Thursday, September 08, 2016

Secret Star Trek: The Nine & Trek's True Creators

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the first episode of Star Trek to air, 'The Man Trap'. Not one of the more memorable episodes of the series, it still remains a cultural landmark, the launching point of a sci-fi franchise that continues to this day.

And notably it would prominently feature of number of people who'd previously worked on The Outer Limits, including William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, James Doohan, Grace Lee Whitney and Alfred Ryder.

'The Man Trap' would feature key Outer Limits personnel behind the camera as well, notably producer Robert Justman, monster-maker Wah Chang, and script supervisor George Rutter.

Star Trek has been in the news this year for other reasons. The most recent film sequel, Star Trek Beyond, has earned nearly $300 Million worldwide. Not a bad number for this the Year of the Box Office Bust, when sequel after sequel is tanking before an oversaturated audience. There are also plans for a new TV series, as well as various fan projects, some of which are more popular with fans than the official series.

A month before Beyond premiered, Anton Yelchin, the 27 year old Russian-born actor who plays Chekov, was killed in a bizarre accident at his home.

Or not.


Where Star Trek goes, The Nine are sure to follow.

Ancient Aliens finally got around to tackling the issues of Andrija Puharich and the Council of Nine, though they didn't seem exactly sure what they wanted to say about them. Halfway through the episode they got sidetracked with the Black Knight satellite, and never seemed to find the thread again.

But they did make some claims I never heard before. I'm not entirely sure how accurate they are.

They claimed that Puharich called a meeting of top minds in 1958 to strategize about how best to introduce the world to The Nine. They claimed one of the attendees was future Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, at that point just a young television writer with no production credits to his name. 

Their source for this information was Roddenberry's writing assistant Jon Povill, who worked with the Trek creator while Puharich hired him in the 70s to write a screenplay about The Nine's impending mass landing. Which, of course, failed to materialize.

Michael Salla then claimed that Trek's warp drive and teleportation were inspired by The Nine. I can't speak to the warp drive, but teleportation was a plot point in the popular horror film The Fly and The Outer Limits depicted it in a number of episodes, including the original pilot.

Lab-9 cohort James Hurtak said  about Roddenberry's participation at Lab 9, "some of what Gene saw there was produced in some of the episodes of Star Trek." And the narrator ominously announced:
"Part of the Star Trek television series may not be Roddenberry's work at all but directly inspired by the Mysterious Nine."
Well, I can't speak to this alleged 1958 meeting, but that last statement definitely rings true to my ears.


The "Roddenberry Legacy" is a continuing question mark, and not just on this blog. For a number of years now, Star Trek fans have been looking critically at Trek's history and finding more questions than answers. And it's not just fans. This, from a Trek site:
In one of his last live interviews before his own death, Nimoy exhibited the deep disdain he still felt for Roddenberry by scoffingly laughing aloud at the statement that Roddenberry was "the creator of Star Trek".
Damn. Shame Leonard Nimoy died before someone got a chance to press him on that little outburst. What did Spock know and when did he know it?

One thing we can say for sure, the original pitch for Star Trek bears little resemblance to the series as it aired. Of the original characters, only Mr. Spock survived to the series, and he underwent significant revisions (he was originally "half-Martian").

The Number One character wasn't created out of some feminist impulse on Roddenberry's part, he wrote the part especially for Majel Barrett, who was his favorite mistress at the time.

Beginning to get the picture, are we?

In January, a sympathetic writer who knew Roddenberry spoke some hard truths to diehard Trekkers. Curiously he headlined the article with that graphic, a two-shot montage of Roddenberry and Leslie Stevens.

Perhaps not quite willing to serve up a dish of full-blown Trek heresy, Roddenberry's relationship with Stevens was only touched upon. But that's often how these revelations are often processed. Gingerly.

