In August, the first book of Marc Cushman's These Are The Voyages series was released, taking a look behind the scenes at the first season of the original Star Trek series. TrekCore's Dan Gunther, who reviewed the book for us, caught up with the author this month to discuss the creation of this first book, and to see where the series will continue in future volumes.
TrekCore: Your reference book, These Are The Voyages: TOS Season One was an incredible read. How did you come to write this particular account of the show's inception?
Marc Cushman: I was happily assigned the job of meeting with Gene Roddenberry and interviewing him for a television special I was hired to write on the Star Trek phenomenon. This was in 1982 for a Los Angeles-based company that made programs of that type for local TV. Gene was wonderfully gracious and giving, with both his time and materials -- he provided me with all the scripts from TOS, along with numerous other documents.
I was amazed by the amount of documents he had kept from Star Trek -- memos between him and his staff (and NBC), letters, production schedules, notes from the productions, budgets, contracts, and even fan letters from 1966 through 1969. I had read "The Making of Star Trek," which utilized some of these documents, but had no idea there was such a wealth of materials. I must have looked like a kid in a candy store to him, because Gene invited me -- even dared me -- to try to find a way to include substantial elements from all this material into a book.
I accepted the dare but told him it would be years before I could start on such a project. He gave me a letter of endorsement and told me he would find the time to cooperate in all ways possible when I could make time to take it on.
I stayed busy in television and film for a few decades and couldn't even start the work required to undertake such a massive job, but I did interview people as I came across them, starting with D.C. Fontana (on three different occasions) and Bob Justman (half a dozen different times), as well as others involved with the production -- writers, directors, crew personnel, and actors from the series as well as guest performers who appeared on the various episodes.
I met with Gene many times and, on one of those occasions, pitched the story for TNG episode "Sarek" to him. I was preparing to write the book when he became ill. That postponed it. Bob Justman picked up the torch in 2007 and provided me with many documents not found in the UCLA Roddenberry/Justman collections, where I also spent several months doing research.
It took six years to write this book -- which turned into seventeen-hundred pages, which the publisher then decided to release in three volumes, each covering one season of the show. I don't think a book spine has been made that can handle that many pages... and who'd want to pick that thing up!?
TrekCore: From reading These Are The Voyages, it’s clear that a lot of care went into the research for this book. How important was it to you that this be the definitive account of the production of Star Trek?
Marc Cushman: It was absolutely crucial to me that it be the definitive book on Star Trek. There would be no reason to write it, otherwise, since there are many other books out on the series. I almost didn't write it because of the Solow/Justman book ("Inside Star Trek: The Real Story"). But then I decided that book left me unfulfilled, since it was written from only the management's point of view. And it didn't deal with the individual episodes. I see each episode of the classic series as a major event in the story of Star Trek, but no one has focused on them -- at least, not to the degree that I would like.
I had too many questions unanswered, such as what the hell happened to "The Alternative Factor"? What went wrong? And what were they thinking when they made "The Way to Eden"? Or why was Melvin Belli cast in "And the Children Shall Lead"? And who really wrote "The City on the Edge of Forever"? Were the ratings really as bad as NBC claimed? That alone seemed impossible to me because I was there, as a teenager, and did not know anyone -- not at school, not on the block where my family lived -- that wasn't watching Star Trek. There is a great deal of speculation out there, but I wanted to find out the truth.
This is the book Gene Roddenberry and Bob Justman wanted to see. They saved all those documents so that they could become public record. And I had promised them that, if I did a book on Star Trek, it would utilize those records as never before. And that's why I pushed ahead, and put other aspects of my life on hold for several years, and why it took 1,700 pages and six years.
TrekCore: What was the most surprising or unexpected fact you learned about the making of Star Trek’s first season while researching this book?
Marc Cushman: If you want only one example, I'd have to say how much of the information out there on the internet, and in past books, is wrong. Pure folklore that has been accepted over the decades as being fact. And it is not fact. At the top of that list is the ratings. I licensed all the ratings from A.C. Nielsen, for every episode of the series. Star Trek was not the failure that we had been led to believe.
It was NBC's top rated Thursday night series and, on many occasions, won its time slot against formidable competition, including Bewitched, ABC's most popular show. And when they banished it to Friday nights, as Book Two will reveal, it was the network's top rated Friday night show. Yet NBC wanted to cancel it! Even when they tried to hide it from the fans at 10 p.m., during Season Three, it's numbers were not as bad as reported. So, once I made this discovery, then, of course, I needed to find out the real reason for the way the network treated Star Trek, and the documents regarding that, which build as we go from Book One to Two and then Three, are quite fascinating.
If I may tell you a second thing that was surprising to me, in a story filled to the brim with surprises, it would be about who wrote what on the series. The name of the writer given in the screen credits is deceiving. Readers will be surprised to discover, through the documents I provide in the books, that Gene Roddenberry wrote most of what we see and hear in the first thirteen episodes.
