The Importance of Memos
For the past five years, we have had the happy privilege of being able to study the archives of both writer/director Nicholas Meyer at the University of Iowa and those of Star Trek creator and visionary Gene Roddenberry at UCLA. Our research is inspired by what we consider an axiom of Mr. Meyer that “art thrives on limitations.” Limitations, be they of budget, time, censorship, technology, or perhaps self, can foster creativity in artists and filmmakers. There is likely no better example of this than Star Trek, which was produced during the 1960s on both shoestring budgets and hampered timeframes.
Preproduction: The Script Part 2
Gene Coon’s experiences as a United States Marine during World War II shaped the way he thought about war and human interaction, which had simpatico with the similar experiences of fellow military heroes Roddenberry, Justman, and Walter “Matt” Jefferies (for whom this column is named). Coon's experiences during war are most represented by his script for “Errand of Mercy.” Along with Roddenberry and D.C. Fontana, it is Coon whose voice and ideologies we hear most frequently during the first and second season in both many of his own scripts, and those he helped guide and reshape. One of those scripts is “Space Seed.”
To call associate producer Robert Justman Trek’s money man may be accurate in that he was primarily responsible for keeping the show on budget, but he offered so many creative contributions to Star Trek (not the least of which was the suggestion of Patrick Stewart for the role of Captain Jean-Luc Picard) that such a description does not fully provide a picture of his essential role. He, too, would offer both creative and practical suggestions that helped move Wilber’s initial “Space Seed” outline to a more feasible production.
On September 2, 1966, Gene Coon responds to Wilber’s outline with a 2-page memo. He rightly praises the outline for its creativity and for being one of the best the Star Trek offices had yet received, however there are some problems that Coon feels Wilber needs to fix as he begins to write the actual script. Some of the more interesting changes include:
1) Removing the game of chess because firstly Spock doesn’t cheat (see our first article) and, secondly, Coon felt there were too many scripts featuring the chess game motif
2) The Marla McGivers character was a communication officer originally, and should not be because Uhura has that role. Marla should have some other function.
3) Wilber’s outline specifies the date that everything is occurring as 500 years in the future. Coon remarks that they do not want to specify when the adventures of Captain Kirk are occurring, although obviously, later, we do learn of the 23rd century setting
4) Spock’s many peculiar behaviors in the outline, from cheating to having special mental powers, must be removed
A more concerned Bob Justman writes a memo on September 6, 1966, to Coon, and cc’d to Roddenberry, Jefferies, and Story Consultant Steven Carabatsos (“Space Seed” would be his last episode as Story Consultant, interestingly). He laments the costs of producing the episode, and also offers some important reminders about the spirit of what Star Trek is about. He writes: “The treatment itself, as presently written, is incredible expensive and difficult. However, the story is well worth saving… There is more financial retribution inherent in this story treatment than in the original treatment on “THE CITY ON THE EDGE OF FOREVER.”"
Humorously and ironically, and true to Roddenberry’s many stories of his strained relationship with the network, at almost exactly the same time as Justman wants more "Charlie X" type people stories, an NBC Manager of Film Programming writes a memo basically saying no more “Charlie X” type episodes because they are too ponderous and not good for ratings.
However, the most important memo is arguably written and sent during the days of September 7th and 9th by Gene Coon to Carey Wilber, where he takes all of his ideas, and those of others like Justman, and writes a missive about changes that need to occur, including the removal of the expensive keelhauling sequence. But what makes this memo so important to the history of Star Trek is that Coon details and reshapes the Erickson character (the original name for Khan, spelled as Erickson in this memo) from a petty thug into someone much more important and much more of a challenge for our heroes. It is in this memo that Khan is born, if not in name, in spirit.
Coon writes, “Most important, I think, is for us to reach an understanding on the character of Erickson. I want to rather do more with him than you have indicated in the story outline.” Coon has recognized that by being a man out of time, Erickson has the potential to be Kirk’s most important adversary. He wants Erickson to be “in fact very similar to James Kirk, our captain, except that our captain has made an adjustment to this world and this culture.” Then, Coon offers a challenge: “In other words, Carey, build us a giant of a man.”
Next article, we will see it takes a Great Bird and a great actor to build that giant. To check out the first part of this article click HERE.
Maria Jose and John Tenuto are both sociology professors at the College of Lake County in Grayslake, Illinois, specializing in popular culture and subculture studies. The Tenutos have conducted extensive research on the history of Star Trek, and have presented at venues such as Creation Conventions and the St. Louis Science Center. They have written for the official Star Trek Magazine and their extensive collection of Star Trek items has been featured in SFX Magazine. Their theory about the “20-Year Nostalgia Cycle” and research on Star Trek fans has been featured on WGN News, BBC Radio, and in the documentary The Force Among Us. They recently researched all known paperwork from the making of the classic episode "Space Seed" and are excited to be sharing some previously unreported information about Khan's first adventure with fellow fans. Contact the Tenutos at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org