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||Heart failure|
|Residence||Bel Air, Los Angeles|
|Other names||Robert Wesley|
|Education||Franklin High School|
|Alma mater||Los Angeles City College|
|Occupation||Television writer, producer, de facto populistic philosopher, futurist|
|Notable work||Star Trek
Earth: Final Conflict
|Home town||Los Angeles|
|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, and futurist. He is best remembered for creating the original Star Trek television series. Born in El Paso, Texas, Roddenberry grew up in Los Angeles, California where his father worked as a police officer. Roddenberry flew eighty-nine combat missions in the 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 and also 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. Subsequently, he worked on other projects including a string of failed television pilots. However, the syndication of Star Trek led to its growing popularity, which in turn led to Star Trek feature films, which Roddenberry continued to produce and consult. In 1987, the sequel series Star Trek: The Next Generation began airing on television in first-run syndication; Roddenberry was heavily involved in the initial development of the series, but took a less active role after the first season due to ill health. He continued to consult on the series until his death in 1991.
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 and twelve feature films; a thirteenth film is scheduled to be released in 2016, Star Trek's fiftieth anniversary. Additionally, the popularity of the Star Trek universe and films has inspired films, books, comic books, video games, and fan films set in the Star Trek universe.
- 1 Early life and career
- 2 Career as full-time writer and producer
- 3 Personal life
- 4 Health and death
- 5 Legacy
- 6 Filmography
- 7 See also
- 8 Notes
- 9 References
- 10 External links
Early life and career
Roddenberry was born on August 19, 1921 in his parents' rented home in El Paso, Texas, the first child of Eugene Edward Roddenberry and Caroline "Glen" (née Goleman) Roddenberry. The family moved to Los Angeles in 1923 after Gene's father passed the Civil Service test and was given a police commission there. During his childhood, Roddenberry was interested in reading, especially pulp magazines, and was a fan of stories such as John Carter of Mars, Tarzan, and the Skylark series by E. E. Smith.
Roddenberry majored in police science at Los Angeles City College,[n 1] and became interested in aeronautical engineering. He obtained a pilot's license through the United States Army Air Corps-sponsored Civilian Pilot Training Program. He enlisted with the United States Army Air Corps on December 18, 1941, graduated on August 5, 1942, when he was commissioned as a second lieutenant.
He was posted to Bellows Field, Oahu, to join the 394th Bomb Squadron, 5th Bombardment Group, of the Thirteenth Air Force, who flew Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress. On August 2, 1943, while flying out of Espiritu Santo, the plane Roddenberry was piloting overshot the runway by 500 feet (150 m) and impacted trees, crushing the nose, and starting a fire, killing two men. The official report absolved Roddenberry of any responsibility. Roddenberry spent the remainder of his military career in the United States, and subsequently flew all over the country as a plane crash investigator. He was involved in a further plane crash, this time as a passenger. He was awarded the Air Medal and the Distinguished Flying Cross.
He was subsequently began to fly for Pan American World Airways, including routes from New York to Johannesburg or Calcutta, the two longest Pan Am routes at the time. A further crash occurred while he was on the Clipper Eclipse on June 18, 1947. The plane landed in the Syrian desert, and Roddenberry dragged wounded passengers out of the burning plane and led the group to get help. Fourteen people died in the crash; eleven passengers needed hospital treatment, eight were unharmed. He resigned from Pan-Am on May 15, 1948, and decided to pursue his dream of writing particularly for the new medium of television.
Roddenberry applied for a position with the Los Angeles Police Department on January 10, 1949, and spent his first sixteen months in the traffic division before being transferred to the newspaper unit. This became the "Public Information Division" and Roddenberry became the Chief of Police's speech writer. He became technical advisor for a new television version of Mr. District Attorney, which led to him writing for the show under his pseudonym "Robert Wesley".
He began to collaborate with Ziv Television Programs, and continued to sell scripts to Mr. District Attorney, in addition to Ziv's Highway Patrol. In early 1956, he sold two-story ideas for I Led Three Lives, and he found that it was becoming increasingly difficult to be a writer as well as a policeman. On June 7, 1956, he resigned from the force to concentrate on his writing career.
