It’s been said — often, and especially in Star Trek circles — that before there was the Internet there was Dan Madsen. Madsen was a young man and a young fan who parlayed his passion for Star Trek into a life as an entrepreneur who created and ran the Official Star Trek Communicator magazine and The Official Star Trek Fan Club. This little person did big things, inspiring countless people — many like himself — just as he was inspired by seeing the character Alexander in the TOS episode “Plato’s Stepchildren.” In 2010 StarTrek.com caught up with Madsen for an interview in which he recounted his association with the franchise, compared Star Trek and Star Wars fans, and updated us on his (then) current ventures.
StarTrek.com: To many Star Trek aficionados you’re a key figure in fandom. What do the veteran fans and people from the shows/movies say to you these days when you talk to them or encounter them at conventions?
Dan Madsen: When I see the original Trek cast or The Next Generation cast they’re very warm and welcoming. Some of them have become friends. They remember the long history I’ve had with Trek and how, before the Internet, there was just the Official Star Trek Communicator supplying official news. Seeing them at the cons is like seeing an old friend or someone you worked with years ago. As for the fans, they come up and tell me all the time how much they enjoyed The Official Fan Club and Communicator and how they have their copies still kept in mint condition. It’s a real honor to hear how the fans loved what we did for so many years. I started the fan club when I was 18 and stopped when I was 44. That's a long time. I was around doing the fan club/magazine/merchandising from The Motion Picture up to the end of Enterprise. I just missed out on the J.J. Abrams film, although I did interview Leonard Nimoy for it.
For those who are new to Trek, how would you explain your role in helping support/promote the franchise?
DM: Well, I began and ran the first-ever Official Star Trek Fan Club. From that I launched the Official Star Trek Fan Club Magazine which turned into the Star Trek Communicator. I came right around the time of the first movie and kept fans abreast of all the latest news, interviews, photos, etc. from all the Trek films and, then, with TNG and other Trek series. So I guess you might say I was one of those who kept the flame burning, sparking fan interest and sharing all the news and photos fit to print from about 1979 on. Of course, I was a fan myself long before that, but just a fan and not instrumental in keeping the Trek flame burning bright. Depending on what Trek project was happening, I did regular updates with Gene Roddenberry, William Shatner, Harve Bennett and Rick Berman, among others, to keep fans up to date with the latest news. I also created the Official Star Trek Fan Club catalog, where we sold every licensed Trek product and offered exclusive items only through the fan club. We created hundred of Trek collectibles during my time running the fan club.
What are some Trek experiences that continue to stand out in your mind?
DM: Well, the best moments are when fans would come up to me or write me a letter and say they read my story and it inspired them to start their own business. But also getting to know the people who made Trek, my heroes growing up, was truly amazing. I could definitely count Gene Roddenberry as a friend and he was an inspiration. He’d always give me a great big bear hug when I’d see him. DeForest and Carolyn Kelley were very special people. De would call from time to time just to chat and I have countless letters from him that I cherish. I interviewed Leonard Nimoy last year again for the new film and it was so nice catching up. It was like talking to an old friend. Bill Shatner has always been good to me. One of my favorite memories was being on the set of The Voyage Home and watching the scene when the entire cast is crawling out on the Bird of Prey after it crashes in the water in San Francisco. Everyone was there and in the water tank, with the wind blowing, and getting to see each and every one of them was very special.
What do you make of fandom today? And the effect of the Internet?
DM: Fandom is, in some ways, different today than when I ran the fan club. The Internet allows fans to find out information in a heartbeat, so the thrill of waiting for the magazine and hearing the latest news is gone. I don't see fandom quite as passionate as it once was, but it’s still strong and, I’m hopeful, growing with the success of the new film. The Internet certainly allows fans the opportunity to communicate with each other better and stay on top of the latest Trek happenings. The only thing that bothers me is I also see a lot of negativity on the Internet. So it is both good and bad.
In addition to Trek, you spent time in the Star Wars universe. What are the major differences between Star Trek and Star Wars fans, and can they get along?
DM: Well, I was and still am a fan of Star Trek and Star Wars, so I think there are definitely fans of both. Star Wars fans are generally younger, but there seems to be the same breakdown of male to female ratio. Trek fans are more into the technology, while Star Wars fans like the lightsabers, Jedi and space battles. Both franchises have their serious sides -- philosophy, message -- and fun side with aliens, space battles and great characters. It’s always fun to do a Trek vs. Star Wars article or segment because it gets the fans of each excited, but, in my experience, I definitely see Trek and Star Wars fans getting along. They just don't always publicly admit they like the other show while in private they really do. I personally love them both. They’re different and unique in their own way and the universe is big enough for both to exist and for us to love them both. They have, in their own ways, inspired each other and now there’s a healthy respect between the two camps. J.J. Abrams is a big Star Wars fan and George Lucas talks about Trek's influence on him in Rod Roddenberry's Trek Nation documentary.
The story goes that you got the only picture taken of Roddenberry and George Lucas together. Is that true? Even if it's not, there's got to be a good story there.
DM: The photo was taken at the first Star Wars 10th anniversary convention in L.A. that was put on by Creation. At the end, George came out to speak to the crowd and was surprised by Gene, who came out to congratulate him on the 10th anniversary. There were on stage for a short time and it was a historic moment. There were hundreds of people in the audience, so I’m sure someone snapped a photo of them. Most never saw the light of publication, though. It was pretty exciting to see my two heroes on stage together, something I thought I’d never see. I'm not sure if they ever saw each other again. It was quite a surprise when Gene walked out on stage and George, I think, was at a loss for words. He wasn't expecting that. It was one of those very cool moments.
What are you working on these days?
DM: I have a screenplay I’ve been developing with a writing team in Oregon. It’s a romantic comedy about a "little person," like myself. But the project I’m totally entrenched in is a new company called Her Universe, founded by actress Ashley Eckstein, the voice of Ahsoka Tano on Star Wars: The Clone Wars, and The Araca Group, a major production and merchandising company with many credits under their belt, like the Broadway musical Wicked. Her Universe is the first company to develop apparel and products just for female fans. Star Wars is our first license, but we’ll be adding more sci-fi/fantasy licenses and, hopefully, Trek is not too far down the line. For years, female fans have been overlooked and certainly from a merchandising standpoint, it has mostly been a male-dominated world. This is true for Star Wars and Trek. Her Universe is addressing this need and looking to be the voice for female sci-fi fans everywhere. It’s not just about merchandise; it is also about starting a fangirl revolution to recognize female fans and their interests and contributions to the worlds of science fiction and fantasy. There are a lot of exciting things coming.
This interview, which originally ran in 2010, has been edited and condensed.