‘Star Trek Creator’ details life of Gene Roddenberry
September 26, 2005
“Star Trek Creator” by David Alexander
Legend has it that every hour of every day somewhere in the world some version of “Star Trek” is playing on a television. It may be reruns of the original series or its three spin-offs, the animated version or DVDs and videos, or the six movies. And then, of course, there are the “Star Trek” conventions, action figures, and lunch boxes.
“Star Trek Creator” is the story of the man who built the empire. Gene Roddenberry was born the son of a Los Angeles police officer when the city had more fruit trees then smog. Educated in local schools he intended to follow his father into the LAPD. He also, however, had a strong interest in aviation and obtained his pilots license.
World War II began and he joined the Air Force, becoming a bomber pilot. After the war he became a long-haul pilot for Pan American in what many regard as the glory days of American aviation. He was instrumental in saving many of the passengers in the crash of a Pan Am flight in the desert. At the time, flying the globe often involved days if not weeks of delay due to mechanical breakdowns. After several difficult take-offs and landings he decided it was time to look for other work.
He moved his family to Los Angeles and took a job as a police officer with the LAPD. While flying he had developed an interest in writing and, after a brief stint on traffic duty, was employed as the speechwriter and researcher in the office of Chief Parker. That position led to his becoming a consultant for “Dragnet” – a police procedural which was one of the most popular radio and television shows of the time. After seeing how scripts were written he thought he could do as well.
He began freelance submittals, ultimately selling to such shows as “Mr. District Attorney,” “Highway Patrol” and “Have Gun, Will Travel.” Achieving a steady income from this outside activity allowed him to resign from the LAPD to pursue the entertainment industry full time. Doing so, however, is an erratic business with many proposals rejected and projects dropped due to studio concerns. It soon became clear that to succeed he needed to find a story concept which would allow him to control his own destiny.
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And from that, “Star Trek” was born. It was originally rejected by the major studios but ultimately picked up by DesiLu, Lucille Ball’s production company. The first season was a modest success, attracting a fanatically loyal audience. Two more seasons followed introducing iconic characters like Mr. Spock, Captain Kirk, and Scotty. Cancellation after the third season created an outcry which led to the first movie. The rest is history.
With success came battles over money, control and content. It is here the book is at its most detailed and becomes tedious in spots. It seems Roddenberry kept every memo he ever wrote or received.
That difficulty notwithstanding, “Star Trek Creator” is a respectful and affectionate telling of the life and many loves of a man with a prodigious appetite for work and life. For “Star Trek” fans it is a must read. For others it is the biography of a man who made an indelible imprint on American culture.
– Dennis Crabb is a member of the South Lake Tahoe Branch Friends of the Library.