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Gene L. Coon

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Gene L. Coon
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Gene L. Coon

Birth name: Eugene Lee Coon
Gender: Male
Date of birth: 7 January 1924
Place of birth: Nebraska, USA
Date of death: 8 July 1973
Place of death: Los Angeles, California, USA
Awards for Trek: 1 Emmy Award nomination
Roles: Producer, Writer

Eugene "Gene" Lee Coon (7 January 19248 July 1973; age 49), commonly known as "Gene L. Coon", sometimes credited under the pseudonym "Lee Cronin", was a writer and producer for Star Trek: The Original Series. He produced the first season of the series from "Miri" to "Operation -- Annihilate!" and the second season from "Catspaw" to "A Private Little War", earning him a 1967 Emmy Award nomination.

Coon was hired as line producer in August 1966, when associate producer / story editor John D.F. Black left, and Gene Roddenberry felt he needed someone to handle everyday production business and do re-writes of the scripts, or else he and Robert Justman would soon be unable to cope up with the demanding work. He was Roddenberry's fourth choice for the job, as Fred Freiberger, Samuel A. Peeples and James Goldstone all declined the offer. (These Are the Voyages: TOS Season One, 1st ed, p. 245)

Much of the framework of the Star Trek universe, was established under Coon's tenure on the series; the Klingons were introduced ("Errand of Mercy"), the galactic governing body United Federation of Planets was named ("Arena"), Starfleet Command was firmly established as the USS Enterprise's operating authority ("Court Martial"), and the Prime Directive was first articulated ("The Return of the Archons"), as well as introducing Khan Noonien Singh and the Augments ("Space Seed"). James T. Kirk actor, William Shatner, has flat-out attributed the creation of all of these to Coon in his book Star Trek Memories (1995, p. 219).

Besides writing and producing the series, Coon often did uncredited rewrites on the scripts, just like he did in The Wild Wild West. (The Star Trek Compendium) He was also known for his ability to write scripts in a very short time. For example, Coon wrote "The Devil in the Dark" over the course of four days. (The World of Star Trek)

Coon left the series mid-season 2, partly because of being tired and worn-out by the constantly exhausting work, and partly because of his dispute with Roddenberry, who disliked the more light-hearted, comedic approach taken by the show under Coon's guidance (especially the three straight-out comedy episodes, "I, Mudd", "The Trouble with Tribbles", and "A Piece of the Action"). Despite leaving the series as producer and head writer, Coon continued writing to Star Trek, using his pseudynom "Lee Cronin". (Inside Star Trek: The Real Story, These Are the Voyages: TOS Season Two) For all Coon's positive contributions, one of his later episodes, "Spock's Brain", ironically turned out to be one of the least, if not the least, appreciated Original Series episodes.

Coon was invited, by D.C. Fontana, to write for Star Trek: The Animated Series but declined her offer, being uninterested in it. As such, he was one of only a few people who turned down the invite. (Star Trek: The Magazine Volume 1, Issue 16, p. 67) Nevertheless, in his stead he suggested his friend and last student/protegé, Russell Bates, which turned out to be an inspired suggestion, as his episode "How Sharper Than a Serpent's Tooth" won the sole Emmy Award either Original Crew television series had won. In a short 2008 vidcast interview, given for Larry Nemecek's TrekLand blog, Bates related that his Emmy-winning episode had been a subtle homage to his mentor for what Bates believed to be his Original Series's episode "Who Mourns for Adonais?". Bates was only partially wrong in his beliefs, as that episode, while not conceived by Coon, was heavily revised by him for it to become the episode as ultimately featured. [1]

Having already died in 1973, Coon had not been able himself to counteract Roddenberry's "revisionist" (as typified in the 2014 documentary William Shatner Presents: Chaos on the Bridge by former colleague David Gerrold) absconding of his contributions during the latter's vigorous Star Trek convention campaigning during the entire 1970s and early 1980s, more or less claiming Coon's contributions to Star Trek as his own, after Roddenberry had belatedly realized that his contributions were among the most popular for Star Trek, and which had made the second season so beloved in the first place. By consistently keeping Coon's name under wraps all this time, Roddenberry nearly succeeded in relegating Coon to oblivion, were it not for others, who had worked closely with Coon at the time, like Shatner, Herb Solow and Justman, who were of a different mind, refusing to let Roddenberry get away with it, in such writings as Star Trek Memories (dedicating an entire chapter to him, significantly entitled, "The Unsung Hero"), and Inside Star Trek: The Real Story. In the latter book (1997, p. 430), Solow has summarized this state of affairs as follows, "My displeasure grew over the years as he reinvented the origins of Star Trek, further enlarging the Star Trek legend and the Gene Roddenberry myth. While there is no denying that Gene created the root, the core from which the series grew, there were other important contributors to its growth: Gene Coon, Bob Justman, Matt Jefferies, and me [also including Leonard Nimoy's portrayal of Spock, the "brightest of all stars in the Star Trek universe", according to Solow]. Unfortunately, the credit for our contributions was washed away in the wake of Gene's disinclination to honor them, and by doing so, he assumed their authorship."

