Sunday, August 12, 2007

Majel

A big Star Trek convention in Las Vegas has just ended. Many of the stars, writers, producers and so on from the various Trek series and movies were there, but as far as I can tell, a very important someone was absent. Known as the First Lady of Star Trek, Majel Barrett Roddenberry was also something like a mother to Star Trek fans, particularly at conventions, from pretty much the beginning. As Yvonne Fern reports in her 1994 book, Gene Roddenberry: The Last Conversation, convention fans universally told her of their affection for Majel, because “she cares.” And Gene as well as several others who participated in creating Trek or who were there in the beginning, told her that next to GR, Majel was the one most responsible for Star Trek’s success.

I attended my first Star Trek convention in Washington, DC in the summer of 1976. This was Trek’s first big surge of post-NBC popularity, when the original series was on TV every day in syndication--sometimes more than once on different stations in the DC area. I was there in particular to interview Gene Roddenberry. I could say that it was an assignment from my editor, but in fact I was my editor. And as the Arts Editor of the alternative weekly newspaper Washington Newsworks, my nickname around the office was Spock.

After GR’s talk, I saw him checking out some of the exhibits with his wife, Majel. With my photographer in tow, I approached them. It was a warm day and Majel was wearing a kind of sun dress, sleeveless and largely backless. She was lovely from across the room but when I was standing with them, she was utterly dazzling. Her deep tan, her smile and those amazing, mesmerizing, dancing eyes. I suddenly forgot every question I had. I think I managed to mumble something, but basically my mind went blank. Here I was, face to face with Gene Roddenberry, and I couldn’t take my eyes off Majel. So much for my interview.

Fast forward almost 30 years. On assignment to the New York Times, I interviewed Eugene Roddenberry, Jr. on the telephone. At the end of a pleasant and useful interview, I told him this story. I was about to go to my second convention, the “Beam Me Up, Scotty,” farewell to James Doohan convention in Hollywood. Majel was going to be there, and Rod told me to be sure to relate it to his mother.

No problem. I’ve done a lot of interviews over the years, with some major movie and television stars—including some very beautiful women-- as well as Senators and CEOs. Majel was scheduled to appear at the convention but apparently wasn’t feeling very well, and Rod had to coax her to come (he did it by phone from the stage, with the audience hearing both sides of the conversation.) When I saw her later, as she was sitting at a table autographing photos and talking with fans, I introduced myself. I mentioned that convention in Washington, and then I looked into those deep, oceanic blue eyes, and got flustered all over again. I never told her.

I resolved to absolutely tell her at the 40th anniversary convention in Seattle, but she didn’t come. So I’m telling her, and you, right here and right now.

No single individual has been more important to Star Trek for so long, on screen and off, than Majel. Fans know that as an actress she appeared in nearly every incarnation of Star Trek, one way or another. In fact, I hear her voice whenever I fire up my old computer with the TNG theme, which is almost every day. She’s my computer’s voice, too.

She also contributed to GR’s legacy by producing, acting and helping to create other series based on his scripts and ideas. But perhaps her most personal contribution to Trek was in her relationship to the fans and to the conventions. She set the tone for how Trek stars relate to fans that remains a deep part of the Trek culture. Even if she wasn’t at Las Vegas, the grace and personal interest she brought to countless conventions was reflected in many interactions there. Majel’s legacy—and her beauty—are lasting.

2 comments:

Old Time Fan said...

I think people like Gene Coon, D.C. Fontana, Bob Justman, Herb Solow, Matt Jefferies, Bill Theiss, Jerry Finnerman, Gerald Fried, Fred Steiner and Alexander Courage among others who ARE responsible for the birth and success of Star Trek would take exception to the statement, “that next to GR, Majel was the one most responsible for Star Trek’s success”.

A very nice lady, a great convention guest and someone who really made the fans feel welcome and special are truer words to describe Majel Barrett. A mistress, and a betrayed wife would also be words to describe her but please not “that next to GR, Majel was the one most responsible for Star Trek’s success”.

Captain Future said...

The question Yvonne Fern asked was "Who besides Gene has done the most to develop the Star Trek world?" which is what I meant by the term "success." In answer to Fern's question, Bob Justman, Bill Theiss (both on your list) as well as Sam Rolfe, E. Jack Newman and Christopher Knopf answered "Majel." As did GR, and an "unnamed friend" who might have been Herb Solow: "Majel, and she's never given enough credit."