town". He hoped that the plaque would raise awareness of El Paso in Star Trek fandom and increase tourism.
The Science Fiction Hall of Fame inducted Roddenberry in 2007, making him its third "Film, Television and Media" contributor after Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. The Television Academy Hall of Fame inducted him in 2010.
Posthumous television series
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was already in development when Roddenberry died, but the idea was not fully formed at the time and he was unable to sign off the project. Berman said that "He was quite ill, and I never got a chance to tell him what the ideas were, what they were about. But I definitely discussed things with him enough to know that he trusted me and had given me his blessings." The series began filming less than a year after his death. Berman continued to lead Star Trek through Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager, but said that his vision did not entirely align with Roddenberry's but that he respected his mentor's views. Berman said that "I don't believe the 24th century is going to be like Gene Roddenberry believed it to be, that people will be free from poverty and greed. But if you're going to write and produce for Star Trek, you've got to buy into that."
After Majel Barret-Roddenberry uncovered scripts and five year plan by Gene dating from 1977 for a series called Battleground Earth early in 1996. He had planned to create a pilot for the series in 1977 for 20th Century Fox Television, but this was postponed due to work on the resurgent Star Trek. The project was sent to distributors by the Creative Artists Agency, and it was picked up by Tribune Entertainment who set the budget at over $1 million per episode. Tribune's president Dick Askin said that due to interest already received from European channels because of the Roddenberry affiliation, that the series had the possibility of becoming a global franchise. The series was renamed Earth: Final Conflict before launch.
While production was underway on Earth: Final Conflict, Majel discussed the volume of material in Roddenberry's archive with Askin. She asked his team to go through the archive to find if there was any other possible source materials for possible television series. She said of the archive, "Gene was so prolific about writing. When he would get going on something and if, say, it didn't pass with a studio or a network, he would put it away or just throw it in the waste basket. I don't know if I was. psychic or what, but I kept a lot of it." The Tribune team found two potential series in the archive, Genesis and Andromeda. In late 1999, they green-lit Andromeda for release in broadcast syndication with it sold to 85% of the United States for launch in autumn of 2000. Star Trek fan Kevin Sorbo was signed as the lead for the series, and helped convince studio executives to select it over Genesis, and became one of the executive producers for the series alongside Majel Barrat-Roddenberry, Robert Hewitt Wolfe and Eric Gold. A pilot for Genesis was filmed, and was retained for possible future expansion. After an initial order for two seasons, it ultimately aired 110 episodes across five seasons.
At the same time as Andromeda and Genesis, Tribune also worked on a third Roddenberry series. Entitled Starship, they aimed to launch it via the network route rather than into syndication. It was about the people of Earth teaching art and harmony to the rest of the universe. Gene's son Rod Roddenberry, president of Roddenberry Productions, announced in 2010 at his father's posthumous induction into the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Hall of Fame that he was aiming to take The Questor Tapes to television. He said that "My father always felt that Questor was the one that got away, he believed that the show had the potential to be bigger than Star Trek." Rod was developing the series alongside Imagine Television. Rod would go on to create the two-hour television movie Trek Nation regarding the impact of his father.
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- "Science Explores the Legacy of the Star Trek Phenomenon with the Definitive Two-Hour Television Event: Trek Nation". Defense & Aerospace Week. November 30, 2011. Retrieved March 22, 2015 – via HighBeam Research. (subscription required (. ))
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Gene Roddenberry.|
|Wikiquote has quotations related to: Gene Roddenberry|
- Roddenberry Entertainment website
- Gene Roddenberry at the Internet Movie Database
- Gene Roddenberry at Memory Alpha (a Star Trek wiki)