Career as full-time writer and producer
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 did not buy it as he wanted to become a producer and have full creative control. However, he wrote another script for Ziv's series "Harbourmaster" entitled "Coastal Security", and signed a contract with the company to develop a show called Junior Executive with Quinn Martin; nothing came of the series.
He wrote scripts for a number of other series in his early years as a professional writer including Bat Masterson and Jefferson Drum. Roddenberry's episode of the series Have Gun – Will Travel, "Helen of Abajinan", won the Writer's Guild of America award for Best Teleplay in 1958. He also continued to create series of his own like the series, based on an agent of Lloyd's of London, called The Man from Lloyds. He pitched a police-based series called Footbeat to CBS, Hollis Productions and Screen Gems. It nearly made it into ABC's Sunday-night line-up but they opted to show only western genre series that night.
Roddenberry was asked to write a series called Riverboat, set in 1860s Mississippi. When he discovered 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 this time, as Sir Lew Grade of Associated Television wanted Roddenberry to develop series and set up his own production company. Though he did not move, he leveraged the deal to land a contract with Screen Gems that included 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 attempt at creating a pilot. His series, The Wild Blue, went to pilot but was not picked up. The three main characters had names which would later appear in the Star Trek franchise: Philip Pike, Edward Jellicoe, and James T. Irvine. While working at Screen Gems an actress, new 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 second pilot called 333 Montgomery, about a lawyer, played by DeForest Kelley. It was not picked up by the network, but was later re-written as a new series called Defiance County. His career with Screen Gems ended in late 1961 and shortly afterward he had issues with his old friend Gardner. The Perry Mason creator claimed that Defiance County had infringed his character Doug Selby. The two writers fell out via correspondence and stopped contacting one another, even though Defiance County never proceeded past the pilot stage.
In 1961, he agreed to appear in an advertisement for MONY (Mutual of New York), as long as he had final approval. With the money from Screen Gems and other works, he and Eileen moved to 539 South Beverly Glen, in Beverly Hills. He discussed an idea about a multi-ethnic crew on an airship travelling the world, based on the 1961 film Master of the World, with fellow writer Christopher Knopf at MGM. As the time was not right for science fiction, he began work on The Lieutenant for Arena Productions. This made it to the NBC Saturday night line-up at 7:30 pm. and premiered on September 14, 1963. The show set a new ratings record for that time slot. Roddenberry worked 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. The Lieutenant was produced with the co-operation of the Pentagon, which allowed them to film at an actual Marine base. During the production of the series, Roddenberry clashed regularly with the Department of Defense over potential plots. The Pentagon withdrew its support after Roddenberry pressed ahead with a plot entitled "To Set It Right" in which a white and a black man find a common cause in their roles as Marines. "To Set It Right" was the first time he worked with Nichols, and it was her first television role. The episode has subsequently been preserved at the Museum of Television and Radio in New York City. The show was not renewed after its first season. Roddenberry was already working on a new series idea. This included his ship location from Hawaii Passage and added a Horatio Hornblower character, plus the multi-racial crew from his airship idea. He decided to write it as science fiction, and by March 11, 1964, he brought together a sixteen-page 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. He then went to Desilu Productions, but rather than being offered a mere one-script deal, he was hired as a producer and allowed to work on his own projects. His first was a half-hour pilot called Police Story, which was not picked up by the networks. Having not sold a pilot in five years, Desilu was suffering financial difficulties; its only success was I Love Lucy. Roddenberry 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, which ultimately passed on it. However, the duo later learned that CBS had been eager to find out about Star Trek because it had a science fiction series in development – Lost in Space. Roddenberry and Katz next took the idea to Mort Werner at NBC, this time downplaying the science fiction elements and highlighting the links to Gunsmoke and Wagon Train. The network funded three-story ideas, and selected "The Menagerie", which was later known as "The Cage", to be made into a pilot. While most of the money for the pilot came from NBC, the remaining costs were covered by Desilu. Roddenberry hired Dorothy Fontana, better known as D. C. Fontana, as his assistant. They had worked together previously 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 the character Number One in the pilot with her in mind; no other actresses were considered for the role. Barrett suggested Nimoy for the part of Spock. He had worked with both Roddenberry and Barrett on The Lieutenant, and once Roddenberry remembered the thin features of the actor, he did not consider anyone else for the part. The remaining cast came together; filming began on November 27, 1964, and was completed on December 11. After post-production, the episode was shown to NBC executives and it was rumored that Star Trek would be broadcast at 8:00 p.m. on Friday nights. But it failed to impress test audiences, and after the executives became hesitant, Katz offered to make a second pilot. 