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Robert Justman - Co-Producer Co-Creator of Star Trek
The Creation of Star Trek
Bob Justman explains how Gene Roddenberry got Star Trek off the ground.
Back in 1963, Gene first began developing the Star Trek idea. It took a number of years to come to fruition because it didn't air as a series until September of 1966, having gone through two pilots and a long preparation period.
So far as science fiction shows go, about the only thing that was truly science fiction was a show called The Outer Limits on which I worked for two seasons.
Gene Roddenberry's vision was not extraordinary if you look at it in retrospect. He had an idea that we could get along better, all of us, and that there was no Armageddon in the offing. That we could treat each other the way we want to be treated, that there would be an absence of crime, that everyone would like everyone. There would be no strife. Now this may sound impossible to attain, but you never get anywhere unless you try the impossible. And he did.
How did he pitch Star Trek initially?
How Gene Roddenberry first sold Star Trek
When Gene attempted to get Star Trek on the air he didn't succeed. In part because he was, at times, almost tongue tied. He didn't learn to be glib and didn't learn to be voluble until some time after we begun the series and he became accustomed to dealing with the press and with others other than himself. We all have that problem.
His first attempt was a failure. It was I think at MGM … he first pitched Star Trek to them and they – they passed on it having had experience with Gene and not wanting any more.
He then came, eventually, to Desilu Studios with a wrinkled sheet of paper and read from it his idea of a science fiction series that went into outer space. And Desilu went for it.
Lost in Space II?
Did the network think they were getting a traditional series something like Lost in Space?
No I don't think so. NBC were progressive people. I came to know a number of them. They were intrigued with what Gene had created because it was believable. It was a great adventure that the crew and the Starship Enterprise were venturing out into a region where no-one had ever been before. No-one had ever thought you could go. And how knew what they would encounter there.
Have Star Trek storylines reflected the changing world around them?
In the second season of Star Trek a prime example would be a show called A Private Little War. In which we find a people on a planet who are in conflict and one side is being helped by our enemies the Klingons and the other side is being helped by us, the good guys. Well that's an allegory. It was an allegory for Vietnam. And what was happening there.
Allegories have been important in literature in every culture. The Greeks did allegories, the Romans did allegories, Shakespeare did allegory and so do we.
These kind of shows hold people because they're so comparative to what is happening in the world at the time. We took allegory and put it in the future. But it belongs everywhere. It belongs in the past, in the future and in the present. Allegory is the tool by which we attempt to fix our times.
The Klingons, they were the bad guys. In other words, they were the Russians. They were the Soviets. And we were the good guys. I assume that somewhere in [the] Soviet Union they were doing a show in which they were the good guys and the Americans were the bad guys.
Some solutions for over-coming Leonard Nimoy's ear pain.
Well the ear story is a story that's been told and told and told. But it's true, it did happen. It did happen. It's a painful process. Not putting the ears on, not gluing them on, but getting them unglued is very painful and Leonard's ears hurt him all the time. And it also meant that he had to come in an hour before Bill for his make up, an hour and a half before Bill and when the workers finished at the end of the day, he had to stay behind for another half an hour while the glued pieces of ear were separated from his ever suffering skin.
He wanted his rest and he wanted less pain and so he came to me and said Bob, can we do something about those ears? I thought for a bit and I said I know how. I know what we can do. I've got a surgeon friend who can operate and make your ears pointy and you'll have that for the length of a series, and at the end of that season, we can go to the surgeon again, he can take your ears and put them back the way they were originally. And Leonard wanted this to happen so badly that he believed me, for a few seconds.
Casting Patrick Stewart
How Bob Justman found Jean-Luc Picard
Gene and I were searching for the proper captain and we hadn't found him. We knew it was a man and we knew he was French and he was very hairy. Hopefully he was a handsome leading man, French, in fact.
We saw some rather good actors. But time was passing and we were getting close to when we had to start filming. We couldn't find that magical person. My wife and I were taking a course at UCLA on humour. In the arts. Tonight's lecture was to be a reading by two people – one was Patrick Stewart.
He came out with the lady and they were – proceeded to do some Shakespeare. And he read his first line and I went crazy. I turned to my wife I said I think I've found our new captain.
We met at Gene Roddenberry's house, Patrick pulled up in his rental car and we spent about 45 minutes together, talking. We watched Patrick drive away in his rental car to go to the airport and Gene closed the door, turned around, faced me and said, and I quote, 'I won't have him.'
He wouldn't have him and he wouldn't tell me why. But I know why. I knew why. I knew that he had conceived of a Frenchman. And, you know, who was masculine, virile, and had a lot of hair. And Patrick didn't fit that at all. Patrick was not so handsome, he was distinctive, and he was quite bald. Quite bald.