He should have been given screen credit as top writer. And then Gene Coon, and on many occasions, Dorothy Fontana, during the last part of Season One and throughout Season Two, wrote very nearly more, if not more, of the dialogue in every episode, with the exception of "The Trouble with Tribbles," where David Gerrold really nailed it and did 90% of the writing.
The other writers just couldn't get the voices of the primary characters down, or the feel of the show. It took Roddenberry, Coon, John D.F. Black and Dorothy Fontana to clean all those scripts up and make them into Star Trek.
TrekCore: How open or accommodating were your sources while researching this book, beyond the memos and references in the archives? Were people quite willing to discuss their experiences, or did you encounter any reticence or reservations from various people involved in the making of Star Trek?
Marc Cushman: They were willing but time has a way of distorting the memory. This is why I always prefer to search out old interviews, especially ones from the time that the show was being made. I collected hundreds of newspaper and magazine articles with interviews in them, to be sure that all the voices of the people involved were included (since many are now gone), and that those voices would be as fresh as possible, meaning, the words were spoken as close to the time of production as possible. Beyond this, when I interviewed participants, I asked them questions that other interviewers had not.
They told me this; they were often surprised by my approach. I explained to them that these books were meant to serve as a time machine, and each of these people I was interviewing were one of our guest tour guides. I'd try to take them back to 1966, or '67, or the later years for Book Two and Three, and get them to remember what it felt like, what was playing on the radio, what the offices looked like, or the stage, or the clothing.
I would really get heightened recollections by doing this, like when Malachi Throne said to me, and I paraphrase here, "Yes, I did feel a bit uncomfortable at first, because there were no pockets in the Starfleet uniforms. I didn't know what to do with my hands. We couldn't smoke, or play with props as we would in a contemporary story. So it was a very alien environment, and I had to learn from Shatner and Nimoy and the others how to be comfortable in those rooms and in those clothes. They were all so good at it."
TrekCore: Were there any challenges in writing this book that were particularly difficult to overcome?
Marc Cushman: Many. And again, that comes down to failing memories, or memories that have been compromised by things that a person is told about himself and his work over four or more decades. I would be told one thing by a person I interviewed, and feel grateful to this person and want to write something they will be happy to read, but then I'd be told something else by another person involved on that particular script, or that day of filming, and the show files would bring out yet another perspective.
I wasn't going to censor anyone, but, what I did, was create a conversation between the different participants on the page, bringing all the different points of view together. It's like the reader gets to sit in the middle of a conversation that has a great deal of conflict in it. And conflict makes for the best story telling. There is always conflict. It doesn't have to be invented; it's all around us, and especially present in ventures such as Star Trek, with all the time pressures, and creative differences involved.
Gene Roddenberry was very supportive and helpful to me on this project, and yet, even though I feel I honor him greatly, and reveal his genius through many of his memos, I also reveal his darker side through many of his own words, in both the interviews he granted me and his memos and letters. And statements made by others. But I truly believe he would approve of my handling of it all. I know others do because they have called to tell me so.
TrekCore: Conversely, what aspects of researching and writing this series were the most fun?
Marc Cushman: My god, all of it. I love researching. I love searching for missing treasure. And with each new nugget I would find, I felt like yelling out, "Gold! I stuck gold!" Especially when I'd see how all these pieces would fit together and solve so many mysteries about all the various episodes -- why this one is so good and this one isn't. But you want a specific answer. Okay. The ratings. Talk about striking gold -- dispelling forty-five years of folklore that was begun with intentionally misleading information.
Discovering the true production order of the episodes, which on more than a couple occasions is different than what we think we know by the deceptive production numbering and the DVD sequencing of episodes. Finding out that an episode that says written by Jerry Sohl, should have said story by Jerry Sohl, written by Gene Roddenberry and, perhaps, Jerry Sohl. And so many other occurrences such as that. And feeling like I have now witnessed the writing and the making of Star Trek and I am able to share that experience with other fans. I really do write for me -- write what I would want to read. I would have given almost anything to read these books, and I suppose I did.
TrekCore: It is interesting that this book was not published through Simon & Schuster, who have the rights to Star Trek publications. Was there an attempt to publish this through them, and if so, is there a reason they opted not to publish it?
Marc Cushman: There was an attempt. Simon & Schuster asked to see three chapters and my agent sent in the first three. Now, I've received a lot of letters in the last couple weeks from people who love the first three chapters, saying they have found out more about Gene Roddenberry's life and career before Star Trek, and about Lucille Ball being the sponsor of Star Trek, and the mind set of NBC, all things that are examined in those early chapters.
