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Majel Barret - Nurse Chapel, the Computer and Gene Roddenberry's wife.
Why did Gene do science fiction?
Why did Gene Roddenberry attempt a series no-one had ever tried before?
They wanted a television show that had to do with science fiction and Gene didn’t know anything about science fiction. He absolutely knew nothing. But he knew people and he was head writer for Have Gun Will Travel, and if you took those early Star Treks that we did and put us in a western wardrobe and put us on wagon train going west, we can say the same lines. So he didn’t bother to do science fiction, because he didn’t know anything about it.
Everybody accepted it. You put funny people in funny costumes and paint them green and we could talk about anything we wanted to, because that was the only thing that fascinated Gene about this particular genre. Censorship was so bad in those days, you couldn’t talk about war, black-white situation, you couldn’t even talk about mother love.
We took Frank Grosh and painted him half-black and half-white and his adversary was half-white and half-black and put the two of them at each other and it got through the censors. They never realised that that was what was going on. Once it’s up on the screen it’s too late and Gene got to talk about some of the problems that we had today that way.
You go through at least the first two years of Star Trek and you find some amazing stuff. Everything that was going on Gene put into the series. He just put strange costumes on the actors and painted them funny colours and left the same situation in.
What didn’t get past the network?
How Gene Roddenberry has to choose between Spock and a woman.
When we started out in ’64, um, I was playing Number One, which was a woman second in command of a star ship. Now that was innovative, but of course NBC got ahold of it and ‘You’ve got to get rid of the broad. No one will believe a woman second in control of a big star ship’.
They said, ‘You’ve got to get rid of the guy with the ears ‘cos he looks too Satanic’. But the third thing was you’ve got to make it more men than women, because otherwise they’re going to think there’s a lot of hanky panky going on in the star ship.
Gene, realising that he was hitting his head against a wall, and realising what the mentality of the people who were making those decisions was, figured he would do in my case, although he knew it was going to break my heart, figured he would fight and keep the Spock character and marry the woman.
So we all got basically what we wanted, and as far as the women are concerned, he figured that 30 good women could handle a crew of 300 anyway. So that’s how we ended up with our crew.
Who helped Gene make Star Trek?
Gene didn’t work on Star Trek alone.
Gene had a lot of close friends who helped him. Bob Justman helped him. There’s a name that has been around for ever because Bob was on other shows with him.
Poor Gene Coon... I think we killed him. He died very, very early as a matter of fact... You’d give him a script overnight and he would bring back a shooting script the next morning. One that we could actually go up on the stage, point the camera, light the lights and say, ‘roll them’. It was remarkable. I’d say if anybody was really closest to helping him put those out I would say is Gene Coon.
There was a team around him. It was a great big team. Gene didn’t do it all by himself, although for the first two years there wasn’t one single script that got by. That’s why the writers didn’t like him that much, but there wasn’t one script that got by without Gene’s signature all over it.
Burying Gene in space
How Gene Roddenberry’s ashes were put into orbit.
I said wouldn’t it be great – when Gene died if we could bury him in space. And that word just got around and people started to talk about it and one day they came and said, ‘Would you like to send Gene’s ashes up?’
I got to send a little vial of Gene’s ashes up – I forget what mission it was, but Colonel Wetherby was the one who took them up as a piece of his personal property. Those guys are allowed two pounds each as they go up. So he took those little vial of ashes with him as part of his two pounds. We watched it on TV, the launch, and of course the tears are coming down everybody’s eyes, this is the way it was supposed to be.
He’s up there now going around every 90 minutes looking down saying, ‘What have you done to my show?’
Fred Phillips had a strange job getting Spock’s ears right.
Well, there are just all sorts of stories about that. We were doing tests out in Culver City, and when lunch came along, we had to go out for lunch and Leonard had just had the ears put on and they were funny, he was funny with this green face and he had eyebrows that came out to here and the costume which were difficult to get in and out of, so we just put robes over them, and walked outside the lot in order to go get some lunch and of course cars [were] screeching to a halt and yelling things out to us. And so there’s Leonard, he looks like a point eared hobgoblin and we go into a restaurant and the whole place starts yelling and screaming because we looked so funny.
Bill Theiss’s costumes
What were the original costumes like?
It was just part of the fun, it really was, and he got very fancy... Gene loved to have beautiful women around and he loved to have beautiful women with no clothes, or as few clothes as he could possibly put them in, and Bill accommodated him in every way he could.