Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

For The Love of Dorothy

….Fontana, that is.

We finally got around to seeing Adam Nimoy’s documentary For the Love of Spock, about his father Leonard Nimoy.

Now, this is a fine film with a lot of good stuff in it. Let me get that out of the way up front. It’s definitely worth your time if you have any interest at all in Star Trek and/or television production. But there is a glaring omission there and the more I think about it, the more it bugs me.

The film purports to tell the real story of Nimoy’s career, his involvement with Star Trek, and how deeply entwined the actor was with the creation of Mr. Spock. This is a subject that, as it happens, I have pretty strong feelings about.

See, for decades I’ve watched fans elevate Star Trek producer and creator Gene Roddenberry to virtual sainthood. This adulation is, to a large degree, undeserved. (Explaining this is a column in itself, and I will get to it one of these days, I promise.)

For now all you need to know is that from the first Trek convention back in 1972 to the end of his life, Roddenberry continually leveraged that fan worship to rewrite history to his professional advantage, often stepping on the work of other writers and creative people when doing so. Nimoy was certainly one of the ones whose work Roddenberry took credit for, especially regarding the establishing of the character of Mr. Spock. I looked forward to finally seeing the record set straight. And in Adam Nimoy’s film, it mostly was.

But only mostly.

About halfway through the movie, I started to wonder, “Where’s Dorothy Fontana?” and by the end of the movie when we’d seen exactly ONE quick clip of her– so I knew she had been interviewed and the bulk of it must have been cut– I was actively irritated.

Here’s why. It takes nothing away from what Leonard Nimoy contributed to Star Trek to acknowledge that he worked with Dorothy Fontana on a lot of it, and that she, probably more than any other writer, is the creator of the persona of Spock; virtually the entire history of that character as we know him today came from D.C. Fontana.

I see some of you are skeptical. Very well, here is the list.

She created his parents, Sarek and Amanda, in Journey to Babel.

Not to mention the Tellarites, the Andorians, and the Orions-as-galactic-criminals (as opposed to Roddeenberry’s vision of them as just sexy green hookers.)

That’s a huge piece of Spock’s backstory and three alien species in one episode. How many times have Trek writers been to THAT well? We just saw Sarek and the Andorians again in Discovery for crying out loud.

She gave Spock his first love story, and created his past with Leila Kalomi, in This Side of Paradise.

(A story idea that, for the record, Leonard Nimoy hated– until he read the actual script and was blown away. Afterwards he often cited it as a favorite episode.)

She created the Romulan Commander and gave us an in-depth look at Romulan culture in the episode The Enterprise Incident, another one that became a resource other writers have mined many, MANY times.

In particular, we saw some terrific sequels from both Star Trek Continues….

…and also from Diane Duane in her Rihannsu series of novels (wherein Ms. Duane very graciously acknowledges the debt owed to D.C. Fontana.)

(My Enemy, My Ally just might be my favorite Star Trek original novel ever done by anyone.)

Moving on to the animated series, Dorothy Fontana story-edited all of it and also wrote Yesteryear, widely regarded as the single best episode of that show: a tale of Spock’s childhood that ended up being another one that has been strip-mined by writers who came afterward.

Seriously, folks have gone back to that one for YEARS. Even the new big-budget movies went there.

Dorothy Fontana also wrote the prose Trek novel Vulcan’s Glory and the comics mini-series Star Trek Year Four: The Enterprise Experiment.

That’s just the Spock stuff. There is a great deal more: By Any Other Name, Charlie X, Friday’s Child, and on and on. All Fontana, all fondly-remembered. Dorothy Fontana even contributed the “stone knives and bearskins” homemade-computer gag in City on the Edge of Forever.

As long as I’m on the subject, I’ll add that Dorothy Fontana’s place in TV history is assured even if she had never been involved with Star Trek. For one thing, she wrote a bunch of TV westerns that were very good. I’m particularly fond of her episodes of The Big Valley, but there were many others. Let her tell you herself, though…

Getting back to the SF side of things, she wrote a couple of episodes of The Six Million Dollar Man that I liked a lot. “The Rescue of Athena One,” from the first season…

And “Straight On ‘Til Morning,” from the second season.

As an aside, novelist Michael Jahn combined both of those scripts into a novel, The Rescue of Athena One, that told a completely original story by deftly weaving both scripts together. (I’ve always wondered if Ms. Fontana ever read it and what she thought.)

Fontana also did the adaptation of The Questor Tapes into a prose novel that was so successful that it stayed in print for years after the original made-for-TV movie had faded into obscurity.

At one point it was re-issued in a limited edition hardcover, even.

She was briefly the story-editor on The Fantastic Journey, a show very few people saw but that I liked a lot…

And also on the TV version of Logan’s Run, a show that was not that great but considerably better than the movie it was spinning out of.

I feel safe in saying that most of the good things about both shows were the result of salvage and damage-control efforts of D.C. Fontana.

I think that suffices for now. Again, I want to say that For The Love of Spock is a fine documentary…. as far as it goes. You definitely should check it out.

But… do me a favor and bear this footnote/addendum in mind when you watch it, will you? Because Dorothy Fontana’s had her credits obscured and trampled long enough.

Back next week with something cool.

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  1. Edo Bosnar

    Well, I – for one – wasn’t skeptical: I’ve known for a long time now that Fontana played in outsized role in fleshing out the Star Trek that we all know and love. And that she wrote some of the best episodes, like The Enterprise Incident (by the way, I just love that in ST Continues the Romulan commander is played by the daughter of the actress who played her in TOS).
    The fact that Fontana was basically supervising the animated series is probably why I consider it season 4 of the original series – i.e., those episodes are all canon as far as I’m concerned.
    Did not know about the comic book series written by her, though, and now I really, really want to read it…

  2. When they published a copy of the original City on the Edge of Forever script in the 1990s, Fontana does a great job in one of the afterwords explaining the logic of what Ellison insisted were inexplicably stupid decisions.
    It’s cool to see how much stuff she did (even if I have the opposite view of the series and the Logan’s Run movie).

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