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
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
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
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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