Seeing recent memorials to Gene Roddenberry on what would have been his 100th birthday reminded me of the darker side of Star Trek’s early beginnings and the damaged man whose television program had such an impact on my life and the lives of so many others.
There are numerous books out there about Star Trek’s beginnings, but most of them are written from the fans’ perspective and place Mr. Roddenberry on a very high pedestal, but this book is written by Executive in Charge of Production of the Star Trek series, Herb Solow (Roddenberry’s boss) and Star Trek’s Associate/Co-Producer Bob Justman. Both were there at the beginning. Herb Solow and Bob Justman kept all the memos from that time and use them to illustrate the nuts and bolts of producing a television show in the sixties while working for Desilu (Lucille Ball! After her divorce). The show lasted for three seasons, and each episode lost Lucy and NBC money.
Solow and Justman worked around the clock to ride herd on Roddenberry, an egomaniac who saw Star Trek as a cash cow and way to pick up chicks. As the studio reduced their budget each season, Roddenberry became less interested in the show’s politics when writers and directors refused to work for him because he micro-managed them (and put his name on everything). He took credit for everyone else’s work, including Solow and Justman. They maintained their friendships as long as they could, refusing to make up excuses to his wife when he ran around with Majel Barrett (Nurse Chapel) and Nichelle Nichols (Lieutenant Uhura) and complained of only have sex three times a day.
Aside from Lucy’s complete lack of interest in Star Trek (she had her own show), internal conflicts happened on the set, most famously Leonard Nimoy’s popularity as Spock and William Shatner’s resentment of it. Shatner was paid twice as much as Nimoy and owned a percentage of the show. He wore a hairpiece, had trouble with his weight, and wore lifts to appear taller. He and Roddenberry were two of a kind, but most of the infighting and swaggering was kept from the fans.
Solow and Justman’s efforts to keep the show’s quality were thwarted by a Paramount takeover. They saw television as a business and not an art. Other battles included censors, actor salaries, and Roddenberry’s hands-on approach to female costumes. They give credit where credit is due. The fan write-in campaign definitely gave Star Trek a third season (and probably a second one). Roddenberry was a genius when he worked. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen often. He saw the studio as one big party, enjoying the sex, drugs, and power it gave him. He sold props and scripts he didn’t own at conventions and wrote unused words to the theme music so he’d get half of the royalties each time it was played. For the disastrous third season, Roddenberry moved his offices outside the studio and contributed little.
The authors touch on the phenomenon that is Star Trek and how the syndication in the 70s brought the show back to life. Considering the movies, new television shows, and second and third generation fandom that have resulted, it’s amazing that such rocky beginnings have led to a world I can’t imagine without Star Trek.
A good insider’s view of those rough beginnings for those people who like to see behind the scenes.