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Gene Roddenberry

Eugene Wesley Roddenberry (August 19, 1921October 24, 1991) was born in El Paso, Texas, USA, and spent his boyhood in Los Angeles, California. He is best known as the creator of the science fiction television series Star Trek, and was one of the first people to be buried in space.

Life and work

Roddenberry was married twice. He had two children by his first wife, Eileen Rexroat (to whom he was married 27 years) — Dawn, and the late Darleen. His second marriage was to Majel Barrett, who played Nurse Christine Chapel in the original Star Trek series, Lwaxana Troi, and the voice of the computer in the later three series. He had one child, Rod, with Majel.

Roddenberry joined the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1941 and became an aviator. After leaving the service, he was a commercial pilot for Pan American World Airways and then served on the Los Angeles Police Department from 1949 - 1956. Before Star Trek, he wrote scripts for many of the popular television series of the 1950s. He was also trying to get other science fiction series off the ground, mostly without success.

Following the cancellation of "Star Trek" Roddenberry pitched four sci-fi tv series concepts that had pilot movies produced but were not picked up. The Questor Tapes , Genesis II , Planet Earth, and Strange New World . He also directed a minor feature film Spectre .

During the latter 1970s, Roddenberry lectured at universities around the country. He amused the attendees with anecdotes from the Star Trek set, spoke of his visions of the future and showed the Star Trek Blooper Reel, a collection of outtakes from the original series. Fans bestowed upon him the affectionate nickname "The Great Bird of the Galaxy" after a mythical creature referenced in an episode of the original Trek series.

Roddenberry listens to a fan after a lecture at the University of Texas at Austin (late 1970s).
Roddenberry listens to a fan after a lecture at the University of Texas at Austin (late 1970s).

Star Trek ran for three seasons. Although it was cancelled due to low ratings, the series gained wide popularity in syndication. The Star Trek episode Assignment: Earth was meant to be the pilot for a spinoff series which never came to fruition. Beginning in 1975 go-ahead was given by Paramount for Roddenberry to develop a sequel "Star Trek" television series based around as many of the original cast as could be recruited. This series was to be the anchor show of a new network but plans by Paramount for this network were scrapped and plans were changed to do a Star Trek feature film. The result Star Trek: The Motion Picture had a lukewarm response but nevertheless, several feature films and a new television series, Star Trek: The Next Generation, were created in the 1980s. Roddenberry was deeply involved with creating and producing Star Trek: The Next Generation, although his involvement lessened in seasons 2 and 3 due to deteriorating health. Star Trek also spawned the television series Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Star Trek: Voyager and Star Trek: Enterprise.

Roddenberry only produced the first Star Trek film, Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Due to cost overruns and a problematic relation with the Paramount management, Roddenberry was ousted and replaced by Harve Bennett. He continued as executive consultant on the next four films - Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home and Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. The last film based on the original Star Trek series, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country was dedicated in Roddenberry's memory; he reportedly viewed a version of the film a few days before his death.

Writers on the show have charged that ideas they developed were later passed off by Roddenberry as his own, or that he lied about their contributions to the show at Star Trek conventions. Roddenberry was confronted by these writers, and apologized to them, but according to his critics, he continued to repeat the false claims. [1] In her autobiography, actress Nichelle Nichols who played Uhura in the first Star Trek series, reported having had a love affair with Gene Roddenberry. She felt that his strong and controversial inclination to get her on the show had a lot to do with their relationship.

Roddenberry's life and work has been favorably chronicled in the biography Inside Trek: My Secret Life with Star Trek Creator Gene Roddenberry by Susan Sackett, his close associate for 17 years. The book has been described as inaccurate by his critics.

Despite his reduced management of Star Trek near the end of his life, Roddenberry was still respected enough that Paramount Pictures, owners of the various Star Trek series, agreed to his request that the Star Trek Animated Series not be considered canon by the studio. According to the reference work The Star Trek Chronology, Roddenberry reportedly considered elements of the fifth and sixth Trek films to be apocryphal, though there is no indication that he wanted them removed from Trek canon.

Gene Roddenberry was a secular humanist [2]. After his death, a lipstick-sized capsule of his ashes was sent into space to orbit the earth for six years (after which they burned up in the earth's atmosphere). There is an asteroid called 4659 Roddenberry and a crater on Mars that were named in his honor.

After his death in 1991, Roddenberry's estate allowed the creation of two long-running television series based upon some of his previously unfilmed story ideas and concepts. Earth: Final Conflict and Andromeda have become reality under the guidance of Majel Barrett, although the actual inspiration of at least Andromeda seems very tenuous indeed. A third Roddenberry storyline was adapted in 1995 as the short-lived comic book Gene Roddenberry's Lost Universe.


[1] See Gene Roddenberry: The Myth and the Man Behind Star Trek by Joel Engel, books by Star Trek Producer Bob Justman, science-fiction convention talks by Star Trek writer Dorothy C. Fontana, and books and articles by Harlan Ellison.

[2] Interview in The Humanist, March/April 1991

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