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 last one, leading to later rumors that Peeples created Star Trek, something he has always denied. Roddenberry was determined to make the crew racially diverse, which impressed actor George Takei when he came for his audition. The episode went into production on July 15, 1965, and was completed at around half the cost of "The Cage" since the sets were already built. Roddenberry worked on several projects for the rest of the year. In December he decided to write lyrics to the Star Trek theme, angering the theme's writer, Alexander Courage, as it meant that royalties would be split between them. In February 1966, NBC informed Desilu that they were buying Star Trek and that it would be included in the fall 1966 television schedule.
On May 24, the first episode of the Star Trek series went into production; Desilu was contracted to deliver thirteen episodes. Five days before the first broadcast, Roddenberry appeared at the 24th World Science Fiction Convention and 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 8:00 pm. Roddenberry was immediately concerned about the series' low ratings and wrote to Harlan Ellison to ask if he could use his name in letters to the network to save the show. Ellison agreed and also sought the help of other writers. Roddenberry corresponded with Isaac Asimov about how to address the issue of Spock's growing popularity and the possibility that his character would overshadow Kirk. Asimov suggested having Kirk and Spock work together as a team "to get people to think of Kirk when they think of Spock." The series was renewed by NBC, first for a full season's order, and then for a second season. An article in the Chicago Tribune quoted studio executives as stating that the letter-writing campaign had been wasted because they had already been planning to renew Star Trek.
Roddenberry often rewrote submitted scripts, although he did not always take credit for these. Roddenberry and Ellison had a falling out over "The City on the Edge of Forever" after Roddenberry rewrote Ellison's script to make it financially feasible to film. Even his close friend Don Ingalls had his script for "A Private Little War" altered drastically, and, as a result, Ingalls declared that he would only be credited under the pseudonym "Judd Crucis" (a play on "Jesus Christ"), claiming he had been crucified by the process. Roddenberry's work rewriting "The Menagerie", based on footage originally shot for "The Cage", resulted in a Writer's Guild arbitration board hearing. The Guild ruled in his favor over John D.F. Black, the complainant. The script won a Hugo Award, although the awards board neglected to inform Roddenberry, who found out through correspondence with Asimov.
As the second season was drawing to a close, Roddenberry was once again concerned over 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 communicate with Star Trek fan Bjo Trimble, who led a fan writing campaign to save the series. Trimble later noted that this campaign of writing to fans who had written to Desilu about the show, urging them to write NBC, had inadvertently created an organized Star Trek fandom. The network received around 6,000 letters a week from fans petitioning them to renew the series. On March 1, 1968, NBC announced on air, at the end of "The Omega Glory", that Star Trek would return for a third season.
The network had initially planned to place Star Trek in the 7:30 pm. Monday-night time slot freed up by The Man from U.N.C.L.E. completing its run. Instead, Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In was put in the slot and Roddenberry's series was moved to 10:00 p.m. on Fridays. Realizing the show could not survive in that time slot, Roddenberry stepped back from the day-to-day running of Star Trek, although he continued to be credited as an executive producer. Roddenberry cooperated with Stephen Edward Poe, writing as Stephen Whitfield, on the 1968 nonfiction book The Making of Star Trek (Ballantine Books), splitting the royalties evenly. Roddenberry explained to Whitfield: "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." Whitfield had previously been the national advertising and promotion director for model makers Aluminum Model Toys, which held the Star Trek licence, and subsequently moved to run Lincoln Enterprises, Roddenberry's company set up to sell the series' merchandise.
