Cherished Voidrnby Bill KauffmanrnGene Roddenberry: The Mythrnand the Man Behind Star Trekrnby ]oel EngelrnNew York: Hyperion;rn283 pp., $22.95rnBeyond Uhura: Star Trekrnand Other Memoriesrnby Nichelle NicholsrnNew York: Putnam’s;rn320 pp., $22.95rnTo the Starsrnby George TakeirnNew York: Pocket Books;rn406 pp., $22.00rnGene Roddenberrv was a hustlingrncx-cop who wanted to strike it richrnin tcleision, and he did, with a seriesrncalled Star Trek, which he once describedrn(before his slide into self-mythicizingrnand lucrative licensing deals) as “WagonrnTrain to the Stars.” I lis public image hasrnheretofore been that of the atheisticrnGentle Ben of science fiction, a bear of arnman who injected his sunny humanismrninto \eekly TV and changed the worid.rnJoel Engel, whose scathing new biographrnblasts from the skv the man whornliked to be called “the Great Bird of thernGalax-,” claims that “his indirect impactrnon aspects of popular culture these lastrnthree decades has been eclipsed, arguabh”,rnonlv bv Elvis Prcslcv.”rnEugene Weslev Roddenberry wasrnborn to a lineman for the county (El Paso)rnand a devout Baptist mother. Whenrnhe was two, the family moved to Los Angeles,rnwhere the elder Roddenberry becamernone of the LAPD’s finest. Genernwas a “ganglv, unathletic, and sickly”rnbo’, as most creative sorts are. As arnteenager he had the usual wise-guy viewrnabout the literal incredibility of religiousrnrites: “I low the hell did Jesus come to bernsomething to be eaten?” he wondered,rnand he smirkinglv dismissed partakers ofrncommunion as “a bunch of cannibals.”rnThis conviction he took to his urn.rnRoddenberry copiloted a B-17 in thernSecond World War, and after his dischargernhe flew for Pan Am as a “glorifiedrnbus dricr.” He joined the LAPD andrn\ rote speeches for its chief WilliamrnParker while learning the craft of televisionrnsereenwriting. He sold to Dragnetrnand Dr. Kildare and Have Gun, Will Travelrnbefore breaking in as a producer of thernshort-lived series The Lieutenant. Thenrncame Star Trek, which debuted inrnSeptember 1966 and lasted but threernseasons, a victim of middling ratings andrndeclining quality, though among its 79rnepisodes are some real gems written byrnthe likes of Harlan Ellison, RichardrnMatlieson, Robert Bloeh, and yes. GenernRoddenberry. Or at least credited tornRoddenberry. Engel calls Star Trek’s creatorrnthe “mutable man”: he depicts himrnas a supple liar, a thief who swiped creditrnfor work his underlings did while thernGreat Bird was nesting with actress-modelsrnin his aerie, hi doctoring scripts hernhad a knack for turning the mot juste intornthe (blessedly homonymic) mot faux.rn”Nearly everyone who worked withrnhim regularly in a creative capacity onrnany incarnation of Star Trek eventuallyrndisliked or distrusted him,” says Engel.rnWhen Roddenberry wasn’t ham-fistedlyrnbotching dialogue or avariciously cuttingrndeals, he was a maundering drunk goingrnon and on about his “creative juices,”rnmost of which were spilled on things otherrnthan Star Trek. Harlan Ellison, whornwrote the outstanding episode “The Gityrnon the Edge of Forever” (the one withrnJoan Gollins as a purebred pacifist socialrnworker in Depression America), scoffsrnthat Roddenberry “could barely write.”rnhi a sense Engel’s book is a brief on behalfrnof the studios and executives whornhave long been east as demons in thernhackneyed play Visionary Artist Versusrnthe Soulless Men in Suits. As such it is arnuseful corrective, though Engel’s sourcesrnhave their own axes to grind, and calumniatingrnthe dead is a coward’s game.rnRoddenberry was often praised for understandingrnthat space explorationrnwould not be the exclusive realm ofrnwhite men, but of the three women herncast in Star Trek, two were his mistressesrn(Nichelle Nichols as communications officerrnUhura and Majel Barrett as NursernGliapel) and the third, bombshell GracernLee Whitney (Yeoman Rand) was, onernsuspects, at least on his wish list. Likernmost of the probable candidates for thern1996 Republican presidential nomination,rnRoddenberry dumped his frump ofrna first wife for a hotter number—MajelrnBarrett, who became the second Mrs.rnRoddenberry—once his ship docked.rnNichelle Nichols—and whatever yourndo don’t call her an intergalactic telephonernoperator; she’s the kind of blackrnwoman who emphasizes the word professionalrn—has written her own memoir, BeyondrnUhura, and it is not a bad read. Shernwas a dancer whose father (like ZorarnNcalc Hurston’s) was mayor of an allblackrntown, in Nichols’ case Robbins, Illinois.rnOld flame Roddenberry cast her inrnStar Trek—over the objections of racistrnNBC executives, she claims, though Engelrnmaintains that the network was eagerrnfor black faces in supporting roles.rnHer thespian muscles atrophied afterrna few dozen rounds of “hailing frequenciesrnopen. Captain,” and Nichols says shernthreatened to quit the show after its firstrnseason, but then at an NAACP soireernMartin Luther King, Jr., approached herrnand pled: “You must not leave. . . . Forrnthe first time, the world sees us as wernshould be seen, as equals, as intelligentrnpeople—as we should be. There will alwaysrnbe role models for black children;rnyou are a role model for everyone.”rnNichelle stayed employed for the greaterrngood of humanity.rnAnother fixture on the bridge, GeorgernTakei as Mr. Sulu, has also produced arnreadable autobiography. Takei, whosernfamily was interned in FDR’s concentrationrncamps for Japanese-Americans, describesrnthe frustrations of an Asian actorrnin Hollywood. (His first job was dubbingrnthe hilarious monster flick Rodan.) Takeirnhas inhabited Sulu for nearly threerndecades; like Nichols, he is sensitive tornslapstick scenes in the Star Trek moviesrnthat he considers infra dig. hi the sixthrnStar Trek film, Sulu gets his captaincy,rnand Takei’s obvious pride is both touchingrnand a touch eldritch: actor and rolernhave merged, and I have a feeling thatrnwhen George is beamed up from ourrnown planet he will be swathed in redrnvelour.rnNichols and Takei are grateful (forrngood reason) to Roddenberry; the mendaciousrndipso of Engel’s book is replacedrnby the backslapping prank-pulling geniusrnof legend. The villain of the universe accordingrnto Sulu and Uhura is the Canadianrnham William Shatner—CaptainrnKirk—who comes off as a self-absorbedrnHollywood phony that Budd Schulbergrnand Clifford Odets might have dreamedrnup on a particulady bitter night. “Bill isrnTo order these books, (24hrs, 365 days)rnplease call (800) 962-6651 (Ext. 5200)rnJULY 1995/35rnrnrn