Known to millions of Star Trek fans around the world as the "Great Bird of the Galaxy," Gene Roddenberry
was the creator of one of the most successful franchises ever created. ("Great Bird" was a nickname stemming from a mythological creature from an episode of the original Star Trek.)
Roddenberry was born in El Paso, Texas
in August 1921 and he grew up in Los Angeles. In high school, he was a member of the debate team and became interested in writing and pulp novels and radio programs. He graduated from Los Angeles City College
with an Associate of the Arts degree, and also attended the University of Miami
and the University of Southern California
. After initially studying pre-law, he switched his major to aeronautical engineering.
During World War II, Roddenberry served in the military as a second lieutenant; he was primarily assigned to the Pacific theater and he flew B-17's for the Army Air Corps. He participated in nearly 90 missions, including the well-known Guadalcanal
battles of late 1942 and the battle of Bougainville
in early 1944, as well as the invasion of Munda; he received the Distinguished Flying Cross
and the Air Medal. After the war, he became a pilot for Pan American World Airways
. Late on the night of June 19, 1947, Roddenberry was "deadheading" (a pilot not on duty) on a flight from Karachi to Istanbul. Following the loss of one engine, it was decided that the plane would continue to its destination. The second engine, though, was known to be faulty and yet had not been replaced
by Pan Am, and it caught fire causing the plane to crash in Syria. Of the 36 people aboard, 22 survived, only two of which were crew members. He was responsible for getting a rescue plane sent to retrieve the passengers.
Roddenberry was interested in writing for many years, and had submitted stories and poems to magazines while stationed abroad. He studied literature at Columbia University
, and when television was growing in popularity he decided to move his family to Los Angeles to write for the new medium. At the time Roddenberry was married to Eileen Rexroat, his wife of 27 years; they had two daughters, Darleen and Dawn. With a family to support, he joined the police department, following in the steps of his father and brother who were also LAPD
officers. While a student at Los Angeles City College in 1939, he had headed the campus police club, and he also wanted to establish a police association for the LAPD in 1952. He communicated his intentions to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover
, who endorsed the idea. His primary job function was with the publicity department, and this led to his involvement with the television show "Dragnet
After successfully selling scripts to shows such as Dragnet and Naked City, he decided to leave the police force to pursue screenwriting full-time. (The dates for his career change vary depending on the source, but they are all between 1953 and 1958.) In the late 1950's, he became well-known for writing military and law enforcement themed screenplays, and was a head writer for "The West Point Story." He created his own series, "The Lieutenant
," in 1963, and used it to explore social issues of the day - a theme that would later make Star Trek
so popular. He began pitching a science fiction series to studios in 1964, and successfully captured the interest of executives at Desilu, the studio owned by Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. The history of Star Trek is well-known, from its debut in 1966 to its cancellation in 1969.
Also in 1969, Roddenberry's marriage to Eileen ended. He had been dating Majel Barrett
for some time after having worked with her on "The Lieutenant," and the two were married at the end of 1969 just two days after his divorce became final. Star Trek was in syndication
, and during the early 1970's he traveled around the country lecturing at universities; during his lifetime he was awarded honorary degrees from Emerson College, Union College, and Potsdam College. He continued pitching additional science fiction stories to television studios, including "The Questor Tapes
" and "Genesis II
," but these were not successful. Instead, he was offered the opportunity to develop a second Star Trek series in 1975. The series never got off the ground, but he later turned it into the first Star Trek movie, for which he also wrote the novelization.
Roddenberry was a member of the Writers Guild Executive Council
, and a governor of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences
. In 1986, he received a star on the Walk of Fame
in Hollywood. He served as executive producer on Star Trek: The Next Generation
, but was not as heavily involved in the scriptwriting as he had been with the original series. Still, for the first several seasons, all major decisions were still given approval by Gene himself. In the fourth and fifth seasons, though, his health was declining, and the reins for the show were handed over to Michael Piller
and Rick Berman
Gene Roddenberry died of a heart attack in October 1991, just a few days after viewing the sixth movie starring the original cast. His ashes were among the first to be sent into space, blasting off with a Pegasus rocket
to orbit the earth until they burned up in the atmosphere. (Alternative sources say his ashes were listed on the cargo manifest for the space shuttle Columbia
in 1992.) In 1993, NASA
awarded him with a posthumous Distinguished Public Service medal.
The Great Bird's legacy lives on. Two of his unsuccessful series from the 1970's, "Earth: Final Conflict
" and "Andromeda
," were finally produced with permission from his estate. His son with Majel Barrett, Rod Roddenberry, would later write episodes for "Earth: Final Conflict." He continues to receive credits on Star Trek television shows and movies and his name is legendary to all Star Trek fans.
written for nonficwrimo 06