Rod Roddenberry hopes fans remember his mother’s contributions. Majel Barrett-Roddenberry, First Lady of Star Trek, acted in every iteration of the franchise: from the unaired pilot, “The Cage,” to The Original Series to The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine as Lwaxana Troi, in addition to voicing Starfleet ships’ computers throughout the years, recording her finals lines for the U.S.S. Enterprise in 2008.
For Women’s History Month, I spoke with Roddenberry about the San Diego Comic-Con Museum exhibit “Gene Roddenberry Sci-Fi Visionary,” his mother’s favorite role, the WAV file archives of her voice as the Enterprise’s computer and her prominent role behind the scenes keeping Star Trek alive.
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Rebecca Kaplan: One of the aspects of Star Trek I appreciate is the emphasis on diverse families, including queer families. Can you tell us why the diversity theme is crucial to the franchise?
Rod Roddenberry: The backbone of Star Trek is the IDIC philosophy, standing for Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations. With my father, Gene Roddenberry, IDIC was the beginning of this idea that in the future, we’ve gotten to a point where we no longer fear the differences between us, but we embrace them and crave them. We realize the uniqueness between us makes us interesting—whether it’s ideas, our form, our genders, whatever it might be—and we can learn from different points of view, even if we disagree. That is the foundation of what Star Trek is at its core.
It was only about getting a Russian officer and a Black officer on the bridge in the early days. Now, it’s also about ideology and people who look at things differently, celebrating that diversity. Star Trek needs to inspire people to be more comfortable accepting people who have new ideas. It’s easy to preach; it’s hard to do. If it’s not making you think and consider a different point of view, it isn’t Star Trek.
RK: Did your mother talk about “The Cage” and not being able to play Number One in TOS?
RR: I know my mother appreciated her role as second in command in “The Cage” when many people back then wouldn’t accept a [woman in that position]. But my father had to make many tough decisions, which I know hurt her. Whether they were excuses, or we agree with those decisions, my father had to knock her character down to a nurse and sacrifice her for other characters.
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My mother’s joy came from bringing Lwaxana Troi to life because they didn’t write that character for her, but that was her being herself. She wouldn’t let anyone put her in her place. She was over the top, and she was flamboyant. When push came to shove, she would shove back.
RK: Do you think she would like Rebecca Romijn‘s interpretation of Number One in Star Trek: Discovery and Star Trek: Strange New Worlds?
RR: Absolutely. 100 percent. I think Lwaxana might be a harder pill for her to swallow.
RK: Do you feel clothes were an essential facet of Lwaxana’s character? Were clothes important to your mother?
RR: I don’t know if clothes were important to my mother, but I know my mother had a ton of fake jewelry. She didn’t see the point of having expensive jewelry, but she loved being flashy and having on big things. My mother was against wearing fur, so she had all these faux fur coats. As far as her costumes, she loved those costumes and the flamboyance—those costumes were over the top.
RK: What do you hope fans get out of the exhibit?
RR: I hope fans get from the exhibit what they hopefully get from many episodes of the TV shows: inspiration and aspiration. My parents genuinely knew the fans were the ones who kept Star Trek alive and cared about that.
When my father passed away, she took up the mantle because she loved my father and his vision of the future, and she loved the fans and wanted to keep that going. She updated his old speeches and started traveling to speak about Star Trek. Hopefully, what people see of my mother and father at this exhibit will let them know that hard work, passion, vision, and never giving up is what got Star Trek made.
RK: Can you tell us more about when your mother took up the mantle and carried on your father’s speeches?
RR: It gets into a personal nature, but I’m okay because it’s technically a public record. There were some lawsuits in my family, and there wasn’t any money because of this. I’m not saying we were destitute and living on the streets, but the government froze the accounts. Remember when TOS came out, it’s not like money flowed in; it was a failure. Money only flowed out. Money didn’t hit the family until the ’80s.
I was in a nice college, and she had to pay those bills. My mother would go to conventions and do speeches, precisely what my father did after TOS, raising money to pay for my college and other bills. She knew how to work hard and didn’t complain when times got tough. I can’t thank her enough because I was a sh**ty teenager then, and, for the most part, I didn’t understand what was going on and didn’t care, but she kept it going because she loved my father and the fans—and she loved me.
RK: Do you have a favorite story of your mother?
RR: My parents were golf club members, and believe it or not, back in the ’80s, this golf club had a “Men’s Grill Day” on Thursdays. No women were allowed. My mother would say, “F*ck that,” and sit with the boys and tell dirty jokes.
RK: The Roddenberry Foundation is committed to carrying on Trek’s ideals. Can you tell us how your mother informed Trek’s ideals beyond IDIC?
RR: Beyond IDIC, her strength as a woman. Sometimes it was, “I am a woman; hear me roar.” But it was more, “It was I am a woman. I am no different; treat me no different.” It came out in her Lwaxana character, although that was more of the “roar” side.
I keep going back to the lawsuit. My mother spent months in a courtroom with people telling her that she wasn’t worth anything because she was just the wife. She explained what she did for my father and how she wasn’t just the wife; she was his confidant for everything.