Though both books were published after Roddenberry's death, Shatner actually took it up a notch while the "Great Bird of the Galaxy" was still alive. Even though he had not nearly as large a bone to pick with Roddenberry as, for example, his co-star Leonard Nimoy had, Shatner apparently felt damned if he would let Roddenberry get away with the perceived injustice. On 6 June 1991 shortly before celebrating the 100th episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, the Producers Building at the former Desilu studio lot was renamed "Gene Roddenberry Building", and Shatner was one of the speakers at the dedication ceremony. During his speech, Shatner purposely dropped Coon's name a few times, in an effort to embarrass Roddenberry. Very shortly after Roddenberry's death five months later, Shatner, not in the slightest rueful, explained himself, "In my opinion, Gene Coon had more to do with the infusion of life into STAR TREK than any other single person. Gene Roddenberry's instincts for creating the original package are unparalleled. He put it together, hired the people and the concept was his and set in motion by him, but after 13 shows other people took over. Gene Coon spent a year and set the tenor of the show and there were several other producers who were writer/producers who defined its character. Gene [Roddenberry] was more in the background as other people actively took over." (Cinefantastique, Vol 22 #5, p. 39) Shatner in particular, has not let the issue slide, nor did he mellow over time, when he, as late as 2008, wrote in even harsher tone in his autobiography, Up Till Now: The Autobiography, "After the first thirteen episodes writer/producer Gene Coon was brought in and Roddenberry became the executive producer, meaning he was more of a supervisor than working on the show day -to-day. After that his primary job seemed to be exploiting Star Trek in every possible way." [2]

Others have come to agree (in principle) with Shatner & co., as Coon has been endowed with meaningful monikers like "The Other Gene" (Star Trek Magazine issue 125; [3]), "The Half of Star Trek's Genes" (By Fontana [4]) and specifically, "The Forgotten Gene", popularized by Mark A. Altman and Robert Meyer Burnett, who had the sobriquet prominently featured in the credit roll of their popular 1998 Star Trek inspired comedy/parody, Free Enterprise (which featured Shatner), all of them ensuring that Coon's Star Trek legacy is currently all but "Forgotten".

Career outside Star TrekEdit

Coon was a Marine who served during World War II (from 21 August 1942 to 23 August 1946) and in post-war occupied Japan, then joined the Marine Corps Reserves in 1948 before being called back into active duty in 1950 for service in Korea, serving from 21 June 1950 to 25 August 1952. Between his discharge in 1946 and his enlisting in the reserves, Coon attended and, in 1948, graduated from, the Frederich H. Speare Professional School of Radio Broadcasting in Hollywood, California. Coon's former protégé Russell Bates has, in 2008, filled in some additional details on Coon's earlier life, which had hitherto been unknown. During World War II Coon had been aide-de-camp to Lewis "Chesty" Puller, one of America's most decorated Marines, joining him during the fierce, months-long fighting on Guadalcanal (and not in China as part of the Flying Tigers as Bates mistakenly believed, though Puller had served in China shortly before the outbreak of war, as did Coon, but he only after the war in 1948). After his service in Korea, Coon, like Roddenberry, became a LAPD policeman and part-time writer, and it was in this period of time that Coon already made his acquaintance with Roddenberry. Like Roddenberry, Coon too left the police force to become a full-time writer, and with Roddenberry he worked on several television productions in the late 1950s and early 1960s, among others Have Gun - Will Travel, and The Lieutenant. [5]

Coon wrote two novels, Meanwhile, Back At The Front and The Short End, both of which dealt with the Korean War conflict. Soon after, Coon began writing for the movie and television screen. In 1957 he wrote two films for Universal Pictures, The Girl in the Kremlin and Man in the Shadow. Both films featured William Schallert in the cast, while the latter co-starred Orson Welles and also featured Paul Fix. He also wrote the script for the 1964 film The Killers (featuring Seymour Cassel) - best known for being Ronald Reagan's final acting role before entering politics.

Coon began to write for television in the late 1950's. Among his many contributions, he wrote two episodes of Zorro, both of them featuring Ken Lynch, an episode of My Favorite Martian (starring Ray Walston), and an episode of Have Gun - Will Travel, on which Gene Roddenberry served as one of the leading writers. He also wrote an episode of Bonanza which featured Leonard Nimoy and another episode which featured Michael Forest and Anthony Caruso.

Following his tenure on Star Trek, Coon produced the series It Takes a Thief, which co-starred Malachi Throne. Novice writer Glenn A. Larson served on the series, and Coon took him on as an apprentice, helping him develop the story line of Adama's Ark, which evolved into the classic Battlestar Galactica science fiction series a decade later. He also wrote an episode of The Sixth Sense featuring William Shatner, and two episodes of the Harve Bennett-produced The Mod Squad, starring Tige Andrews and Clarence Williams III, and directed by Lawrence Dobkin. With Gene Roddenberry, Coon wrote The Questor Tapes, an unsold 1974 pilot which was directed by Richard Colla and featured Majel Barrett and Walter Koenig; Robert Foxworth played the title character. Data, the android from The Next Generation was based on Questor. Though the series was not picked up, it did earn him, posthumously, and Roddenberry a 1975 Hugo Award nomination in the category Best Dramatic Presentation. Coon died before the project was completed, and D.C. Fontana's novelization of the pilot is dedicated to his memory.

Coon divorced his first wife, Joy, in 1968, and married his high school sweetheart, model-actress Jacqueline Mitchell. The resulting stress from the divorce, had been a contributing factor to his near burnout at the time he decided to leave The Original Series halfway through the second season. Joy died one year later of cancer, and refused to allow her ex-husband to visit her in the hospital. Coon was shattered by the event. (Inside Star Trek: The Real Story, pp. 347-349, 428)

Coon died of lung cancer in 1973, only a week after being diagnosed. He visited Robert Justman's office one day, wearing a portable oxygen tank and mask, gasping and coughing. Justman urged him to go in for medical tests, despite the fact that Coon said his breathing difficulties stemmed from the "Goddamned LA smog." (Inside Star Trek: The Real Story, pp. 428-429)

Star Trek credits Edit

Emmy Award nominationEdit

As Producer, Coon received the following Emmy Award nomination in the category Outstanding Dramatic Series:

External links Edit

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