He had other Trek fish to fry anyway, starting with this:
The only reason Roddenberry created Star Trek, at least initially, was to sell another series to a network.  He was, if not desperate, anxious… 
He had just failed with The Lieutenant, for Norman Felton’s Arena Productions, and more importantly, had incidents where he failed as a producer, letting shows go over budget, and other elements get out of hand. 
No one was clamoring for another series from Roddenberry, or even his scripts.
And the unkindest cut of all...
His agent suggested he come up with a space series…
With Trekker hearts bleeding, he then burst the bubble concerning one of the Great Bird's claims to fame:
Herb Solow, the Desilu executive overseeing Star Trek, maintained that Trek‘s multi-ethnic cast came as a suggestion from NBC’s execs…
In fact, Roddenberry was more than ready to throw the nonwhite cast members over the transom when it came to budgets. Concerning the Trek animated series:
Roddenberry had some difficulties with the cast. To save money, he sought not to hire George Takei and Nichelle Nichols.  
But there's still a big hole in the Trek story, and that's how Roddenberry - who had no previous experience writing or producing science fiction - was able to assemble a workable shooting script out of his skimpy napkin sketches, how he was able to get it shot in a relatively short time (record time, really) and then was able to reboot the concept in fairly short order after NBC nixed the first pilot. 

And that's where the story starts to get a little...complicated.
Roddenberry began to frequently lay claim to the input of others. "A new side of Gene slowly appeared: ownership of ideas," commented (Herb) Solow. "If a good story or series point came from anyone, be it NBC, [Desilu's agent] Ashley-Famous, or Desilu, Gene Roddenberry appropriated it." Inside Star Trek: The Real Story, p. 21)

The fact is that Roddenberry's pitch for 'The Cage' is clearly just a rewrite of the Twilight Zone episode 'People Are Alike All Over' - so much so that he even hired the same actress - and the finished pilot features ideas lifted wholesale from The Outer Limits' episodes 'Nightmare' and 'The Guests', as well as Stevens' own "Controlled Experiment'.*

The latter was no coincidence. An Outer Limits staffer reported later:
"Star Trek was in fact an outgrowth of The Outer Limits. Gene Roddenberry watched our dailies all the time and took a lot of phone calls from our screening room. He was spurring his imagination and checking on the incredible quality control we had. I wondered why he was there but he was there more often than not during the time he was coming up with Star Trek." -- The Outer Limits The Official Companion, pg 361
Why would Roddenberry be at Daystar Studios- Leslie Stevens' production company- while he was coming up with a show for another studio set to air on another network? It doesn't make any sense, certainly not in the combative, paranoid world of big-time TV.

The only reasonable explanation is that he was working with someone at Daystar on Star Trek. 
And given Stevens' track record - he later developed Battlestar Galactica and Buck Rogers for Glen Larson- it was probably Leslie Stevens himself.

Remember, Stevens wasn't just a Hollywood producer. He's often credited with being one of the founders of the New Age movement. He certainly predicted- if not in fact planned- what Silicon Valley and indeed, the entire SF-t0-Big Sur corridor, was to become in the 1970s.

He was also the son of one of the most powerful men in both the Navy and the CIA. He himself was an intelligence agent during the war and some believe he remained one after.  
Long after.

He also seems to be a man who was more than happy to do others' work for them, which more writers than you can imagine make very fat livings doing in Tinseltown.

So how much of Star Trek is in fact Stevens' work? How many of his ideas would surface - uncredited - on the series following the pilot? Stevens was seriously interested in "hard sci-fi" (too hard for some) and Roddenberry was doing a space series because he couldn't get work doing anything else.

Certainly a number of Stevens' people would end up working for Roddenberry, including his right-hand man Robert Justman. Was Justman still reporting to Stevens while working on Trek?

These questions bear asking, given what we know about Roddenberry, before and after Trek. His first time up at bat- presenting to CBS- he whiffed. Badly.
(Desilu executive Oscar) Katz accompanied "mumbling exotic" Roddenberry, as Solow had typified him, in late April 1964 to the pitch he had arranged at television network CBS …an awkward and hopelessly unprepared Roddenberry, left to his own devices, seriously bumbled his presentation. 

