One of television’s foremost pioneers, Eugene “Gene” Roddenberry was an award-winning writer and producer best-known for creating the 1960s TV series Star Trek, whose progeny – a dozen feature films and a half-dozen television series spanning close to five decades – all maintain his vision of the future.
Born on August 19, 1921 in El Paso, Texas, and raised in Los Angeles, Gene led a life as colorful and exciting as almost any high-adventure fiction story. In 1941 he enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II and flew dozens of combat missions in the South Pacific as a second lieutenant. He was decorated with the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal and honorably discharged at the rank of captain in July 1945.
While in the South Pacific, Gene began to write stories and sell them to flying magazines and later to publications including The New York Times. After the war he served as a commercial pilot for Pan American World Airways before the new medium of television, and his recognition that it would need writers, inspired him to move to Hollywood. Initially spending seven years with the Los Angeles Police Department, following in the footsteps of his police officer father, he concurrently wrote television scripts for such series as Highway Patrol and Dragnet.
In 1964 Gene created and produced Star Trek. The show premiered in 1966, developing a loyal following with its futuristic stories of the Starship Enterprise and its crew, led by the heroic Captain Kirk and his Vulcan first officer, the logical Mr. Spock. The original series lasted only three seasons, but sparked a pop culture phenomenon, winning science fiction’s coveted Hugo Award before being reincarnated as an animated spin-off and a succession of films and TV series. In 1986 Gene became the first writer/producer to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Gene Roddenberry passed away on October 24, 1991, just two days after screening Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, the last Trek film including the cast from the original series.
Majel Roddenberry, an actress, writer and executive producer, was best-known for her roles as Nurse Chapel in the original Star Trek television series and as Lwaxana Troi in Star Trek: The Next Generation, as well as providing the voice for the computer of the Starship Enterprise.
Born in Cleveland, Ohio on February 23, 1932, Majel showed an early interest in acting, attended law school for a year, then reembraced her original passion. She moved to New York and landed several stage roles before relocating to California, working in films such as Black Orchid, As Young As We Are and The Buccaneer as well as television series like Bonanza and Pete and Gladys. After meeting Lucille Ball at an acting class, she was signed to a contract with Desilu and appeared in an episode of The Lucy Show. In 1964 she appeared in a guest role on the short-lived series The Lieutenant, created by Gene Roddenberry, with whom she became close friends.
Later in 1964, Gene cast her in a co-starring role in the pilot for his new science fiction series. She played Number One, the strong-willed second in command on the Starship Enterprise, but the character’s strength and authority as a woman unsettled NBC, who ordered a second pilot made excluding her character. The result was a greenlight for Star Trek. Gene recast Majel as the show’s loyal and nurturing Nurse Christine Chapel. The series ran for three seasons until 1969; Gene and Majel would marry the same year.
Majel returned to the Star Trek universe for Star Trek: The Next Generation, portraying alien ambassador L’waxana Troi. She also lent her voice to the computer for most of the Star Trek television series and films. Majel produced the sci-fi series Andromeda and Earth: Final Conflict, and guest starred on Babylon 5, among other television work. Outside the sci-fi universe she also appeared in A Guide to the Married Man with Walter Matthau, Westworld with Yul Brynner, and The Domino Principle with Gene Hackman.
Majel Roddenberry passed away in Los Angeles on December 18, 2008. Gene and Majel are survived by their son, Eugene “Rod” Roddenberry, Jr.
Their legacy and vision still continue on today in the new work created by Roddenberry’s company and the lasting spirit of their fans. Their memory and remains now boldly go into the stars to continue to inspire for generations to come.