On a Principled Writer

Eugene flew B-17 Flying Fortresses for the US Army Air Corps during the war. One time, the plane he was piloting overshot the runway and crashed into a row of trees. Two of the crewmen aboard died the incident. Eugene was absolved of any responsibility. The accident investigators cited mitigating circumstances, but that didn’t make Eugene feel any better. His principles made him want to be assigned duty as an air accident investigator. He became almost obsessed with figuring out what caused crashed like the one he experienced. Perhaps he saw this new job as a way to make up for what happened on his watch before. That’s the sense of justice Eugene had. Once, while on an investigation, the plane in which Eugene was a passenger also crashed, but he emerged unharmed.

After the war, Eugene found employment as an international airline pilot for Pan Am. Again, Eugene found ill fortune. In 1947, he was involved in his third air crash, this time in the Syrian desert. This time, 13 people were killed. Eugene managed to pull several survivors from the wreckage, and he led the survivors out of the desert to safety. Again, he felt personally responsible for the incident even though it was the fault of the equipment.

That was it for Eugene. He was finished with piloting. Following the career path of his father, he applied to the Los Angeles Police Department and was accepted. Starting out in traffic, as many rookie cops do, Eugene soon was promoted to the Public Information Department. After that, he wrote speeches for the LA Chief of Police. He found that he liked writing, and he was good at it. So, it being Los Angeles, he decided he wanted to pitch show ideas to the Hollywood TV studios. He resigned from the police department and dedicated his life to writing for TV.

But the competition for TV series was stiff. Eugene found little success. Oh, a script that he wrote for this show or that one was bought and produced, but he was not finding it so easy to sell a series. He tried writing westerns, cop shows, and even a lawyer show, but none of them were sold to any TV studio or were not picked up as a series by a network. His characters reflected modern society, but that wasn’t necessarily what sold in TV in the 1950s. That’s the thing about writing for TV; it’s one thing to have a pilot produced—a rare thing—and it’s even more difficult to have that pilot picked up and produced as a series.

Eugene was growing frustrated. Part of the reason he was finding the going difficult was that Eugene was a stickler for his principles. In a still largely segregated nation, he would insist on creating and writing in characters from minority groups. He said that he wanted his projects to reflect real life in the United States—all lives—and not only show white characters. Producers and sponsors felt otherwise, and when they would ask Eugene to recreate a certain character as white, Eugene would refuse. That obstinance, as correct and just as it was, proved damaging to his career as a TV writer.

Eventually, Eugene would have success as the creator of a TV series, but it would only run for three seasons. During the series’ short run, it gained a reputation for having women, minorities, and multi-ethnic casting. Several of the characters weren’t even human.

You see, Eugene—you know him as Gene—was the first TV writer to have a star placed on the Hollywood Walk of Fame because of those principles. That series he created and produced that lasted only three seasons resonates with audiences today, almost 60 years after it first premiered.

You know his series as Star Trek.

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