Gene Roddenberry

Gene Roddenberry

Roddenberry, Gene (Eugene Wesley Roddenberry), 1921-91, American television writer and producer, b. El Paso, Tex. After being awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal for flying 89 missions and sorties in World War II, Roddenberry worked as a pilot and police officer. He joined the television industry as a scriptwriter, eventually becoming head writer for the series Have Gun, Will Travel. In 1966 he created Star Trek, which became a cultural icon. The show spawned several feature films and further television series.

Eugene Wesley "Gene" Roddenberry, (August 19, 1921 – October 24, 1991) was an American screenwriter and producer. He became best known as the creator of what would become the science fiction universe of Star Trek. He would also become one of the first people to be "buried" in space. Roddenberry was a recipient of the Distinguished Flying Cross for his actions in the U.S. Army Air Corps in the Pacific Theatre of World War II. Roddenberry was sometimes referred to as the "Great Bird of the Galaxy" in reference to his role in Star Trek.

Personal life

Born in El Paso, Texas, to Eugene Edward Roddenberry and Caroline Glen, Roddenberry spent his boyhood in Los Angeles, California, where his family had moved so his father could pursue a career with the Los Angeles Police Department. Following in his father's footsteps after high school, Roddenberry took classes in police studies at Los Angeles City College, and headed that school's Police Club. In that role, he was a liaison with the FBI, thanking them for sending speakers and securing copies of the FBI Code and publications for club use, and took fingerprint records of the college community for the FBI's Civil Identification Division.

Following his graduation from Los Angeles City College, Roddenberry attended Columbia University, the University of Miami, and the University of Southern California.

He later transferred his academic interest to aeronautical engineering and qualified for a pilot's license. Roddenberry joined the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1941 and became an aviator. He flew many combat B-17 Flying Fortress missions in the Pacific Theatre with the 394th Bomb Squadron (H), 5th Bomb Group, whose members called themselves the "Bomber Barons." Roddenberry was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal.

After leaving the service, he was a commercial pilot for Pan American World Airways. He received a Civil Aeronautics commendation for his efforts following a June 1947 crash in the Syrian desert, while on a flight to Istanbul from Karachi.

Roddenberry left Pan Am to pursue writing for television in Los Angeles. In order to provide for his growing family, he fell back on his early training and joined the Los Angeles Police Department on February 1, 1949, when he took an oath of office and was assigned LAPD badge number 6089. During his seven-year service with the LAPD, Roddenberry would rise to become a police sergeant. He resigned from the police force to concentrate on his writing career on June 7, 1956.

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."


Roddenberry married twice and had three children, two of whom were daughters, by his first wife, Eileen Rexroat, to whom he was married 27 years; these were Dawn Roddenberry and the late Darleen Roddenberry. He became involved with actress Nichelle Nichols during the early to mid 1960's, then later began having an affair in the late 1960s with actress Majel Barrett whom he cast in various roles in Star Trek. He left his first wife and married Barrett in Japan in a traditional Shinto ceremony on August 6, 1969. Together they had one child, his only son, Eugene Wesley, Jr.


Although he had been reared as a Southern Baptist, Roddenberry did not embrace the faith of his parents, coming to blame organized religions for many wars and much suffering in human history. Instead, he became a humanist.

Death and funeral

Roddenberry died on October 24, 1991, of heart failure. He was 70 years of age when he died. In 1992 his ashes flew in space (round trip) aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia on the STS-52 mission as part of commander James Wetherbee's personal effects. In 1997, a lipstick-sized capsule of his ashes was sent into space to orbit Earth for approximately six years, after which it burned up in Earth's atmosphere.

Television and film career

Before Star Trek, Roddenberry wrote scripts for many of the popular television series of the 1950s, such as Highway Patrol, to which he contributed his scripts, written while still a cop, under the pen name Robert Wesley because of the LAPD's inflexible policy against moonlighting, and later Have Gun, Will Travel. His first-season episode "Helen of Abajinian" won a Writers Guild of America Award.

Norway Corporation

Roddenberry's frustrations with his work as a free-lance writer for Have Gun, Will Travel and the difficulty he faced in adding anything substantial to his stories led him to attempt to produce his own tv shows. His first attempt, APO 923, was not picked up by the networks. In 1963, he organized a company called Norway Corporation. Under this banner, he produced The Lieutenant, a 1963-1964 NBC and MGM Television series about the United States Marine Corps that starred Gary Lockwood as Lieutenant William Rice. During this period, Roddenberry was also trying to get science fiction series on the air, mostly without success. Many future cast members of Star Trek first worked with Roddenberry as regular, or guest, cast members of The Lieutenant.

But even as an independent producer, Roddenberry continued to have problems; NBC refused to broadcast, or even pay for, an installment of The Lieutenant dealing with racism in the Corps, forcing MGM Television to eat the production costs. Thoroughly disgusted, Roddenberry drew the conclusion that he could only get messages across, if he wanted to include them, by disguising them in out-of-the-ordinary situations, or as satire. The credits for this episode include, "Introducing Nichelle Nichols". The entire episode is available for viewing at The Paley Center for Media in New York City.

Star Trek

With this in mind, Roddenberry developed his idea for Star Trek in 1964 after looking for material to rival Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon. The series was finally picked up by Desilu Studios when Gene sold the idea as a "Wagon Train to the Stars". The original $500,000 pilot received only minor support from NBC and its production went over budget, but the network commissioned an unprecedented second pilot. The series, a Norway Corporation production, premiered on September 8, 1966 and ran for three seasons. Although it was canceled due to low ratings, the series gained wide popularity in syndication. In the third and final season of Star Trek, Roddenberry who had offered to demote himself to the position of line producer in a final attempt to ensure the show's success if the program was given his desired timeslot effectively resigned when these demands were not met (George Schlatter had demanded that Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In not be rescheduled from its Monday-night lead-in timeslot, and his demands were met) and accepted a staff producer position with MGM.

His first project with the studio, Pretty Maids All in a Row, was a sexploitation film adapted from the Francis Pollini novel by Roddenberry and directed by Roger Vadim. With a cast including established stars (Rock Hudson, Angie Dickinson, Telly Savalas, Roddy McDowall) alongside Star Trek regulars (James Doohan and William Campbell), and beautiful unknowns (among them Gretchen Burrell, the wife of country-rock pioneer Gram Parsons), the film was expected to be one of the biggest blockbusters of 1971. But even with the support of a Playboy Magazine pictorial featuring Burrell, the film only managed to break even at the box office. Roddenberry's relationship with MGM was strained by this, although he did continue there until 1972.

Following the cancellation of Star Trek and the relative failure of his first feature film, Roddenberry pitched, through Norway Corporation, four sci-fi TV series concepts that were all produced as pilots but were not picked up 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.

After Trek

Unable to find work in the television and film industry, facing the possible bankruptcy of Norway Corporation, and fearful that he would be unable to support his family, Roddenberry heeded the advice of his good friend Arthur C. Clarke and began to find steady employment on the college lecture circuit, where contemporaries in a similar predicament, William Shatner and Timothy Leary, had both found success. He amused the fandom attendees with anecdotes from the Star Trek set, spoke of his visions of the future and showed the Star Trek Blooper Reels, a collection of outtakes from the original series. He also exhibited a black and white print of unaired first series pilot "The Cage". The screenings of the blooper reel drew criticism and ire from Leonard Nimoy, who felt that Roddenberry was exploiting his mistakes for money and eventually sued the writer-producer and Paramount for the blooper reel screenings and uncompensated use of his image in a Heineken promotional campaign. The matter would not be resolved until shortly before production of Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

New Star Trek projects

Beginning in 1975, the go-ahead was given by Paramount for Roddenberry to develop a sequel Star Trek television series including as many of the original cast as could be recruited, which was to be called Phase II. This series was to be the anchor show of a new network (the ancestor of UPN, which is now part of The CW Television Network), but plans by Paramount for this network were scrapped and the project was reworked into a Star Trek feature film.

The resulting Star Trek: The Motion Picture received a lukewarm critical response, but it performed well at the box office and saved Norway Corporation. As a result, several motion pictures and a new television series, Star Trek: The Next Generation, were created in the 1980s.

When it came time to produce the obligatory theatrical sequel, Roddenberry's story submission, in which a time-traveling Enterprise crew got involved in the John F. Kennedy assassination, was rejected, and he was removed from direct involvement effectively hobbling the power of Norway Corporation and replaced by Harve Bennett. He continued as executive consultant on the next four motion pictures: 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. In this position Roddenberry was allowed to view and comment upon all scripts and dailies emanating from the production, although the creative team was free to disregard Roddenberry's advice as Bennett almost always elected to do.

Roddenberry was deeply involved with creating and producing Star Trek: The Next Generation, although he ultimately 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, forcing him to hand control of the series to producer Maurice Hurley. While Roddenberry was free to resume work on the third season of the show, his health was in serious decline by this point, and over the course of the season he gradually ceded control to Rick Berman and Michael Piller. Star Trek also spawned the television series Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Star Trek: Voyager, and Star Trek: Enterprise.

The last film based on the original Star Trek series, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, was dedicated to Roddenberry's memory; he reportedly viewed a version of the film a few days before his death at the age of 70.

In addition to his film and TV work, Roddenberry also wrote the novelization for Star Trek: The Motion Picture, which 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. It has been claimed by some that Alan Dean Foster was the ghostwriter of the book, but this has been debunked by Foster on his personal website and is a classic instance of the broken telephone game, as Foster did ghostwrite the novelization of George Lucas' Star Wars and wrote the original treatment of the Star Trek film. Roddenberry talked of writing a second Trek novel based upon his original rejected 1975 script for the motion picture, but he died before he was able to do so.

