In September 1987,
Star Trek: The Next Generation
continued the legend that Gene
Roddenberry began 25 years prior. As
creator and producer of the original
television series, he
launched a phenomenon without precedent
in show business and attained a
celebrity status unique among his peers.
Although Gene Roddenberry passed away
October 24, 1991, his legacy remains as
Star Trek: The Next Generation
continues to flourish and grow in movie
theaters, and three television series
based upon Star Trek —
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine,
Star Trek: Voyager, and now
Enterprise — maintain his vision
of the future.
While making Star Trek,
Roddenberry's reputation as a futurist
began to grow. His papers and lectures
earned him high professional regard as a
visionary. He spoke on the subject at
NASA meetings, the Smithsonian
Institution, Library of Congress
gatherings, and top universities.
As creator of the beloved Starship
Enterprise and its crew, which
included the heroic
Captain Kirk and the logical
Mr. Spock, Roddenberry unwittingly
unleashed a phenomenon in which Star
Trek enthusiasts became a veritable
cult, numbering physicists, aerospace
engineers, housewives, senators,
children, teachers and intellectuals
among its devotees (affectionately known
as "Trekkies," and later, "Trekkers").
The show went outside television to win
science fiction's coveted Hugo Award and
then spawned an
animated spin-off, as well as a
series of feature films.
Gene Roddenberry led a life as
colorful and exciting as almost any
high-adventure fiction. He was born in
El Paso, Texas, on August 19, 1921,
spent his boyhood in Los Angeles,
studied three years of policemanship and
then transferred his academic interest
to aeronautical engineering and
qualified for a pilot's license. He
volunteered for the U.S. Army Air Corps
in the fall of 1941 and was ordered into
training as a flying cadet when the
United States entered World War II.
Emerging from Kelly Field, Texas, as
a Second Lieutenant, Roddenberry was
sent to the South Pacific where he
entered combat at Guadalcanal, flying
B-17 bombers out of the newly-captured
Japanese airstrip, which became
Henderson Field. He flew missions
against enemy strongholds at
Bougainville and participated in the
Munda invasion. In all, he took part in
approximately 89 missions and sorties.
He was decorated with the Distinguished
Flying Cross and the Air Medal.
While in the South Pacific, he also
began to write. He sold stories to
flying magazines, and later poetry to
publications, including The New York
Times. Upon his return from combat, he
became a trouble-shooter for the Air
Force working out of Washington, D.C.,
investigating the causes of air crashes.
At war's end, he joined Pan American
World Airways. During this time, he also
studied literature at Columbia
It was on a flight from Calcutta that
his plane lost two engines and caught
fire in mid-air, crashing at night in
the Syrian desert. As the senior
surviving officer, Roddenberry sent two
Englishmen swimming across the Euphrates
River in quest of the source of a light
he had observed just prior to the crash.
Meanwhile, he parleyed with nomads who
had come to loot the dead. The
Englishmen reached a Syrian military
outpost, which sent a small plane to
investigate. Roddenberry returned with
the small plane to the outpost, where he
broadcast a message that was relayed to
Pan Am, which sent a stretcher plane to
the rescue. Roddenberry later received a
Civil Aeronautics commendation for his
efforts during and after the crash.
Back in the States, Roddenberry
continued flying until he saw television
for the first time. Correctly estimating
television's future, he realized that
the new medium would need writers and
decided that Hollywood's film studios
would soon dominate the new industry. He
acted immediately, left his flying
career behind and went to Hollywood,
only to find the television industry
still in its infancy, with few openings
for inexperienced writers. At a friend's
suggestion, he joined the Los Angeles
Police Department, following in his
father's footsteps and gaining
experiences which would be valuable to a
By the time he had become a sergeant,
Roddenberry was selling scripts to such
shows as Goodyear Theatre, The
Kaiser Aluminum Hour, Four Star
Theater, Dragnet, The Jane
Wyman Theater and Naked City.
Established as a writer, he turned in
his badge and became a freelancer.
Later, he served as head writer for the
highly popular series Have Gun, Will
Travel. His episode "Helen of
Abiginian" won the Writers Guild Award
and was distributed to other writers as
a model script for the series. Next, he
created and produced The Lieutenant
series, starring Gary Lockwood and
Robert Vaughn; it told the story of a
young man learning the lessons of life
while in the United States Marine Corps.
Star Trek followed
(1966-1969). The first of the two pilots
was pronounced "too cerebral" by the
network and rejected. Once on the air,
however, Star Trek developed a
loyal following and has since become the
first television series to have an
episode preserved in the Smithsonian,
where an 11-foot model of the U.S.S.
Enterprise is also exhibited on the same
floor as the Wright brother's original
airplane and Lindbergh's "Spirit of St.
Louis." In addition to the Smithsonian
honors, NASA's first space shuttle was
Enterprise, in response to
hundreds of thousands of letters from
fans demanding that the shuttle be named
after the beloved starship.
After the Star Trek series
ended, Roddenberry produced the motion
picture "Pretty Maids All in a Row,"
starring Rock Hudson, Angie Dickinson
and Telly Savalas, and also made a
number of pilots for TV. Among these
were Genesis II for CBS (1973),
about an Earth recovering from World War
III. Next came The Questor Tapes
for NBC (1974), the story of an android
in search of his creator, then a sequel
to Genesis II — Planet Earth,
for ABC. He also co-wrote and produced
"Spectre" (1977), a two-hour horror
movie for NBC.
Roddenberry served as a member of the
Writers Guild Executive Council and as a
Governor of the Academy of Television
Arts and Sciences. He held three
honorary doctorate degrees: Doctor of
Humane Letters from Emerson College
(1977), Doctor of Literature from Union
College in Los Angeles, and Doctor of
Science from Clarkson College in
Potsdam, New York (1981).
On September 4, 1986, Gene
Roddenberry's fans presented him with a
star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, the
first writer/producer to be so honored.
Star Trek: The Next Generation,
in its first year in syndication, was
awarded with the 1987 Peabody Award for
the "Best of the Best." The series also
garnered many of the prestigious Emmy
awards throughout its seven year run. In
February 1990, the March of Dimes
honored Roddenberry with the Jack Benny
Memorial Award of lifetime achievement.
On Thursday, October 24, 1991 Gene
Roddenberry passed away and a world not
so far away mourned the loss of one of
television's foremost pioneers. At the
time of his passing, Gene was survived
by his wife Majel Barrett ("Nurse
Chapel" from Star Trek and "Lwaxana
Troi" in Star Trek: The Next
Generation) and their 17-year-old
son, Gene Roddenberry, Jr., his two
grown daughters from a previous
marriage, as well as two grandchildren.
In addition to having served as
executive consultant on Star Trek
feature productions, Roddenberry added
"novelist" to his writing repertoire.
His novelization of "Star Trek: The
Motion Picture" (Pocket Books, 1979)
sold close to a million copies and was
ranked number one on the national
bestseller lists for many weeks.
The legacy of Star Trek, as
created by Gene Roddenberry, continues
to grow as the newest series,
Enterprise, joins Star Trek: Deep
Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager.
Star Trek: The Next Generation
has evolved into a feature film series,
debuting in 1994 with "Star Trek
Generations." Roddenberry is often
affectionately referred to as the "Great
Bird of the Galaxy."
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