The Women Who Made Star Trek Possible

Since this month marks the 50th anniversary of the Star Trek franchise, I couldn’t let it pass without doing a tribute post of some sort. As much as I’ve blogged about Babylon 5 and Stargate as my favorite sci-fi shows, Star Trek was my first love. I grew up watching re-runs of the original series with my dad (no, I’m not quite old enough to have watched it when it first aired). Then when The Next Generation came along in the late 80s, I didn’t start watching it right away, but I soon jumped on board and quickly made sure I watched every single episode; and the same with Deep Space Nine and Voyager. (We won’t talk about the Enterprise series).

Star Trek has a long legacy, and has shaped modern science fiction storytelling (and has shaped real science, as well, but that’s a topic for another post). I could have done a post (or several) about the storytelling aspects of Star Trek – and I might still do that. But for this post, in keeping with the posts I did recently about women in sci-fi, I’m going to highlight the real-life women who made this show a reality.

Of course there are plenty of women both in front of the camera and behind the scenes in TNG, DS9, the movies, and beyond who I could highlight. But I’m going to go back in history a bit and celebrate the women who made Star Trek possible. Without them, this science fiction giant would not exist, at least not the way we know it today.

Lt. Uhura from classic Star Trek

Lt. Uhura from classic Star Trek

Nichelle Nichols – If we’re talking about women who made Star Trek what it is today, then Lt. Uhura from the original series would of course be one of the most important ones to talk about. Not only was she a female in a lead role, she was an officer, the chief of her department, and black. Nichelle Nichols did astounding things for women in general and African Americans in particular because of her role on Star Trek.

Majel Barrett – She’s the “First Lady of Star Trek,” the wife of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry. Even after Roddenberry’s death, Majel continued to be active in the development of everything going on in the Star Trek franchise, and she made a point to interact with the fans. She’s also the only actress to appear in every single Star Trek TV series (including the animated series and Enterprise) as the voice of the computer on all Federation starships.

Bjo Trimble – This woman may not be well known to the general public, but die-hard Trekkers know her as the “woman who saved Star Trek.” In the late 1960s she and her husband headed up a campaign to save Star Trek, which was slated to be cancelled by the network after its second season. Because of Bjo’s work, Star Trek ran for one more season. She also participated in the campaign to name one of NASA’s space shuttles Enterprise, helping to solidify the popularity of the show in the public conscience.

Lucille Ball in her most famous role on her show I Love Lucy

Lucille Ball in her most famous role on her show I Love Lucy

Lucille Ball – Yes, that’s right – that’s Lucy as in the 50s TV show I Love Lucy. When Star Trek‘s original pilot episode “The Cage” was shot down by the TV network before it even aired, Lucy used her influence to push the network into giving Star Trek a second chance. She also was the owner of Desilu Studios, situated on the back lot of Paramount Studios in California, which is where the original Star Trek series was filmed. And interestingly enough, Majel Barret worked with Lucy in another early Desilu production long before Star Trek came along. If it wasn’t for Lucy, Star Trek might never have gotten off the ground.

Fay Wray – Just for fun, I’m going to take us one more step back in history, this time to a period long before Star Trek was even an idea. If it wasn’t for Lucille Ball’s Desilu Studios, Star Trek might not have been filmed. But if it wasn’t for Fay Wray, Desilu Studios might not have existed. Desilu was Paramount’s back lot in the 1950s, but back in the 1930s, that area was a separate film studio called RKO. RKO Studios had launched into film right as the revolution of sound swept through Hollywood, but by 1933, they were bankrupt. Despite their dire financial situation, RKO released their expensive sci-fi/horror film King Kong. The special effects, the riveting story, and the shrieking Fay Wray shot the studio (and Fay herself) into stardom.

Publicity shot of Fay Wray from King Kong.

Publicity shot of Fay Wray from King Kong.

RKO survived long enough to give Lucille Ball her start (she had numerous small roles in many RKO films in the 30s and 40s); then she and her husband Desi Arnaz bought RKO out and formed Desilu. If not for the original scream queen Fay Wray and her giant gorilla, Hollywood and television history might have gone very differently.

So that’s my take on some of the most important women of Star Trek. (This is not to belittle the contributions of anyone else, but I had to keep this post from being novel-length).

Here’s to another 50 years of Star Trek’s legacy!

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2 thoughts on “The Women Who Made Star Trek Possible

    • You’re welcome, and thanks for reading and commenting! Yeah, I doubt Fay ever thought about her distant connection to Star Trek (since it’s more of a “six degrees” kind of thing). On that note, I guess I could have put Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers on here, too, since their films kept RKO going through the 30s. But this post was already getting long, and if it hadn’t been for Fay Wray and King Kong, RKO wouldn’t have survived long enough to make Fred and Ginger famous. 😉

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