On my very first day at Starlog in October 1982, I had to make some daunting phone calls. Editor Howard Zimmerman delegated to me, the magazine’s new Managing Editor, the task of dealing with Starlog’s formidable trio of California-based columnists.
All three writers couldn’t have been friendlier to a newbie. As part of my job, I phoned at least twice monthly, reporting our ever-shifting deadlines and (eventually) artistic choices re: layouts, discussing upcoming column topics as well as sending them stuff (checks, magazines, forwarded fan mail). I grew especially close to Gerrold, an SF novelist who even contributed to the “Get McDonnell a Home Phone” fund spearheaded by my colleagues Zimmerman and Cinemagic Editor David Hutchison (I didn’t have a phone by choice; they sprang for one of those trouble-making infernal devices I loathe nonetheless).
I particularly remember Gerrold’s response to a Starlog #39 interview with Fred Freiberger (who took over as TOS producer in its third year). Freiberger remains a polarizing figure among Trek fans and TV pros with a controversial reputation as a “series killer” because he was hired to come in and produce (what turned out to be) the last seasons of several beloved shows. Freiberger’s thoughts on “The Cloud Minders” (an episode filmed that final year, teleplay by Margaret Armen, story by Gerrold and Oliver Crawford), triggered Gerrold’s ire. I wasn’t on staff at that point, just a reader mesmerized by an unusually public tiff: Starlog columnist vs. interviewee and two Starlog writers, all printed within the same magazine pages.
In 1983, we published as column installments several chapters of A Matter for Men, the first volume in David Gerrold’s epic SF saga The War Against the Chtorr. That’s where war and artistic choices clashed. Zimmerman consulted with Starlog’s new Art Director W.R. Mohalley, who had spent his entire previous career at Warren Publications overseeing the horror-fantasies of Creepy, Eerie and Vampirella magazines. Zimmerman wanted an acclaimed comics artist (one that Starlog could afford) to illustrate these novel excerpts (published in issues #72-#75, samplings intended to prompt readers to buy Gerrold’s book). Mohalley suggested Alex Nino (a Warren veteran who had also drawn some great stories for DC Comics’ horror anthologies). Nino provided nifty black & white illoes and (for the #75 finale) an amazing, full-page, all-color rendition of a grotesque alien attacking. Wow! It blew my mind (and Zimmerman and Mohalley loved it, too), but, I recall, Gerrold was cool to that colorful image. It didn’t quite match the nightmarish monster he had always imagined in his head. But probably nothing could.
Now, I didn’t actually meet David Gerrold in person until April 1984 and the first Starlog Festival (engineered by Creation Entertainment). Zimmerman, Hutchison, Gerrold, Publisher Kerry O’Quinn and I attended that Chicago convention as the magazine’s representatives. And Gerrold in person was just everything you would expect from reading his column or knowing his reputation: funny, articulate, charming, outspoken, generous, knowledgeable, witty, candid, sweet and, yes, irascible. A young curmudgeon.
Occasionally, I irritated David Gerrold. In 1984 (I think), he turned in a column perfect for illustration by a famous cartoonist (whose work I loved and home phone number I happened to have). Let’s call him “Abbott.” With Zimmerman’s OK, I rang Abbott — whom I had never previously (nor subsequently) met, although I’ve encountered 100+ artists — and explained the assignment. He was game, even for the money (our top fee but less than his usual quote, payable on publication per company policy) and short deadline (two weeks), so I sent him the column text. I gleefully told Gerrold that the prolific Abbott was on the draw. And we dutifully waited two weeks. The art never arrived.
Well, I really, really wanted Abbott art in Starlog. Once again, we substituted a different column and I called to explain another revoltin’ development to Gerrold, who, while far less sympathetic, acquiesed to one further deferment. Just one. Yes, you can snicker here; I’ll bet you’re ahead of me now! Those extra weeks went by—and nada. Nothing. No art. No callbacks. No explanation. Did Abbott get too busy elsewhere? Was he insulted by the fee or miffed by payment on publication? Did Abbott dislike the column text or not have any illustration ideas for it? Certainly, time couldn’t be a factor—I gave him eight weeks! To this day, three decades later, I don’t know what really happened.