It was up to an experienced network executive to make this thing happen:
Solow subsequently took over after being informed of this. He thoroughly groomed, prepared, and coached Roddenberry for his next, very last-chance, meeting with NBC the following month, as well as taking an active part in the presentation. 
Additionally, Solow instructed Roddenberry to keep quiet when not required to speak (as) NBC was wary due to their previous dealings with Roddenberry on The Lieutenant, and, most notably, to drop the "Wagon Train To The Stars" pitch-line Roddenberry had used on the previous pitching occasions. 
This eventually resulted in success, but "(i)t was Herb's tenacity and Herb's presentation that sold the series.", as NBC executive Jerry Stanley later conceded. 
For his trouble, Solow's name would become an insult word ("Herbert") in 'The Way to Eden', produced after he left the series.

Oh by the way...
"Wagon Train To The Stars" phrase... was actually coined by Writer Samuel A. Peeples …but typically, (was) appropriated (Roddenberry's) own nevertheless.''

'The Cage' was produced and rejected for being too cerebral. But NBC ordered another pilot for some unknown reason and 'Where No Man Has Gone Before' was done up, featuring a plot point taken from yet another Outer Limits episode, and two actors from Stevens' orbit, William Shatner and Sally Kellerman.

And that "Space, the final frontier..." speech? Roddenberry didn't write that either. John D.F. Black did.

But the series premiered, 50 years ago tonight, and the rest is history.  

With Leslie Stevens off to Universal to develop the CIA-themed It Takes a Thief  (with 'The Menagerie's' Malachi Throne), Justman stayed on with Roddenberry. 
While Roddenberry, Black, and D.C. Fontana focused on the scripts, Justman was the producer on the set. He handled much of the hiring and firing of the production staff, as well as various other functions including budget, set dressing, and props.
Roddenberry soon began alienating his staff by rewriting their scripts, however. He wasn't exactly brimming with ethics about it either- he often violated Writer's Guild bylaws:
Black also wrote the original "envelope" script for "The Menagerie", originally titled "From the First Day to the Last". However, Roddenberry completely rewrote it and took sole on-screen credit for the two-parter. (Inside Star Trek: The Real Story, p 251)
But Roddenberry soon found he couldn't handle producing a TV series in a genre he was probably totally unfamiliar with:
(Roddenberry) hired Gene L. Coon to serve as line producer and stepped back to the position of executive producer. While still largely overseeing production and occasionally doing re-writes, most of the re-writing was now Coon's responsibility.
With Coon handling the re-writing and Justman handling pretty much everything else, it's not exactly clear what Roddenberry was actually doing at this point.

Overseeing, apparently.

Anyhow, it was under Coon that the contours of the Trek Universe came into focus:
 Under Coon's watch, the series developed into what is now considered the classic Star Trek formula (including the introduction of such concepts as the United Federation of Planets, the Prime Directive and, most notably, the Klingons), and also diverged into more light-hearted action-adventure than Roddenberry's dramatic approach.
The only problem was the ratings:
Roddenberry was immediately concerned about the series' low ratings and wrote to Harlan Ellison to ask if he could use his name in letters to the network to save the show. Not wanting to lose a potential source of income, Ellison agreed and also sought the help of other writers who also wanted to avoid losing potential income.
And how did Roddenberry repay his benefactor?
(Roddenberry) completely rewrote scripts by authors (like) Harlan Ellison (even though he) promised them their work won't be meddled with.  
Ellison (who also wrote for The Outer Limits) wanted his name taken off the script Roddenberry rewrote but was allegedly told by the producer he'd be blacklisted if he tried. His name stayed on.

Midway through the second season Gene Coon would quit. Justman would leave in the third season.

And then there is the contentious issue of Lincoln Enterprises, which caused a lot of friction with Solow, who accused Roddenberry of stealing and reselling company property:
Roddenberry - with Trimble and his future wife Majel Barrett - also founded Lincoln Enterprises in 1967, which specialized in selling Star Trek memorabilia to fans. Years later, in 2004, Bjo Trimble has stated, "Actually, John & Bjo Trimble set up the original Lincoln Enterprises. Neither Gene nor Majel had any idea how to set up a mail-order business, while the Trimbles have put together several such businesses. 
Roddenberry would turn to Trimble again when it looked like the axe was about to fall after the second season:
Roddenberry began to communicate with Star Trek fan Bjo Trimble, who led a fan writing campaign to save the series. Trimble later noted that this campaign of writing to fans who had written to Desilu about the show, urging them to write NBC, had created an organized Star Trek fandom. The network received around 6,000 letters a week from fans petitioning it to renew the series. 

