Eugene Wesley (Gene) Roddenberry, television writer and producer, was born in El Paso, Texas, on August 19, 1921, the son of Eugene Edward and Carolyn Glen (Golemon) Roddenberry. He grew up in Los Angeles, California, where his father worked in law enforcement, and received an A.A. degree from Los Angeles City College. He also attended the University of Miami, Columbia University, and the University of Southern California, where he studied prelaw and aeronautical engineering. He qualified for a pilot's license and served in the United States Air Force from 1941 to 1945. He flew a B-17 Flying Fortress on eighty-nine missions, including Guadalcanal and Bougainville, and received the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal, and several other decorations.
After the war Roddenberry became a pilot with Pan American Airlines and survived a crash in the Syrian desert in which fourteen people were killed. From 1949 to 1956 he worked for the Los Angeles Police Department, where he was a sergeant from 1954 to 1956 and worked as departmental spokesman and as Chief William H. Parker's speechwriter. He also began writing for television, and in the 1950s and early 1960s his outlines and scripts were produced on Dragnet, Naked City, The U.S. Steel Hour, and Goodyear Theater, among other series. He received his first Emmy award as writer for Have Gun, Will Travel, a western series, for which he wrote more produced scripts than any other writer, and produced the television series The Lieutenant in 1960–61. He also produced the feature film Pretty Maids All in a Row in 1970.
Roddenberry is best remembered, however, for Star Trek, which premiered in 1966 and ran until 1969. The series became a cult favorite, spawned numerous fan clubs, products, and conventions, and later became one of the most popular syndicated shows in reruns. Six Star Trek feature films had been produced by the time of Roddenberry's death; he produced the first and was executive consultant on the next three. He was also executive producer of the sequel series, Star Trek: The Next Generation, and coauthored two books, The Making of Star Trek (1968) and Star Trek—The Motion Picture: A Novel (1979). His book The Questor Tapes was published in 1974.
Roddenberry once described Star Trek as "`Wagon Train' to the stars," but one critic wrote that Roddenberry "establish[ed] a new level of quality for television science fiction." He received awards from the Writers Guild of America, the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, and other television organizations, and Star Trek won an Emmy, an international Hugo Award for outstanding science fiction writing, and an Image award from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. In 1985 a star in Roddenberry's honor was placed in the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He was a member of the Television Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Writers Guild of America, the American Civil Liberties Union, the American Humanist Association, the Association for Professional Law Enforcement, and the Explorers Club of New York City.
Roddenberry married Eileen Anita Rexroat on June 20, 1942; they had two daughters before divorcing in 1969. On August 6 of that year Roddenberry married the actress Majel Leigh Hudec, who appeared in several Star Trek series using her stage name, Majel Barrett. They had one son. Roddenberry died in Santa Monica, California, on October 24, 1991. He was survived by his wife Majel who died on December 18, 2008.
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Contemporary Theatre, Film, and Television (Detroit: Gale Research, 1984–). New York Times, October 26, 1991. R. Reginald, Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature: A Checklist, 1700–1974 (2 vols., Detroit: Gale Research, 1979).
Writers, Authors, Publications, and Literature
Dramatists and Novelists
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
Martin Donell Kohout,
“Roddenberry, Eugene Wesley,”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed July 07, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Original Publication Date:
June 1, 1995