2016 marked the 50th anniversary of Star Trek: The Original Series, which, in turn, marked an incredible anniversary for the whole franchise. But what if Star Trek had never happened? Or what if it did happen, but didn't become a hit, or didn't go into syndication? Countless other TV shows, movies, writers, actors, directors, and creators have been inspired by Star Trek throughout its half-century in existence, and it would have been a shame if it never came to be, or never became the cultural phenomenon that it has.
And though we look back and think of 1966 as a time when men were in charge of mostly everything and making all of the major decisions in the world of entertainment, there have always been women standing in the background making something happen who've been unnoticed or under-appreciated. This is certainly true for the Star Trek franchise. Were it not for the women below, Star Trek as a TV show, a franchise, or an everlasting fandom might not exist as it does today. These ladies helped shape the landscape of Star Trek and the entertainment world for the better. So as fans continue to celebrate Star Trek: The Original Series's 50th birthday, let's make sure to remember the women who have left a permanent mark on its legacy.
1. Lucille Ball
If any woman can be said to have "saved Star Trek," it's Ball. Yes, the star of the hit sitcom I Love Lucy was a key figure in the show's success. Star Trek was a project of Desilu Studios, then completely owned by Ball after she bought it out from her ex-husband Desi Arnaz. According to Marc Cushman’s history These Are the Voyages , NBC rejected the first pilot, titled "The Cage," that was shot for the series. But rather than drop the idea altogether, Ball encouraged the team to shoot a new one, and "Where No Man Has Gone Before" was born. It's safe to say that, without Ball, there'd be no Star Trek.
2. D.C. Fontana
Fans of Star Trek may recognize the name D.C. Fontana from the credits as a writer for many original series episodes. But what they may not know is that she wrote many of TOS' most popular episodes. Many of the episodes Fontana penned, such as "Charlie X," "Tomorrow is Yesterday," and "Journey to Paradise," helped shape the mood of the series. She became a producer on Star Trek: The Animated Series as well as on Star Trek: The Next Generation, for which she also wrote the famous pilot, "Encounter at Farpoint." Along with Margaret Armen, Jean Lisette Aroeste, Judy Burns, Joyce Muskat, and Shari Lewis (yes, the woman responsible for Lamb Chop), Fontana and her fellow female writers paved the way for the women of television of the future. As Fontana told Blastr in March 2016, "We're trying to tell stories about human beings in new situations, meeting new kinds of people and saying, 'Hey, can we work together? Let's see what we can do.' It was very hopeful, and I still feel that it is. Star Trek is one of the shows that look to the future and try to be the best that we humans can be."
3. Nichelle Nichols
Nichols helped create a cultural icon by starring as Lieutenant Uhura in Star Trek . She was a black woman in the main cast of a television series during the Civil Rights movement, which was a major statement. With William Shatner, who starred as Captain Kirk, she participated in the first interracial kiss on network television. When Nichols was considering leaving the show after the first season, it was Martin Luther King, Jr. who reportedly convinced her to stay. As Nichols revealed in an interview (via TVLegends), MLK reportedly told her, "Don't you understand for the first time we're seen as we should be seen. You don't have a black role. You have an equal role." Nichols would go on to seemingly inspire many more young African American women, including The Next Generation's Whoopi Goldberg and NASA's Mae Jemison, the first black woman in space.
4. Betty Jo (BJo) Trimble
When Star Trek: The Original Series was on the chopping block for cancellation once again after its second season, BJo and her husband John began a letter writing campaign that would result in the production of third season. It was an important achievement, since with a third season, the series then had enough episodes for syndication, which is where Star Trek really took off. As Revelist reports, the number of letters became “decidedly more than the studio could handle,” and the third season was ordered. Trimble became known as "The Woman Who Saved Star Trek," though she said in an interview with StarTrek.com that John deserves credit "for his part in making the Star Trek we know now a reality for all of fandom."
5./6. Devra Langsam & Sherna Comerford
Long before the Internet existed, fans had only fanzines through which to express their nerdom and love of a particular universe. Spockinalia, the first Star Trek fanzine, was edited by Devra Langsam and Sherna Comerford and ran from 1967 to 1970. It eventually caught the eye of Gene Roddenberry, who made it required reading for his staff. These fanzines also led to the emergence of slash fiction, in which two characters are “shipped” in romantic or sexual stories, an element of fandom that spread throughout other franchises and remains popular today.
7./8. Joan Winston & Elyse Rosenstein
Though sci-fi conventions were around long before Star Trek, it was two women who got the first one devoted to the series off the ground. “Star Trek Lives!”, as it was called, was organized by Joan Winston and Elyse Rosenstein. As Rosenstein recounted at Star Trek Mission over Labor Day weekend, the two came up with the idea while working on Star Trek-themed slideshows. “For some unknown reason I turned to her and said, ‘Wouldn’t it be neat to have a science fiction convention for just ‘Star Trek?’ and she turned to me and said, ‘Yeah,’ we could invite 500 of our most intimate friends.’ If she’d said that it was a terrible idea, none of this would have happened,”recalled Rosenstein.
The two inspired Langstrom of Spockinalia, Joyce Yasner, and Stuart Hellinger to join in the project, and, in 1972, the first Star Trek convention took place. Now, they happen multiple times a year, are organized by different groups, and lure thousands upon thousands of fans, vendors, and those involved in the multiple series.
9. Majel Barrett
Long before she played Lwaxana Troi on The Next Generation, Majel Barrett, Roddenberry's wife, played Nurse Chapel on TOS. But before that, she played the original "Number One," the captain's first officer, in the series' original pilot "The Cage." It was absolutely unheard of to have a woman in such a position of power, and fans today still proudly recall that Star Trek's first Number One was a woman. After Roddenberry's death, Barrett was also an essential component of nurturing his legacy, and she may yet live on in Star Trek: Discovery . As the voice of the ship's computer, Barrett is tied to the series forever, and, despite her death in 2008, we may be hearing more from her soon.
10. Kate Mulgrew
Though I'm venturing into ‘90s territory here and not that of The Original Series, there’s absolutely no denying the fact that Star Trek’s first female captain has contributed to the franchise’s legacy. Without Star Trek: Voyager's Captain Janeway, millions of young women who loved Star Trek wouldn’t have a female captain to look up to. And just like in the workforce today, women of Roddenberry’s 24th century had to be twice as good to be on par with or get ahead of men. As Mulgrew told The Huffington Post in 2015,
"The choices that I was forced to make as that Captain were very strong, very bold, very powerful choices ... [Janeway] forewent motherhood, forewent intimate love. That was the ultimate sacrifice, and I think that was a necessary component for great leadership: that essential loneliness."
Janeway’s inspiration lives on in the fact that the new lead character of Star Trek: Discovery is going to be a female officer.
So the next time you sit down to watch your favorite Star Trek episode or head out to see one of the new movies, remember that there were some essential women involved in keeping Star Trek's legacy alive. With a franchise spanning 50 years and counting, their efforts have seriously paid off.
Images: CBS/ Paramount Television (4); Giphy