Having stepped aside from the majority of his Star Trek duties, Roddenberry sought instead to create a film based on Asimov's I, Robot, and also began work on a Tarzan script for National General Pictures. After initially requesting a budget of $2 million and being refused, Roddenberry made cuts to reduce costs to $1.2 million. When he learned they were being offered only $700,000 to shoot the film, which by now was being called a TV movie, he cancelled the deal. Meanwhile, NBC announced Star Trek's cancellation in February 1969. A similar but much smaller letter-writing campaign followed news of the cancellation. 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 forty-seven days before Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon as part of the Apollo 11 mission, and Roddenberry declared that he would never write for television again.
Following the cancellation of Star Trek, Roddenberry felt typecast as a producer of 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; the studio was still claiming that the series was $500,000 in the red in 1982. 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 had 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." Herb Solow had given Roddenberry the job as a favor, paying him $100,000 for the script.
Faced with a $2,000 per month alimony obligation as a result of his 1969 divorce, and a mortgage, he began to support himself largely by giving college lectures and appearances at science fiction conventions. These presentations included screenings of "The Cage" and blooper reels from the production of The Original Series. He was paid $25,000 to write a script called The Nine which was meant to be about paranormal experiences, but ended up being based on his experiences attempting to earn a living attending science fiction conventions. At the time, he was close to losing his house because of the lack of funds coming in. These conventions began to build the fan support to bring back Star Trek, leading TV Guide to describe it, in 1972, as "the show that won't die".
In 1972 and 1973, Roddenberry made a comeback to science fiction, selling ideas for four new series to a variety of networks. Roddenberry's Genesis II was set in a post-apocalyptic Earth. He had hoped to recreate 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 concept that pockets of civilisation had regressed to past eras or changed 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 again, CBS aired the film Planet of the Apes. It was watched by an even greater audience than Genesis II. CBS scrapped Genesis II and replaced it with the 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 that produced 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 Fox and their replacements were not interested in the project. A similar fate was faced by Tribunes, a science fiction police series, which Roddenberry attempted to get off the ground between 1973 and 1977. He gave up after four years; the series never reached the pilot stage. The pilot for the series Spectre, Roddenberry's attempt to create an occult detective duo similar to Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, was released as a television movie.
Star Trek revival
Lacking funds in the early 1970s, Roddenberry was unable to buy the full rights to Star Trek for $150,000 from Paramount. Lou Scheimer approached Paramount in 1973 about creating an animated Star Trek series. Credited as "executive consultant", and paid $2,500 per episode, Roddenberry was granted full creative control of Star Trek: The Animated Series. Although he read all the scripts and "sometimes [added] touches of his own", he relinquished most of his authority to de facto showrunner/associate producer D. C. Fontana. Roddenberry had some difficulties with the cast. To save money, he sought not to hire George Takei and Nichelle Nichols. He neglected to inform Leonard Nimoy of this and instead, in an effort to get him to sign on, told him that he was the only member of the main cast not returning. After Nimoy discovered the deception, he demanded that Takei and Nichols play Sulu and Uhura when their characters appeared on screen. Roddenberry acquiesced. He had been promised five full seasons of the new show, but ultimately, only one and a half were produced.
Because of ongoing fan support, Roddenberry was hired once more by Paramount, in May 1975, to create and produce a feature film based on the franchise. The studio was unimpressed with the ideas being put forward; John D.F. Black's opinion was that their ideas were never "big enough" for the studio, even when one scenario involved the end of the universe. At the time, several ideas were partly developed including Star Trek: The God Thing and Star Trek: Planet of the Titans. Following the commercial reception of Star Wars, in June 1977, Paramount instead green-lit a new series set in the franchise entitled Star Trek: Phase II, with Roddenberry and most of the original cast, except Nimoy, set to reprise their respective roles. It was to be the anchor show of a proposed Paramount-owned "fourth network", but plans for the network were scrapped and the project was reworked into a feature film. The result, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, troubled the studio because of budgetary concerns, but was a box office hit. Adjusted for inflation, it was the third highest grossing Star Trek movie, with the 2009 film coming in first and the 2013 film 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. Paramount rejected it and he was replaced on the project by television producer Harve Bennett. Roddenberry was named executive consultant for the project, and 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 corresponding with the fan community. An initial script for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan was circulated to eight people; Bennett attributed the subsequent plot leak of the death of Spock to Roddenberry. Twenty percent of the plot was based on Roddenberry's ideas.
