||Uncharted Content from the Final Frontier - Since 1999
(Interview conducted via email in August 1999)
Who created Star Trek? A number of
talented people brought the original show to life, but it was Gene
Roddenberry's vision and drive that made the original series a critical
Despite its quality and popularity among its core viewers,
Star Trek was largely considered a
commercial failure. Its ratings were never high, and they lowered with each
season. In 1968, Star Trek ended its
second season facing almost certain cancellation. With less than 60 episodes,
Star Trek would not have even been
a success in syndicated reruns: few television series would pay for
the right to air such a small number of episodes.
Star Trek would die, and that would be
the end of it.
Enter Bjo Trimble. A long-time science fiction fan, Bjo loved the
Star Trek television series. When she
found out that the series faced cancellation in 1968, she and husband John
organized a massive letter-writing campaign to save the show. The campaign
worked, and the USS Enterprise would journey
through the stars for a third season. Although the series did come to an end
in 1969, Star Trek then consisted of 79
episodes, enough to warrant selling its reruns in the syndicated market.
Without the reruns, Star Trek probably would
never have gained enough popularity to resurface on the big screen, as it did
in 1979's Star Trek: The Motion Picture, and
return to the small screen as Star Trek: The
Who saved Star Trek? A number of avid
fans helped keep the show alive, but it was Bjo Trimble's dedication and
drive that kept the Enterprise on screen and in
the hearts of its viewers.
to visit Bjo Trimble's web site.
When did you first gain an interest in science fiction?
I read fantasy (fairy tales, adventures and Edgar Rice Burrough's
"John Carter of Mars") as a child, but didn't really find true SF
until I was a sub-teen, and the wife of a wrestler known as the
Swedish Angel gave me a stack of Astounding Science Fiction
magazines. I didn't know what the heck a robot was, but I was
How have you participated in science fiction fandom, and when did
your involvement in science fiction fandom begin?
I discovered SF fandom in 1951 when I read a tiny filler in the Los
Angeles Times that the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society was
holding its anniversary meeting. I went to meet fellow fans, and
never looked back. My first convention was the World Science Fiction
Convention (Worldcon) in 1953. It was called ChiCon II.
How did you come to know Gene Roddenberry? How well did you
come to know him over the years?
I met GR at Tricon, another worldcon in Cleveland, OH, in 1966. He'd
brought 3 episodes of Star Trek to
show the attendees just days before it aired on TV. The whole story is
in my now out-of-print book, On The Good Ship
Enterprise. I came to know him well enough to get into arguments
with him. He once said he couldn't hire me to work with him at the studio,
because he needed a "yes" person, not a "no" person.
You are well known in Star Trek fandom for
having organized the fan letter-writing campaign that led to the original
Star Trek's third season.
Susan Sackett, in The Making of Star Trek: The Motion
Picture, said you were "responsible for creating
Star Trek fandom almost singlehandedly"
(9-10). Prior to the letter-writing campaign, had you any experience doing
anything like it?
Well, prior to that, the Trimbles had organized, directed and run
Worldcon Art Shows for 17 years. We already had a reputation for
organizing things. I'd never tried to create fandom; it just
happened. What happened was that when we mailed the how-to letter to
get people to write NBC, I included all the addresses of people who
lived nearby and suggested they get together. They did, and formed
fan clubs. Had I thought it out, I'd have organized it so it was one
huge club, paying us dues. Then we'd be rich by now! Please note
that John Trimble was also one of the people who ran the Save
Star Trek campaign. I'm just the
noisy one, so I get all the publicity. Without John, I could not
have done what was done.
In David Gerrold's World of Star Trek,
you mention that, although Gene Roddenberry was not the cause of the
writing campaign that saved Star Trek,
he strongly supported it, even to the point of helping to cover its
expenses. Just how involved was Roddenberry in the campaign?
