Wednesday, August 19, 2009

'Happy Birthday' to a Texan Who Lived Long and Prospered .....

Screenwriter and producer Eugene Wesley "Gene" Roddenberry - the creator of one of America's most popular science fiction franchises, "Star Trek" - was born on this day in 1921.

Roddenberry once said, "No one in his right mind gets up in the morning and says, 'I think I'll create a phenomenon today.'" And in fact, he lived many years, filled with a variety of experiences, before he launched the USS Enterprise. Born in El Paso, Texas, he moved to Los Angeles, California, where he studied law enforcement ... then switched to aeronautical engineering, earned his pilot's license, then volunteered for the U.S. Army Air Corps in the fall of 1941. During the war, his service as a B-17 pilot, flying out of Guadacanal, earned him the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal.

After the war, he was an international pilot for Pan American World Airways, which in those days could be almost as harrowing as military service. He received a Civil Aeronautics Commendation for his efforts during and after a crash in the Syrian desert. Then came his return to law enforcement, as an officer with the LAPD ... and contact with with Jack Webb's "Dragnet" series.

All of this before 1966, and "Star Trek." I was a huge fan of the original series, and was thrilled with the chance of meeting Roddenberry in the early 70s, when he spoke at Wilkes College, in Pennsylvania. He made time for every one of us that wanted to shake his hand, and have a few words with him. When I saw him again - in the late 70s, at the University of New Mexico - it was hard (if not impossible) to get close to the man ... there was such a large crowd, and the setting for his presentation did not encourage close contact between speaker and audience. But still, his personality reached out to us all ... and even those of us in the nosebleed seets found ourselves engaged by the man, by his words, and by the Star Trek 'blooper reel' that he brought with him.

I was a Star Trek fan ... but not a Trekkie. I was not attracted to the Star Trek conventions that became such a staple in the 1980s, I don't speak a word of Klingon, and I am not the least bit tempted to dress-up (someone with my physique would look absolutely ridiculous in one of the early uniforms).
But I still admire the man, and his achievements ... and the encouragement he provided for all of us - in one way or another - to "boldly go where no man has gone before."