“What name did you originally write under?”
“Dorothy C. Fontana.”
“When did you change that?”
“After I ran into the fact that nobody wanted to read my scripts because I was a woman. I wanted to write for Combat for instance, and they wouldn’t read it. ‘What would a woman know about combat?’ [they said]. Well I read a lot of military history, I’m very familiar with WW2 history, writing about a combat unit, let me try! I wrote two full scripts on spec and they wouldn’t even look at them. So I kind of got a little annoyed that, because they knew I was a woman, they said no and that’s when I started putting D.C. Fontana on the front cover because I felt that if they don’t go in with any knowledge of who I am they’ll at least read it and give me a chance. Then if they found out I’m a woman and they still like a script it’s alright.”
“Did that work?”
“Yeah.” - Dorothy Fontana, taken from this interview
If you’ve ever perused the credits of an episode of the Original Series you should be at least vaguely familiar with the name D.C. Fontana. And if, like me, you enjoy learning about the people who create and contribute to your favourite show, then you’d most likely already know that D.C. Fontana is a woman who worked on everything from the Original and the Animated Series to the Next Generation, and she even wrote an episode of Deep Space Nine.
What you might not know is how she got involved with Star Trek, or the extent to which she contributed to the various series.
Let me enlighten you.
Dorothy Catherine “D.C.” Fontana worked as a writer on a few television series before she became Gene Roddenberry’s secretary while he was working on ‘The Lieutenant’. This gave her the opportunity to get to know him better, and for him to know that she had written about half a dozen scripts and that she was interested in becoming a professional writer full time.
When Gene created Star Trek, he asked if she wanted to work as his secretary on the show. She did. So Dorothy served as his secretary and assistant while he was making both the first pilot ‘The Cage’ and the second ‘Where No Man Has Gone Before’.
After the second pilot was given the ok by NBC and the series began production, her responsibilities on the show were expanded further. Gene gave her the opportunity to write an episode - what became ‘Charlie X’, which was based on an idea of his from the series bible.
He then said to her, “Well, you know the show as well as anybody since you’ve been on it from the beginning. What story do you want to write?” and she came up with an original idea that became the episode ‘Tomorrow is Yesterday’.
Following that, one of their writers was having trouble with the episode that became ‘This Side of Paradise’. Gene said to Dorothy, “If you do this rewrite to my satisfaction and NBC’s, I will support you as my story editor.” Clearly she pleased them both because she became the story editor! (At 27, she was actually the youngest story editor in Hollywood at the time.)
As well as being the story editor for the first two seasons of the Original Series, Dorothy came up with the ideas for, and wrote, a number of episodes including ‘Journey to Babel’ and ‘Friday’s Child’. And she also rewrote episodes including ‘By Any Other Name’ and ‘The Ultimate Computer’.
On ‘The Ultimate Computer’ she recalls, “That was a major rewrite from ground zero right on to the top, a total rewrite. [Daystrom] existed but there were certain things that the writer just did not want to do even through two drafts, even though we told him, ‘This has to change, that has to change’ - to make it more Star Trek. These are our characters; Dr. Daystrom is a guest star. When he did not make the changes that were requested of him, [producer] John Meredyth Lucas gave the script to me and said, ‘Well, you do the changes.’”
Her work as the story editor included polishing the scripts to make them more in-line with the show,
“You either had to do a light polish, sometimes just on dialogue and then you took no credit for that of course because it would not be fair, [or] you’d have to say, ‘This isn’t working because he’s not the star of our show! Captain Kirk has to come up against him and look good,’ Kirk has to have weight and he has to have character and he has to have drive. You can’t just have him sit there like a dummy. You have to focus on your own characters. Those are sometimes the problems. Sometimes the dialogue was just all wrong. They didn’t get the sound of our characters and we had to redo that.”
At the end of the second season, Dorothy left her position as story editor. Star Trek had almost been cancelled at this point, with NBC bringing it back for a third season only to refuse to air it at any time other than Friday nights at 10 pm, which was known as the death slot for obvious reasons. Because of this, although his name remained on the credits, Gene Roddenberry had left the series for MGM to work on other projects.
In case that wasn’t bad enough, Gene L. Coon, who served as a writer and producer during the first two seasons (he wrote episodes including ‘Arena’, ‘Space Seed’, ‘The Devil in the Dark’ and ‘Errand of Mercy’) had also left by the third season. If you were ever wondering why the quality of scripts in the third season went down, now you know why!
“There was sort of like the creature of the week, monster of the week [mentality], which they’d been doing over on Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. And I never thought that was a terribly successful thing for Star Trek to do. But also there were some complaints from the crew saying, ‘Well, the story editor came down to the transporter room set and said, ‘What does this thing do again?’ And when I was told that Doctor McCoy could not have a 22-year-old daughter because he was Kirk’s contemporary, I said, ‘okay, they don’t get the show.’ I’m sorry, but they didn’t.”
