Treknobabble is a continuing series of columns written by uber-Trekkie Reed Farrington in anticipation of the upcoming J.J. Abrams Star Trek movie.
Before you start reading and expecting salacious details about Seven of Nine or T’Pol, I should say at the outset that this Treknobabble is about the behind the scenes women who have played an important role in the popularity of Star Trek. With the recent passing of Joan Winston, it is only appropriate that we acknowledge their contributions. If your contact with Star Trek is solely as a viewer, then you might well be asking, “Joan who?”, but her status as a Trek super fan was enough for major news outlets to have stories on her passing. I can’t think of any other popular culture phenomenon that has a specific fan who would deserve a special mention in the news. More on her later.
Most people might expect that Star Trek fandom consists primarily of male geeks. My personal experience would suggest this. Apparently, the male fans are quite lazy creatively according to a book published in 1992 called, Enterprising Women. Written by a lecturer in the Department of Folklore and Folklife at the University of Pennsylvania, the book is a study of a special group in the worldwide community of fans of Star Trek and other genre television series. This special group creates and distributes fiction and art based on their favourite series. And, supposedly, ninety percent of its members are women! (I have noticed that all of the fan-based film productions I have seen were organized by men. Just a personal observation.) Bored housewives probably kept Star Trek alive in syndication after The Original Series (TOS) ended.
The first woman I want to bring up for special attention is Bjo Trimble. She organized the “Save Star Trek” campaign that helped in getting TOS to have a third season. This is probably the crucial focal point in real-life Star Trek history. The reason I say this is that having the extra third season number of episodes allowed Star Trek to be sold for syndication, thus allowing Star Trek’s popularity to flourish. (It is interesting to note that just over a month after the last episode of TOS aired on NBC, man landed on the moon. This event sparked interest in space exploration and subsequently in Star Trek during syndication.) She also ran the campaign that got the first space shuttle to be named Enterprise.
Bjo wrote one of the first commercial Star Trek reference books, The Star Trek Concordance. Her friendship with Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek, eventually led to her being called by his assistant during the making of Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Roddenberry wanted to thank some of the loyal fans by having them appear as crew members in the recreation deck scene where Kirk gives a briefing on V’Ger and the Enterprise’s mission. So Bjo was called to help locate fans. She also got to be one of the fans in the movie (I’m ready for my cameo, Mr. Abrams!). In 1983, she wrote an uncensored and unauthorized memoir entitled, On the Good Ship Enterprise – My 15 Years with Star Trek.
Before the Internet and the WWW, when people had questions about Star Trek, they could always send a letter off to the Star Trek Welcommittee run by Jacqueline Lichtenberg. Shirley Maiewski, who became known as “Gramma Trek,” built the Welcommittee into an organization that was committed to being a resource for fans. The Welcommittee maintained interest in Star Trek during the years leading up to the first motion picture. In 1975, Jacqueline co-wrote a commercial book called, Star Trek Lives!. Joan Winston was a co-writer of this book as well.
Joan Winston was one of the key organizers of the first Star Trek convention held in Manhattan in January of 1972. She had been a passionate fan of Star Trek since its first airing. She sent story ideas to Roddenberry and managed to attend the production of the final episode of TOS, although at the time, no one knew it would be the last episode. Having had this brief contact with Roddenberry, she managed to get Roddenberry to attend the first convention. Along with fifteen episodes on film and a blooper reel!
She even contacted NASA and requested a “little” display. In her words, from a book she later wrote entitled, The Making of the Trek Conventions: “Instead they sent a one-third-size-mock-up of the lunar module, a full-size genuine space suit and 18 illustrated light panels, weighing forty-two hundred pounds and shipped in seven crates nine by ten by six feet.”
She organized a convention each year for the next five years with the last one held in 1976; however, having seen Joan’s success, others had started Star Trek conventions of their own. Unlike today’s conventions, her conventions had not been held to make a profit. Her love of Star Trek extended over the years. During The Next Generation (TNG), she edited a fanzine devoted to Commander Riker.
There was one woman who played a crucial role on the creative side of Star Trek: D.C. Fontana. She started as Gene Roddenberry’s secretary and became Story Editor on TOS. (Roddenberry’s support of her efforts to be a writer and her eventual promotion in the real world, besides trying to have a female first officer on the bridge of the Enterprise in his fictional world, show that he really did support women’s rights. By the way, like the character of Captain Kirk, Roddenberry was also known as a skirt-chaser, and he ended up marrying the actress that he had cast as the female first officer. Oh, and in case you didn’t know, before he cast Nichelle Nichols as Lieutenant Uhura, he had been boffing her. So, his support of equal rights went beyond having a multi-racial crew in Star Trek.) D.C. Fontana also helped in the development of TNG, and co-wrote the screenplay with Roddenberry for the pilot episode. (As far as I know, Roddenberry hadn’t boffed D.C. Fontana.)
(Sorry for veering off with those disrespectful comments in my last paragraph. I was seriously going to write about the “Top 10 Star Trek Douche Bags” before Sean suggested the Joan Winston story as a possible topic. Oh, I didn’t mean to imply that Roddenberry was a douche bag, or that Captain Kirk was a douche bag. I was thinking about all the arrogant ambassadors, leaders and scientists who got in Kirk’s way. But I decided to take the high road and talk about some interesting women instead, and I ended up trying to spice things up with a little sex gossip. Once again, sorry.)
D.C. Fontana wrote TOS’ episode that introduced Spock’s parents. Her familiarity with Vulcans would lead her to write a novel called, Vulcan’s Glory. She wrote the best episode of the animated Star Trek series. She’s written for other television series, but her association with Star Trek has led to her ongoing involvement with providing the stories for Star Trek videogames. She recently wrote the Chekov episode for the fan-produced series, Star Trek: New Voyages.
One woman who Star Trek fans may not even realize contributed to Star Trek’s success is Dawn Steele, who at various times had been president of production at Paramount Pictures and president of Columbia Pictures. Her involvement with Star Trek occurred when she was vice-president of merchandising and licensing for Paramount’s television and feature properties. She was given the task of merchandising Star Trek: The Motion Picture, which had gotten the reputation among executives as a production to avoid. She had to sell the picture without any special effects or scenes to show people! She managed to get Coca-Cola and McDonald’s to spend tens of millions of dollars on advertising for the film including television commercials that featured Klingons eating Big Macs and drinking Coca-Cola. (Surprisingly, both Shatner and Nimoy wouldn’t agree to appear in a McDonald’s commercial. I wonder if Pine and Quinto would consent.)
There you have it. A few of the women who have made Star Trek what it is today. It was appropriate that TNG remedied Star Trek’s sexist declaratory statement of “To boldly go where no man has gone before” to “To boldly go where no one has gone before.” After all, Star Trek is The Human Adventure.