Eugene Wesley “Gene” Roddenberry in 1976.
|Born||Eugene Wesley Roddenberry
August 19, 1921
El Paso, Texas, U.S.
|Died||October 24, 1991
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(s)||Star Trek, Star Trek: The Next Generation|
|Home town||Los Angeles, California|
|Spouse(s)||Eileen-Anita Rexroat (1942–1969)
Majel Barrett (1969–his death, 1991)
|Parents||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|
|Awards||Distinguished Flying Cross|
Eugene Wesley "Gene" Roddenberry (August 19, 1921 – October 24, 1991) was an American television screenwriter, producer, de facto 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:110 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 space.
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, 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 (1941–1949)
- 3 Los Angeles Police Department (1949–1956)
- 4 Career as writer and producer
- 5 Marriages
- 6 Religious views
- 7 Death and legacy
- 8 Filmography
- 9 References
- 10 Further reading
- 11 External links
Early life (1921–1941)
Roddenberry was born on August 19, 1921 in El Paso, Texas. His parents were police officer Eugene Edward Roddenberry and Caroline "Glen" (née Goleman) Roddenberry. He grew up in Los Angeles and attended Berendo Junior High School (now Berendo Middle School), before graduating from Franklin High School in the winter of 1939; he subsequently entered Los Angeles City College that February.
Although Roddenberry ranked at or above the ninetieth percentile in an intelligence test administered as part of his college entrance examination, he elected to "[stay] true to his roots" and major in the "solidly blue collar" police science curriculum; as president of the school's Police Club, he liaised with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. He also 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 with an Associate of Arts degree in police science in 1941, becoming the first member of his family to earn a college degree.
Military service and civil aviation (1941–1949)
In 1941, he joined the United States Army Air Corps, which in the same year became the United States Army Air Forces. He began training at Goodfellow Field (now Goodfellow Air Force Base) in San Angelo, Texas with other Civilian Pilot Training alums and graduated as a second lieutenant in September 1942, Class G. He flew combat missions in the Pacific Theatre with the "Bomber Barons" of the 394th Bomb Squadron, 5th Bombardment Group, of the Thirteenth Air Force and on August 2, 1943, Roddenberry was piloting a B-17E Flying Fortress named the "Yankee Doodle," from Espiritu Santo, New Hebrides, when mechanical failure caused it to crash on take-off. In total, he flew eighty-nine missions for which he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal before being honorably discharged at the rank of captain in July 1945. While working on Star Trek, Roddenberry would spend much of his spare time at California's Monterey Peninsula Airport with a group of aviation enthusiasts who flew World War II fighters.
After the military, Roddenberry worked as a commercial pilot for Pan American World Airways, qualifying for the Lockheed L-049 Constellation. He received a Civil Aeronautics commendation for his rescue efforts following the June 1947 crash of Pan Am Flight 121 ("Clipper Eclipse") in the Syrian desert near Mayadine while on a flight to Istanbul from Karachi. While based out of Miami, Roddenberry enrolled in three writing classes at the University of Miami, from which he withdrew with passing grades following his transfer to New York City in November 1945. During his New York-area sojourn, the Roddenberrys lived in Jamaica, Queens, and River Edge, New Jersey. He briefly continued his education, taking four writing courses offered by the Columbia University School of General Studies in the spring and fall of 1946 before withdrawing due to the demands of his employment in January 1947.
Los Angeles Police Department (1949–1956)
August 19, 1921|
El Paso, Texas
|Died||October 24, 1991(aged 70)|
|Relatives||Eileen-Anita Rexroat (wife)|
|Department||Los Angeles Police Department|
|Years of service||1949–1956|
|Rank||Sworn in as an Officer – 1949;
Police Officer III – 1951;
Sergeant I – 1953.
|Other work||LAPD speechwriter, screenwriter, dramatist, television producer, creator of Star Trek/|
Pursuing a career in Hollywood, Roddenberry left Pan Am in 1949 and returned to Los Angeles. To provide for his family, he joined the Los Angeles Police Department on February 1, 1949. He became a Police Officer III in 1951 and was made a Sergeant in 1953. Toward the end of his law enforcement career he became the speech writer for legendary LAPD Chief William H. Parker. He reputedly based the Star Trek character Mr. Spock on Parker's rational and unemotional behavior. 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 writer and producer
While Roddenberry worked for the LAPD, he wrote television scripts under the pseudonym Robert Wesley for the series Highway Patrol and both the TV and radio versions of Have Gun–Will Travel. In 1957, he wrote an episode for the Boots and Saddles western series entitled "The Prussian Farmer." He wrote four episodes of the British (ITC Entertainment) made Australian western Whiplash, which were first broadcast in the UK during 1960.
Eventually, Roddenberry's dissatisfaction with his work as a freelance writer led him to produce his own television program. He came up with many story ideas and other concepts for his new television series that ultimately went unused; among these were Night Stick, Defiance County, and The Long Hunt of April Savage. Meanwhile, his first attempt, APO 923, was not picked up by the networks, but in 1963, he created and produced The Lieutenant, which lasted for a single season and was set inside the United States Marine Corps with Nichelle Nichols starring in the first episode. Other actors also made guest appearances; many of these later became regular or guest cast members of Star Trek. (See below for details.) Unfortunately, one episode that dealt with racism in the armed forces so offended the network that it refused either to transmit it or pay for it, forcing Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer to eat its costs. This disgusted Roddenberry enough to decide that his best means of social observation and commentary was through Swiftian allegory.
Roddenberry developed Star Trek in 1964, as a combination of the two science-fiction series Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon. He sold the project as a "Wagon Train to the Stars," even though it owed much more to C. S. Forrester's Horatio Hornblower novels and short stories and to the Reverend Dean Jonathan Swift Jr.'s Gulliver's Travels, and it was picked up by Desilu Studios. Initially, the series was offered to CBS, who turned it down in favor of their own sci-fi show, Lost In Space, which Irwin Allen had modeled on The Swiss Family Robinson. The first TV pilot went over its budget and received only modest approval from NBC, who demanded several such changes as the removal of the female "Number One" first officer. Roddenberry was told to also "get rid of the guy with the ears," but dug in and fought to retain the character of Mr Spock on the show. Nevertheless, the network commissioned a second pilot, which was unprecedented, which led to them ordering the first 16 episodes. The series actually premiered on September 8, 1966, and ran for three seasons, but began to receive low ratings. During the final season, Roddenberry left active involvement (retaining his executive producer title in name only) when the network reneged on its promise for a more desirable time slot. In 1970, Paramount agreed to sell him all rights to Star Trek, but Roddenberry could not afford the $150,000 price ($911,000 today).:220
Following the cancellation of Star Trek, Roddenberry 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 the summer of 1972, at CBS's behest, Roddenberry began work on a pilot for a science-fiction series, Genesis II, set on a post-apocalyptic Earth. The pilot aired as a TV movie in March 1973. Ratings for the pilot film were considered substantially high, but CBS felt that a television series based on the immensely popular Planet of the Apes franchise would be more profitable, and they declined to commission Genesis II as a series. In 1974, Roddenberry reworked the Genesis II concept as a second pilot, Planet Earth, for rival network ABC, with similar results. Roddenberry was not involved in a third reworking of the material by ABC, Strange New World. (After Roddenberry's death, Robert Hewitt Wolfe reworked the concept into the Canadian/American television series, Andromeda.)
In 1973 Roddenberry also produced The Questor Tapes, a project that reunited him with his Star Trek collaborator, Gene L. Coon, who was in failing health at the time. Intended as a pilot for NBC, who ordered thirteen episodes and tentatively scheduled the series to follow The Rockford Files on Friday nights, Roddenberry balked at the substantial changes requested by the network and left the project, leading to its immediate cancellation. The 100 minute pilot was aired as a television film in 1974. (Coon had died of throat cancer the year before.) Spectre, a foray into the occult detective vogue of the era exemplified by Kolchak: The Night Stalker, was produced as a pilot for NBC in 1977, but did not lead to a series order.
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.
After Star Trek, Roddenberry said later, he was "perceived as the guy who made the show that was an expensive flop and I couldn't get work." 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.
Star Trek revival
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 60-page treatment for a proposed sequel about the Enterprise 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; the studio "relegated" Roddenberry to the "figurehead position" of executive consultant, 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. Although his story ideas (often variations on the Kennedy-Klingon plot) were repeatedly unheeded by Bennett's production team, he continued in this capacity for the next five sequels: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.
