May 27, 2013
Blood and Fire
Over the past four-and-a-half decades, California science fiction writer David Gerrold has produced 42 novels, 11 of them nominated for major industry awards. But among Trekkers — they hate being called “Trekkies” — he is famous for another reason. In 1967, at age 19, Gerrold sold Paramount Pictures a lighthearted “Star Trek” script in which the Enterprise became a breeding farm for tiny, fecund balls of fur. “The Trouble With Tribbles,” as the episode was titled, consistently polls as the most popular episode in “Star Trek” history.
In fall 1986, when Paramount announced it was creating a new “Trek” series, “The Next Generation,” the now middle-aged Gerrold was brought on-board to help create it. Before Gerrold had done much more than move into his Los Angeles office, he traveled to Boston for the 20th anniversary convention of the original show. Following a speech to a large crowd of Trekkers, Gene Roddenberry, the creator of “Star Trek,” took a question about “The Next Generation” from a fan named Franklin Hummel, a Boston Public Library employee and director of a gay science fiction group called the Gaylaxians. Gerrold was in the crowd, taking notes.
“Franklin asked whether there would be a gay character on the new show. He made the point that [the original] ‘Star Trek’ had been a leader in bringing black and Asian characters to television, that this was the next step,” Gerrold told me in May. “Gene agreed. He said, ‘Sooner or later, we’ll have to address the issue. We should probably have a gay character.'”
Back in Los Angeles, Gerrold says, Roddenberry mentioned “the gay issue” in a meeting about the direction of the new series. Apparently some members of the staff were surprised. “Next Generation” producer “Robert Justman made a remark about ‘ensign tutti-frutti,'” says Gerrold. “But Gene very calmly explained that it was time.”
A few months later, in late 1986, Gerrold began work on “Blood and Fire,” his first — and, as things turned out, only — “Next Generation” script. In the story, Captain Jean-Luc Picard and his Enterprise D answer a call from a distressed medical research vessel. When the mission team beams over, it finds that the ship’s crew is infected with “Regulan blood worms,” an apparently incurable pathogen so deadly that Starfleet Command has ordered its officers to destroy any ship they contaminate.
Aside from its obvious reference to AIDS, the script also contained a casual nod to homosexuality. “How long have you been together?” Commander Will Riker asks a pair of male officers who accompany him to the blood-worm-stricken ship.
“Since the academy,” one replies.
“This was during one of the worst parts of the AIDS crisis,” Gerrold says. “Before protease inhibitors, before AZT. AIDS was not a treatable condition; it was a fatal disease. And the fear of it was widespread, so much so that blood donorship had reached critically low levels.
“On a more personal note, Michael Minor [art director for ‘Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan’] and Merritt Butrick [who played Kirk’s son in the ‘Star Trek’ movies] were also infected.”
In Gerrold’s script, curing the disease required a complete blood transfusion. To treat the infected, the worried Enterprise D crew was asked to donate blood. “I felt this plot point would raise the consciousness of 20 million ‘Star Trek’ fans overnight,” says Gerrold. “In fact, I was hoping that we could put a card at the end of the episode encouraging people to donate blood.”
Gerrold never got a chance to lobby for that card. After a series of arguments with Roddenberry’s underlings, Gerrold quit the show, and the episode was permanently shelved. Gerrold says, half-joking, that the script got caught up in “orifice politics.”
The breakup was bitter. Roddenberry, who had sent Gerrold a telegram congratulating him on “Blood and Fire” (“Everybody loves your script”), now began badmouthing his work at “Star Trek” conventions.
“A large part of the problem was that Gene’s health was failing,” Gerrold says. “He didn’t have the physical strength he needed — and he was experiencing mental lapses as well.”
Gerrold says that some of Roddenberry’s collaborators stepped in and began to make decisions about the show. Other writers, including Herb Wright, were fired. Roddenberry’s lawyer, Leonard Maizlish, even went so far as to write story memos and rewrite scripts. And Maizlish was hardly sensitive to the gay issue. “The last time I saw [Maizlish] I was helping Herb Wright pack up his office,” says Gerrold. “The lawyer came to make sure we weren’t stealing anything. To my face, he called me ‘an AIDS-infected cocksucker. A fucking faggot.'”
Some details of Gerrold’s story are disputed (though not the bit about Maizlish, who is now dead; David Alexander, Roddenberry’s authorized biographer, referred to the lawyer in his discussions with me as “Roddenberry’s dark presence”).
Many “Star Trek” insiders say Gerrold’s “Blood and Fire” was simply a bad script. “David has made a career out of this sort of claim,” says Ernie Over, a Wyoming journalist who worked as Roddenberry’s personal assistant. “He had an agenda, which was to get gay people onto ‘Star Trek.'”
“I knew Gerrold from 1972, and I’d read all his books up to that point. ‘Blood and Fire’ was not his best work,” says Richard Arnold, Roddenberry’s research consultant on “The Next Generation” and a columnist for the official “Star Trek” newsletter. “I was almost offended by the stereotypes. The scene I remember particularly was when the gay couple was having a sort of lover’s dispute. The one we could call the wife was expressing concern to the other about getting into dangerous situations. He was saying stuff like ‘You know how much I worry about you when you’re away.’ I mean, come on. This was absolutely ridiculous — for Starfleet officers or for gay men.”
But whatever the merits of the “Blood and Fire” script, Arnold, Over and other “Star Trek” insiders agree that Roddenberry’s subordinates have deliberately kept the official “Star Trek” canon free of any explicit mention of homosexuality since the creator made his comments to the Gaylaxians 15 years ago.
Decades after David Gerrold wrote a Star Trek script dealing with homosexuality that was shelved by the producers, a revamped version of the episode was filmed by the fan series Star Trek: New Voyages.
“I knew about the script and the story, and I approached David with an idea of using it in our series,” said New Voyages executive producer James Cawley. “A few of the original elements were kept intact but changed to make it relevant to 2001 as opposed to 1987.” The gay characters in the revised script will be Captain Kirk’s nephew Peter, seen as a child in “Operation: Annihilate”, and his lover, Lieutenant Alex Freeman.
“Producers did not want to address homosexuality in Star Trek even though the original series talked about race and war and drugs and hippie culture,” noted Cawley. “We have dared to [do] something that the franchise holders would never do. We are including an openly gay couple in the Enterprise, showing the world that…the prejudice and the bias will be gone [in the future].”
The actor playing Peter, Bobby Rice, has already been involved in another fan production, Star Trek: Hidden Frontier, which is set in the Next Generation era and has also included gay characters. Cawley saw his performance and sought him out to appear in New Frontier. “It’s pretty wild. I never thought I’d be a Kirk,” said Rice. “I feel like what we are doing is fantastic and groundbreaking … homosexuality should be generally accepted in the future. Star Trek has always been about tackling these kinds of issues.”
Gerrold said that he was delighted with the longer screen time than a 44-minute television episode and the fact that he can portray events he could not have scripted in 1987. “At one point they are talking about getting married, and at one point they actually kiss on-screen. But we are not going any place that’s thematically out of place in Star Trek,” he said. “I’m enormously proud of how far we have come in such a short time and that I get to live long enough to see this episode be shot.”