The fandom Trimble set up would keep the Roddenberry's solvent in the lean years after Trek was canceled after the third season. But did the man live up to the diehard image he presented to fans?

Not exactly:
Though Star Trek-lore has it that Roddenberry staunchly held on to his complete faith in his creation, this was, aside from him deserting the third season, further contradicted during the divorce proceedings from his wife, as (he) offered to sell Eileen his share of Star Trek for US$1,000 in exchange for waiving the rights of any and all revenues from future projects Roddenberry might embark on. 
I'll bet Eileen was kicking herself for passing up that deal.

Star Trek was a failure in its first run. There are no two ways about it. It was the SeaQuest of its time.

But it had a vision- Roddenberry's idealistic vision of the future- and struck a chord with kids in the miserable, nihilistic 70s. It was a smash in reruns and soon its new owner, Paramount Pictures, was looking for ways to exploit it. So Gene Roddenberry was put on the payroll.

But they soon realized that maybe all Roddenberry had to bring to the table was utopian speechmaking.

Roddenberry worked on a failed Tarzan reboot, a sex comedy with Roger Vadim (poorly-received at the time but a cult classic in some quarters today), and a number of failed pilots.

And of course, Roddenberry worked with The Nine, at Andrija Puharich's estate in Ossining, New York.

The Nine were hard-baked into Star Trek from very early on. We feel faint traces of them among the Talosians (originally based on 'Sirius IV') of "The Cage" and the psychic powers that the Round Table and Lab9 were so obsessed with also arise in the second pilot, with future 2001: A Space Odyssey star Gary Lockwood and Outer Limits guest star Sally Kellerman becoming gods through the powers of psi.

'Errand of Mercy' would lift its plotline directly from Dr. Vinod's "channelings" in Glen Cove, Maine, some fifteen years before the episode actually aired. There'd be more besides, and more to come when Star Trek was reborn as a franchise.

But how much of this was actually Roddenberry

Answer: probably nothing.

'Errand of Mercy' was directed by Puharich associate John Newland, giving us a direct means of transmission for The Nine to insinuate themselves into the Trek Universe. And not only do 'The Cage' and 'Where No Man Has Gone Before' have direct Outer Limits antecedents, they both date us back to Roddenberry's mysterious tenure at Daystar Productions.

'Errand' was written by Gene Coon, who introduced a similar non-corporeal race in 'Metamorphosis'. Omnipotent, non-corporeal beings would become a major thruline in the Trek Universe. We'd see them again in the third season of TOS in 'The Lights of Zetar', cowritten by Esalen trustee, the late Jeremy Tarcher, of Tarcher Penquin fame.

Roddenberry was said to be a better rewriter than a writer. Significantly, hardly any of the plots - skimpy as they were - in his original Star Trek pitch ever made it to the screen. Arguably his best work on Trek- 'The Cage/'The Menagerie'- is a collage of borrowed and rewritten source material.

As to his post-Trek projects? Genesis II was a bald-faced ripoff of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, which Leslie Stevens would develop as a series a few years later. The Questor Tapes were a spin on Michael Crichton, a hot new writer at the time. 

Spectre was an obvious allegory of his experiences with Uri Geller and Andrija Puharich (Spectre = "Spectra"), remodeled as an occult detective yarn, a genre that TV executives repeatedly tried and failed to launch in the 70s.

Earth: Final Conflict was based on his Battlefield Earth pilot, which was almost certainly based in part on Jon Povill's Nine script (Roddenberry's own Nine script was a autobiographical pity-party that Lab9 rejected out of hand). It and Andromeda were both heavily reworked by other producers when developed for series.

The God Thing was similarly filled with themes from the Nine era. Ironically so, since later adaptions of it would surface in the Project Blue Beam hoax, which was almost certainly concocted by Trek fans within one of the alphabet agencies.

The God Thing would also be recycled by Shatner for his Star Trek V project, which caused considerable friction between the star and Roddenberry.

And of course the original cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation would feature nine major characters, all of whom could arguably said to represent archetypes related to the Egyptian Pantheon.