Gene wanted very badly to be completely involved, but we said it
would only make NBC say it was a put-up job. Years later, in his
book, Herb Solow made exactly that claim, in fact. He didn't even
pay expenses, but by the time David's book came out it was too late
to change that impression. I was misquoted on that. Gene did do
things like send over platters of food and drink when we were doing a
collating of a mailing. At the very last, he paid for postage when
we'd run out of funds. But for the most part, fans paid for the Save
Star Trek campaign, or it came out
of our own pocket.
Although communication between fans today is easier with email
and the Internet, fandom today seems fragmented. How cohesive was
Star Trek fandom in the early years
of Star Trek?
Well, today everyone has so many Trek
series to choose from, so they can become interested in only one small
part of the whole. We didn't have that back then. Fandom clung together
because we had no one else; today, fandom isn't all that exclusive.
We're in the media, we're in mainstream magazines, we're active in community
fund-raising. That didn't happen in 1966.
Had email and the Internet existed in the 1960s, would the campaign to
save Star Trek have been more or less
Far more successful, I believe. While there are far more nay-sayers
on the Internet, it's only because they now have a vehicle to vent
their opinions. Back in 1966, we'd have heard from only a few of
such people. But the other side of the Internet coin is that we can
reach so many enthusiastic, interested, involved people, so swiftly!
It's really quite wonderful.
Your Star Trek Concordance has long been
considered the definitive guide to the original
Star Trek television series. What
inspired you to write the book? What the extent of Dorothy Jones
Heydt's involvement in the book? Without videotape, how did you
manage to gather such detailed information from each episode?
Dorothy was a very focused person in the 60s, with only 2 interests:
Star Trek and her religion. She
began making notes on 3x5 cards about everything
Trek. I have always liked
encyclopedias, and said that would make a book, and we began to work
on one. Dorothy and I both watched episodes on TV and on a friend's
early VCR (it was tape, wound through the machine much like an old
audio tape recorder). We both make many notes. I did the actual
writing, though I stupidly credited Dorothy as the total author in the
fan edition and me as only the editor. Dorothy's cattiness about females
shows up in the original edition. When time came for re-writes, Dorothy
had lost interest and turned the project over to me. I took it from
The Ballantine edition of the Concordance
is copyrighted by both Paramount and yourself. Franz Joseph's
Star Fleet Technical Manual is copyrighted
in its author's name. None of the recent licensed
Star Trek publications are copyrighted
by any party but Paramount. What conditions permitted you to obtain partial
copyright of the Concordance, and what caused
Paramount to become more possessive of
Star Trek merchandise?
In those days, nobody at Paramount thought
Star Trek would last 30 years! So they
didn't care. They signed over all rights to Tribbles to David Gerrold, too.
He produced them to sell, and paid for his house with them and the writing
he could do because tribble sales gave him the time to write. Lincoln
Enterprises got many rights that Par [Paramount Pictures] tried to get back
from Majel. Nowadays, Par and Viacom realize they have a major cash cow here,
and are far more careful of things. I suspect that our collective sales made
Par realize they should be merchandising things better. They still aren't
doing so, because they have never hired anyone (me, for instance) who understands
fandom or the merchandising of Star Trek.
It has been said that the animated Star Trek
series is not considered canon. Did Gene Roddenberry ever consider them
Yes, he did. He thought the animateds gave Trek
a new life, perhaps helping keep it alive long enough for that movie or
new series. He always hoped for that. Later, other people "spoke with
Gene's mouth" in saying he hated the animateds. Not in our conversations. The
reason Paramount doesn't want the animateds considered canon is they
had a huge falling out with Filmation, and had to buy back the rights
(which Par hates to do!) and therefore they are "punishing" the
animateds by not accepting them.
The authors of the Star Trek Encyclopedia and
Star Trek Chronology acknowledge your role as
a research consultant in the development of those works. How involved were
you in their production?
