Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry had an unusual nickname among friends, co-workers, and fans. What was it? And how did he come by such a strange moniker? Here’s everything we know about the origins of this name, and the major times the nickname was referenced on episodes of the series.
Gene Roddenberry’s Nickname Was ‘The Great Bird of the Galaxy’
Happy birthday to Gene Roddenberry! Star Trek's creator, aka the Great Bird of the Galaxy, would have been 96 today. pic.twitter.com/V3XX47wXB6
— Michael Okuda (@MikeOkuda) August 19, 2017
Roddenberry seems to have had the nickname “The Great Bird of the Galaxy” from the very earliest days on Star Trek. In fact, one 1992 book on the creation of Star Trek even bore the title Great Birds of the Galaxy: Gene Roddenberry and the Creators of Trek.
The “great bird” nickname was also used among Star Trek fans, even appearing in fan publications like “letterzines”. While many of the paper fanzine publications from the 1970s and 1980s have yet to be digitally archived, Fanlore has a rundown of the important information and letters contained in one of the most prominent ‘zines, Interstat. In a pre-Internet era, fanzines like Interstat were crucial to helping fans communicate about the show.
Issue 88 of Interstat featured a letter from Trek producer Harve Bennett, who was gearing up for Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. In the letter, dated January 28, 1985, he uses the infamous nickname for Roddenberry, writing:
“To all my INTERSTAT friends: 1. Shatner is set. 2. Nimoy is set. 3. The Great Bird returns. 4. We are beginning the final work on story. 5. We plan to use all the STAR TREK regulars. 6. I’ll be there too.”
If the word “Interstat” rings a bell, it may because of a mention on an older Trek show. In an episode of Star Trek: The Animated Series called “The Terratin Incident”, the crew discovers a strange radio transmission. Spock notes that one of the only words they can make out is “Interstat”.
“Interstat? That’s been out of use for two centuries!” Uhura exclaims in the episode.
How Gene Roddenberry Got His Nickname
How, exactly, did Gene Roddenberry get such a long-winded and unusual nickname? As with many inside jokes and nicknames, the history is a little murky, but fans have managed to put together some of the pieces over the years.
In The Impossible Has Happened: The Life and Work of Gene Roddenberry, Creator of Star Trek, author Lance Parkin records that Roddenberry was given the nickname by Robert “Bob” Justman, who worked on the original series as an assistant director, and later became a producer. Beyond that, the origins are unclear.
While the name seems to have caught on among cast, crew and fans of Star Trek, there was one place where Roddenberry didn’t appear to use his nickname: at home.
In the documentary Trek Nation, Roddenberry’s son, Eugene “Rod” Roddenberry, Jr. recalls, “Mom and Dad were ‘Mom’ and ‘Dad’ to me. It was never ‘Gene Roddenberry, the Great Bird of the Galaxy,’ the visionary who created Star Trek.”
References to ‘The Great Bird of the Galaxy’ on ‘Star Trek’
In the very first episode of ‘Star Trek’ to hit the airwaves (“The Man Trap”), Yeoman Rand is seen bringing a tray of food down to Sulu in the Botany Section. When she arrives, Sulu thanks her for the tray with the words, “May the Great Bird of the Galaxy bless your planet.”
More recently, in Star Trek: Lower Decks episode “Temporal Edict”, we discover that “Boimler Effect” eventually gets Enisgn Boimler his own statue. In fact, the statue is presented to a classroom of children, with their teacher noting that Boimler is “seen here with one of the great birds of the galaxy” in the final moments of the episode. In this case, the “bird” is a literal bird on Boimler’s arm, and it was an easter egg fans very much enjoyed.
Another “great bird” easter egg fans may have missed dates back to the TNG era, specifically the first season episode “The Naked Now”. In a “blink or you’ll miss it moment” about 15 minutes into the episode, an “Okudagram” of the Great Bird of the Galaxy is briefly seen on Data’s console. It’s a bit hard to make out, but that “bird” definitely has Gene Roddenberry’s head.