Eugene Wesley Roddenberry was born in El Paso Texas on August 19, 1921. He lived a long and adventurous life before his death in 1991 at age seventy in Santa Monica California. During his life he had several careers: he was a police officer, a World War II bomber pilot, a commercial airline pilot, and finally a television writer-producer in Hollywood.
Gene was destined to become a respected icon in the world of science fiction for creating the signature television series, STAR TREK. It premiered in September of 1966. The series was, at first, only a nominal ratings success. It lasted three seasons before being canceled.
Then, just when the story of Star Trek should have ended, something wonderful happened. It got a second life in syndication where its original run of 79 episodes were repeated in the early evenings and afternoons, embraced by a generation of young people, ultimately transforming many into life-long fans. Star Trek eventually became a global phenomenon capturing the imaginations of millions of people and making Gene Roddenberry a household name.
I, of course, was one of those young people. I started watching Star Trek as a high school senior. I’d already become interested in science fiction on TV. I loved watching Lost In Space and The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, and others, but when I discovered Star Trek, my imagination soared. I saw Gene’s name in the final credit at the end of each episode. I asked myself, “who is this guy?” What kind of mind creates something this ambitious and thought-provoking?
Star Trek was a quantum leap forward in quality at every level in every department of its production. This was smart TV, telling high-quality science fiction stories that were often thinly masked social commentary on American society in the sixties. The writing didn’t just entertain, it genuinely had something to say. I became a fan for life.
When I was a Pre-Law Student at the University Of Connecticut, every week our local TV station aired episodes of the original series at midnight. I was part of a group of hardcore fans who made a ritual of watching each episode together. Then, it happened: Star Trek: The Motion Picture premiered in 1979. I waited in line three and a half hours just to see the world’s first Star Trek feature film. The line experience became a big event — one big party — the line wrapped all the way around the theater. People were smoking pot, passing around a joint. To kill time we played Trivial Pursuit. (To our delight, the game even had an occasional Star Trek question) Finally, the line started to move and we eagerly marched in to the theater to experience this historic, cinematic event.
It was an ambitious, smart film, with incredible, state-of-the-art, special effects and a provocative story that did not disappoint. Of all the Star Trek movies to date, this is the one film that truly belongs to Gene. You could tell it was his creation — it’s an actual Hollywood film about ideas!
Star Trek: The Motion Picture profoundly expressed Gene’s belief that man will continue to evolve, eventually becoming more than human — ultimately merging with machines. Despite its measured pace and minimal character interaction, Star Trek: The Motion Picture was a hit and put the franchise back in the public consciousness in a huge way. It paved the way for a line of successful sequels and a new Star Trek television series.
In the late Eighties, I remember watching episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation, and recognizing Gene’s name once again at the end of the credits. I became intrigued by the scope of what he had accomplished. What kind of mind comes up with these amazing ideas for television shows and feature films?
I don’t believe in someone pulling the strings of our lives, but I just knew someday I was going to meet the Star Trek actors — and I knew I was going to meet Gene too. I didn’t know how I’d ever be able to meet Gene Roddenberry, but instinctively I knew I would. Eventually, I made it happen — I found a way to manifest meeting Gene. When I finally met Gene Roddenberry, I had no idea how becoming his friend would change my life forever.
READ: PART TWO — “LEARNING FROM GENE RODDENBERRY” HERE