She was still involved in writing for the third season, however she was very unhappy with the rewrites done on her scripts, so much so that she used the penname Michael Richards for two of the three episodes she wrote.
One of those three episodes was ‘The Enterprise Incident’ which introduced the female Romulan commander.
“There were some things that were changed in it that I didn’t especially approve of, but it was an overall good episode I thought. And I thought Joanne Linville was a wonderful woman Romulan commander, which I wanted. I thought she was wonderful and there was a good, strong character there going against our guys. I wanted an interesting character as the Romulan opposite Spock. There were a couple of relationship things [that were changed]. I didn’t think that Spock would be pretending to be romantic towards her. Also, they were supposed to be going aboard this Romulan ship to steal a cloaking device, which they could conceal on their body, and of course they’re running around with something the size of a lamp [in the actual episode]. That I thought visually was kind of dumb. But those are things that I had no control over. And I did think the idea of the make-up on Kirk was a fun thing to do. That was my idea, that he had to go onboard that ship looking like a Romulan.”
(All the quotes above come from this interview.)
Four years after the end of the Original Series, Dorothy became the associate producer and story editor of The Animated Series for its first season of sixteen episodes (but not the second season of six episodes).
Speaking about the advantages of working on an animated series rather than live action,“We could draw any type of alien we wanted because we didn’t have to worry about whether the make-up looked right, just does it look right on the cel. We could have any kind of background we wanted, which was nice because we didn’t have to worry about the cost of the set. You could say Rome burned, and they could draw it for me; therefore, it was the kind of thing where you had freedoms in one dimension to do all those aliens we always wanted to do and all those sets we would have liked to have seen-like going underwater.”
And as for the quality of the writing, she added, “We didn’t write our scripts as kiddie shows. We were writing for the Star Trek audience and we didn’t think they were twelve years old, so we tried to keep the quality of the show. The second year, I didn’t have anything to do with it, so I don’t know.”(quotes taken from this interview.)
Years later she co-wrote ‘Encounter at Farpoint’ with Gene Roddenberry, which earned her a Hugo Award nomination, and then served as an Associate Proudcer on thirteen episodes of the Next Generation’s first season, as well as writing four episodes in its first season.
Her final contribution to Star Trek was writing the episode ‘Dax’ in the first season of Deep Space Nine.
Apparently, in an interview with Star Trek Monthly in 2006, Dorothy noted how unhappy she was with the way Gene re-wrote episodes they wrote together. I found a few examples of the changes he (and other writers) made which I think you’ll all find very interesting -
“The hardest one to write possibly was ‘Friday’s Child’, the Julie Newmar character because I wanted her to be a tough woman who was making tough decisions, like, ‘It’s my life or the baby’s life? Take the kid.’ There are women like that who are only looking out for themselves and Gene fought me on it. He changed the script and said, ‘No. She’s a mother. She has to behave like a mother.’ I said, ‘Have you met some mothers? I have.’ Not my own of course but, this was a woman who only cared for her own skin and if it was her kid or her, then tough luck. ‘Take the kid.’ Gene softened that up which I had a problem with.” (x)
I was actually pleasantly surprised (while researching) to read that in her original story ‘Meeting at Farpoint’ Doctor Crusher had a daughter called Leslie, not a son called Wesley, I can only assume that Gene changed the character’s gender.
It’s difficult for us to be sure, considering we weren’t there, and because television is such a collaborative process, but I think it’s safe to say that Dorothy Fontana wrote some interesting female characters in her stories (whether they stayed that way is another thing entirely).
She spoke about this briefly in this interview, which I’ve transcribed here - “Well strong female roles are of course very desired by actresses. On Star Trek unfortunately, there was a tendency for the women to be there but to be romantic objects, and I tried to bring forward other kinds of women characters, and you know, you could only try. … There were other interesting characters not written by me in Star Trek that were strong women characters, so everybody did the best they could. With the emerging women’s movement, I think it was on everybody’s mind, the female characters should not just be standing by, you know, run away, scream, fall down, kind of characters as you often saw in the movies. We were trying to do something else. And I had help, I did a few of those characters, but other writers did some too.”
But of course, I think it’s very easy for us to fall into the trap of looking at Dorothy Fontana only in terms of the episodes she wrote (and whether they were good or not), which I think misses a very important point - that she was an important and valued part of the crew making Star Trek.
Let’s not forget that, to this day, women are still the minority in television and film production crews. Let alone back in the sixties, where they had to use their initials to have their scripts considered at all!
Of course, Gene Roddenberry was something of a pioneer when it came to buying action adventure scripts from women. All he and Gene Coon cared about (according to Fontana) was that it was a good story, they didn’t care who it came from.
