The Star Trek world has suffered another heartbreak with the loss of Dorothy Fontana, who passed away on December 2nd after a brief illness.
Already an accomplished television writer by the time she met Gene Roddenberry in 1963 while he was producing a new series called The Lieutenant, Fontana stayed with him when he began pitching Star Trek to different studios the following year. Hired by Roddenberry as his production secretary when he landed at Desilu Studios in 1964, Fontana was there from the very beginning with the first Star Trek pilot, “The Cage.”
When the series was finally greenlit after the production of a second, better received pilot episode, “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” Fontana served as the show’s story editor. Roddenberry asked her to write an episode from one of the story ideas included in his series “writer’s bible.” The idea she chose would become “Charlie X,” the first of eight teleplays she would contribute to the original series. One of those, “Journey to Babel,” along with her own “This Side of Paradise” and Theodore Sturgeon’s “Amok Time” provided us with vital backstory key to understanding not just the character of Mr. Spock but also the Vulcan people and their civilization.
And this is really just the tip of the iceberg. Following her tenure on the original show, she wrote scripts for numerous television series throughout the ensuing thirty years, including genre shows like Logan’s Run, Land of the Lost, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, The Six Million Dollar Man, and Babylon 5. In 1973, she returned to Star Trek as script editor for the animated series, where she also contributed a script for one of that show’s most popular episodes, “Yesteryear,” which offered even more insight into Spock, his family, and the planet Vulcan.
Along with fellow Star Trek alumni David Gerrold, Robert H. Justman, and Edward K. (“Eddie”) Milkis, Fontana joined Gene Roddenberry in the fall of 1986 to develop Star Trek: The Next Generation. Fontana co-wrote with Roddenberry that series’ first episode, “Encounter At Farpoint,” for which she received a Hugo award nomination. She wrote or co-wrote three additional scripts and provided another story while serving as associate producer for the new show’s first thirteen episodes. Her final contribution to televised Star Trek was a collaboration with writer Peter Allan Fields for “Dax,” a first season episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
Beyond television, Fontana wrote a well-received and fan-favorite Star Trek novel, 1989’s Vulcan’s Glory. She also collaborated with writer Derek Chester on the storylines for several Star Trek video games as well as the 2008 comic book miniseries Star Trek: Year Four. The comic would be her final contribution to Star Trek. After largely retiring from screenwriting in 2006, she most recently served as a senior lecturer at the American Film Institute.
From my earliest days as a fan watching the original series, I knew the name “D.C. Fontana.” As I grew older and my appreciation for the show expanded in various ways, I became more interested in its production and behind-the-scenes stories, so I learned more about the woman behind the initials. Yes, Star Trek was created by Gene Roddenberry with the able assistance of producers Herb Solow and Bob Justman. However, along with writer-producer Gene Coon I consider Dorothy Fontana to be absolutely instrumental to the shaping and caretaking of the series during its formative years, laying the foundation upon which stands everything that followed. The width and breadth of her impact on Star Trek cannot be understated.
As someone who’s enjoyed the privilege of contributing in some small way to the universe she helped create, I’ve taken much inspiration from her (and other writers of the original series in particular). From her and her colleagues, I learned a great deal about what makes “a Star Trek story,” and I try to keep in mind the lessons they imparted every time I sit down to write my own such tales. So far as I see it, Star Trek as we know it would not exist if not for her efforts. Her influence and indeed her legacy continues to inform and guide even the newest iterations of the franchise to this day.
Rest in peace, Ms. Fontana, and thank you.
Dorothy Catherine (“D.C.”) Fontana
March 25, 1939 – December 2, 2019