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The Career of Gene Roddenberry Before ‘Star Trek’

Star Trek Photo; Paramount Studios

Star Trek celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. The little series that most people wanted to forget in the 1960s, especially network executives, has become a global financial powerhouse. For its creator, Gene Roddenberry, Star Trek was a labor of love that he spent a lot of time bringing to fruition. Growing up in a time of great social and political upheaval, Roddenberry would incorporate the injustices he saw into his project.

Born August 19, 1921 in El Paso Texas, Roddenberry grew up in Los Angeles. He was the son of a post office worker. As a freelance writer in the golden age of television, Roddenberry would have the opportunity to write for a variety of different television shows. Exercising your craft is the biggest key for a successful writer and television in the 1950s and 60s was as demanding and draining as it got. Volume counted far more than quality. Roddenberry would start out as a  freelance writer for series such as Highway Patrol and the western Have Gun –  Will Travel.

Roddenberry was next asked to write a series entitled Riverboat which was set in 1860s Mississippi. When he found out that the producers didn’t want any black actors in the cast, he would eventually get himself fired for arguing the point. Roddenberry would pick himself up and was extended the offer to create a series by Screen Gems Productions. The series would not get picked up but the three main characters names would later appear in Star Trek.

A second pilot followed, entitled 333 Montgomery. It never got off the ground either but Roddenberry got a chance to work with a young actor who played the lead by the name of DeForest Kelly.

In 1963, Roddenberry would get his first chance at creating his own show. The Lieutenantaccording to Wikipedia, “focuses on the men of the Corps in peace time with a Cold War backdrop. The title character is Second Lieutenant William Tiberius Rice, a rifle platoon leader and one of the training instructors at Camp Pendleton. An hour-long drama, The Lieutenant explores the lives of enlisted Marines and general officers alike.” It would only last for one season but Roddenberry would set the groundwork for Star Trek, drafting a script and actually working with several of the actors he would ultimately cast in Star Trek. 

NBC would premiere the show on Saturday in its 7:30 slot on September 14, 1963. The show would pull the highest rating the network ever received for that time slot.  It would only survive a year before being canceled. Wikipedia picks up the story from here, “In 1961, he agreed to appear in an advertisement for MONY (Mutual of New York), as long as he had final approval. With the money from Screen Gems and other works, he and Eileen moved to 539 South Beverly Glen, in Beverly Hills. He discussed an idea about a multi-ethnic crew on an airship travelling the world, based on the 1961 film Master of the World, with fellow writer Christopher Knopf at MGM.”

Gene Roddenberry would later meet up with MGM and Desilu Studios, famous for I Love Lucy. Eventually after a lot of wrangling and financial maneuvering the series was given a go.

 

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