Eugene Wesley "Gene" Roddenberry (August 19, 1921 - October 24, 1991), aka "The Great Bird of the Galaxy", was a USAAF bomber pilot, ex-cop, freelance scriptwriter, and creator of possibly the single most influential franchise in the history of television, Star Trek.
Roddenberry had intended to be a commercial pilot after WWII and even spent some time as a co-pilot with Pan-Am until 1947, when a fire on the Eclipse resulted in the Clipper crashing in the Syrian desert, killing fourteen people; Roddenberry, the only surviving crew member, aided in the rescue of the 19 survivors before retiring from his job the following year. Upon discovering television, Roddenberry correctly intuited that the new medium would be in need of writers. Already a published author of stories and poetry, he decided to change careers and enter into television writing.
At a friend's suggestion he joined the Los Angeles Police Department to gather experience and perspectives of which he could make use. At the same time, Dragnet creator Jack Webb was instituting a policy of buying stories from LAPD officers to be turned into scripts. Roddenberry began writing his fellow officers' accounts into more polished treatments in exchange for half the money paid to the officer. While his treatments weren't written in screenplay form, Roddenberry learned a lot about the process. By the time he left the LAPD he had successfully sold scripts to many of the dramatic shows of the period, including Mr. District Attorney (to which he made his first script sale, in 1953), Gruen Guild Playhouse, Jane Wyman Presents The Fireside Theatre, The Kaiser Aluminum Hour, The Naked City and Chevron Hall of Stars (where he sold his first science fiction script, in 1956).
He later became a regular writer for both West Point and Have Gun Will Travel, winning a Writers' Guild Award for an episode he penned for the latter show. note While continuing to write freelance for other shows, Roddenberry moved into production, creating and producing the Marine Corps series The Lieutenant. And after The Lieutenant came the creation that would carry him for most of the rest of his life: Star Trek.
Between the end of the original Star Trek and the first of the Star Trek movies, Roddenberry produced a number of films and television pilots, including the 1971 theatrical release Pretty Maids All in a Row, Genesis II (1973) and The Questor Tapes (1974).
After 1979 and Star Trek: The Motion Picture, virtually all of Roddenberry's creative energies were applied to Star Trek. Between all the movies, TV series, and video games, he held a wide variety of posts, but until his death in 1991 he was still the final creative authority for the Trek universe, and known to fans as "The Great Bird of the Galaxy". During this time, presumably, he also developed the concepts that would later reach television audiences as Earth: Final Conflict (in 1997) and Andromeda (in 2000). These were shepherded into existence by his by-then-widow, Majel Barrett, who was also deeply influential in Star Trek and contributed to every incarnation of the franchise until Star Trek: Discovery.
Gene was a well-respected man, but not always well-liked. In many ways, his life and career reflects that of his British counterpart, Terry Nation — except with even more stories of outlandish and self-destructive behavior. Oh, yes, he tomcatted around Paramount Studios; he screwed writers and composers out of their royalties; most importantly, Gene was stubbornly convinced that he always knew what was best for Star Trek — which, after all, he had created — and had a tendency toward the autocratic when it came to his staff. This uncompromising attitude led to tremendous flareups between him and Paramount, which clinched his removal from the Producer's chair after The Motion Picture. While he still held creative freedom over Star Trek: The Next Generation, Gene's recreational drug cocktails did his brain no good, and his health was in serious decline; by the end of the first season he had managed to alienate almost all long-time creative partners, including famed original series writers D.C. Fontana and David Gerrold (one ex-colleague told Harlan Ellison the reason Roddenberry was cremated was so nobody could piss on his grave). In general, though, outside of his professional issues, many regarded him as a friendly Gentle Giant of a man (excluding his skirt chasing of course).
Member of the Writers Guild Executive Council
Governor of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences
Doctor of Humane Letters from Emerson College in Boston, Mass.
Doctor of Literature from Union College in Los Angeles
Doctor of Science from Clarkson College in Potsdam, New York
(All honorary degrees)
First writer/producer to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
- Beam Me Up, Scotty!: Some fans and reviewers believe that Roddenberry said he would have made Kirk and Spock gay in the series if it had been possible. What he really said was an ambiguous mumble that he was pushed into by a couple of aggressive fan interviewers eager to promote Slash Fic to canon status.Roddenberry: "Yes, there's certainly some of that, certainly with love overtones. Deep love. The only difference being, the Greek ideal... we never suggested in the series... physical love between the two. But it's the... we certainly had the feeling that the affection was sufficient for that, if that were the particular style of the 23rd century." (He looks thoughtful.) "That's very interesting. I never thought of that before."
- Fan Nickname: "The Great Bird of the Galaxy".
- He Also Did: In addition to being the creator and a writer of the most progressive science fiction show of its time, Roddenberry also produced and wrote Pretty Maids All in a Row, a 1971 Black Comedy starring Rock Hudson as a football coach who beds and murders various female students.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: While Roddenberry was known to be a lecher with substance abuse problems, and briefly became a He-Man Woman Hater following a spectacularly messy divorce in 1968, most sources indicate that he did genuinely strive to do better as difficult as it may have been for him personally.
- Kicked Upstairs: Although he continued to provide feedback and guidance to the writers and producers until his death, the studio ultimately removed him from any direct control over the franchise after the tepid reception to Star Trek: The Motion Picture. His official title became "Executive Consultant," but he retained no real power over the direction of the series until the first two seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation (which he didn't actually want to make, but was manipulated into by his lawyer, Leonard Maizlish).