Gene Roddenberry

Active - 1971 - 2016  |   Born - Aug 19, 1921   |   Died - Oct 24, 1991   |   Genres - Science Fiction, Western

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Though he did other things in the film and television industry, producer/filmmaker/actor Gene Roddenberry will always be best remembered as the father of Star Trek, a relatively short-lived science fiction television series that became a cultural phenomenon of the '70s, '80s, '90s, and on, spawned three sequel series, a string of novels and novellas, a cartoon show, and a highly successful series of feature films. Born in El Paso, TX, Roddenberry originally studied law, then aeronautical engineering in college. He then became a pilot and volunteered for the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1941. Piloting a B-17, he earned medals for his bombing in the Pacific Theater. After the war ended, he became a commercial pilot for Pan Am airlines. The newly developed medium of television intrigued Roddenberry and he wanted to become a writer. When that didn't work out, he joined the Los Angeles Police Department where he eventually became a sergeant. He used his writing skills to write speeches for the department chief and during the '50s, became a writer for two police shows, Dragnet and Naked City. He then became the head writer for the popular Western Have Gun Will Travel. By the early '60s, the idea for Star Trek had begun to grow in Roddenberry's mind. Star Trek was launched on the NBC network in 1966. Produced at Desi-Lu studios on a fairly low budget, the series was a sci-fi excursion like no other. Intelligently written and focused on relationships and modern issues as much as action/adventure, Star Trek was an optimistic, humanist vision of the distant future in which people of all races, humanoid or not, struggled to find peace. Among its innovations was the first interracial/interspecies crew that worked without racial discrimination, a hot topic during the mid-'60s. Roddenberry initially attempted to present women as equals to men (another fairly radical concept back then) as can be seen in the original pilot episode "The Menagerie" (which did not air until the series was established). Unfortunately, the network was uncomfortable about that notion and relegated the female characters to wearing short skirts and playing slightly more "feminine" roles. Despite the attire though, Star Trek's women were strong, intelligent, and courageous. The show was not enormously popular, but it had a devoted core of fans who, in another unprecedented move, launched a tremendous letter-writing campaign that brought the series back for a third year after it was canceled at the end of the second. By the time the show was finally canceled for good, the fan base for Star Trek had grown. Since the early '70s, large groups of fans the world over congregate at enormous Star Trek conventions. Millions of dollars of merchandise have been sold, and the show has spun off into a series of novels and a cartoon show. During the third season, Roddenberry left Star Trek to try other venues. In 1971, he produced and wrote the screenplay for Roger Vadim's black comedy Pretty Maids All in a Row. In the late '70s, Roddenberry returned to the Star Trek venue to produce and write the screenplay for Star Trek: the Motion Picture, the first of a long series of related feature films. On subsequent series entries, he returned as executive consultant. He also served as executive producer on the first television series sequel Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987-1994) until his death of cardiac arrest in 1991.

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