Roddenberry was involved in creating Star Trek: The Next Generation which premiered with "Encounter at Farpoint" on September 28, 1987. He was given a bonus of $1 million in addition to an ongoing salary to produce the series, and celebrated by purchasing a new Rolls-Royce for $100,000. This did not entitle him to be executive producer of the series. But Paramount was already concerned about the original cast not returning, and fearing fan reaction if Roddenberry was not involved, agreed to his demand for control of the show. Roddenberry rewrote 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 of America 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 (twenty-four 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. Writer Tracy Tormé described the first few seasons of The Next Generation under Roddenberry as an "insane asylum".
Nicholas Meyer was brought in to direct the sixth film in the series: Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country. He and Roddenberry clashed creatively, as Roddenberry felt that having the Enterprise crew hold prejudices against the Klingons did not 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.
Roddenberry watched The Undiscovered Country alongside the producers of the film, at a private screening two days before his death, and told them they had done a "good job".
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 upon his rejected 1975 screenplay for a proposed low-budget ($3 to $5 million) Star Trek film preceding the development of Phase II throughout 1976. Attempts to complete the project by Walter Koenig, Susan Sackett, 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, Roddenberry began dating Eileen-Anita Rexroat, who was two years younger than him, despite the displeasure of her parents who 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 and made plans to marry 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. During his time at the LAPD, Roddenberry was known 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. After he met Nichols when she was cast in The Lieutenant, he began a friendship which lasted for the rest of his life. But during the early period, prior to Star Trek, they began a romantic liaison which she described as falling in love. The pair kept the relationship secret from all but Barrett, and Nichols only wrote about it in her autobiography Beyond Uhura after Roddenberry's death. Nichols was concerned about their interracial relationship becoming public knowledge, and the impact that would have on Roddenberry's career. They discussed it on several occasions but he maintained that he did not care about possible consequences for him. After several months, he decided it was time to reintroduce Nichols to Barrett; they had met previously when Nichols auditioned for The Singing Nun. At the time, Roddenberry wanted to remain in an open relationship with both women, but Nichols, recognising Barret's devotion to him, ended the affair as she did not want to be "the other woman to the other woman".
By the time he started on the series, he and Nichols were only good friends but his involvement with Barrett continued. He and Barrett had an apartment together by the opening weeks of Star Trek, leading Jerry Sohl to believe that Roddenberry was already in the process of divorcing his wife. Following the pressures of the first two years of Star Trek, Roddenberry 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 would not 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, Roddenberry moved out of the family home. Barrett later remarked that she went and stayed with him at the Century Plaza Hotel, and stayed by his side for the following twenty-three years. The divorce was not easy, and Roddenberry felt that he did not get his fair share of the assets, and that he never received some promised items such as his war medals.
In 1969, while scouting locations in Japan for MGM for Pretty Maids all in a Row, Roddenberry claimed that he realized that he missed Barrett and proposed to her by telephone. In the version recited by Herb Solow, Roddenberry travelled to Japan with the intention of marrying Barrett. She had a passport and joined Roddenberry in Tokyo where they were married in a Shinto ceremony. Roddenberry had considered it "sacrilegious" to use an American minister in Japan. He continued to be have liaisons with other women, telling his friends that while in Japan he had an encounter with a masseuse. Roddenberry and Barrett had a son together, Eugene Jr., commonly referred to as Rod Roddenberry, in February 1974.
