Sci-fi writer talks ‘Star Trek’ in Beatrice
Gage County paid tribute to Beatrice native, Gene Coon, over the weekend, celebrating the works of the man who helped shape “Star Trek” into the phenomenon it became.
The Gage County Classic Film Institute hosted a weekend full of screenings, discussions and special guests, all dedicated to Coon’s legacy and his work in television in the 1960s.
Coon was born in Beatrice in 1923 and became a big name in classic western TV shows like “Bonanza,” “Maverick,” “Have Gun – Will Travel,” “The Wild Wild West” and “Wagon Train,” but it’s “Star Trek” that he’s most famous for.
Working as a writer and producer for “Star Trek,” Coon captured the imaginations of sci-fi fans, including David Gerrold, who watched the premier episode on Sept. 8, 1966 when he was still in college. Gerrold would go on to become a writer for “Star Trek” and was on hand throughout the weekend to talk about the show and Gene Coon’s impact on television.
On Saturday afternoon, in front of a crowd of about 100 people, Gerrold gave a presentation at the Beatrice Community Players Theater. He discussed Coon’s work and talked about a few behind-the-scenes moments on the “Star Trek” set.
“Of all of the producers I’ve ever worked with, Gene L. Coon is absolutely, no question, the best,” Gerrold said. “He mentored me, he taught me, he encouraged me, he respected me, he gave me great challenges.”
Gerrold wrote the classic episode “The Trouble with Tribbles” about the rapidly-reproducing fuzzy creatures—which he originally called “the Fuzzies.” He wrote the episode for $3,000.
Gerrold, who was in his early 20s when his first episode aired, said he would go to the set and watch the actors to learn their speech patterns. William Shatner, Captain Kirk himself, he said, had a halting way of speaking, due mostly to the fact that he was trying to remember the rest of the line.
James Doohan, he said, had the worst Scottish accent he’d ever heard, but it mostly worked. Doohan’s Irish accent was much better, Gerrold said, but Scotty was from Scotland, so they made do.
“Nichelle Nichols,” Gerrold said. “My God, that woman is so beautiful. She’s like 80-something years old today and she’s still the most beautiful woman in the world. I think Sophia Loren is going to kill her out of jealousy.”
Nichols, who played Lt. Uhura on “Star Trek,” was planning to quit the show after the first season, Gerrold said, but was talked out of it. Nichols, he said, was one of very few, if any, black actors portraying a character in a position of influence on television.
Tired of not having much screen time and few lines of dialogue, she was prepared to hang up her Starfleet uniform when she was approached by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at a party. He told her he was a huge fan and that she was a big influence on black children who were watching at home. She decided to stick around for the rest of the show’s run.
Diversity was a big part of what made “Star Trek” a success, Gerrold said.
“Everybody’s part of the adventure,” he said. “Nobody’s left behind.”
The legacy of “Star Trek” is more than just pop culture, Gerrold said. The influence of the show can still be seen pretty much every day.
Laserdiscs—which came before CDs, DVDs and Blu-Ray—sprang from a “Star Trek” invention, while cell phones are pretty much communicators with more functions, and even the sliding doors retail stores have their roots on the bridge of the USS Enterprise.
Gerrold was originally planning to stick around for only a couple of days in Beatrice, but opted to stay through Sunday. He’d been having a good time at the event, talking to the crowds and watching screenings of Coon’s works, he said.
“I just wanted to tell you,” Gerrold told the crowd, “if you are having as much fun as I am, this has been the highlight of your life. Thank you so much.”