But Pocket Books was not dazzled and said, basically, that with two books out on Roddenberry, and a couple out on Lucy, and that no one cares about what NBC was thinking, that they didn't see enough there to justify them publishing. If they had read any of the chapters that deal with the episodes -- and there is a separate chapter for each episode -- I think they would have thought differently.
And they would have seen how the information in those first few chapters pays off as you continue reading. But once a publisher says "no," it's always going to be "no." Bottom line, my agent sent in the wrong chapters as a sample of what these books are really about.
CBS has not picked up on this yet -- has not endorsed it -- because they wrote and told us they didn't have time to read a six-hundred-page book, to be followed by two more books of about five hundred pages each. So we had to go out without their stamp of approval, which certainly limits us in how we can promote this book, in the cover images we could legally use, even in the title.
But Jacobs Brown Press was very supportive of me, and I was determined this work would come out for the fans, and for those I knew from the show, and all those I'd interviewed. Malachi Throne and William Windom were two, both wonderful to me, and they didn't live to see these books come out. Bob Justman didn't live to see them out, even though he was there while I was writing them. I wasn't going to let that happen again.
TrekCore: Have you heard from any of the original TOS actors?
Marc Cushman: Yes. Walter Koenig even carried the book out on stage at the Vegas convention and talked about it for a couple minutes, urging fans to buy it. Harlan Ellison called to say he liked it. I'd been nervous about that. I allow everyone to have their say about him and his script for "The City on the Edge of Forever." And some of those words are harsh. But I allow Harlan to have his say, as well, and I bring forward the documentation which proves who wrote what and when various drafts were delivered, and so on. Harlan's recollections are sometimes proved right, sometimes wrong, and yet he called to say that he wouldn't call the book awesome, because he reserves that word for the Grand Canyon and Eleanor Roosevelt, but that it comes close. That was a wonderful moment.
Someone came over and bought a book at the publisher's booth during the Las Vegas Star Trek convention and said William Shatner had showed him the book so he decided to get one for himself. I haven't heard from Shatner... but, I suppose in a way, with that, I have. Leonard Nimoy, sounding very much like Mr. Spock, called and told me the research was "astounding." Walter Koenig agreed to write the foreword for Book Two after reading Book One. He paid me a wonderful compliment in saying that, after reading the book, he trusts me.
John D.F. Black and his wife Mary, who was there, working as his executive assistant on TOS, tell me that this book takes them back to that time and place and they impressed that there is clearly no agenda on my part other than to report the story. So, I'm very happy now. I've been living in a cave for six years researching and writing and not even coming out of the past long enough to watch the news. I had to keep my head and my heart in the 1960s and at Desilu studios. So it is very rewarding to find that people are responding so well to this.
TrekCore: Are there any sneak peeks or surprising tidbits that you would be willing to reveal about seasons two and three?
Marc Cushman: I'll tell you that, for me, as a writer, and as a person who loves to read biographies, Book Two is better than Book One and Book Three is the best of all. The story of Star Trek -- the struggle those talented people went through to make that series -- gets richer with each season, and more dramatic. The hurdles get higher; the challenges unbearably difficult. Among other things, in Book Two, you will learn why Gene Coon really left Star Trek, and you will be surprised to find out how much he contributed to the episodes where he is not credited as producer.
As for Book Three... You won't find a fan anywhere that will tell you that the third season was as good as the first two, even though there were many excellent episodes during that last year. But it is certainly the most interesting to find out about and, I think, read about. In Book Three, you will be surprised to find out how much Gene Roddenberry had to do with Season Three, contrary to everything we have heard before. And how much he antagonized the network. He had good reason, of course, but fighting with the network is not a good way to keep your series on the air. The truth is in the memos.
TrekCore: Moving forward from TOS, do you have any plans to do another reference such as this for another aspect of Trek history? If you have no such plans, would you ever be interested in doing so?
Marc Cushman: It has been suggested that I take on Next Generation. But I do have a couple other biographies that I have already started that have nothing to do with Star Trek and I would like to see them through. But Next Generation is certainly tempting. I know so many from that show and spent a small amount of time there myself, with the story I contributed, the script I wrote based on that story, which was too much like TOS for Gene's taste at that time, and numerous other pitch sessions and springboards to episodes that I provided.
I think the treatment I gave to TOS would work very well for TNG, because Gene Roddenberry lived in memos, god bless him, and those memos mean there is a great deal of documentation that reveals the thinking going on, episode by episode.
TrekCore: Thank you again for this opportunity! It was a real pleasure to be able to ask about the creation of These Are The Voyages. You have provided a pretty valuable resource to scores of Trekkies and Trekkers, and I for one am very grateful.
Marc Cushman: Thank you for your interest, Dan. It's been my pleasure.
- Interview by Dan Gunther, Literature Editor
These Are The Voyages:
TOS Season One
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