In 1941, he volunteered for the United States Army Air Corps and after completing his training, flew the B-17 bombers in World War II as a ‘Second Lieutenant’. During this time, he began writing, publishing stories for aeronautical magazines and poetry for various journals.
During the war, he was part of several missions and after the war ended, he was honourably discharged from the rank of Captain in 1945.
He next joined the Pan American World Airways and worked for four years as a pilot. In this period, he pursued his writing interests by taking writing courses from ‘Miami University’ and later from ‘Columbia University School of General Studies’.
In 1949, he quit his pilot job and went to Los Angeles to pursue Television writing. To support his family, he joined the ‘Los Angeles Police Department’, where he worked as a spokesperson and speechwriter. He was actively involved in writing for the TV series ‘Dragnet’, which portrayed the cases of police officers in LAPD.
During his tenure in LAPD, he pursued his writing ambitions and started writing for shows such as ‘Mr. District Attorney’, ‘Goodyear Theatre’, ‘Naked City’, ‘The Kaiser Aluminium Hour’, ‘Four Star Theater’, etc.
In 1956, he resigned from LAPD and started writing full-time as a freelance writer. He wrote for some TV shows like ‘Highway Patrol’, ‘Have Gun – Will Travel’ and ‘Whiplash’. But, he became discontented and began to write new concepts and ideas for television instead, many of which never made it to the screen.
In 1964, he developed a series ‘Star Trek’, a futuristic science-fiction show that chronicles the adventures of a mixed group of humans and aliens, also depicting the prevailing issues of time. ‘Desilu Studios’ agreed to produce the show and two years later, it started airing on Television.
‘Star Trek’ aired for 3 seasons from 1966 to 1969, in which Roddenberry worked as writer for two seasons, after which it was cancelled due to low ratings. However, the series became popular later through re-runs and syndication, winning numerous honours and also acquiring a very dedicated fan-following.
After ‘Star Trek’, he wrote the screenplay for the 1971 mystery film ‘Pretty Maids All in a Row’, which he also produced.
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From 1973 to 1974, he wrote and produced the television films ‘Genesis II’, ‘Planet Earth’, ‘The Questor Tapes’ and ‘Spectre’, none of which achieved major success. He was also involved as a ‘Writer’ and ‘Executive Consultant’ in ‘Star Trek: The Animated Series’.
An idea for another ‘Star Trek’ series was mooted and eventually a full-length film was made with the title ‘Star Trek: The Motion Picture’, which was released in 1979. Helped by the franchise’s already existing popularity, the film was a commercial hit, grossing $139 million at the box-office worldwide.
He also wrote a novel based on the film, which was a bestseller and sold almost a million copies.
In 1980, his role in ‘Star Trek’ became less central and he was designated as ‘Executive Producer’. He continued his involvement with the next five ‘Star Trek’ sequels too.
In 1987, the next instalment in the ‘Star Trek’ series, ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’ was a great success, both critically and commercially.
Awards & Achievements
In the course of his work in the United States Army Air Corps as a pilot of the B-17 bombers, he flew eighty-nine missions. He was presented with ‘The Distinguished Flying Cross’ and the ‘Air Medal’ for his achievements.
In 1967, Roddenberry won a ‘Hugo Award’ in the category ‘Best Dramatic Presentation’ for the episode ‘The Menagerie’ from the series ‘Star Trek’.
In 1986, he was presented with a star on the esteemed ‘Hollywood Walk of Fame’ and became only the first writer to be honoured this way.
Personal Life & Legacy
Roddenberry married Eileen Rexroat in 1942 and had two daughters with her, Darleen and Dawn. Due to his extra-marital affairs, the marriage ended in divorce after twenty-seven years.
He had romantic relationships with actresses Nichelle Nichols and Majel Barrett, whom he eventually married in 1969 in Japan. He has one child from this marriage, named ‘Eugene Wesley Roddenberry, Jr’.