Monday, June 13, 2005

Los Angeles was not the nerve center of the world that London was in the 1890s, but it was a city of the future. And while London had been the center of the most popular storytelling forms of its day, particularly the novel, the Los Angeles of the 1950s was already the undisputed movie capital and was rapidly become the center of the most popular storytelling form of the near future, television.

Though GR was also the first in his family to earn a university degree, and though he took various writing courses over the years, he was not trained as a writer. There were no courses on television writing anyway, since it was still being invented. While working for the Los Angeles Police Department, GR sold stories to "Dragnet," and got scripts of the shows in advance of their airing, so he could read along as he watched. He turned down the sound to study the visual language, and turned his back on the screen to listen to the dialogue and sound effects.

He started selling stories and scripts to other shows but ran into some difficulty until some advice from the successful popular writer, Earle Stanley Gardner (creator of Perry Mason) helped him through some rough spots. But this kind of advice was useful in only a limited way. The important quality was imagination, and though GR was thoughtful, philosophical and an avid consumer of information, he also dreamed. "I turn on a kind of mental screening room," GR explained. "I watch whatever is on the screen. I watch their faces, their movements. I see their backgrounds. I listen to their voices."

This is pretty similar to what Wells said about writing his scientific romances. Ideas came to him, he said, as in a dream: he would think of a subject, and images would float before his eyes. "I would discover I was peering into remote and mysterious worlds ruled by an order logical indeed but other than our common sanity."

Then in the early 1960s, when he was becoming increasingly frustrated with what he was and wasn't allowed to write about as television drama, GR remembered someone he'd read in younger days. "I thought with science fiction I might do what Jonathan Swift did when he wrote Gulliver's Travels," Roddenberry told an interviewer. "He lived in a time when you could lose your head for making religious and political comments. I was working in a medium, television, which was heavily censored, and in contemporary shows I found I couldn't talk about sex, politics, religion and the other things I wanted to talk about. It seemed to me that if I had things happen to little polka-dotted people on a far-off planet, I might get past the network censors, as Swift did in his day."
GR is linked to HG by Swift, and the science fiction of consciousness. In a preface to a collection of his early science fiction novels, including The Time Machine, Wells wrote this: "My early, profound and lifelong admiration for Swift, appears again and again in this collection, and it is particularly evident in a predisposition to make the stories reflect upon contemporary political and social discussions."

No comments: