In today's Sci-Fi Blast From The Past, the first lady of Star Trek, the late Majel Barrett Roddenberry, talks about her involvement in the legendary Sci-Fi series, beginning with her role of Number One opposite Jeffrey Hunter as Captain Christopher Pike in "The Cage," the first pilot for the classic Star Trek TV series.
“Jeff was an incredible person who wasn’t filled with ego,” recalls Roddenberry. “He didn’t quite understand what was going on in this big spaceship; none of us did. We were all kind of floundering but we all had fun. Again, you’re talking about a bunch of professionals, so for us it was just another day at the office. Jeff was a remarkable human being and I wish he were still around.”
Unfortunately for Number One, NBC studio executives were more comfortable having the pointy-eared Mister Spock, and not a woman, as second-in-command of the U.S.S. Enterprise. So when her husband’s [Gene Roddenberry] idea was given the green light for a weekly Star Trek series, Roddenberry took on the role of Nurse Christine Chapel.
“I so enjoyed working with DeForest Kelley [Doctor Leonard McCoy],” she recalls. “He is such a genuine person that it is impossible not to like him. Jimmy [Doohan, Chief Engineer Montgomery Scott] and his wife at the time, Anita, were a lot of fun. They would come over to our house and play pool but that was the only social relationship we really had on Trek. We all just came to work and did our jobs. At that time we weren’t making something for posterity. We were just going to work for another day and praying to God that maybe next year we would get a pickup for another season. We struggled with that for three years before they finally cancelled us.”
In 1973 Roddenberry supplied the voice for Nurse Christine Chapel as well as for the feline Lieutenant M’Ress in the animated Star Trek series. In 1979 her character was promoted to doctor and appeared on the big screen in Star Trek - The Motion Picture. She went on to provide the voice of the U.S.S. Enterprise-D’s computer for the television show Star Trek:The Next Generation. During the first year of the series she also made her debut as Counselor Deanna Troi’s (Marina Sirtis) mother, the effervescent, ebullient, irrepressible Lwaxana Troi, in the episode Haven. The character proved to be a hit with the viewers as well as the actress playing her.
“She is the mother from hell,” laughs Roddenberry. “When Gene first told me about her he said, ‘Majel, I’ve got a great part for you and you don’t have to act.’ He went on to explain that she was actually the Auntie Mame of the galaxy, so that was my handle. I figured, ‘Well, I’m going to pull out all the stops and the director will bring me down.’ I kept on pulling out more and more stops but nobody said, ‘Come back,’ so she became wilder and more fancy-free. I just love that woman, I do. She really is the epitomy of everything I hoped that I would become one day. Again, she is another role model for women over fifty and I love her. One day a woman screamed at me from across a parking lot, ‘You’ve done more for women over fifty than any movement in America,’ and I was very grateful for that comment.”
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