Remembering Majel Barrett-Roddenberry
Majel Leigh Hudec – better known as Majel Barrett-Roddenberry, the First Lady of Star Trek – was born on this day in 1932, in Columbus, Ohio. Though she succumbed to cancer in December, 2008, at the age of 76, Barrett-Roddenberry lives on in the hearts of Trek fans worldwide and can still be seen (as Number One, Nurse Christine Chapel or Lwaxana Troi) and/or heard (as the voice of ship computers) in episodes of TOS, TAS, TNG, DS9, Voyager, Enterprise (yes, she did a couple of episodes), as well as an array of Trek videogames and most of the Trek feature films, including Star Trek (2009).
Longtime fans know Barrett-Roddenberry’s story, but newcomers may not. Number One appeared in the original TOS pilot, but network powers-that-be nixed the idea of a female second-in-command. Barrett-Roddenberry ultimately settled for the recurring role of Chapel, a nurse with genuine (and unrequited) feelings for Spock. The role never amounted to much, sadly, and her appearances petered out, though she did reprise the part, as Dr. Chapel, in The Motion Picture and The Voyage Home. For the entire run of TOS, though not every episode, she provided the voice of the Enterprise computer. Even better, she won the heart of Gene Roddenberry, whom she married on August 6, 1969, after having met him several years earlier, in 1963, when she acted on his show at the time, The Lieutenant. The couple had one son, Eugene “Rod” Roddenberry, and remained married until Gene’s death in 1991.
Barrett-Roddenberry actually made a far bigger mark later on in the Trek saga. She took the role of TNG’s Lwaxana Troi, the opinionated, feisty, haughty, eccentric and larger-than-life mother of Deanna Troi, and made it her own. More often than not, Barrett-Roddenberry mined the character, a Betazoid ambassador, for laughs, but she also played the character’s occasional dramatic scenes to tremendous effect. She appeared a couple of times as Lwaxana on DS9 as well, and even co-wrote the story for a Lwaxana-centric hour of the show, “The Muse.”
Following her husband’s death, Barrett-Roddenberry set about keeping both the Roddenberry and Star Trek flags flying high. She continued to appear in Trek projects. She was a stalwart on the convention circuit. She ran Lincoln Enterprises, which sold Star Trek memorabilia. And she executive produced two television shows based on ideas Roddenberry left behind. Those series were Earth: Final Conflict and Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda, both of which ran for five seasons in first-run syndication. Barrett-Roddenberry took on a supporting role in Earth: Final Conflict, a character named Dr. Belman.
By her mid-70s, Barrett-Roddenberry had elected to withdraw from acting and producing. Intent to just “relax,” as she put it to Star Trek Magazine in a 2008 interview, she spent time with family and friends and continued to attend a convention or two a year. Little more than 10 days before her death, though, Barrett-Roddenberry settled behind a microphone one last time to provide the Enterprise computer voice for the Star Trek feature directed by J.J. Abrams. Though he already had Leonard Nimoy on hand to literally pass the torch to a fresh group of actors and filmmakers, Abrams understood the importance of Barrett-Roddenberry’s involvement and her very public blessing of the project. Star Trek (2009) is dedicated to her and to Gene, and right after she lost a short, private battle against leukemia, Abrams released the following statement: “I will never forget meeting Majel on the set,” he said. “She was elegant, kind, and had a wonderful sense of humor. She was also incredibly supportive, and spoke beautifully of her memories of Star Trek and her late husband. She will be immortalized by her life’s work, including, I feel lucky and honored to say, her performance in the latest chapter in the Star Trek saga. We will all miss her.”
And we all still do.