Posts Tagged ‘Gene Roddenberry’

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Was A Trekkie

Monday, January 21st, 2013

(Reposted from MediaPost article by Archive Director Karen Herman with permission.)

As the nation celebrates Martin Luther King Day on Jan. 21, it’s a good time to remember how television can play a critical role in challenging and changing public opinion. As the journalist Howard K. Smith said of the television news coverage of the Civil Rights movement in his Archive of American Television interview, “I think even people who were biased on civil rights saw these pictures every night at the dinner hour — people beating up blacks, siccing dogs onto them — and they said, ‘This has got to stop! Something must be done.’ I think that television really was a decisive fact. That and the powerful will of Lyndon Johnson to be a success in legislation and the wonderful eloquence of Martin Luther King.”

Not only did TV news bring the country (and the world) face to face with the day-to-day reality of the struggle, but entertainment television also played a subtle, yet important, role. One of my favorite stories in our archive is one that Nichelle Nichols,  famous for her role as Chief Communications Officer Nyota Uhura on “Star Trek,” tells of her moving encounter with Dr. King. (See the full 12-minute interview excerpt here):

I was going to leave “Star Trek,” and [creator] Gene Roddenberry says, “You can’t do that. Don’t you understand what I’m trying to achieve? Take the weekend and think about it.” He took the resignation and stuck it in his desk drawer….

As fate would have it, I was to be a celebrity guest at, I believe, it was an NAACP fundraiser in Beverly Hills. I had just been taken to the dais, when the organizer came over and said, “Ms. Nichols, there’s someone here who said he is your biggest fan and he really wants to meet you.”

I stand up and turn and I’m looking for a young “Star Trek” fan. Instead, is this face the world knows. I remember thinking, “Whoever that fan is, is going to have to wait because Dr. Martin Luther King, my leader, is walking toward me, with a beautiful smile on his face.” Then this man says “Yes, Ms. Nichols, I am that fan. I am your best fan, your greatest fan, and my family are your greatest fans…. We admire you greatly ….And the manner in which you’ve created this role has dignity….”

I said “Dr. King, thank you so much. I really am going to miss my co-stars.” He said, dead serious, “What are you talking about?” I said, “I’m leaving Star Trek,” He said, “You cannot. You cannot!”

I was taken aback. He said, “Don’t you understand what this man has achieved? For the first time on television we will be seen as we should be seen every day – as intelligent, quality, beautiful people who can sing, dance, but who can also go into space, who can be lawyers, who can be teachers, who can be professors, and yet you don’t see it on television – until now….”

I could say nothing, I just stood there realizing every word that he was saying was the truth. He said, “Gene Roddenberry has opened a door for the world to see us. If you leave, that door can be closed because, you see, your role is not abBlack role, and it’s not a female role, he can fill it with anything, including an alien.”

At that moment, the world tilted for me. I knew then that I was something else and that the world was not the same. That’s all I could think of, everything that Dr. King had said:  The world sees us for the first time as we should be seen.

Come Monday morning, I went to Gene. He’s sitting behind that same dang desk. I told him what happened, and I said, “If you still want me to stay, I’ll stay. I have to.” He looked at me, and said, “God bless Dr. Martin Luther King, somebody knows where I am coming from.” I said, “That’s what he said.” And my life’s never been the same since, and I’ve never looked back. I never regretted it, because I understood the universe, that universal mind, had somehow put me there, and we have choices. Are we going to walk down this road or  the other? It was the right road for me.

As many programs have since shown (here’s a link to another of my other favorites  – Phylicia Rashad discussing how “The Cosby Show” broke barriers between Nelson Mandela and one of his guards on Robben Island ), television has the power to come into our homes and show people as they “should be seen every day.” A powerful and unforgettable message from perhaps the world’s most famous “trekkie.”

