By MARK J. GROSS
Featured in Autograph April 2009
The wife of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, Majel Barrett-Roddenberry, was the First Lady of Star Trek, having been involved in the franchise since its original pilot. As fans gear up for the May 8 release of Star Trek XI, we remember Majel, who died at 76 last December.
Majel’s career with Star Trek began with some resistance from NBC executives, who insisted that her then-boyfriend, producer Roddenberry, cast a man in her role as starship officer, Number One.
Majel went on to play Dr. McCoy’s assistant, Nurse Christine Chapel. And devoted Star Trek fans recognize her voice the first time they hear it, as Majel was the voice of the ship’s computer in the original series, all the spawned series, as well as the films.
Her performance as Deanna Troi’s famous mouthy mother Lwaxan Troi generated a huge fan following. This character appeared in Star Trek: The Next Generation often, and in Deep Space Nine as the love interest of security chief Odo.
Majel was a staple at various conventions throughout her career, promoting new projects. I had a chance to interview her at a convention in 1999. She was as down to Earth as ever, signing autographs and chatting about her memorabilia company, Lincoln Enterprises.
Mark Gross: What was it like being involved with Star Trek from the start?
Majel Barrett: Well, for all of us back then, it was a job, and unfortunately after that first pilot episode, I got fired from my job. I worked my way back in and got the role of Nurse Chapel. We all went to work every morning never thinking it was going to be any more than what it was that day or that week. Each year, we hoped we were going to be on another year, but that only happened for three years. We were actually a failed series then.
What did you do after the show was cancelled, until you came back as Nurse Chapel for Star Trek: The Motion Picture?
Gene and I did Spectre, The Questor Tapes, Planet Earth, Genesis II and I was also doing TV shows myself then too.
What was your time like with Gene, who was such a genius in creating science fiction shows?
We just led a normal life. I mean Gene was not really “spacey” and our house didn’t have Star Trek and sci-fi stuff all over. Actually, we were golfers and we went everywhere around the world to play golf.
How did you and Gene meet?
Gene was working on three pilots in L.A. and I was introduced to him as a possibility for a role. We began talking and one thing led to another. We lived together for one year and were married for 22 years.
How did the Nurse Chapel role come about?
I actually found the role as Nurse Chapel because I was so disappointed in not getting the role as Number One. I kept looking at the scripts and finally, about the fourth script in, I found the role of a doctor who was coming onboard the ship to look for her fiancé, and I said, “I can do this.” But once the network fires you—you know they don’t want you back. So I went out and bleached my hair, which fooled even Gene at first. I said, “If I can fool you, I can fool anyone.” Gene said, “Yes you can.” And I did.
What about your famous voice as the ship’s computer?
I was just simply there, they needed somebody to say all those words onto the tape, and so there I was.
Tell me a bit about your character Lwaxana Troi, Deanna’s mother from The Next Generation series.
Gene came home one day and said to me, “Majel, I have a great part for you, and guess what, you don’t have to act!” Well, I didn’t know what the role called for, and Gene just described it as the Auntie Mame of the Galaxy. Then the character kept coming back, and I got to be quite proud of it. I often heard women yelling to me from across a parking lot telling me that this role has done more for women over 40 than any movement in America. I love Lwaxana, she was a great role!
On Sunday Jan. 4, 2009, Majel’s family, friends and fans came to Forest Lawn Memorial Parks in the Hollywood Hills to pay their final respects to the First Lady of Star Trek. A large crowd, including many Star Trek luminaries, gathered for the official memorial.
The Roddenberry family also held a public memorial for Majel at The Hall of Liberty at Forest Lawn. The crowd of approximately 300 was a mix of friends, family, colleagues and many Trek fans, some of whom showed up in costume. Present were Majel’s Original Series costars Nichelle Nichols, Walter Koenig and George Takei, as well as many of the lead actors from Star Trek: The Next Generation and subsequent series, including Brent Spiner, Marina Sirtis, Wil Wheaton, Anthony Montgomery, Robert Picardo, Ethan Phillips, Armin Shimerman and Garrett Wang.
When her husband died in 1991, Majel had part of Roddenberry’s remains launched into space in 1997 through Celestis Inc., a memorial spaceflights company. After Majel’s death, Celestis Inc. announced it will launch the remains of both Gene Roddenberry and Majel in 2012. They will traverse the cosmos and galaxy together, which is exactly how it should be.