Most people know the famous screenwriter and producer Gene Roddenberry as the creator of the original Star Trek television series. The franchise revolutionized cinematic science fiction, sparked the trend of highly elaborated space scenarios, and spawned an array of pop-cultural trends.
Although he was interested in books and cinema since his early childhood, screenwriting wasn’t Roddenberry’s original occupation. He majored in police science at the Los Angeles City College, and during his studies, he met Eileen-Anita Rexroat, who became his first wife.
Eileen-Anita inspired him to pursue a career in aeronautical engineering, and he acquired a pilot license through a Civilian Pilot Training Program which was sponsored by the United States Army. During the World War II Roddenberry served as a second lieutenant in the 324th Bomb Squadron. He proved to be an exceptionally skilled war pilot: he flew 89 combat missions during the war and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal.
After the war, he continued his career in aviation and flew commercial planes for the Pan American World Airways. He frequently flew the exhausting route from New York to Johannesburg, which was the longest Pan Am route at the time.
During and after the World War II Roddenberry survived three plane crashes. The first two crashes happened when he was a pilot for the U.S. Air Force, and the third took place in June of 1947 when Roddenberry was flying a commercial Pan Am plane over Syria. The plane malfunctioned and Roddenberry had to land it in the Syrian desert. 14 people died in the crash, and Roddenberry dragged wounded survivors from the burning wreckage.
This incident heavily influenced Roddenberry’s decision to abandon aviation. He got the job at the Los Angeles Police Department in January of 1948 as aprominent member of the Public Information Division. The work at the LAPD enabled him to pursue his lifelong dream of writing. At first, he was hired as a technical advisor on the television series Mr. District Attorney, and he ended up writing scripts for the show under the pseudonym “Robert Wesley”.
From then on he became a moderately successful screenwriter, and in 1956 he was able to resign from the LAPD to completely concentrate on writing.
After years of hard work, critical acclaim and a series of successful projects finally enabled him to create his own TV series: the filming of Star Trek began on November 27, 1964.