Star Trek at 57!
Today, the world is celebrating Star Trek Day, marking the fifty-seventh anniversary of Star Trek: The Original Series. This is remarkable to me. Otherworldly, really. So much of who I am, what I am, and what I do is connected to this science-fiction enterprise created by Gene Roddenberry so long ago.
We’ve all got our Trek stories, what it means to us, how it’s changed us… and changed the world. My story is inextricably linked to Star Trek, and I’ve spent nearly forty years helping tell Trek’s story to fellow fans. My connection to Star Trek has led me to contribute to various publications, from New York Times Syndicate‘s weekly Inside Trek column to StarTrek.com (serving as Editor from 2010-2019) as well as a multitude of magazines, and even to co-write Star Trek: The Original Series – A Celebration. I have moderated convention panels, appeared in a few Trek documentaries, visited the sets of most of the shows and movies (The Voyage Home to Discovery), and was an extra on Deep Space Nine and Voyager.
Here’s the crazy part: It all happened entirely by accident, complemented by lots of good fortune.
Like a gazillion other kids, I grew up watching repeats of The Original Series on the thirteen-inch black-and-white TV in my bedroom. Episodes ran at 6 and 11pm on weekdays, and with just the seventy-nine installments available, I’d see them over and over… and loved them, even the clunkers. I was a teenager. We didn’t have the internet then or even home video. I didn’t know the show’s history or how the sausage was made. That came later. I never read the novels either, and never cosplayed. But I was hooked. I’d play Star Trek at my friend Steven’s house next door, with a big ol’ recliner as our captain’s chair. My first Trek book? The Star Trek Concordance, by Bjo Trimble.
I was either eighteen or nineteen when I attended my first Creation Trek con in Manhattan with my friend, Dale. DeForest Kelley was the headliner, and during his panel’s Q&A portion, he pointed up into the balcony and said, “Young man in the salmon shirt, what’s your question?” I was that young man.
At that time, I was in college at SUNY Albany and covering entertainment for my school paper, the Albany Student Press. Maybe I could snag interviews for the ASP. So, I attended other cons, always dressed in slacks and a button-down shirt to look professional, and my Trek heroes agreed to chat: Mark Lenard, James Doohan, George Takei, Walter Koenig, and Majel Barrett.
Now, here’s the life-changing twist. At the same con where I spoke to Barrett, I approached Roddenberry. The full story of what transpired would eat up the rest of this article’s word count, but in short, Roddenberry couldn’t talk right then, handed me his business card, and committed to speaking later. When a director friend of his died, he needed to change our interview day and personally tracked me down, leaving a message with my suitemate. When I rang Roddenberry, he insisted on calling me back so that my college paper didn’t foot the bill; a long-distance call then cost $1 a minute. At Roddenberry’s request, we spoke again a few days later… though, to my eternal frustration, I didn’t record that conversation.
But — again giving a short synopsis of a long story — I sold the interviews with Roddenberry and Barrett to Dave McDonnell, the venerable editor of Starlog. Those pieces paved the way for me to become Starlog’s Trek guy, which I was until Starlog ceased publication in 2009. Dave and I are still close friends; I had lunch with him in August.
My greatest satisfaction when it comes to Star Trek — beyond earning a decent portion of my living from it, sharing my enthusiasm with fans, and making many lifelong friends — has been putting fans and talent alike in the spotlight.
Ron Ziegler, who recently passed away, dealt with mental and physical health issues, but Trek brought him tremendous joy. He was never happier than when we devoted a StarTrek.com story to him and then when fellow fans banded together to finance a trip for him to Star Trek: The Original Series Set Tour in Ticonderoga, New York.
I loved welcoming a woman’s support dog, a beloved convention fixture, up on the main stage at its final con to soak in a rousing ovation, and talking to couples who met through Trek and held awesome Trek-themed weddings. By giving a fan the chance to sit in my moderator’s chair at several cons in exchange for donations, nearly $10,000 has been raised for charities supported by Chase Masterson and Jeri Ryan.
Ken Mitchell’s bravery in the face of ALS has been humbling, as was Celeste Yarnall’s as she battled cancer and chronicled her experiences for fans. Surprising and honoring Bjo and John Trimble — with CBS publicly thanking them, at a packed con, for their effort to save TOS back in the day — will always remain a dear memory.
At StarTrek.com, I convinced my boss to let us write tributes for anyone involved with Trek who died, be it an actor, author, stuntperson, special effects technician, or stand-in. If they played a role in making Star Trek… Star Trek, they deserved to be memorialized.
I got the StarTrek.com gig, I was told, because I knew my stuff but wasn’t too obsessive. That sounded — and still sounds — about right. I understand fully that Trek is big business, with egos and money involved for those who make it and those who watch it. But I also appreciate everything Trek represents: hope for the future, people getting along, and boldly going socially, scientifically, moralistically, etc. So much about the franchise has appealed to me since I was a teenager. The characters. The inventive stories. The creatures. The ideas. And all of us who love it.
So, happy fifty-seventh anniversary, Star Trek. Here’s to many more!