I was hot to trot. I was very, very enthused about Patrick playing the role. And I kept after Gene and Gene kept fighting me off until one day we had a new producer come on the scene, and that was Rick [Berman]. Rick saw Patrick's film and fell in love with him. As did our casting director. So the three of us were allied in the fight to get Patrick as the captain. And Gene was allied in his own fight not to have him at all. So finally I realised that the more I pushed, the more he dug his heels in.
I made an announcement, one day, in a meeting when the subject was brought up and I said I don't want to hear the name Patrick Stewart ever again. It's over with Patrick Stewart, forget him. I did that on purpose to make Gene think that I'd given up.
And every time anyone mentioned Patrick Stewart's name to me, I would explode and say 'I don't want to hear that. Don't tell me Patrick Stewart any more'. Finally our last possible candidate came to audition for us. And the guy, whoever he was, read for us and talked with us and he left the room, the door closed and we were all silent. There was not a sound to be heard. And finally Gene Roddenberry heaved a big sigh. He said 'All right, I'll go with Patrick'
To boldly go bald
How Picard lost his hair.
We were going to shoot in about a week or two. And we had Patrick send for his toupee, which was back in London. Because we had to present any cast member to the hierarchy at the studio - To the head of the television division and his associates, and his underlings. And we figured that they would not go for a bald man
So we sent for the wig piece and we had Patrick put it on and he was then to go up to the offices of the head of the division. He put it on and turned to us and it was so ratty, so awful looking it really looked like what it was.
Anyway, Gene said well, 'Oh for god's sakes take it off, take it off!' And so he took it off and we then took him up. And they bought him immediately. They were thrilled to hear that wonderful voice. Wonderful annunciation that he had. It made everything seem better and more exciting, more intense and entrancing.
Science in the original aeries
Where did the original series get its science from?
Gene had certain contacts. He had a contact at The Rand Corporation, a very famous place in science and warfare. He had an advisor who would check every idea to see whether it's feasible or believable. The man's name was Harvey Linn Jnr. [He] tried to get the truth of science without sacrificing the science of playmaking.
He was consulted heavily during the first and second pilots, and rather heavily during the first season of the series. But thereafter the need for his advice seemed to fade and the studio being stingy, as usual, rather forced us to remember to forget Harvey Linn.
Inventing the transporter and artificial gravity
Making life easier and saving money!
The transporter was invented by Gene because [it] was just impossible for us to land a spacecraft on a different planet every week.
We could afford to beam them down. And that's what we had to do. The thought had occurred to Gene early on and it was much better to find another way to get down to a planet. Keep the ship up in the air.
I'd worked with actors suspended in mid-air. And it's a time consuming process and it doesn't look quite right. You know there – there's something wrong about it, especially when these kind of tucks appear in their clothing where the wires go. Of course they're in a body harness and then the wardrobe is put on over it. And it takes forever to do a scene when you're floating actors. So that was another big worry about me because I knew we had to do our shows in six days apiece. So I was happy to hear that we didn't have to do that, that there was artificial gravity.
Did the actors enjoy having very technical lines to deliver?
Actors never enjoy having technical lines to deliver, especially when they sound like gibberish, but they do it. But some do it stoically, some do it bravely, some do it angrily, you name it, they do it.
They don't like to say words that don't seem to make any sense. Some of them would become angry because they really couldn't get it and they had to do take after take, and some of them did it bravely. They just forged ahead and just spewed it out, it was amazing
Working with William Theiss to make clothes for the original series.
Bill Theiss was a most interesting person, one of the most interesting persons I've ever met. He was quite talented but he resisted coming up with a final design, because for what ever reason it was it was like pulling teeth, but he was very creative.
It took him some months to come up with the uniform for Next Generation that was acceptable and it was more than acceptable, it was really a good design. Simple – simple to look at but difficult to manufacture.
[For the original series] I used to go to most every fitting with Gene to make our comments and make our changes which often consisted of making sure that there was less material on the girl than she had beginning with. So that's how the wardrobe came about.
Gene got a chance to get his hands on the person who was wearing the outfit, but there was no doubt about it that we went for skin exposure, we wanted to get a bigger audience and hopefully that would help us. Certainly the guest stars were usually beautiful and definitely hardly clothed. And that was all right by Gene.
I think the women liked wearing very little. I think it got them a lot of attention. I remember one actress who had a very very skimpy outfit and we all went to lunch after the first fitting and she put on a bath robe and we walked over to the cafeteria at Paramount, she removed her bathrobe and walked in in her costume which caused quite a stir and then dead silence. All eyes were on her.