The Real Gene Roddenberry: A ‘Star Trek’ Journalist Shares How ‘the Creator’ Helped Start His Career

Gene Roddenberry

Paramount Gene Roddenberry, creator of “Star Trek.”

Creating something from scratch must be incredibly challenging, especially when the ultimate judge is the fickle viewing public. Sometimes a creator can sit back and enjoy their success after struggling to get their dream onto the big screen or television. Other creators are not so lucky. 

The list of properties that have tried but failed to break into the rare air that “Star Trek,” “Marvel,” and “Star Wars” occupy is long. ScreenRant put together a list of the recent contenders, calling them “flops.” The list included the “John Carter” film, the “Divergent Series,” and “Percy Jackson.”

So the fact that Gene Roddenberry’s creation — “Star Trek” — has stood the test of time for over 55 years is a testament to both the man and his idea. Roddenberry was not just a storyteller but a visionary and thinker who saw a world for humanity which could be better. 

Since his death in 1991, many people who knew him have shared their thoughts on how he worked and lived. As with any member of the human race, there are good things and bad things that are said about Roddenberry and his legacy. 


Gene Roddenberry’ Vision


Gene Roddenberry's Enduring Star Trek Vision | Star Trek Day 2021 | Paramount+On the 55th anniversary of Star Trek, Gene Roddenberry's son Rod Roddenberry, along with legendary actor George Takei (Hikaru Sulu) and Star Trek: The Next Generation's LeVar Burton (Geordi La Forge) and Gates McFadden (Beverly Crusher) reminisce with fellow actor and host Wil Wheaton (Wesley Crusher/The Ready Room). They share stories about Star Trek's creator…2021-09-10T19:49:55Z

One story stands from a time when Roddenberry was truly out of this world. 

Ian Spelling is a well-respected journalist and author who has been working in the “Star Trek” world for years. Many fans know him from his days at the science fiction magazine Starlog. He interviewed many of the most prominent names in Trek. He’s written for dozens of magazines and publications and even served as the editor in chief of StarTrek.com from 2010 to 2019.

Even with his incredible resume of 30-plus years in journalism, Spelling had to start somewhere. While he was a student at SUNY Albany in the mid-1980s, he wrote for the student newspaper, the Albany Student Press, and made the most of that opportunity. He interviewed stars like Emilio Estevez and others as he juggled his studies. He eventually started freelancing for Starlog, writing first about actress Tahnee Welch, who appeared in the film Cocoon

At a later convention, Spelling met Roddenberry and his wife, Majel, who chatted with Spelling for some time. 

“We talked for about 15 minutes,” says Spelling. Majel said that Roddenberry would give him an interview for the Albany Student Press. “He wasn’t unavailable when I tried to reach out.”

Spelling called Roddenberry’s assistant to say that Roddenberry had agreed to do an interview. She arranged it, but the day it was supposed to happen, Roddenberry was unavailable because he was at a very unexpected funeral.

“Before leaving for the funeral … he tracked me down,” says Spelling. “He left a message with my roommate, saying ‘Please tell Ian I have to reschedule the interview.’”

“He did this on his own dime and on his own time,” says Spelling. “I told Majel this story one time, and she said, ‘I don’t understand, but it is wonderful to hear. I don’t know how you caught his attention in that way.’”

Spelling says that when they finally did connect for the interview, Roddenberry insisted on paying for the call. This was when phone calls from the East Coast to West Coast cost at least $1 a minute. 

“He spent about 45 minutes on the phone with me and then at the end of it said: ‘We’re not done yet. This was great. I’d love to talk to you some more,’” remembers Spelling. When Roddenberry called Spelling the next day, the student did not record this second conversation.


Roddenberry Interviewed in 1988


Gene Roddenberry Interview (August 14, 1988)I found this interview in an old tape archive when I was in college. The interviewer was a professor of mine. I'm not sure who the producer was and what it was produced for. I do not claim to have any ownership of this video. I am only posting because I have not seen a…2016-08-09T15:20:39Z

“I didn’t know what we were discussing — I had no idea,” says Spelling. “I thought he just wanted to chat. I kick myself … that I don’t have that second Gene Roddenberry interview.”