In addition to his lecture obligations, from 1983 to 1985, Roddenberry shifted his attentions to the manuscript of Report from Earth, a proposed science fiction novel about an alien (Gaan) who takes human form on Earth; it was never completed.
Roddenberry was deeply involved in creating Star Trek: The Next Generation, which premiered September 28, 1987. 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 claims 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 longtime 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.
In addition to his film and television work, Roddenberry wrote the novelization of Star Trek: The Motion Picture. It was the first 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 & Fred Bronson, Michael Jan Friedman, and Roddenberry biographer David Alexander have proven to be unfeasible for a variety of legal and structural reasons.
Star Trek theme music composer Alexander Courage long harbored resentment of Roddenberry's attachment of lyrics to his composition. By union rules, this resulted in the two men splitting the music royalties payable whenever an episode of Star Trek aired, which otherwise would have gone to Courage in full. (The lyrics were never used on the show, but were performed by Nichelle Nichols on her 1991 album, "Out of this World.") 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 too split the royalties evenly. As 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 observe 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."
In 1942, Roddenberry had married Eileen-Anita Rexroat. They had two daughters, Darleen and Dawn, but during the 1960s, he had affairs with Nichelle Nichols (said by Nichols to be the reason he wanted her on the show) and Majel Barrett. Twenty-seven years after his first marriage, Roddenberry divorced his first wife and married Barrett in Japan in a traditional Shinto ceremony on August 6, 1969, and they had one child together, Eugene Wesley Roddenberry, Jr.
Roddenberry was raised as a Southern Baptist; however, he considered himself a humanist and agnostic. 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." According to Ronald D. Moore, Roddenberry "felt very strongly that contemporary Earth religions would be gone by the 23rd century." According to Brannon Braga, 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. He stubbornly resisted the effort of network execs to put a Christian chaplain on the crew of the Enterprise. It would be ludicrous, he argued, to pretend that all other religions would have become obliterated by this point, or that such a cosmopolitan people would impose one group's religion on all the rest of the crew.
Death and legacy
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 abuse of legal and illicit drugs, including alcohol, marijuana, Valium, Seconal, Ritalin, 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. He died from cardiopulmonary arrest on October 24, 1991. After his death, Star Trek: The Next Generation aired a two-part episode of season five, called "Unification," which featured a dedication to Roddenberry. 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 planned for launch in 2016.
After his death, Roddenberry's estate permitted filming Earth: Final Conflict and Andromeda, two television series based on his unused stories. A third story idea was adapted in 1995 as the comic book Gene Roddenberry's Lost Universe (later titled Gene Roddenberry's Xander in Lost Universe). Gene Roddenberry's Starship was a computer-animated series that was proposed by Majel Barrett and John Semper but was not produced.
Roddenberry and his wife 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.
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.
|1955–1956||Highway Patrol||Writer||5 episodes (4 as Robert Wesley)|
|1956–1957||West Point||Writer||9 episodes|
|1957–1963||Have Gun – Will Travel||Writer||24 episodes|
|1963–1964||The Lieutenant||Writer, creator, producer||One season|
|1966–1968||Star Trek: The Original Series||Writer, creator, producer||Three seasons|
|1971||Pretty Maids All in a Row||Writer, producer||Feature film|
|1973–1974||Star Trek: The Animated Series||Writer, creator, executive consultant||Two seasons|
|1973||Genesis II||Writer, producer||TV movie|
|1974||Planet Earth||Writer, producer||TV movie|
|1974||The Questor Tapes||Writer, executive producer||TV movie|
|1977||Spectre||Writer, producer||TV movie|
|1979||Star Trek: The Motion Picture||Producer||Feature film|
|1987–1992||Star Trek: The Next Generation||Writer, creator, executive producer||Six seasons|
|1992–1994||Star Trek: The Next Generation||Writer, creator (posthumously)||Three seasons|
|1997 - 2002||Earth: Final Conflict||Writer, creator (posthumously)||Five seasons|
|2000-2005||Andromeda (TV series)||Writer, creator (posthumously)||Five seasons|
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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)