I didn't help write them, if that's what you mean. I certainly was
available for phone calls on questions of what happened, or where
something was (in the hands of what collector), and so on. I send
many of my own notes to Mike (a long-time and very dear friend). He
always acknowledged me, which was much appreciated, since many other
writers who used my information never did. Especially the fiction
writers, all of whom certainly used the Concordance.
How involved were you in the efforts to revive
Star Trek in the 1970s?
Not very. I was raising children, and a new generation of fans were
eager to show that they could do it as well as the Trimbles did.
How familiar are you with the dealings between Gene
Roddenberry and Franz Joseph?
Not much. Only rumors. I knew Franz (a true European style
gentleman) only slightly. I know Franz Joseph's daughter, Karen
Dick. She's the one you should ask.
Have you associated with any of Star Trek's
other production personnel, or actors? If so, whom?
I knew all of the original cast, most of the office personnel, and
quite a few of the production people for the original series. I knew
only a few of the actors for TNG:
Jonathan Frakes, LeVar Burton, and Brent Spiner, having met Stewart only
twice. I knew most of the DS9
cast. I know nobody on Voyager. Last
week, I met Robert Picardo at Fantasticon, and he thanked me for saving
Star Trek so he could have such a
How did you become an extra in Star Trek: The
It was director Robert Wise's idea to get as much of the
Enterprise crew on the rec deck as possible
while Kirk explained the Giant Purple Magilla that was eating the universe.
He said we never saw anything close to the 430 people supposed to be
aboard the starship. Gene thought of asking the Screen Extra's Guild
(they were separate from Screen Actor's Guild in the 60s) for permission
to "go on the street" for half the people needed on that rec deck. So
Trek fans were invited to a casting
call. Some of us, for our work, were cast even if we didn't really fit
the criteria (the costumes were already made up) of height and weight.
Would Gene Roddenberry have approved of the more recent Star
Trek television series and feature films? If not, what are some of
the elements of which he would disapprove?
I feel that Gene might have come to like DS9,
had he lived to see it. There might have been some changes. Majel
recently said that GR would have hated the war in
DS9, but frankly I am amazed that she cannot
see the same theme in much of what Gene did, including his recent
"discovery" of Earth: Final Conflict. The
only reason there were not full battles in early
Trek is lack of funds to pull it off, and
lack of technology to show it. Otherwise, GR would certainly have added
it; he knew what audiences liked. I don't know about
Voyager; I can't see where it's going,
and I don't feel GR would have liked that. I don't think he would have
liked the last couple of movies; they were very far removed from the
Trek Gene came up with.
You are credited with creating Star Trek Enterprises, a
business specializing in the sale of Star Trek
merchandise. Majel Barrett-Roddenberry now runs the company under the
name of Lincoln Enterprises. (Editor's Note: As of 2004, the
company was known as Roddenberry.COM,
and Gene Roddenberry, Jr. had a significant role in the company's operation.)
Did you have any business experience prior to helping form this company?
John and I set up Star Trek (now Lincoln) Enterprises for Gene, only
to find that he really wanted to turn it over to his new wife, Majel.
We ran several small mail-order businesses prior to setting up ST
Enterprises, but always failed due to lack of money to advertise
widely (another thing the Internet might have changed). Majel had no
business experience, so we left and she took over, the business never
really took off as it should have.
Gene Roddenberry said that the original Star Trek
series was a method by which he could explore contemporary human issues
without fear of excessive censorship. One aspect of human life that
is conspicuously absent from Star Trek,
particularly beginning with Star Trek: The Next Generation,
is religion. For example, none of the recent major
Star Trek characters is religious except
Kira Nerys, whose gods are actually aliens. Roddenberry in later years said
that he was a humanist, and this clearly shows in
The Next Generation and its spinoffs. Was
there a reason why human belief systems are not represented in
Star Trek? Does this cause
Star Trek to fall somewhat short when
it comes to exploring the human condition?