Controversy concerning Roddenberry

Writers who worked for Star Trek 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 and/or their involvement with Norway Corporation at Star Trek conventions. Roddenberry was confronted by these writers, and apologized to them, but according to his critics, he would continue the behavior.

Roddenberry is occasionally criticised for his treatment of movie and script royalties related to Star Trek: He alienated composer Alexander Courage by demanding 50 percent of the royalties which Courage received for the show's theme song whenever an episode of Star Trek was aired. 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.

Herbert Solow and Bob 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 most successful unsuccessful series.

In her autobiography, actress Nichelle Nichols, who played Uhura in the first Star Trek series, reported having had a love affair with Roddenberry. She felt that his strong and controversial effort to get her on the show had a lot to do with their relationship.

Roddenberry's life and work has been chronicled in several works. Star Trek Creator: The Authorized Biography of Gene Roddenberry, written by friend David Alexander, is a flattering portrayal of Roddenberry's life that was received favorably by most readers, obscuring many of the troubles Roddenberry encountered in his later years. Much more controversial was Inside Trek: My Secret Life with Star Trek Creator Gene Roddenberry, written by Susan Sackett, his close associate for 17 years. While she displays unwavering affection, respect, and admiration for her employer and apparent lover, Sackett's account is hardly a hagiographic account. Recounted in brutal detail are his elongated dry spells throughout the 1970s, his addiction to cocaine, impotence, inability to finish creative projects, and mental and physical decline from roughly 1989 on.

Despite his reduced management of Star Trek and the hobbled power of Norway Corporation 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 Star Trek: The Animated Series be stripped of its official recognition as 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.


After his death in 1991 in Santa Monica, California, Roddenberry's estate allowed for the creation of two long-running television series based upon some of his previously unfilmed story ideas and concepts. Earth: Final Conflict and Andromeda were produced under the guidance of Majel Barrett-Roddenberry. A third Roddenberry storyline was adapted in 1995 as the short-lived comic book Gene Roddenberry's Lost Universe (later titled Gene Roddenberry's Xander in Lost Universe). Other projects were developed under the Roddenberry name but never made it to production stage, such as Gene Roddenberry's Starship, which was being developed by Majel Barrett and John Semper for Mainframe Entertainment as a computer-animated series.

The asteroid 4659 Roddenberry and an Impact crater on Mars are both named in his honor.

On October 4, 2002, the El Paso Independent School District Planetarium was renamed the Gene Roddenberry Planetarium. Eugene W. Roddenberry Jr. cut the ribbon at the dedication ceremony.

One of the buildings on the Paramount studio lot on Melrose Boulevard is the Gene Roddenberry building, housing production and administrative offices.

On June 16, 2007, the Science Fiction Museum in Seattle, Washington inducted Gene Roddenberry into their Science Fiction Hall of Fame, along with director Ridley Scott, artist Ed Emshwiller, and author Gene Wolfe. The presentation was made by actor Wil Wheaton and accepted on behalf of the Roddenberry Family by his son, Eugene W. Roddenberry Jr.


  • Star Trek Creator: The Authorized Biography of Gene Roddenberry, by David Alexander
  • Gene Roddenberry: The Last Conversation, by Yvonne Fern
  • Inside Trek: My Secret Life with Star Trek Creator Gene Roddenberry, by Susan Sackett
  • Great Birds of the Galaxy: Gene Roddenberry and the Creators of Star Trek, by Edward Gross and Mark A. Altman
  • The Man Who Created Star Trek: Gene Roddenberry, by James Van Hise
  • Inside Star Trek: The Real Story, by Herbert F. Solow and Robert H. Justman. ISBN 0671896288.
  • Gene Roddenberry: The Myth and the Man Behind Star Trek, by Joel Engel
  • Star Trek Memories, dictated by William Shatner and transcribed by Chris Kreski. HarperCollins. ISBN 0-06-017734-9. Published 1993.
  • Star Trek Movie Memories, dictated by William Shatner and transcribed by Chris Kreski. HarperCollins. ISBN 0-06-017617-2. Published 1994.
  • I Am Not Spock, by Leonard Nimoy. ISBN 9780890871171. Published 1977.
  • I Am Spock, by Leonard Nimoy. ISBN 9780786861828. Published 1995.
  • Beyond Uhura: Star Trek and Other Memories, by Nichelle Nichols. ISBN 1572970111. Published 1995.
  • To The Stars: The Autobiography of George Takei: Star Trek's Mr Sulu, by George Takei. ISBN 0-671-89008-5. Published 1994.
  • Beam Me Up, Scotty: Star Trek's "Scotty" in his own words, dictated by James Doohan and transcribed by Peter David. ISBN 0-671-52056-3.
  • Warped Factors: A Neurotic's Guide to the Universe, by Walter Koenig. ISBN-10 0878339914; ISBN-13 978-0878339914.
  • The Longest Trek: My Tour of the Galaxy, dictated by Grace Lee Whitney and transcribed by Jim Denney. ISBN-10 188495605X; ISBN-13 978-1884956058. Published

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