Eugene Wesley “Gene” Roddenberry was born on this day (August 19) in 1921. He’d have been 92 today. Sadly he died all too young in 1991 at the very young age of 70.
For those of you who DON’T know who Gene is, (and seriously if you don’t, I question your geek cred, for reals) he created Star Trek. I’m not talking about the new reboot done exceptionally well by J.J. Abrams, I’m talking about the ORIGINAL Star Trek.
In 1964, during a time of racial and political uncertainty, Gene created Star Trek, which officially aired in 1966. He pitched it to studios as “Wagon Train to the Stars” and initially created it as a combination of the Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon comics. It was picked up by Desilu Studios and while the first TV pilot went over its budget and garnered only modest approval from NBC, the network commissioned a second pilot, which was unprecedented. The series premiered on September 8, 1966, and ran for three seasons, but began to receive low ratings.
I know that my parents watched the show, and were part of the letter writing campaign that started in 1967 when there were rumors starting about the show being cancelled. Gene Roddenberry and Bjo Trimble (author of “Star Trek” Concordance) started the “Save Star Trek” campaign and letters flooded in to the station from fans of the show. Bjo is also a member of the Society for Creative Anachronism (and I happen to have met her and I’m totes friends with her on Facebook. Also her birthday was August 15, so HAPPY BIRTHDAY BJO!!!! <3)
When NBC reneged on a deal to put Star Trek in a more desirable time slot, Gene stopped active participation in the show, though he always retained his Executive Producer title.
Star Trek only ran 3 seasons, but became a HUGE pop culture hit in syndication during the 1970’s. Also, with the euphoric reception of Star Wars in 1977, I think Paramount realized that Star Trek needed a comeback. Thus started “Star Trek: Phase II” which almost all of the original cast signed up for, but when Paramount scrapped the idea for a new network (which eventually did come to pass and became the CW) Phase II became Star Trek: The Motion Picture.
It got luke warm reviews by the critics, but the fans basically went ape shit over it. And according to Wikipedia, this was the second highest grossing Star Trek film to date, adjusting for inflation and all. The first highest grossing was the 2009 reboot. Which was epic, and I think Gene would have been HUGELY proud of it.
But the original fans of Star Trek watched it because of the fascination of current day problems handled more rationally in a futuristic world than in the world they lived in. For instance, the episode Let That Be Your Last Battlefield which dealt with racism, which had characters (the “alien of the week) with black and white faces: one had the white on the left and one had the white on the right. The impact of their fight reminded a lot of the people watching or introduced the people watching to the illogic of racism. It also had the very first interracial kiss on screen. In the episode Plato’s Stepchildren, Captain Kirk (played by William Shatner) and Lieutenant Uhura (played by Nichelle Nichols) shared an on screen kiss. It rocked the nation. Plus….it was kind of hot. 🙂
Gene Roddenberry was a man ahead of his time. So many of the things he envisioned in Star Trek have become reality. Take a look at your cell phone. How much does it remind you of a communicator from Star Trek? What about 3D printers? Or Transparent Aluminum? Real. Hypospray? We call it Jet Injection. Universal Translator? There’s an app for that. The Tricorder? NASA employs a handheld device called LOCAD, which measures for unwanted microorganisms such as E. coli, fungi and salmonella onboard the International Space Station [source: Coulter].
So, yeah. Gene knew his science…and his science fiction. And he got a space shuttled named after the Enterprise. Pretty Badass in my opinion.