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Gene Roddenberry

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Eugene Wesley "Gene" Roddenberry (August 19, 1921 – October 24, 1991) was an American screenwriter, producer and futurist. He created the American science-fiction series Star Trek, an accomplishment for which he was sometimes referred to as the "Great Bird of the Galaxy" due to the show's influence on popular culture.[1] He was one of the first people to have his ashes "buried" in space. Gene Roddenberry has been inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He will be inducted into the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences' Hall of Fame in January 2010.[2]


Early life

Gene Roddenberry was born on August 19, 1921, in El Paso, Texas,[3] to police officer[4] Eugene Edward Roddenberry and Caroline "Glen" Golemon Roddenberry. He grew up in Los Angeles, California and attended Berendo Junior High School (now Berendo Middle School) before graduating from Franklin High School.

After graduation, Roddenberry took classes in Police Studies at Los Angeles City College and became head of the Police Club, liasing with the FBI. He went on to study at Columbia University, the University of Miami, and the University of Southern California but did not graduate.[4]

[edit] Military and police serviceEdit

Roddenberry developed an interest in aeronautical engineering and subsequently obtained a pilot's license. In 1941 he joined the U.S. Army Air Corps, which in the same year became the United States Army Air Force. He flew combat missions in the Pacific Theatre with the 394th Bomb Squadron, 5th Bombardment Wing of the Thirteenth Air Force and on 2 August 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; he also received the World War II Victory Medal before leaving the Air Force in 1945.[5][6][7] After the military, Roddenberry worked as a commercial pilot for Pan American World Airways (Pan Am). He received a Civil Aeronautics commendation for his rescue efforts following a June 1947 crash in the Syrian desert while on a flight to Istanbul from Karachi.

Pursuing a career in Hollywood, Roddenberry left Pan Am and moved to Los Angeles. To provide for his family, he joined the Los Angeles Police Department on February 1, 1949. He became a Police Officer 3 in 1951 and was made a Sergeant in 1953. [8] On June 7, 1956, he resigned from the police force to concentrate on his writing career.[9] 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.[9]

[edit] Television and film careerEdit

While Roddenberry worked for the LAPD, he wrote television scripts for the series Highway Patrol and both the TV and radio versions of Have Gun, Will Travel. Gene wrote using the pseudonym Robert Wesley, since the police department had a strict policy against employees having second jobs.[citation needed] In 1957, he wrote an episode for the Boots and Saddles western series entitled "The Prussian Farmer". In the late 1950s, Roddenberry submitted a story to Jack Webb, owner of Mark VII Productions, who liked the story so much that he based an episode of Dragnet on it.[citation needed]

Eventually, Roddenberry's dissatisfaction with his work as a freelance writer led him to produce his own television program. 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. NBC would later refuse to broadcast an episode which covered racism in the military.[citation needed]

[edit] Star TrekEdit

Roddenberry developed Star Trek in 1964 thinking it as a combination of the science-fiction series Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon. It was picked up by Desilu Studios when Roddenberry sold the premise as a "Wagon Train to the Stars". The first pilot went over its US$500,000 budget and received only minor support from NBC. Nevertheless, the network commissioned an unprecedented second pilot and the series premiered on September 8, 1966 and ran for three seasons. The show began to receive low ratings, and in the final season, Roddenberry offered to demote himself to line producer in a final attempt to rescue the show by giving it a desirable time slot. The show was cancelled, and Roddenberry resigned, accepting a staff producer position with MGM.[citation needed]

The series went on to gain popularity through syndication.[10]

Writers who worked for Star Trek have said that ideas they developed were later passed off by Roddenberry as his own, or that he lied about their contributions and involvement to the show. Roddenberry was confronted by these writers, and he apologized to them; but according to his critics, he would continue the behavior.[11]


[1][2]Gene Roddenberry in 1976 with most of the cast of Star Trek visiting the Space Shuttle Enterprise, at Palmdale, USARoddenberry is occasionally criticized for his treatment of movie and script royalties related to Star Trek. He alienated composer Alexander Courage by demanding fifty percent of the royalties which Courage received for the show's theme song whenever an episode of Star Trek was aired.[12] Later, while cooperating with Stephen Whitfield for the latter's book The Making of Star Trek, Roddenberry demanded—and received—Whitfield's acquiescence for 50 percent of the book's royalties. 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."[13] 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".[14]

Beginning in 1975, the go-ahead was given by Paramount for Roddenberry to develop a new Star Trek television series, with many of the original cast to be included. It was originally called Phase II. This series would be the anchor show of a new network (the ancestor of UPN, which later became part of The CW Television Network), but plans by Paramount for this network were scrapped and the project was reworked into a feature film. The result, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, received a lukewarm critical response, but it performed well at the box office.[citation needed]

When it came time to produce the obligatory theatrical sequel, Roddenberry's story submission of a time-traveling Enterprise crew involved in the John F. Kennedy assassination was rejected. He was removed from direct involvement and replaced by Harve Bennett.[15] He continued, however, as executive consultant for the next four films: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan; Star Trek III: The Search for Spock; Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home; and Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. As a consultant, Roddenberry was allowed to view and comment on all scripts, but the creative team was free to disregard his advice.[citation needed]

Roddenberry was deeply involved with creating and producing Star Trek: The Next Generation, although he only had full control over the show's first season. The WGA strike of 1988 prevented him from taking an active role in production of the second season and forced him to hand control of the series to producer Maurice Hurley. While Roddenberry was free to resume work on the third season, his health was in serious decline, and over the course of the season, he gradually ceded control to Rick Berman and Michael Piller.[citation needed]

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country was the last film with the cast of the original Star Trek series and was dedicated to Roddenberry. He reportedly viewed an early version of the film a few days before his death.[15] In his book Star Trek Movie Memories, William Shatner claims that after Roddenberry viewed the film in a private screening, he promptly drafted a list of changes he wanted made, but by the time his attorney submitted that list, Roddenberry himself had died.[citation needed]

In addition to his film and TV work, Roddenberry also wrote the novelization of Star Trek: The Motion Picture. It was published in 1979 and was the first of hundreds of Star Trek-based novels to be published by the Pocket Books unit of Simon & Schuster, whose parent company also owned Paramount Pictures Corporation. Because Alan Dean Foster wrote the original treatment of the Star Trek: The Motion Picture film, there was[who?] a rumor that Foster was the ghostwriter of the novel. This has been debunked by Foster on his personal web site. (Foster did, however, ghostwrite the novelization of George Lucas's Star Wars.) Roddenberry talked of writing a second Trek novel based on his rejected 1975 script of the JFK assassination plot, but he died before he was able to do so.[citation needed]

Despite his reduced management of Star Trek near the end of his life, Roddenberry was respected enough that Paramount Pictures, owners of the various Star Trek series, agreed to his request that Star Trek: The Animated Series be stripped of its official recognition as canon by the studio. (In 2007, Star Trek's official site included the animated series in its library section.[16]) According to the reference book The Star Trek Chronology, Roddenberry also considered elements of the fifth and sixth Trek films to be apocryphal,[clarification needed] although there was no indication that he wanted them removed from Trek canon.[citation needed]

Star Trek was used as the basis for further television series: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine; Star Trek: Voyager; and Star Trek: Enterprise.

[edit] Other television workEdit

Aside from Star Trek, Gene produced Pretty Maids All in a Row, a sexploitation film adapted from the novel written by Francis Pollini and directed by Roger Vadim. The cast included Rock Hudson, Angie Dickinson, Telly Savalas, and Roddy McDowall alongside Star Trek regulars James Doohan and William J. Campbell. It also featured Gretchen Burrell, the wife of country-rock pioneer Gram Parsons; a pictorial of her was published in an issue of Playboy Magazine about this time. Despite Roddenberry's expectations, the film was not a success. His relationship with MGM studio was strained by this, although he did continue there until 1972.[citation needed]

In the early 1970s, Roddenberry pitched pilots for four sci-fi TV series concepts, although none were developed as series: The Questor Tapes; Genesis II; Planet Earth; and Strange New World. He also co-wrote and was executive producer on the made-for-television movie Spectre (1977), which was designed as a backdoor pilot.[citation needed]

Roddenberry feared that he would be unable to provide for his family, as he was unable to find work in the television and film industry and was facing possible bankruptcy. He then heeded the advice of his friend and British sci-fi writer Arthur Charles Clarke and looked for steady employment on the college lecture circuit where contemporaries[who?] in similar predicaments had found success.[clarification needed][citation needed]

[edit] Personal lifeEdit

In 1942, Gene Roddenberry married Eileen Rexroat. They had two daughters, Darlene and Dawn, but during the 1960s, he went on to have affairs with Nichelle Nichols (said by Nichols to be the reason he wanted her on the show).[17] 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, Jr.[18]

Although Roddenberry was raised as a Southern Baptist, he instead considered himself a humanist and agnostic. He saw religion as the cause of many wars and human suffering[19] and made it known to the writers of Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation that religion and mystical thinking were not to be included. According to Brannon Braga, in Roddenberry's vision of Earth's future, everyone was an atheist and better for it.[20]

Roddenberry and his wife Majel were honored by the Space Foundation in 2002 with the Douglas S. Morrow Public Outreach Award [21], in recognition of their contributions to awarenes of and enthusiasm for space.

