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Saturday, June 3, 2017

Gene Roddenberry

Disruptor Beam, early 21-st century, Randall Mackey

An artist must know how to draw. Right? An artist must know how to sing, or dance, or act, or play a musical instrument. Right? Wrong, on all counts. While any of these talents are helpful as to an artist's career, none of them are necessities. The one necessity, the one talent all artists have in common is the ability to imagine. That means all artists must be able to think of what is not and make it a reality. Gene Roddenberry was an artist, but as far as I know, he couldn't draw worth a damn, couldn't sing, dance, play music, and from all accounts, his acting skills were minimal at best. But far more important than any of the traditional skills we commonly attribute to artists, Roddenberry could think, could communicate, could write and speak the most positive vision of the future ever imagined into a virtual reality far more vivid than any painter, actor, writer, or director he ever employed.
TV and movie writer and producer with dozens of hits
(and misses) to his credit.
Roddenberry paid his writing dues during the earliest days of television starting in 1954 with such forgettable series as Highway Patrol (five episodes), Mr. District Attorney (five episodes), West Point Story (1956, eleven episodes), Have Gun Will travel (1957-63, twenty-seven episodes), and finally, Star Trek (1966-68, three seasons). Add to that two seasons of the Star Trek animated series and six Star Trek movies, all featuring the original TV cast. Today, the grandchildren of his original sci-fi TV fans continue to enjoy reruns of the fifty-year-old series. Born in 1921, Roddenberry died of a heart attack in 1991 at the age of seventy. Some of his ashes were sent up in a rocket, launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base.

UPPER PHOTO: Gene Roddenberry and Director, Robert Wise, setting up a shot during the filming of Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Back row, Gene Roddenberry, front row, Spock (Leonard Nimoy), Robert Wise, Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelley), Captain Kirk (William Shatner).
LOWER PHOTO: crew of the Starship Enterprise from the TV series. From left: Chekov (Walter Koenig), Uhura (Nichelle Nichols), Scott (James Doohan) and Sulu (George Takei).
After several studios rejected various pilot projects during the early 1960s, Roddenberry decided to write science fiction. During March, 1964, he brought together a 16-page pitch. On April 24, he sent three copies and two dollars to the Writers Guild of America to register his series. He called it Star Trek. Roddenberry first pitched Star Trek to MGM where it was warmly received, but no offer was made. He then went to Desilu Productions. Desilu was having financial difficulties. They'd not sold a new series in five years; their only success being I Love Lucy. The studio immediately started trying to sell the series to the networks. They took it to CBS, which ultimately passed. They had their own sci-fi project in the works--Lost in Space. Roddenberry next took the idea to NBC, this time downplaying the science fiction elements and highlighting the links to Gunsmoke and Wagon Train. The network funded three story ideas, to be made into a pilot.

July 15, 1965, the series is cast, the film begins to roll.
The pilot was made but test audiences were unimpressed. Desilu agreed to fund a second pilot with the help of western screenwriter, Sam Peeples. This one they titled "Where No Man Has Gone Before." NBC bought it. The series was off and running for thirteen episodes. The show was no instant ratings hit. Roddenberry worked with sci-fi writer Isaac Asimov who suggested teaming Spock and Kirk to resolve various character conflicts. NBC ordered another thirteen episodes and then renewed the series for a second year. Once more ratings declined. It was only through an intense fan letter-writing campaign that the series made it through a third dismal year. The last episode of Star Trek aired just 47 days before Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon. Roddenberry vowed he would never write for television again.

Each of several Enterprises lived and breathed
as surely as did the cast. This was the final design.
Star Trek had two factors working in its favor. Though the scripts may have been somewhat uneven, the cast was exceptional. The other star of the series was the Enterprise (above) seen in a cutaway image. Though it existed mostly on paper, and on film using highly detailed, large-scale models, the ship changed the look of science fiction forever. Later came Stanley Kubrick's spacecraft, and then those of Star Wars, but all owed their breakaway from 20th-century rocketry to Roddenberry and the artistry of Desilu Studio.

The Starship Enterprise came with a built-in history of greatness dating back to the Revolutionary War

The first USS Enterprise
The first USS Enterprise was a captured British supply sloop. It was the first of eight naval ships bearing the name. The two most recent were both aircraft carriers, the latter was the first nuclear powered U.S. Navy vessel. It was decommissioned at the end of 2012. On September 17, 1976, the crew of the Starship Enterprise met at the Rockwell International in Palmdale, Cali-fornia, for the rollout of yet another En-terprise (below), the first U.S. space shut-tle. Though it never flew in space, Enter-prise saw test service for NASA for some thirty years. Today it is on display at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in New York City.

Gene Roddenberry (third from the right) in 1976 with most of the cast of Star Trek at the rollout of the Space Shuttle Enterprise at the Rockwell International plant at Palmdale, California. From left to right, DeForest Kelley, George Takei, James Doohan, Nichelle Nichols, Leonard Nimoy, Gene Roddenberry, NASA Deputy Administrator George Low; and, Walter Koenig.





Where no on has gone before...


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