Majel Roddenberry: The ultimate Trekkie

Actress, voiceover, producer – Majel Roddenberry has been on board the Starship Enterprise since it took off and married its creator along the way. Andy McSmith reports on her death

Majel Barrett Roddenberry, who was known for decades as the "First Lady of Star Trek", has died. Or perhaps, she decided to boldly go where her screenwriter husband had gone before.

Her passing means that there is now almost no link between the massively lucrative Star Trek franchise and the very first voyage of the Starship Enterprise, which took place more than 40 years ago.

The actress died at her home in Bel Air from leukaemia, aged 76, a family spokesman said.

Then Majel Hudec, she was 32 years old with a resume boasting bit parts in a number of popular TV drama series, such as The Untouchables and The Lucy Show, when Gene Roddenberry cast her in the role of Number One for a pilot that he had written about a voyage of exploration in outer space.

Roddenberry loved that long-forgotten TV series Wagon Train, about a group of migrants making their way across the West to an unknown destination which they never reach, having one adventure a week along their endless way.

As Westerns were losing their popularity and science fiction was on the rise, Roddenberry had the idea of keeping the Wagon Train format but transferring it from the western frontier to space, "the final frontier".

Since the series was set in an imagined distant future, Roddenberry thought that instead of the all-male, all-American casts of Western series, he would throw in a racial and sexual mix, with a woman in a senior position sharing the men's adventures.

Unfortunately, the pilot, shown in 1964, bombed. Roddenberry had to beg MGM to let him try again. They agreed, but as a concession to popular taste, he had to drop the female second in command, replacing her with a pointy-eared half-human, half-alien called Spock.

But he had taken a fancy to the actress whose part had disappeared, and recast her in a lowlier role as Dr McCoy's assistant, the one with the beehive hairdo called Nurse Chapel, who was hopelessly drawn to the unresponsive Spock. Majel Hudec played her when the series went out on American TV in 1966, and reprised the role in two Star Trek films.

From the start, she also supplied the coolly detached voice of the Starship Enterprise's computer and various other Federation Starship computers in all the television series and in six of the 10 Star Trek movies.

She also appeared as Lwaxana Troi, the randy meddling mother of Deanna Troi with a crush on Captain Picard, in Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

She and Roddenberry married in Japan in 1969 and she stuck by him during the difficult years when it seemed that his creation was then doomed to fail. The television series started to go out in September 1966 and ran for three seasons before being cancelled because of low ratings.

Roddenberry offered to demote himself to a peripheral role if it would mean a fourth series, but that was not accepted, so he went off to work on other projects.

Success came unexpectedly after Star Trek had been syndicated to other television channels, including the BBC, and it suddenly acquired pop-culture status in the early 1970s. Various catchphrases from the show, including "Beam me up, Scotty", and "It's life, Jim, but not as we know it" passed into everyday speech. Its introduction, telling viewers that the Starship Enterprise was on a five-year mission "to boldly go where no man has gone before" became the best known split infinitive in the English language.

Devotees also started holding Star Trek conventions; Majel Roddenberry attended her first convention in 1972, and continued to be a regular attender for decades.

Later, her husband faced the accusation that he had stolen ideas from other writers without acknowledging them. According to a memoir by his long-time close associate Susan Sackett, he was hooked on cocaine, impotent, and incapable of finishing creative projects.

If he was occasionally impotent, it does not appear to have stopped him from having an affair with Nichelle Nichols, who played Lieutenant Uhura in the first Star Trek series.

He lost control of the Star Trek franchise to Paramount, although they continued to listen to his advice. In 1989, he went into physical and mental decline, and died in 1991.

After his death, his widow discovered an unused script he had drafted in the 1970s and launched herself on a new career as an executive producer of two series, Andromeda and Earth: Final Conflict.

Leonard Nimoy, who played the original Dr Spock, paid tribute to Star Trek's 'first lady' yesterday, saying: "She worked hard, she was straightforward, she was dedicated to Star Trek and Gene, and a lot of people thought very highly of her."

As recently as 10 December, it was announced that she was to be heard yet again as the voice of a Starship computer in yet another Star Trek movie, directed by J J Abrams.

It was being reported yesterday that Majel Roddenberry had already completed the voiceover work, so that eerily, the voice that Star Trek fans have been hearing for 40 years will ring out again in cinemas around the world next year, its owner having already departed on the final voyage.

Arts and Entertainment
Ellie Levenson’s The Election book demystifies politics for children
bookNew children's book primes the next generation for politics
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams' “Happy” was the most searched-for song lyric of 2014
musicThe power of song never greater, according to our internet searches
Arts and Entertainment
Roffey says: 'All of us carry shame and taboo around about our sexuality. But I was determined not to let shame stop me writing my memoir.'
books
Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy

tv Review: Miranda Hart and co deliver the festive goods

Arts and Entertainment
The cast of Downton Abbey in the 2014 Christmas special

tvReview: Older generation get hot under the collar this Christmas

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Transformers: Age of Extinction was the most searched for movie in the UK in 2014

film
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Ronson has had two UK number two singles but never a number one...yet

music
Arts and Entertainment
Clara Amfo will take over from Jameela Jamil on 25 January

radio
Arts and Entertainment
This is New England: Ken Cheeseman, Ann Dowd, Frances McDormand and Richard Jenkins in Olive Kitteridge

The most magnificently miserable show on television in a long timeTV
Arts and Entertainment
Andrea Faustini looks triumphant after hearing he has not made it through to Sunday's live final

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

    The West needs more than a White Knight

    Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
    Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

    'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

    Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
    The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

    The stories that defined 2014

    From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
    Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

    Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

    Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
    Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

    Finally, a diet that works

    Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
    Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

    Say it with... lyrics

    The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
    Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

    The joys of 'thinkering'

    Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
    Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

    Monique Roffey interview

    The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
    Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

    Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

    Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
    DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

    Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

    It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
    Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

    How we met

    Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

    Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

    Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
    Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

    Who does your club need in the transfer window?

    Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
    The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015