And then you had Deep Space the Nine, in which all that was hidden became manifest. But that all went down after Roddenberry passed away.

So again; how much of this is Roddenberry and how much of this is other players to be named later? And more importantly who exactly are these other players?

The more you know about Roddenberry, the harder it becomes to see him as some kind of secret agent, working on behalf of a cosmic conspiracy. He was a hard-nosed atheist and committed skeptic, heavily influenced by his friendship with CSICOP members like Isaac Asimov. 

Roddenberry's association with The Nine in the 70s was a question of financial survival; he desperately needed the money they were throwing around.

He was also a heavy drug and drink abuser and serial sex harasser (soon after her hiring, Roddenberry invited his new assistant to swim in the nude and teased her when she refused. Soon he was suggesting how interesting it might be if she fellated him).

Hardcore Trek fan circles bubble with rumors of much darker deeds.

Then there's the issue of his lawyer, the architect of the Gene Roddenberry myth. Roddenberry's lawyer is widely despised within the entire Star Trek community. 

How despised is he? So despised that William Shatner made a documentary about how despised he is.

But first we see what a trainwreck Roddenberry was by the time it came to produce The Next Generation:
...Shatner’s documentary presents us with a Gene Roddenberry who was a hot mess of contradictions, sometimes kind, sometimes cruel, a very flawed human being. He was decades past his prime, a has-been trying desperately to do whatever he could to take Star Trek back and make it his own again

In order to do this, according to writer David Gerrold, Gene Roddenberry had to be shipped off to an alcohol and drug treatment facility by his wife Majel Barrett Roddenberry.
And over the course of several months he sobered up, just in time to begin conceptualizing what the show would later become in his offices on the studio lot. Good thing she was looking out for him too, (because) the studio couldn’t go forward with the series without Roddenberry’s involvement.
Shades of Zefrem Cochrane in First Contact. A lot of the heavy creative lifting was reportedly done by David Gerrold and Dorothy Fontana, in part because Roddenberry's own ideas had gotten so weird. And not 'cool weird', crazy-old-man weird.  

 Enter Leonard Maizlish, Attorney at Law:
All the creative decisions, in one way or another, ended up being filtered through this lawyer who didn’t have a creative bone in his vampiric body. He snuck around the offices, peeked in people’s desk drawers, read stuff on their computers, eavesdropped on conversations in the hallway, you name it.
Worst of all, he full-on re-wrote early TNG scripts in Gene’s name, deliberately violating Writer’s Guild rules. If you had wondered why some of the scenes and dialogue in the first season were sometimes inexplicably, inexcusably, atrociously bad, well, there’s your answer!
The situation was such a mess that the studio sent in Rick Berman to try to clean it up. Soon he got a full dose of the Maizlish magic:
Rick Berman, well acquainted with Roddenberry's handwriting, has recalled, "Leonard Maizlish, Gene's lawyer, would hand me a script saying these were Gene's notes. I'm pretty sure they were Leonard's notes."
Things got so bad all of Gene's old friends from the original series quit, as did a number of other writers. Paramount soon lost their patience and banned Maizlish from the lot. Maurice Hurley took over in the second season and the first thing he did was fire the popular Gates McFadden and create the widely-loathed Dr. Pulaski character. 

Hurley also said of the so-called "Roddenberry Future:"
"If you agree with Gene Roddenberry's vision for the future, you should be locked up somewhere. It's wacky doodle, but it's his wacky doodle."
Fans came to realize that all was not roses and sunshine behind the scenes of Trek's utopian tomorrow:
"The first season could be described as a huge turmoil and struggle for power, which were in no small part due to Roddenberry's ill health, aggravated by alcohol and substance abuse …"

"It is certainly ironic that, for a show which espoused a utopian 24th century ideal for humanity wherein interpersonal conflicts had largely disappeared, the reality behind the scenes within the TNG production offices in the 20th century was very much the opposite."  
Soon Hurley was gone too and Michael Piller came onboard and righted the ship. And seemed to do a lot more besides. Piller would write Star Trek 9, better known as Star Trek:Insurrection, more properly known as Star Trek: The Battle for Esalen.