Roddenberry was raised 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". As a child, he served in the choir at his local church, but often substituted lyrics as he sang hymns. Early in his writing career, he received an award from the American Baptist Convention for "skillfully writing Christian truth and the application of Christian principles into commercial, dramatic TV scripts." For several years he corresponded with John M. Gunn of the National Council of Churches regarding the application of Christian teachings in television series. However, Gunn stopped replying after Roddenberry wrote in a letter: "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."
Roddenberry 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, which was to have been stated by a Vulcan, into the plot for Star Trek: The God Thing. Prior to his death, Roddenberry became close friends with philosopher Charles Musès, who said that Roddenberry's views were "a far cry from atheism." Roddenberry explained his position thusly: "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 Catholicism "a very beautiful religion. An art form." However, he said that he dismissed all organized religions, saying that for the most part, they acted like a "substitute brain... and a very malfunctioning one." Roddenberry was also critical of how the public looked at certain religions, noting that when the King David Hotel bombing took place in 1946, the American public accepted it as the action of freedom fighters, whereas a car bombing by a Muslim in Beirut is condemned as a terrorist act. While he agreed that both parties were wrong in their use of violence, he said that the actions of both were undertaken because of 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. Even a mention of marriage in a script for an early episode of The Next Generation resulted in Roddenberry's chastising the writers. Nicholas Meyer subsequently said that Star Trek had evolved "into sort of a secular parallel to the Catholic Mass." Roddenberry compared the franchise to his own philosophy by saying: "Understand that Star Trek is more than just my political philosophy, my racial philosophy, my overview on life and the human condition." He was awarded the 1991 Humanist Arts Award from the American Humanist Association.
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 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). He had routinely used stimulants to work through the night on scripts, especially amphetamines. The effects of these substances were compounded by deleterious interactions with diabetes, high blood pressure, and antidepressant prescriptions.
Following a stroke at a family reunion in Tallahassee, Florida, in September 1989, Roddenberry's health declined further, ultimately leaving him confined to a wheelchair. Following another stroke in early October 1991, his right arm was paralyzed, causing him ongoing pain as the muscles began to atrophy. It also caused problems with the sight in his right eye and he found communicating in full sentences difficult. At 2:00 pm, on October 24, he attended an appointment with his doctor, Dr. Ronald Rich. He arrived in the building with his staff, and began to travel up to the ninth floor in the elevator. As they reached the fifth floor, he began struggling for breath, and was wheeled into the doctor's office where he was reclined and a nurse applied an oxygen bottle. Majel Barrett was sent for; upon her arrival, she held Roddenberry while encouraging him to breathe. He had a cardiopulmonary arrest, and died in the doctor's office shortly afterwards. They attempted cardio-pulmonary resuscitation to no effect, and paramedics arrived to take him across the road to the Santa Monica Medical Centre, where he was declared dead.
The funeral was arranged for November 1, with the public invited to the memorial service at the Hall of Liberty, within the Forest Lawn Memorial Park, in Hollywood Hills. It was a secular service; Roddenberry had been cremated prior to the event. More than three hundred Star Trek fans attended, and stood in the balcony section of the hall, while the invited guests were on the floor level. Nichelle Nichols sang twice during the ceremony, first "Yesterday" and then a song she wrote herself entitled "Gene". Both songs had been requested by Barrett. Several people spoke at the memorial, including Ray Bradbury, Whoopi Goldberg, Christopher Knopf, E. Jack Newman, and Patrick Stewart. The ceremony was closed by two kilted pipers playing "Amazing Grace" as a pre-recorded message by Roddenberry was broadcast. A four-plane flypast, in the missing man formation, followed some thirty minutes later. 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 $30 million estate to his wife Majel Barrett, in a trust. He also left money to his children and his first wife Eileen. However, his daughter Dawn contested the will based upon the grounds that Barrett had had undue influence on her father. In the initial hearing in 1993, the Los Angeles Superior Court ruled that there were improprieties in the management of the trust and removed Barrett as executor. In another decision, the court found that Roddenberry had hidden assets from Star Trek in the Norway Corporation in order to keep funds away from his first wife, and ordered the payment of fifty percent of those assets to Eileen as well as punitive damages. In 1996, the California Court of Appeals ruled that the original will, which stated that anyone who contested it would be disinherited, would stand. As a result, Dawn lost $500,000 from the estate, as well as a share of the trust upon Barrett's death. The appellate court also overturned a 1987 decision to award Roddenberry's first wife, Eileen, fifty percent 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, some of Roddenberry's ashes were flown into space, and returned to Earth, on the Space Shuttle Columbia mission STS-52. On April 21, 1997, a Celestis spacecraft with 7 grams (a quarter of an ounce) of the cremated remains of Roddenberry, along with those of Timothy Leary, and twenty-two other people, was launched into Earth orbit aboard a Pegasus XL rocket from a site 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 his widow Majel (Barrett) Roddenberry, who died in 2008, was initially planned to take place in 2009. Unlike previous flights, the intention was that this flight would not return to burn up in the Earth's atmosphere. This flight was delayed and is now planned for launch in 2016. It will also include the ashes of James Doohan in addition to the Roddenberrys' and several others.
