As co-author (with Tom Gilbert) of the book “Desilu: The Story of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz,” I found your “Star Trek” coverage of interest last Sunday. Most everyone involved in the program seemed to take credit, or be given credit, except for one person: Lucille Ball.
“Star Trek” was a Desilu Studios production and, as company president, Ball went directly against the warnings of her executives, all advising her to abandon the exceedingly expensive program. Instead, she gave the green light to “Star Trek"--even though she knew each episode would cost Desilu $65,000 in lost revenue--money not paid by the network to cover the higher-than-average production costs.
Ball so much believed in “Star Trek” (and also, that same season, “Mission: Impossible”) that she placed her own studio in certain financial jeopardy. As former Desilu executive Ed Holly told us, “If it were not for Lucy, there would be no ‘Star Trek’ today.”
Ball soon after sold Desilu to Paramount for $17 million. A couple of weeks following the sale, Holly got a phone call from a frantic Charles Bluhdorn, then board chairman of Paramount’s parent company, Gulf + Western. Bluhdorn had been examining the prohibitive cost figures on “Star Trek” and “Mission: Impossible.”
“What did you sell me?” Bluhdorn said in a state of panic. “I’m going to the poorhouse!”
Who could have predicted the enormous impact of these Desilu productions--in addition to Desi Arnaz’s “The Untouchables"--upon Paramount’s financial future in the subsequent decades?
COYNE STEVEN SANDERS
I spent over 2 1/2 years researching and writing “Star Trek Creator: The Authorized Biography of Gene Roddenberry,” published in 1994. A few corrections for David Kronke’s article:
Re Gene’s ego: Gene was generous with his time and talent and happily shared credit. Memos in his archives show several instances where he tried to give credit due others only to be overruled by the Writers Guild.
Part of Gene’s philosophy was Never Complain, Never Explain. This sometimes led to misunderstandings, but it is difficult to see how Gene could be misunderstood when he walked into the offices of several “Next Generation” executives (including Robert Justman) and, without a word, handed each a $5,000 bonus. There are several wealthy producers, writers and directors who owe their success to an opportunity first given by Gene.
Re the creation of Spock: Herb Solow describes Joe Sargent directing Nimoy to “act against emotion” as evidence that Gene did not fully create Spock. Well before production began, Gene wrote a detailed guide that clearly described the logical Spock, his sublimated emotions and the relationships with Kirk and McCoy that we all know. Sargent read the guide and directed the first episode produced, “The Corbomite Maneuver,” well after the memos were written.
Re Leonard Nimoy leaving: Memos show that by the fifth show of the first season, Nimoy thought Spock nearly equal to the captain in the storyline. He demanded a 400% raise and the right to direct. He settled for half.
Interestingly enough, Gene supported part of Nimoy’s position. In the margin in one of the memos outlining Nimoy’s demands Gene had written what he was willing to spend to keep Nimoy. Almost all of Gene’s figures were more generous than what the studio finally paid.
Re “The Last Conversation” author Yvonne Fern having spent months with Roddenberry near the end of his life, as Kronke reported: She met Gene in July 1991, a few days before a subdural hematoma sent him to the hospital for brain surgery. The total time she spent with him during the remaining three months of his life was little more than a week, the bulk of it when Gene’s ability to articulate complete sentences was severely compromised.
Hmmmmmm. There are four “Star Trek” series, two hits and two near-flops. Gene Roddenberry worked on the two hits. Other people worked on the near-flops.
Maybe there’s a message there--and it may not be about the ego of Gene Roddenberry.
Since Gene Roddenberry’s death, the vultures have arisen to grab a piece of his legend. In their quest for self-aggrandizement, many wannabe types are now trying to rewrite “Star Trek” history. How interesting that we never heard a peep from them until after Gene died and was no longer able to defend himself from mistruth, vicious attacks and slander.
Gene was a student of history, and I’m sure he would be appalled at the cavalier fashion in which Herb Solow et al are attempting to reconstruct “Star Trek’s” origins.
Rancho Palos Verdes
Gregory Benford’s “analysis lite” of “Star Trek” reeked of obvious disdain.
It’s a shame he’s never found anything redeeming in the original program or its progeny. Recently watching an early episode featuring a “cat-and-mouse” confrontation between the Enterprise and a Romulan ship, I found William Shatner’s acting to be--surprise--not over the top at all; his Kirk was almost low-key. And I’ll take the issues suggested within a “Next Generation” story like “Measure of a Man,” where Picard must defend the android Data’s right to exist, to a dozen “L.A. Laws.”
The reason for “Star Trek’s” erosion in popularity isn’t its oversaturation after 30 years, it’s Rick Berman’s control of this “franchise” for the past six. A new voice is needed to reinvigorate the endeavor, which is in creative atrophy.
I enjoyed your “Star Trek” tribute but would have appreciated more than a passing mention of the animated series produced by Filmation. The Saturday-morning cartoon “Star Trek” was broadcast on NBC from 1973 through 1975.
At age 9, I had the honor of voicing the role of “Young Spock” in the Emmy-winning episode “Yesteryear.”
WILLIAM “BILLY” SIMPSON
To those who wrote in asking how we could leave “Doctor Who” off our list of sci-fi TV series that came after “Star Trek”: “Doctor Who” began airing in Britain a few years before “Star Trek” premiered.