I rang David Gerrold, who, while totally unsympathetic, told me to stop screwing around, get another artist and publish that column. So, we did.
But that wasn’t the last time I annoyed David Gerrold. In 1987 (I think), a famous comic book writer — whom I had never previously (nor subsequently) met, although I’ve encountered 100+ comics scribes— phoned me out of the blue. Let’s call him, natch, “Costello.” Gerrold was an old acquaintance, I was told, but Costello had misplaced his phone number. Now, Gerrold was a Story Editor of Star Trek: The Next Generation, helping develop the syndicated show. Costello wanted to get a series bible and pitch stories. Could I provide a number? Why, sure, famous comics guy!
Despite incidents like Abbott & Costello, we got along fine. And what a smart, sensitive guy. A few months after I took over as Starlog’s Editor in April 1985, Gerrold called me. To reduce his workload, his column had already gone to an every-other-month frequency, spelled by “Other Voices,” one-shot contributions by other genre writers (L. Sprague de Camp, Ben Bova, Lawrence Watt-Evans, etc.). But it was still too much, the Chtorr needed more attention. After eight years, Gerrold was ending his column. He had planned this move earlier, he explained, but delayed it when Zimmerman left and I became Editor. Why? Because, with regime change, Gerrold didn’t want readers to mistakenly conclude that a) he was fleeing as a “no-confidence” vote on me or b) I was responsible for killing his longtime column. That was smart! Naively, I never would have imagined either scenario. Decades later, naturally, I’m well aware that any editorial action can be readily misinterpreted; it’s both troubling and annoying.
In any event, David Gerrold wasn’t gone for long. He soon joined Gene Roddenberry and D.C. Fontana to prepare The Next Generation. Publisher O’Quinn suggested Gerrold revive his Starlog column and offer readers an insider’s view of that series’ creation. So, he did. Gerrold’s (renamed again) “Generations” column was fascinating but short-lived (Starlog #118-#123). The TV series — as has been chronicled elsewhere — was then in creative chaos. Gerrold departed the show, also ending his latest column incarnation. He wrote a novel, Blood and Fire, inspired by his unused Next Gen story material, and, decades later, also scripted and directed a short film variation on it for the Star Trek: New Voyages: Phase II project.
Sometime in the late 1990s, David Gerrold stopped by the Starlog offices in NYC. A single father, he brought along his adopted son Sean, whose alien attitude had inspired Gerrold’s semi-autobiographical, Hugo-winning novelette “The Martian Child.” Later, Gerrold expanded it into a novel. And in 2007, the tale became a movie, The Martian Child. John Cusack starred as an author based on Gerrold’s already altered-ego. Lemme tell you: It’s strangely surreal to watch a film featuring a protagonist who, albeit twice-removed from reality and with significant details changed, is based on someone you know.
It has been decades since David Gerrold introduced Tribbles to Star Trek (1967) and began his Starlog column (1977), which involved me beginning in 1982. I’ve followed his career ever since with admiration. Gerrold long ago went public with his life as a gay man and has fought fearlessly, tirelessly for human rights. He remains an advocate of infinite diversity in infinite combinations, gender equality and intellectual freedom, explaining his philosophy (often with snarky quips and stark remarks in social media postings) and crusading for all in which he believes.
He’s just as charming, outspoken, generous, candid, courageous, witty and irascible as he ever was, although maybe slightly crankier. An older curmudgeon now.
David McDonnell, "the maitre’d of the science fiction universe," has dished up coverage of pop culture for more than three decades. Beginning his professional career in 1975 with the weekly "Media Report" news column in The Comic Buyers’ Guide, he joined Jim Steranko’s Mediascene Prevue in 1980. After 31 months as Starlog’s Managing Editor (beginning in October 1982), he became that pioneering SF magazine’s longtime Editor (1985-2009). He also served as Editor of its sister publications Comics Scene, Fangoria and Fantasy Worlds. At the same time, he edited numerous licensed movie one-shots (Star Trek and James Bond films, Aliens, Willow, etc.) and three ongoing official magazine series devoted to Trek TV sagas (The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager). He apparently still holds this galaxy’s record for editing more magazine pieces about Star Trek in total than any other individual, human or alien.
Copyright 2015 David McDonnell