Exploring the human condition through religion would come up very
short on this planet! Organized religion has probably done more
damage to the human condition than almost anything else except
outright war, in my opinion. Witness overpopulation because
religious beliefs will not allow contraception; witness the
Inquisition, and Talking Heads on TV... well, that could go on for
hours! I don't see that it's imperative in exploring the human
condition to include someone's belief in a tenuous (at best) being.
But that's a personal opinion. Thousands of SF stories have managed
to explore the human condition without mentioning relition. Gene was
a humanist from the start, so far as I know. In the 60s it was just
Not Done to explore religion on TV; everyone shied away from it.
Having a comedy about a preacher with a family and human failings
would have simply not flown in those days. It is always very
difficult to deal with religion, because everyone has their own
private viewpoints about it, and whatever you do or say will
certainly cause someone to scream about it. But there was a chapel
on the original Enterprise, which was used
at least 2 or 3 times that I can recall. I think getting Sisko involved
in Bajoran religion was a very brave thing for the writers to do.
To my knowledge, you have visited the sets of the original series,
the first motion picture, The Next Generation,
and Deep Space Nine's
"Trials and Tribble-ations" episode. What is it like to visit the "real"
starship Enterprise? Does seeing the lumber and
stage lighting of the actual sets diminish or enhance the illusion of
reality that viewers enjoy when seeing the sets on the television or
I've visited all the sets of all the series and movies. I live only
miles from Paramount, and have many friends there who are willing to
leave a drive-on for me at the gate. I love to visit sets; I like to
watch the magic as it happens. Does seeing the lumber and stage
lighting disillusion me? No. I've taken some people on a set, only
to have them say it was very disappointing. What were they
expecting, fairyland? I don't know... but I like seeing the reality,
then seeing the way it turns out on screen.
Are there any elements of the sets, props, costumes, and
models that surprised, impressed, or disappointed you when you saw
them in person?
No, but I was prepared for that. My mom was a costumer for Warner
Bros, and I snarked out around sets and prop rooms in my childhood.
I am always impressed with the loving care that fans put into copying
costumes and props, because there is never enough time to do it that
well for a real production, or the money to do it well.
How do you believe that Star Trek and
Star Trek fandom have changed since
the original series?
A great deal. While there is still that sense of idealism, there is
more of a hard edge to fandom now, a reality-check in many people
that Paramount isn't a benevolent being that handed
Trek to us. I think that's healthy.
Fans still work for charity, and give thousands of dollars away every
year, which made Gene very proud of them, and makes me very proud, too.
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home and
Star Trek: The Next Generation made
Star Trek more mainstream. How did this
change the experience of being a fan? As a fan, is it more enjoyable to be
part of an obscure group, or part of the mainstream?
Though it hasn't totally happened yet, it's easier to be part of the
mainstream, because people aren't acting like you may do something
weird right in front of their kids. There is a bit more
understanding of the intensity of some fans, and that's perhaps a
good thing. But in a way, we're losing our fan-individualty, and
some of us are a little sad about that. Still, when fully-costumed
Klingons show up in a children's hospital, it's worth it to see the
faces on everyone, kids and adults. People ask questions, and talk
to us, instead of veering off and looking at us out of the corners of
their eyes. I've never worn a Klingon costume, but have many friends
who do, and have traveled in their company.
Motivation, inspiration, and perserverance are qualities from which we
all benefit. Thank you for allowing me and
Star Trek fandom as a whole to benefit
from those qualities in you.
Thanks for those kind words! I enjoy teaching a writing class when
I'm invited to conventions; it's not about
how to write, but how to
work up to writing. Sort of a Positive Mental Attitude on writing.
Not that I'm invited to many cons, as I'm viewed as one of the Old
Pharts nowadays, with nothing much to say about the newer Trek. Ah
Interview copyright 1999 by Greg Tyler and Bjo Trimble.
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