Today marks what would have been the 100th birthday of Gene Roddenberry. Though he had worked consistently in Hollywood by contributing scripts to a number of television series throughout the 1950s and early 1960s, it was in the fall of 1964 that he unknowingly began creating something of a cultural shift when he sat down at his typewriter and wrote this:
Yes, he’d written about Star Trek before, largely in the form of an extensive pitch document which he used to convince executive producer Herbert F. Solow and Desilu Productions (including, yes, the legendary Lucille Ball herself) to take a chance on his concept for a new science fiction/action-adventure series unlike anything which had yet graced TV screens. But it wasn’t until he actually set to the task of writing that first story that his idea took on substance.
While the completed pilot episode as presented to NBC didn’t wow network executives, it intrigued them enough that they allowed Roddenberry to try again. His second effort, “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” was enough to get a thumbs up and a series order, and the rest…as has often been said…is history.
Since then, what spawned from Mr. Roddenberry’s typewriter has grown and expanded to to include (to date) ten television series along with two more which will premiere in the coming months (and others in various stages of gestation), 13 feature films with — as I write this — another on the way, hundreds of stories told in the pages of books and comics as well as computer and other gaming platforms, and so much more.
I think, at this point, it’s safe to say the man had an influence on a writer/blogger/online babbler of your acquaintance. My earliest childhood memories include watching afternoon reruns of the original series. Then a bit later there was the animated series on Saturday mornings, followed by playing with the Mego action figures and using them to create my own adventures for Captain Kirk and his crew. Building the U.S.S. Enterprise model, or even that “Exploration Set” so I could run outside and “play Star Trek” with my friends. The giant swing/ball/slide thing in the middle of our neighborhood playground was our Enterprise, and everything else we filled in with our imaginations. Those were the days, amirite?
Then there were the comics, and the books.
Not nearly so prevalent as they are today, Star Trek comics in the early-mid 1970s along with the occasional book were squeal-inducing finds at the local Woolworth’s or other department store. Pickings were slim back in those days, and let’s be honest: As kitschy, charming and whimsical as I still believe them to be, the Star Trek comics as published by Gold Key during the late 1960s and early 1970s are pretty insane. I mean……
So, yeah. Those.
On the prose front, from what I remember my Star Trek reading began or at least was heavily influenced by the slim volumes of episode adaptations as penned by noted science fiction author James Blish. Working from early script drafts, Blish translated each of the episodes into short stories, divided across what ultimately became 12 books, with an additional book, Mudd’s Angels, adapting the two episodes that featured rogue scoundrel Harcourt Fenton “Harry” Mudd as well as an original Mudd tale penned by Blish’s his wife, author J.A. Lawrence, who also assisted with the final installments of the episode adaptations when her husband’s health began to decline.
These were but the first of my many forays into the written world of Star Trek. Little did I know that reading these books and the ones that followed would eventually lead me down a path toward wanting to try my own hand at writing. Not for one second did I ever dream I might one day be able to contribute to what is now a very large number of Star Trek books, as I’ve been privileged to do for going on 20 years, now. Perhaps even more exciting than that, I actually get to help other people make Star Trek, and I don’t mind telling anyone who’ll listen that it’s a pretty good gig to have. Talk about your dream jobs….
All because of a little TV show my mother let me watch every day after school before starting my homework, created by a man who would’ve celebrated his 100th birthday today.
“I would hope there are bright young people, growing up all the time, who will bring to [Star Trek] levels and areas that were beyond me, and I don’t feel jealous about that at all….It’ll go on without any of us, and get better and better and better. That really is the human condition–to improve.”
– Gene Roddenberry, 1988
Thank you, Mr. Roddenberry, for giving us such a wondrous sandbox in which to play and dream.