Celebrating Gene Roddenberry’s Legacy on his 90th Birthday

Friday, August 19th, 2011

Today marks what would have been  Gene Roddenberry’s 90th birthday. Best-known as the creator and executive producer of Star Trek, Roddenberry was born in El Paso, Texas on August 19, 1921 and grew up in Los Angeles. He became a Los Angeles police officer, but quickly transitioned to TV as a technical advisor to Frederick Ziv on Mr. District Attorney (1954) and later became a headwriter for Ziv on The West Point Story (CBS, 1956-57 and ABC, 1957-58). He eventually created his first original series The Lieutenant (NBC, 1963-64) which examined social questions of the day in a military setting. Coincidentally, the show featured guest performances by actors who later played a large role in Star TrekNichelle Nichols, Leonard Nimoy, and Majel Barrett (who later became his wife). He first pitched Star Trek in 1964, and finally found support from Desilu Studios. The series premiered on September 8, 1966 and has been part of American pop culture ever since.

Although Roddenberry passed away in 1991, before the Archive was established, many of his colleagues spoke about him in their own interviews. Here are some excerpts:

Robert Justman (Producer)

Working with Gene Roddenberry, very often it was a lot of fun. He had great intellect.  This was someone who came from a very poor background and made himself what he was.  He was driven, but he had an enormously pleasing personality. Everyone liked him, and yet they knew he was the boss.  Which he was. His door was, was usually open to me, it was always open to me in the beginning.  But then eventually, because he was rewriting himself, and in those days, it was slow going, he had a buzzer placed in the rug, so that I couldn’t walk in on him, and the door would remain closed. One afternoon while the secretary went to lunch, I took a look around  and discovered the button that she pushes to do the buzzer to open the door. I then pressed the buzzer and waltzed into Gene’s office which was a very, very long office, it was made out of two offices and it was quite long and it had the door where you came in, in the front, and there was an escape hatch in the rear where you could exit onto the studio street.   I entered the room when I wasn’t supposed to, and Gene was writing away with a No. 2 pencil on some legal pad in haste to correct everything.  I walked in and I walked past him not really looking at him, and I walked to the end of the room, opened the escape hatch and left. [he laughs] Just to show him that he couldn’t shut me out!

Dorothy C. (DC) Fontana (Writer)

Star Trek lives. I don’t know why people keep coming back to it, but I have had so many people, whether they’re in my business, or whether they are outside, civilians if you will, coming in to say, “you know, Star Trek still talks to me.  But I like the original series.”  They always come back to the original series.  That’s the one that Gene was the most hand- on with.  He had hands on it for the first two seasons of Star Trek, which are the episodes that people remember most.  I just think that we were talking to an audience that was listening.  We weren’t just there for eye-candy.  We were there to entertain, but we weren’t just there to entertain.  We were trying to talk to them.  We were trying to tell intelligent stories with good actors and good messages and I think we succeeded.  The goal on any show is to tell the best stories you can.  I think we succeeded admirably, especially in the first two seasons of Star Trek.

George Takei (Actor) reminisces about working with Roddenberry and his vision for the series in this video clip:

For more “Star Trek” stories, visit

Nichelle Nichols Interview now Online!

Thursday, March 10th, 2011

Interview Description:
In her Archive interview, Nichelle Nichols talks about her work as a cast member on the original Star Trek (NBC, 1966-69) playing “Lieutenant Uhura.” Nichols discusses how this role broke many barriers, including portraying the first African-American woman as a high-ranking official and the first interracial kiss on television (with “Captain Kirk’s” William Shatner). She reveals how Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. influenced her decision to remain on the show. She talks about the show’s creator, Gene Roddenberry, and his vision for Star Trek. She details her early career, highlighting her roles in theater and film, and touring as a singer with Duke Ellington. She also discussed her roles on The Lieutenant ,(NBC, 1963-64), another Roddenberry production. She discussed more recent roles, such as “Nana Dawson” on Heroes (NBC, 2006-10). Nichelle Nichols was interviewed in North Hollywood, CA on October 13, 2010; Stephen J. Abramson conducted the nearly three-and-a-half-hour interview.  View the entire interview with Nichols here.