Chronicles of a Geek

The “Star Trek” world suffered a big loss with the passing of writer Dorothy (D. C.) Fontana this week. She started in Hollywood as Gene Roddenberry’s secretary (administrative assistant in today’s lingo) and ended up becoming a “Star Trek” script writer and “script doctor” for the three seasons of the original series. She helped shape the background of the Romulans and Vulcans, including Spock’s family, providing us much of what we know and love about “Star Trek” today.

 

With “Star Trek” being my #1 favorite in the sci-fi genre, I just had to meet D. C. Fontana! I read her early “Star Trek” novel as well as her more recent, first-ever comic book series published by IDW in 2008. Thanks to some internet browsing, I learned that she taught screenwriting at the American Film Institute (AFI) in Hollywood. So in 2011, I decided to send her an email courtesy of AFI to see about the possibility of meeting her during one of my trips to Los Angeles where I frequently visited my son, Xander, while he was in art school. I was thrilled to receive an email response!

 

Dear Mr. Smith,
I am teaching at the AFI on Friday, November 18 and Monday, November 21.  I teach in the mornings.  On Friday, it’s from 9:00 AM to 12:40PM and on Monday from 9:00 AM to approximately 11:30.  I could accommodate you by signing some material on either of those days, but I’d like to know in advance what date you prefer.  Then I can instruct you about parking, etc.  Thank you.
Sincerely, D.C. Fontana

 

I followed up with her that Friday, November 18, worked best for me and she sent a follow-up email, even offering her cell phone number in case I had any difficulties with her directions.

 

Dear Bret,
The AFI campus is about one block north of Franklin Avenue on Western. Once you pass Franklin, get over to the left hand lane, as you will take the next left hand turn off Western into the AFI driveway. There is a big sign to the right of the driveway, and you should be able to see it in plenty of time. Go up the driveway past the first flat level (big white two story building on your left) to the next flat parking level (big white two story building on your right). You can park anywhere there that is not coned off or specifically marked as being for a staff member. If there is nothing available there, you can pull up and around to the back of the building where there is more parking. I should be waiting out in front near the building to meet you.
Best, Dorothy Fontana

 

DSC05588That Friday morning, I followed Ms. Fontana’s instructions and parked in front of the Louis B. Mayer Library on the AFI campus. I got a little nervous waiting for her for about thirty minutes. But then a car arrived and a red-head got out of the car! She said “Are you Bret? What can I do for you?” She took me to her classroom in the Mayer Library. We chatted on a bench outside of the room while waiting for a person to come and unlock her classroom. We had such a memorable conversation. Highlights:

 

  • I learned she has been teaching at AFI since 1989 and currently teaches two classes, television screen-writing and movie screen-writing. She does a lot of reading of student works.
  • C. Fontana was a trailblazer for women in Hollywood by writing memorable scripts for classic “Star Trek” (“Journey to Babel”, “Tomorrow Is Yesterday”, “Friday’s Child”, “This Side of Paradise” and “The Enterprise Incident”). She has also written for “Star Trek-The Animated Series”, “Star Trek-The Next Generation”, “Star Trek-Deep Space Nine”, “Babylon 5”, “Earth: Final Conflict” and “The Six Million Dollar Man” to name a few.
  • Teaching has been especially rewarding for her because of teaching students from all over the world and seeing some of them come back to the U.S. to show their films at AFI Fest.
  • I talked to her about her IDW comic book series. She said IDW contacted her and she worked with a writing partner to lay out the five issues.
  • Regarding “Star Trek”, Ms. Fontana said it was a really fun show to work on but “Star Trek-The Next Generation”…“not so much”. She left that show after thirteen episodes but noted that she keeps in touch with a lot of “Star Trek” folks.
  • I told her how much I enjoyed seeing her and David Gerrold recently on “The Big Bang Theory” – “The Russian Rocket Reaction”. Ms. Fontana said she and David, writer of the original “Star Trek” classic “The Trouble with Tribbles”, try to go once a season for a live taping of the hit comedy show. They are both friends with creators Chuck Lorre and Bill Prady and got invited to be on an episode. She said it was a long 10-hour day with rehearsals, dinner, and waiting till the end of the episode’s live taping for their scene of the party at Wil Wheaton’s home!