Given all the weirdness we saw in TNG - and the obvious Nine symbolism- was Roddenberry still mining his stint with Lab9 or did The Nine have another mole in the fold? TNGs pilot 'Encounter at Farpoint' would be ripe with Esalen and Nine symbolism, if you knew where to look. Not to mention very esoteric ideas about UFOs.

Tracy Torme (who brought us the Travis Walton biopic Fire in the Sky) would be on the TNG staff from the beginning as executive story editor. Wavelength writer/director Mike Gray would serve as producer in the second season. But does that explain all of the strangeness we'd see in those first two seasons?

And was Leslie Stevens lurking somewhere in the shadows? 

There's reason to believe he may have been. He'd been working on an attempted revival of The Outer Limits at the time and two key Stevens' allies - actor Mark Richman and Outer Limits writer/producer Joseph Stefano - would pop up in TNGs first season.

And when Outer Limits finally relaunched in the 90s there'd be a steady stream of Trek talent appearing on the series, particularly in the first four seasons when Stevens was involved with the program (he died before the fifth season). Almost as if a favor were being repaid.

And producers from The Outer Limits and Star Trek: The Next Generation would team up to produce The 4400, a series that itself is ripe with Esalen themes and symbolism, with Jordan Collier as a dying/rising Dick Price and the basic premise a virtual fulfillment of Michael Murphy's The Future of the Body.

But there's no real evidence that Stevens was involved with the Nine, aside from the ancient astronaut themes in Battlestar Galactica. But those were all over the place in the culture at the time (they'd pop up in 1982 with The Phoenix, created by yet another Outer Limits alum and starring Wrath of Khan's Judson Scott).

I have a feeling that there was someone else lurking around the Trek set, acting on the Nine's behalf. And the record is unmistakable that their influence would only grow there.

But could Stevens have been a facilitator for someone else working the Nine project? 

It's interesting to note that we see Nine themes addressed in a direct fashion in 'Errand of Mercy' and later on 'Metamorphosis', both written by Gene Coon. And when Coon got burned out on Roddenberry he was given a nice writing gig at It Takes a Thief and other Stevens-related projects for Universal.

And then of course you had 'Zetar' which brought you right up to Esalen's front door. It would seem the Nine's tenure there was foreordained and foreshadowed on Star Trek.

Not to mention the whole Dick Price-stigmata thing in Leslie Stevens' occult-working-disguised-as-art-film Incubus, which was filmed just down the street from Esalen.

Was Price's death part of the legendary Incubus curse?

Then there's that very curious TNG episode 'Justice', which seems to depict an idealized version of Esalen and the Nine. It has an interesting history:
This was the first script to be commissioned for the series after the pilot episode "Encounter at Farpoint" (then known as "Meeting at Farpoint") was written. Due to the extensive rewrites that the story went through however, it ended up being the eighth episode to be filmed.   
Note that it was written after 'Farpoint', itself ripe with Esalen symbolism. But as it happens, the original writer didn't intend any of that in his version of the story:
Writer John D.F. Black used his pseudonym "Ralph Willis" in the credits, because the televised episode bears little resemblance to his original first draft script. In Black's treatment, the colony of Llarof installed punishment zones to fight anarchy; however, the zones are now enforced to abide the law, but for only those who are deemed not immune to them. (Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion, p. 40;Creating the Next Generation: The Conception and Creation of a Phenomenon, p.44-45)
Interesting. So where exactly did all the Esalen stuff come from then? There's nothing particularly telling in the cowriter's CV.

Just one of life's little mysteries, I suppose.


The Nine seem to have been rather quiet lately, and the 'channeling' operation has been quiet for some time now. But they took a quarter century to announce themselves to the world following the original Round Table seances, so that's not all that unusual. Maybe to their way of thinking it's all unfolding at a dizzying pace. Maybe they simply operate on a different timetable than the rest of us.

I know enough by now not to make any assumptions about The Nine.

*All of these are arguably MK-ULTRA allegories, tales being told out of school by a mischievous Stevens, who'd pay the piper for his audacity when ABC moved his hit show to the Saturday night death slot and forced out his top producer. Stevens would be given a gig at Universal, kingmaker Lew Wasserman's production company, perhaps as compensation for losing The Outer Limits.