RK: How was the lawsuit for you, if you are comfortable talking about that?
RR: I was a rebellious teenager. When my father passed away, I became a little more rebellious, and my mother and I didn’t always see eye to eye. As an adult, I better understand why she did certain things and the kind of choices she had to face. She did what she did to keep me in school and ensure I didn’t suffer anything from it.
I only now realize the sacrifices she made to give me what I had. I took them for granted.
RK: Why must Trek history account for Majel’s legacy?
RR: She loved my father head to toe without condition, almost to a fault. I think he could do no wrong in her eyes. But we all make mistakes, and my father made mistakes. He wasn’t perfect, but she loved him and defended him no matter what. I think she deserves to get recognized for what she did and put up with for him.
Having a spouse in entertainment is incredibly difficult because of the hours they work. Then, their heads are still on the production when they’re not on the set. My father, a brilliant man in ways, was consumed by his work. She had to learn to live with that.
She deserves tremendous respect because I’m not sure my father could have done what he did without her by his side. He wouldn’t have had the patience, and he wouldn’t have been able to last as long as he did without her voice in his ear saying, “This is not the battle you want to fight. Wait for the next one. Try to understand it and see it from this point of view.” She was a little bit of the voice of reason. I think that kept him from burning out.
Back home, she was probably first in command.
RK: Are there any key battles your mother fought that impacted Trek?
RR: When my father passed away, the creative control died with him, and everyone tried to inch in. It doesn’t get shifted right over to the family, but we still had certain rights with it. I know when the studios would falter on some of those things, she would make sure no one got away with anything.
She would make sure anytime they proposed his name in a smaller print, not at the beginning of the film or anything similar, that she would say, “Not only is it going to be at the front, but it’s going to get a separate title card. It’s going to say created by Gene Roddenberry.”
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It was not always about money, but it was always about making sure his name was there. I don’t care what version of Star Trek; she always made sure his name was in front, in big letters where it should be—created by Gene Roddenberry.
RK: Do you believe ensuring everyone gets due recognition is an integral part of the Trek franchise?
RR: One of the things I’ve never loved about the industry is so many people don’t get recognition. Your name at the end of the credits at the end of a movie, sure, that’s recognition, and sure, not everyone can have a title card because movies can have tens of thousands of people, but everyone deserves recognition.
In society, I don’t think we give writers enough credit, the people who birth these stories. However, so many people don’t get credit. Many people give long hours and don’t see their families and put their heart and soul into these things who don’t get recognized yet should. I think it’s hard to get everyone, but everyone certainly deserves it.
RK: Did your mother have a favorite episode of Trek, and why?
RR: I know she loved all of her episodes. She was always particularly fond of the one with Worf’s son, Alexander. She loved working with him.
She also loved the marriage one where she had to be naked. It’s not because she wanted to be naked, but she loved the power, the statement that it’s a different culture, and she will respect that culture, even though it’s a sci-fi show. Something was empowering about her being able to do that. That was a big thing for her character to do. Her character was all about clothes and flamboyancy. She loved that she got to do the exact opposite and go naked and, dare I say, elderly and show her all.
RK: Can you tell me about the history of recording archives of Majel’s voice as the computer?
RR: Everyone thought of this when Apple and Google were coming out with their voice assistants. They reached out to my mother many years ago and asked if she would be willing to do this. Nothing ever came of it. Although, if I heard correctly, before Google’s voice assistant went public, its internal code name was “Majel.”
I thought it was such a great idea that before she passed, I told her, and she agreed. We got a recording studio in the house, and we recorded her voice and tried to get everything phonetically. High Fidelity recorded the WAV files.
We approached Google once and tried to get them to incorporate it into–what I would love is that to be her voice every time we hear an automation machine. At least, I think her voice should go down in posterity as the computer voice.
When we talked to Google, we were missing a few elements of the phonetic sound of her voice. At the time, they suggested a voice artist come in and finish the sounds, and I felt that wasn’t authentic enough. Now, I’ve been told there is the technology that can take a sample of all this and then fill in those gaps pretty organically or make it sound organic. I think it’ll happen one day.
RK: Is there something you can tell us that would surprise Trekkies about your mother and father?
RR: Our first cat, a Siamese, was named Spot. Not sure if Data’s Spot came from it, but that’s an interesting Easter egg.
RK: What’s inspired the Roddenberry Foundation?
RR: Her and my father. The foundation didn’t exist when they were here, but my parents’ appreciation of fandom and also my father’s vision of the future with the IDIC philosophy is what made the foundation happen. I love the philosophy in Star Trek with all of my heart. I know it is the right way to go. The foundation is one small way I can continue that.
RK: Do you think your mother would have wanted to appear on Star Trek: Lower Decks?
RR: Absolutely, she had a great sense of humor. She could put a sailor to shame. It was usually about sex, and every time I would go, “Oh my God, I can’t believe she’s repeating this.” She had an incredibly dirty mind, and those who spent any time with her learned that right away.
Look at the Roddenberry Foundation and San Diego Comic-Con Museum websites for more information! Here is a preview of the “Gene Roddenberry Sci-Fi Visionary” exhibit:
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