Spelling says that the first interview opened the door to writing regularly for Starlog. In that conversation, Roddenberry explained to Spelling why he thought “Star Trek” was so popular:

“First, we had real heroes, almost old-fashioned heroes, people who believed in their work, believed in honor, who believed that things must be done even at the cost of great danger and sometimes your life,” Roddenberry said. 

“Second, ‘Star Trek’ was an optimistic show that said, ‘There is a future for us humans, the human adventure is just beginning.’ In a time when so many people were saying, ‘In 20 or 30 years, it’s all gonna go boom,’ it was a breath of fresh air to turn on the TV and hear them say, ‘Hey! We’ve just begun. Most of our adventures are ahead of us.’ It’s that spirit of optimism,” Roddenberry told Spelling. 

“And third, ‘Star Trek’ stories are about something. They aren’t inane — running around with sound and fury and bang, bang car chases, things that add to nothing. One of our very, very early ones, the Horta story (“The Devil in the Dark”), made a very strong statement — that just because something is ugly doesn’t mean it is bad or dangerous. Every episode makes a statement of some sort. And people are hungry for statements.”


Spelling talks ‘Star Trek – A Celebration’


Future Imperfect – Ian Spelling Interview – Star Trek – A CelebrationSource: spreaker.com/user/thisweekingeek/future-imperfect-ian-spelling-interview- In this episode Birdman sat down with  Ian Spelling, co-author of the new new book Star Trek A Celebration! Pick up a copy for yourself: penguinrandomhouse.com/books/677649/star-trek—the-original-series-a-celebration-by-ben-robinson/ Your Geekmasters: Mike "The Birdman" Dodd – twitter.com/BirdmanDodd Alex "The Producer" – twitter.com/DeThPhaseTWIG Aaron Pollyea Feedback for the show?: Email: feedback@thisweekingeek.net Twitter: twitter.com/thisweekingeek iTunes: podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/this-week-in-geek/id215643675 Spotify: spotify:show:0BHP4gkzubuCsJBhU3oNWX…2021-09-29T11:03:55Z

Insights and first-hand knowledge of the way Roddenberry and others involved in the earliest days of “Star Trek” were some of the reasons why Spelling was the perfect choice to work with Ben Robinson on Hero Collector’s “Star Trek – The Original Series: A Celebration” book.

Spelling says that he and Robinson basically divided the book into two halves — one half for each. Together they call this piece a “convention in a book,” as they’ve tried to include some of the best stories from Trek, never-before-seen photos, and interviews from folks who were there at the start. 

“It’s a modern book and beautifully laid out,” says Spelling. “Our guy, Steve [Scanlan], did a lot of that. And there’s some stuff in the book that Ben did, and I said, ‘Ooh! I didn’t know that,” says Spelling.


Spelling Moderating at ‘Star Trek – Las Vegas’


STLV 2021 – DS9 PanelThis is only the first half. I did not capture the second half. JG Hertzler, Rob O'Reilly, Cirroc Lofton, Armin Shimerman, and Andy Robinson, moderated by Ian Spelling.2021-08-23T16:23:06Z

Spelling works for Hero Collector, both writing and in a PR role, and “a handful of websites.” Fans may see Spelling moderating roundtable discussions at upcoming Trek conventions, which he’s done in the past. Spelling is happy with what he’s doing and says he gets to “write about something I love.”

“I’m usually in my office with my dog sitting behind me for the past 17 years,” Spelling says. “Thank god for ‘Star Trek.’ I’d rather have too much than too little. I believe in what ‘Star Trek’ stands for, so there are far worse fates in life than to give a lot of coverage to something that you really, really like.”

CORRECTION: The section concerning when Spelling and Roddenberry attempted to schedule a phone interview has been updated, to reflect the corrected timeline. 

READ NEXT: Why William Shatner Objected to the Script of “Wrath of Khan”

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