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Gene Roddenberry

Ask anyone in the world what the most famous Sci-Fi television series in history has been, and you'll get one answer: Star Trek.  The show that single-handedly brought the world face-to-face with our galaxy and others beyond revolutionized the genre.  And the credit goes to a man born on August 19, 1921, the day on which author, writer, producer Gene Roddenberry made his earthly debut.

Roddenberry, who gave the world the most famous split infinitive in history ("To bravely go where no man has gone before ..."), is one of the most creative Sci-Fi minds ever to work in Hollywood.  His Star Trek set the bar for all future series. 

Begun as a low-budget weekly television show in the early Sixties, Star Trek was resurrected in feature films, as well as in Star Trek: The Next Generation, which began airing more than a quarter century after the debut of the original.

While writing and producing Star Trek, Roddenberry's reputation as a futurist exploded.  He lectured about the life that lay ahead at NASA meetings, the Smithsonian Institution, the Library of Congress, and at colleges and universities around the world.

In creating the Starship Enterprise and its beloved crew--including the intrepid (if naive) Captain Kirk and the pointy-eared, impeccably logical Vulcan, Mr. Spock--Roddenberry unknowingly unleashed a future power all his own.  It was a phenomenon in which Star Trek enthusiasts, "Trekkies," grew from a minor curiosity into a veritable cult.  More amazing than its size was its growing diversity.  Today, Trekkies include physicians, lawyers, aerospace engineers, housewives, senators, children, teachers, working stiffs, and intellectuals of all ilk.  The show went outside of television to win science fiction's coveted Hugo Award before ultimately growing into a successful succession of feature films.

The Texas-born Roddenberry grew up in Los Angeles, where he studied law and aeronautical engineering while obtaining his private pilot's license.  After college, with World War II looming on the doorstep, he volunteered for service in the U.S. Army Air Corps in the fall of 1941 and was ordered into training at Kelly Field, Texas.  He emerged a Second Lieutenant and was sent to the South Pacific, where he flew B-17 bomber missions from the recently captured Japanese airstrip at Guadalcanal.  Before leaving the service, he had flown 89 missions and sorties and received the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal.

Following the war and a stint with Pan American World Airways, Roddenberry saw television for the first time and correctly anticipated its future.  Moreover, he recognized a growing need for writers and decided that Hollywood's film studios would soon dominate the new industry.  He left for the coast, only to find his arrival premature.  Alone and without a job, he joined the L.A. Police Department, where he attained the rank of Sergeant while writing and selling scripts to television shows such as Goodyear Theatre, The Kaiser Aluminum Hour, Four Star Theater, Dragnet, The Jane Wyman Theater, and Naked City

By now a well established writer, Roddenberry turned in his badge and began freelancing.  In time, he was named 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.  Following that, he created and produced The Lieutenant TV series, the story of a young man learning the lessons of life while in the United States Marine Corps.

Star Trek came along shortly thereafter, running from 1966-l969.  The first of two pilots was pronounced too "cerebral" by the network and rejected.  Once on the air, however, the series quickly developed a loyal following.  It became the first television series to have an episode preserved in the Smithsonian, where an 11-foot model of the USS Enterprise is exhibited on the same floor as the Wright brothers' Kitty Hawk and Lindbergh's Spirit of St. Louis.  In addition to the Smithsonian honors, NASA named its first space shuttle in honor of Star Trek's  Enterprise.

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 in Boston, Mass.; Doctor of Literature from Union College in Los Angeles (1977); and Doctor of Science from Clarkson College in Potsdam, New York (1981).

In 1979, Roddenberry added the word, "novelist," to his repertoire after novelizing Star Trek: The Motion Picture (Pocket Books).  The book sold nearly a million copies and ranked number-one on national best-seller lists for several weeks.

Gene Roddenberry died on October 24, 1991.

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