 

Inside her classroom Ms. Fontana was happy to sign my books and comics: IDW comics Star Trek Year Four: Enterprise Experiment #1-5, The Questor Tapes, Star Trek #44: Vulcan’s Glory, Boarding the Enterprise and Star Trek 365. Pocket Books recently re-printed her Star Trek #44 novel and she said it sold really well. Lastly, I produced the “Star Trek” script called “The Stars of Sargasso” that I had purchased at a 1983 Star Trek convention in Phoenix. Surprisingly, she told me that was not hers! In closing, Ms. Fontana asked me about Xander’s art school and she highly recommended Cinefex magazine for explaining the process of Special FX. Finally, she wished Xander good luck in art school and said, “the next time you’re in Los Angeles, “let’s go to lunch”!

 

I felt really lucky that Ms. Fontana was willing to meet with me, a complete stranger. I’d like to think that there is a special connection shared by all “Star Trek” fans. I followed-up with a thank-you email and received an interesting response.

 

Dear Bret,

Thank you for taking the time out of your vacation visit with your son to chat with me. Hey – spread the word about that script NOT being mine. David Gerrold is going to do so via his resources. Hope you have a good time here in California and a safe trip back home.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Best, Dorothy Fontana

 

So I did some google.com internet research and was surprised to see there were supposedly three un-produced scripts still being sold on eBay: “He Walked Among Us” by Gene L. Coon and Norman Spinrad, “Tomorrow the Universe” by Paul Schneider and “The Stars of Sargasso” by Dorothy Fontana. I sent Ms. Fontana a follow-up email with the details and she responded.

 

Dear Bret,

All three of the scripts you mentioned are probably bogus. Gene L. Coon never wrote a STAR TREK script after he left the show, except for one or two for third season under his pseudonym. Certainly, he and Norman Spinrad never worked together. By that time, Norman was off in Paris pursuing a publishing/novelist career there. Nor, to the best of my knowledge was Paul Schneider ever engaged for the show after the work he did on the original series. You can spread the word if you like. David Gerrold is going to do the same thing. Thank you for the information.

Best, Dorothy Fontana

 

Soon after I did see a facebook posting from David Gerrold on the fake D. C. Fontana script.

 

“All right, all Star Trek fans – PLEASE SHARE THIS INFORMATION. There is an “unproduced Star Trek script” being sold on eBay and at conventions, ostensibly written by DC Fontana. It is a phony. It is called “Stars of Sargasso” and is about Joanna McCoy, and is credited to DC Fontana, intended for TOS Season 4. DC Fontana says it is fake. She never wrote any such script.”

 

DSC04946It was a few years later in 2015 that I flew back to Hollywood to meet Xander at the beautiful Grauman’s Egyptian Theater on Hollywood Boulevard. We thoroughly enjoyed seeing the theatrical version of Ridley Scott’s classic film “Alien” from 1979 followed by James Cameron’s “Aliens from 1986. After the showing of the first film, there was a “behind-the-scenes” slide show and Q&A with Visual Effects Supervisors and Academy Award winners Dennis and Robert Skotak who had worked on “Aliens”, “The Abyss”, “Terminator 2” and “Titanic”. Xander and I decided to catch them between the movies to get their autographs. And I was stunned to see D. C. Fontana in the lobby! That’s when I learned that Dennis was her husband! It’s a small universe, as they say, and it was a huge pleasure and honor to spend more time with Ms. Fontana. Rest in peace, D. C. Fontana, and thank you for all of your incredible contributions to the Star Trek universe.DSC00594

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