The Night I Met Gene Roddenberry and Heard Spock Swear on Film

I loved the Star Trek series from the first episode in 1966 to the last original one that aired in 1969. I was not alone.

During the sixties, dozens of students at the college I attended gathered around the single television in each dormitory parlor. Back then, at least at my college, the students were not allowed to have televisions in their rooms.

On Star Trek evenings, people started staking out a spot as soon as they could. The first-comers got to sit on the sofas. Others found a spot on the floor. Those who came later ended up standing at the back of the room so they could see the TV.

I can still envision the avid faces, tinted blue from the television, staring intently as Captain Kirk fought off blue-skinned attackers in one episode and interacted with scantily clad female aliens in another. Whenever I hear the theme song, I feel transported back in time.

You can imagine how delighted I was in the seventies when my husband, a college band director in Kansas at that time, came home and said, “I’ve invited Gene Roddenberry to come to campus, and he accepted.” Wayne was in charge of hiring different performers and bands for the free entertainment the college provided to the students. When he saw Gene Roddenberry’s name on the list of possibilities, he remembered how much I had loved Star Trek and how sad I was when the series was cancelled after only three seasons.

Roddenberry spoke that evening to a full house, standing room only, in the auditorium. He brought with him the film clips that would have been tossed out had he not picked them up from the cutting room floor and set them aside.

He told of the two-hour pilot, made with Jeffrey Hunter as the captain and John Hoyt as the doctor. The network rejected that episode as “too cerebral,” among other complaints, but requested another pilot.

Bits and pieces of the first pilot were eventually used in the sixteenth episode, “The Menagerie.” In that one, Spock takes control of the Enterprise in order to get Captain Pike to the planet where he can walk and talk once again.

According to Roddenberry that night in Kansas, Jeffrey Hunter was offered the role of the captain again for the new pilot, but his wife told him not to accept a part in the series because science fiction was a fad and would not last.

I don’t know what happened to John Hoyt, but I can’t imagine a better doctor than DeForest Kelley as “Bones” McCoy. Some say Kelley was Roddenberry’s first choice from the beginning, even though he was the third actor to play the part.

In the original pilot, Nimoy is already performing as Spock, Science Officer, but he shows emotion. Spock had pointed ears but was not the near-automaton we saw in later episodes. In the original pilot, it was Majel Barrett, in her role as “Number One,” who showed no emotion.

When the network wanted to get rid of Spock’s pointy ears, Roddenberry held firm. I can’t imagine Spock without them. Costumes for the Star Trek conventions ad infinitum would have suffered.

The network also did not think the world would accept a female as second in command. (If you think that’s absolutely stupid, be happy about how far we have come since then.) Later stories have given different reasons for Barrett not to be second in command, but that’s the reason Roddenberry gave us that night.

Roddenberry said he compromised by making Majel Barrett a nurse in the infirmary. (If you think that’s a typical reaction in the sixties, be grateful for how far we have come.) Today, we would probably make her a doctor, and she did eventually become one in the series.

Toward the end of the presentation, Roddenberry showed us clippings that he had rescued from the cutting room floor. I remember three.

In one, Kirk accidentally breaks off the antenna of a blue-faced alien. Shatner looks off-camera and says, “Uh, oh. Makeup!”

In another clip, Spock walks up to the doors leading from the command bridge to the rest of the ship. They don’t open, he hits them full-body, and he swears quite forcefully. The set did not have automatic doors. Two people on the other side would pull the doors open while another person hit the “whoosh” button. Hearing Spock swear brought chuckles from the audience.

The third clip showed us the infirmary in the midst of a meteor storm. The set stayed still, of course, but the cameraman bounced the camera around to simulate the effects of the meteors hitting the hull. DeForest Kelley (Bones) grabs Majel Barrett (Nurse Chappel) from behind as if to steady her, places his hands on her breasts, and refuses to let go. The two actors start laughing. Then the crew members standing offstage start laughing. Soon the cameraman starts laughing, and the camera REALLY starts bouncing around.

Roddenberry said, “It’s even funnier once you know that’s my wife.”

I got to meet Roddenberry after his presentation, and I must say that he was extremely unpresumptuous considering how much hero worship was in the eyes of those around him.

Unfortunately, Paramount eventually decided they owned the rights to the film clips, and Roddenberry had to relinquish them. It is too bad, because it was a great evening of entertainment.

Next month, my blog will be about the night I met William Windom, who played Commodore Matt Decker, commander of the doomed USS Constellation in the Star Trek episode “The Doomsday Machine.”

This is the first of three posts about STAR TREK.