Not that that undermines Dorothy’s contribution to the show, or her importance as a woman writing science-fiction television in the sixties. It was very clear to me, watching both of these interviews, that she played a vital role in making Star Trek what it was, so I thought I’d share excerpts I’ve transcribed from said interviews, to give you all a little more understanding of her contribution to the show - and her ability as a writer and story editor.
On what makes a good Star Trek story -
“To me a Star Trek story is a morality tale. We always have a point. There is action in it. We don’t want to stand around and talk about all these things, it has to be doing. To me it always had a personal point of view. There was a problem for the Captain, there was a problem for Mr Spock, a problem for, even Christine Chapel, minor characters had their moments. To me a good Star Trek story is one about a personal problem, with all overall kind of story problem going on, a situational problem.”
On her imprint on Star Trek -
“If I had a significant imprint on Star Trek I think it might be the development of the Vulcans, because I really liked Spock as a character, but I knew Leonard Nimoy for years, he was in the very first story I ever wrote in fact. I really liked the Vulcan culture, what we hinted at. Ted Sturgeon began it, and I took off with that and ran with it. [So] if there was an imprint, it was developing Spock, his parents, his background, Vulcan, all of those things.”
On how they developed the characters -
“All the characters were developed by the actors, in the sense that, we would give them something on the page in the early episodes and they would run with it. They would do something that, when we would come back the following week after seeing the dailies and rough cuts, that we could say, hey we could build on that. What came out of that, for instance, was the jockeying back and forth verbally between Doctor McCoy and Mister Spock. We saw the actors do that so well in one episode that we kept putting it in.”
“At the end of the first season I went around to all of the actors and sat down with them and said ‘Tell me about your character. What do you know about the character? What are you coming from?’ and I took that and put it into the character biographies for the second season writer’s guide.”
“The one important thing that came out of that talk with the actors was that DeForrest Kelly said that his character had a child, and I said ‘oh, a boy?’ and he said ‘no, I think a girl’, so that’s how Joanna came to be created. I was going to write an episode in the third season about Joanna, but that never really happened, the story was changed into something else. We never did see Joanna, though she has been mentioned I believe in the novels and other biographies of Doctor McCoy.”
“'Journey to Babel' grew out of previous writing, on 'Amok Time' we knew a little bit about the culture, we knew a little bit more about Vulcans. In writing 'This Side of Paradise' we were able to make reference to Spock's mother and father, 'Naked Time' also made reference to Spock's mother, so there were all these little things going around in my brain, and I went into Gene and said I want to do a story about Spock's parents, I want to know who they are and how they influenced Mr Spock, how he came to be who he was because of them. And then I had to develop a conflict for them of course, and that was that Mr Spock had not gone to the Vulcan Science Academy as his father had wished him to do, and so they hadn't spoken for a long time. Journey to Babel was an opportunity to bring these two stubborn people together and put them at loggerheads and let them work it out.”
So there you have it! Dorothy “D.C.” Fontana ladies and gentleman! Without her contribution its safe to say that Star Trek wouldn’t be what it is today. And indeed, one of its most iconic characters would perhaps not be as interesting.
Oh, and in case any of you were wondering - yes, the character of Kay Eaton aka ‘K.C. Hunter’ in the Deep Space Nine episode ‘Far Beyond the Stars’ was inspired by D.C. Fontana.
Post with 59 notes
If you really want to hate yourself, imagine Kirk looking up the poem Funeral Blues, after Wrath of Khan when he gets back to Earth.
He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.
The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.
Resubmitting because I’ve decided that I’ll just stick to posting a screenshot of the ask and then the “answer” picture.
Some “dramatic” Kirk/Spock. Hopefully dramatic enough to an extent… Also, I felt like this blog needed an injection of TOS again and I love the series as well so…
Too bad one of Jim’s favourite shirts got soiled. And thanks anon.
ha ha ha.// / . . ………../
Another from-the-archives bit of humor.
I should do this sort of thing more often, but there are only 24 hours in a day.
Photos of the newly renovated U.S.S. Enterprise shuttle craft, Galileo, at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.
Photoset with 4 notes
Star Trek The Animated Series: 1x01 Beyond The Farthest Star
For a moment I felt like I remembered which episode these are from, but then I realized it was just a vague sense of “this is the part where a redshirt is about to die.”
Sulu and McCoy picknick with a dragon and Alice, uh okay.
Spock u ok
- ‘What If Hitler Was Alive’
- ‘What If Hitler Was a Shakespearean Actor’
- ‘What If Hitler Had a Daughter and She Was Really Hot’
- ‘Why is Kirk so Mad at Me, Dr’
- ‘Spock Why the Fuck Does Everyone Bother Me While I’m Drinking’
- ‘Remember Riley We Actually Put Him in Another Episode’
- ’No Seriously You Guys Hitler’s Alive’
- ‘Oh Yeah and He’s Sorry About the Whole Genocide Thing’
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