The man at the centre of the Star Trek galaxy


Garden Valley Collegiate
Winkler, Manitoba

By Chari Hieber, Grade 12


The lifestyles of Captain James T. Kirk and the rest of the crew aboard the Starship Enterprise have captivated millions of people around the world.

Many people know that Gene Roddenberry is the creator of Star Trek. Roddenberry dreamt up the idea of Star Trek, but he did not contribute as much to the show as people believe.

Joel Engel, in his book Gene Roddenberry: The Myth and the Man Behind Star Trek, describes in detail Roddenberry's contributions from the time before he came to produce and write for the famous show until his death in October of 1991.

The title of Engel's book indicates how Gene Roddenberry was viewed both by the people who did not know him and by those who interacted with him every day. The reader learns what the man behind Star Trek was like to his fellow workers ("the man"), and how he was seen by the public who did not truly know him ("the myth").

Gene Roddenberry had a number of different careers before he became known for his work in Star Trek. They included a World War II bomber pilot, a commercial airline pilot for Pan American Airways, a police officer, and an episodic television writer of relatively minor distinction.

Finally, in the summer of 1963, Roddenberry came up with the Star Trek idea. The rest of Engel's book is dedicated to telling about how the idea of Star Trek was thought up, as well as how the story line developed between the various writers of the scripts. Many of the writer's and producer's opinions of Gene Roddenberry are included in the book, as well as what it was like to work with him on a daily basis.

Gene Roddenberry had been an alcoholic for most of his life. A diabetic who suffered from and was treated for extremely high blood pressure, he created dangerous physiological reactions and long-term damage by continuing to drink heavily against medical advice. His medical records for his final five years revealed that Roddenberry also had a problem with extreme drug abuse.

Two days after Roddenberry saw his movie, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, on October 24, he was wheeled down the hallway to his doctor's office for a scheduled appointment. He briefly convulsed before falling unconscious. Unresponsive to emergency rescue efforts, he died within minutes. His heart failure was attributed to diabetes, hydrocephalus, alcoholism, and a series of strokes.

Gene Roddenberry comes across as a very self-centered person in the book. He took credit where he had not earned it, and never thanked the people who did. His main mission in life was to make himself known to the public, and did everything he could to make his name known through Star Trek. It seemed he did not listen to anyone else's suggestions or ideas. Almost every time a writer wrote a script for an episode, Roddenberry would rewrite the whole thing because he did not like it, taking full credit for the script.

Roddenberry seemed to need the public’s approval more than anything else. He was under a huge amount of stress but whatever happened to him or anyone else took second place to what he thought was the most important thing -- being famous.

The author, Joel Engel, remembers Star Trek debuting the fall he entered high school, and ended its original run two weeks before he graduated. Although the show was highly recommended by several friends, Engel never watched a single episode at that time. It was not until 1976 that Engel became entranced with the series, after watching one episode after work. For the next seventy-eight week nights, he was certain to be home at six o'clock to catch the show.

After watching Star Trek: The Motion Picture in 1979, Engel’s disappointment, which was shared by most of the people leaving the theatre, was tempered by knowing that if the film could manage to earn enough money, there would be a Star Trek II -- without the same mistakes. After The Wrath of Khan, Engel thought that Star Trek might continue forever, even if there were not new episodes every week. In 1987, it looked like Star Trek really would run forever, and there were new episodes every week.

When Gene Roddenberry died in October 1991, Joel Engel realized that he knew little about him, apart from his Star Trek persona. Days later, he received an offer to find out: Hyperion asked if he would be interested in writing Roddenberry’s biography.

Engel writes in his preface, "Not wanting to rush in blindly, I called several acquaintances who had known and worked with Roddenberry. They assured me, without showing their cards, that there was a good story to tell. Still not satisfied, I spent several days in the reading room of UCLA's theater arts special collections department, where a treasure trove of Star Trek correspondence, scripts, memoranda, letters, and related documents were held. What I found there surprised me, and piqued my interest and enthusiasm for the project at hand." The result was a detailed biography written about Gene Roddenberry in an easy-to-read popular style.

Although Gene Roddenberry 's faults become apparent in Engel's account, he is well remembered as the man who thought up the idea of Star Trek, and wrote the first scripts which got the series started. He also made six Star Trek movies, one of which was an immediate hit. Although he only lived to see two seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation, TV Guide said that the show was: "the most successful first-run drama series in the history of television syndication". Since Gene Roddenberry's death, two feature films were created, starring the cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation, and two new television series were created: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and Star Trek: Voyager.

Engel says, "To log every known piece of Star Trek merchandise and memorabilia requires several thick volumes. Star Trek novels regularly occupy the bestseller lists. Klingon as a second language is being learned by new devotees every day. A religion based on Star Trek was founded

recently in Texas. Prominent citizens of the world, like the Dalai Lama and physicist Stephen Hawking, profess devotion to Star Trek -- not least because of its philosophy."

Star Trek has had an impact on millions of lives around the world, and because Gene Roddenberry was the one at the centre of the Star Trek galaxy, such a biography is well in order. Anyone who is interested in Star Trek and how it was created will enjoy reading this book.


Gene Roddenberry : The Myth and the Man Behind Star Trek

by Joel Engel

Hyperion (Adult Trade Paperback)

ASIN: 0786880880

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