In 1985, Gene Roddenberry was the first television writer to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He was given a Macintosh 128K by Apple Inc. in 1986, which was later upgraded by the company and re-designated as a Macintosh Plus with the production number of M-0001. The latter started the rumor that Roddenberry had received the first Mac-Plus off the production line. When the Sci-Fi Channel was launched in the United States eleven months after the death of Roddenberry, the first broadcast was a dedication to two "science fiction pioneers": Isaac Asimov and Roddenberry. His impact on popular culture in the previous thirty years was said to be eclipsed only by that of Elvis Presley. Japanese astrophysicist Yoji Kondo proposed naming a crater on Mars after Roddenberry in 1994. This was supported by Carl Sagan and Arthur C. Clarke, and was agreed to by the International Astronomical Union. The Roddenberry crater is located at Martian latitude −49.9 degrees and longitude 4.5 degrees. 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. While 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, noting: "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." In 2000, the Gene Roddenberry Award was inaugurated at the fifth FantastiCon convention in Los Angeles. It is the highest award handed out by the organisation. On its inauguration, it was given to Michael Piller.
After meeting David Alexander at a Star Trek convention in the early 1970s, the duo collaborated on a 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 were collected by Alexander for the production of the book, the only authorized biography of Roddenberry. Entitled Star Trek Creator, it was published in 1995. Several other biographies of Roddenberry have also been published, including Joel Engel's Gene Roddenberry: The Myth and the Man Behind Star Trek and James Van Hise's The Man Who Created Star Trek: Gene Roddenberry. Yvonne Fern's book, Gene Roddenberry: The Last Conversation, detailed a series of conversations she had with Roddenberry over the last months on his life.
In October 2002, a plaque was placed at Roddenberry's birthplace in El Paso, Texas. It was paid for 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 alongside Ridley Scott, Ed Emshwiller, and Gene Wolfe in a ceremony hosted by The Next Generation alumni Wil Wheaton. Roddenberry was inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame in January 2010, with a tribute by Family Guy creator and Star Trek: Enterprise guest star Seth MacFarlane.
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 on 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 Roddenberry's death. Berman continued to lead Star Trek through Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager, but said that though his vision did not entirely align with Roddenberry's, he respected his mentor's views. Berman said: "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."
In early 1996, Majel Barret-Roddenberry uncovered scripts, and a five-year plan by Roddenberry dating from 1977, for a series called Battleground Earth. Roddenberry had planned to create a pilot for the series 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, 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, Barrett discussed the volume of material in Roddenberry's archive with Askin. She asked his team to go through the archive to determine if there were any other 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; it sold to 85% of the United States and launched 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. He became one of the executive producers of the series alongside Majel Barrett-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, 110 episodes were ultimately aired over 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. 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: "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's work.
Awards and nominations
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Gene Roddenberry.|
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- Roddenberry Entertainment website
- Gene Roddenberry at the Internet Movie Database
- Gene Roddenberry at Memory Alpha (a Star Trek wiki)