[edit] Burial in space and posthumous seriesEdit

[3][4]Roddenberry's star at 6683 Hollywood Blvd on Hollywood's Walk of Fame, presented in 1986.Roddenberry died on October 24, 1991, of heart failure. On April 21, 1997, a capsule carrying a portion of Roddenberry's ashes, along with those of Timothy Leary and nineteen other individuals was launched into orbit aboard a Pegasus XL rocket from near the Canary Islands. By 2004, the capsule's orbital height deteriorated and it disintegrated in the atmosphere. Another flight to launch more of his ashes and that of his wife into deep space is planned for launch in 2012.[22]

After his death, Roddenberry's estate permitted the filming of Earth: Final Conflict and Andromeda, two television series which were 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.[23]

[edit] ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ "Gene Roddenberry Biography". startrek.com. http://www.startrek.com/startrek/view/series/TOS/creative/69095.html. Retrieved 2007-12-18.
  2. ^ http://beta.emmys.tv/news/2009/candice-bergen-charles-lisanby-don-pardo-gene-roddenberry-smothers-brothers-and-bob-stewar
  3. ^ http://www.camdencounty.org/pinebarrens/roddenberry.html
  4. ^ a b http://www.museum.tv/archives/etv/R/htmlR/roddenberry/roddenberry.htm
  5. ^ Freeman, Roger A., with Osborne, David., "The B-17 Flying Fortress Story", Arms & Armour Press, Wellington House, London, UK, 1998, ISBN 1-85409-301-0, page 74
  6. ^ Alexander, David, "Star Trek Creator", ROC Books, an imprint of Dutton Signet, a division of Penguin Books USA, New York, June 1994, ISBN 0-451-54518-9, pages 75-76
  7. ^ Edward B. Kiker (Winter/Spring 2004). "SOLDIERS OF VISION: We Don’t Stop When We Take off the Uniform" (PDF). Army Space Journal. http://www.smdc-armyforces.army.mil/Pic_Archive/ASJ_PDFs/ASJ_VOL_3_NO_1_Y_FLIP_1.pdf. Retrieved 2008-12-21. "He took part in 89 missions and sorties, and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal."
  8. ^ David Alexander.(1994) "Star Trek Creator : The Authorized Biography of Gene Roddenberry," Roc, p.104
  9. ^ a b Alexander, p.141
  10. ^ Sackett, Susan (2002). Inside Trek: My Secret Life with Star Trek Creator Gene Roddenberry. Hawk Publishing Group. ISBN 1930709420.
  11. ^ Engel, Joel (1994). Gene Roddenberry: The Myth and the Man Behind Star Trek. Hyperion Books. ISBN 0786860049. Inside Star Trek: The Real Story (1996) commentary by Star Trek producer Herbert F. Solow, science-fiction convention talks by Star Trek writer Dorothy C. Fontana, and books and articles by Harlan Ellison.
  12. ^ "Unthemely Behavior". Urban Legends Reference Pages. 2007-08-08. http://www.snopes.com/radiotv/tv/trek1.htm. Retrieved 2007-05-20.
  13. ^ Herbert F. Solow & Robert H. Justman, Inside Star Trek: the Real Story, Pocket Books, 1996, p.402
  14. ^ Solow & Justman, p.402
  15. ^ a b Susan Sackett (2002). Inside Trek: My Secret Life With Star Trek Creator Gene Roddenberry. HAWK Publishing Group. ISBN 1-930709-42-0.
  16. ^ The Animated Series Gets Real
  17. ^ Nichelle Nichols, Beyond Uhura: Star Trek and Other Memories, G.P. Putnam & Sons, New York, 1994.
  18. ^ David Alexander (1994). Star Trek Creator: The Authorized Biography of Gene Roddenberry. Roc. ISBN 0-451-45440-5.
  19. ^ "Roddenberry Interview". The Humanist 51 (2). March/April 1991.
  20. ^ Braga, Brannon (2006-06-24). "Every religion has a mythology". International Atheist Conference. Reykjavik, Iceland. http://sidmennt.is/2006/08/16/every-religion-has-a-mythology/. Retrieved 2009-05-11.
  21. ^ Foundation Douglas S. Morrow Public Outreach Award
  22. ^ "Ashes of 'Star Trek' Creator's Widow to Fly in Space". space.com. http://www.space.com/news/090127-majel-roddenberry-ashes-space.html.
  23. ^ "Mainframe Entertainment Lands Gene Roddenberry's 'Starship' for Computer Animated Television Series". BNet Research Center. 1998-10-20. http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0EIN/is_1998_Oct_20/ai_53099756. Retrieved 2007-12-18.

[edit] Further readingEdit

  • Alexander, David. Star Trek Creator: The Authorized Biography of Gene Roddenberry.
  • Engel, Joel. Gene Roddenberry: The Myth and the Man Behind Star Trek.
  • Fern, Yvonne. Gene Roddenberry: The Last Conversation.
  • Gross, Edward and Mark A. Altman. Great Birds of the Galaxy: Gene Roddenberry and the Creators of Star Trek.
  • Sackett, Susan. Inside Trek: My Secret Life with Star Trek Creator Gene Roddenberry.
  • Van Hise, James. The Man Who Created Star Trek: Gene Roddenberry.

[edit] Cast autobiographiesEdit

External linksEdit

On wikiaEdit

InternetEdit

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