Eugene Wesley “Gene” Roddenberry (August 19, 1921 – October 24, 1991) was an American screenwriter and producer. He is best known as the creator of Star Trek, an American sci-fi series known for its influence on popular culture.
Roddenberry was sometimes referred to as the “Great Bird of the Galaxy” in reference to his founding role in Star Trek. He was one of the first people to have his ashes “buried” in space.
Roddenberry developed his idea for Star Trek in 1964 when he thought of combining Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon. Star Trek was picked up by Desilu Studios when Roddenberry sold the premise 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 offered to demote himself to the position of line producer in a final attempt to rescue the show by giving it a desired time slot. He resigned when this was not approved and accepted a staff producer position with MGM.
Beginning in 1975, the go-ahead was given by Paramount for Roddenberry to develop a new Star Trek television series, with many of the original cast to be included. It was originally called Phase II. This series would be the anchor show of a new network (the ancestor of UPN, which later became part of The CW Television Network), but plans by Paramount for this network were scrapped and the project was reworked into a feature film. The result, 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 of a time-traveling Enterprise crew involved in the John F. Kennedy assassination was rejected. He was removed from direct involvement—effectively hobbling the power of Norway Corporation—and replaced by Harve Bennett. He continued, however, as executive consultant for the next four films: 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. As consultant, Roddenberry was allowed to view and comment on all scripts and dailies emanating from the production, but the creative team was free to disregard Roddenberry’s advice.
Roddenberry was deeply involved with creating and producing Star Trek: The Next Generation, although he 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, and forced him to hand control of the series to producer Maurice Hurley. While Roddenberry was free to resume work on the third season, his health was in serious decline, 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.
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, the last film with the cast from the original Star Trek series, was dedicated to Roddenberry; he reportedly viewed an early version of the film a few days before his death.
In addition to his film and TV work, Roddenberry also wrote the novelization of Star Trek: The Motion Picture. It 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. Because Alan Dean Foster wrote the original treatment of the Star Trek: The Motion Picture film, there was a rumor that Foster was the ghostwriter of the novel. This has been debunked by Foster on his personal website. (Foster, however, ghostwrote the novelization of George Lucas’s Star Wars.) Roddenberry talked of writing a second Trek novel based on his rejected 1975 script of the JFK assassination plot, but he died before he was able to do so.
During WWII he had a friend named Kim Noonien Singh; after the war Kim disappeared, and Gene used his name for some characters in the Star Trek series (Khan Noonien Singh from Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan (1982) and Noonien Soong from “Star Trek: The Next Generation” (1987)) in hopes that Kim might recognize his name and contact him.
Some of his ashes sent up in a rocket, launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base.
Might have died in a house fire when still a toddler along with Bob, Doris, and their mother, but a milkman came along and woke them in time.
In 1943 while a US Army Air Corps pilot, he flew B-17 bombers during World War II, his plane crashed on takeoff due to a mechanical failure, killing two crew members.
On 19 June 1947 he was deadheading (traveling while not on duty) on a Pan Am plane when it crashed in the Syrian desert, killing 7 of 9 crew and 7 of 26 passengers on board. He rescued the Maharani of Pheleton from the wreck. Rescue came in hours, but too late to save most of the luggage, and the victims’ possessions, from local tribesmen and villagers.
During the war he wrote a song lyric “I Wanna Go Home”, which became popular.
His first TV script sale, in 1953, was the episode “Defense Plant Gambling” for the show “Mr. District Attorney” (1954). It was broadcast 2 March 1954. In the science-fiction field, his first was “The Secret Weapon of 117”, broadcast 6 March 1956 on the anthology series “Chevron Hall of Stars”.
He had many lovers and was sometimes overt about it. He and Majel Barrett had been lovers for years when he decided it was time to marry her and asked her to join him — although he happened to be visiting Japan at the time. Gene did not adhere to any particular religion and since they were in Japan they chose to have a Shinto-Buddhist wedding on 6 August 1969. They regarded this as their real wedding, but his divorce was not yet final and they made it legal with a civil ceremony on 29 December 1969.
His old pseudonym Robert Wesley was used in the “Star Trek” (1966) episode “The Ultimate Computer” as the name of a character, played by Barry Russo.
Served on the Los Angeles Police Force from 1949 – 1956, badge number 6089. This information from “Star Trek Creator” by David Alexander.
Died within 48 hours of screening Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991), the last Trek that revolved around his original characters.
Shared the same birthday as “Star Trek: The Next Generation” (1987) star Jonathan Frakes.
He has a building named in his honor on the Paramount Studio lot.
Father of actress Dawn Roddenberry and Darleen Roddenberry-Bacha who died on 29-Oct-1995 in an auto accident.
Father, with Majel Barrett, of Rod Roddenberry.
While meeting with George Takei about a role on “Star Trek” (1966), Gene accidentally pronounced George’s last name ‘Ta-kei’, which is similar to the word expensive in Japanese “takai” . He remembered the pronouncation by rhyming it with “OK”.
Died on 24 October 1991, exactly ten years after Marina Sirtis’s father.
During his years in the LAPD, he was the spokesman of LAPD Chief W.H. Parker.
Was a close friend of Jack Webb.
Biography in: “American National Biography”. Supplement 1, pp. 521-522. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.