Sunday, April 27, 2014

'While He Wanders His Galaxy' -- Gene Roddenberry's Controversial Star Trek Lyrics

Alexander Courage's credit on "Where No Man Has Gone Before" (1965)
In June, I wrote an article about Alexander Courage's time on Star Trek, and some of the incorrect information that has circulated about his contributions to the series. In that piece, one of the topics discussed was the friction that occurred between the composer and Gene Roddenberry, due to the controversial lyrics Roddenberry penned for the show's theme music. Since publishing that piece, I have found further documentation which more fully illustrates what happened, and confirms a few of the claims made in Herb Solow and Bob Justman's book, Inside Star Trek: The Real Story (1996).

To begin with, here is the version of events related by Herb Solow in that book:
When Sandy Courage was given his contract to write the Star Trek music, he was unaware of a two-sentence clause toward the end of the agreement. Thinking it was more of the usual boilerplate, Sandy signed the agreement without reading it fully. The clause, inserted by Gene's attorney, Leonard Maizlish, gave Gene the right to write a lyric to Courage's theme.
Almost two years later, after NBC put Star Trek on its schedule, Sandy received a call from Leonard Maizlish: "Listen, from now on we will be collecting one-half of your royalties." Sandy, confused as to how this could happen, spoke to Desilu Music Department head Wilbur Hatch and Desilu attorney Ed Perlstein. "They told me there was nothing that could be done, legally," said Sandy, and when he questioned Roddenberry, Gene explained, "Hey, I have to get some money somewhere. I'm sure not going to get it out of the profits of Star Trek."
-- Herb Solow, Inside Star Trek: The Real Story (1966), p.185 
And here's what David Alexander's authorized biography of Roddenberry has to say on the subject:
In early December [1965], Gene finished the lyrics to the Star Trek theme and sent them to Ed Perlstein. The lyrics would be a small source of income, but it cut the royalty in half for the writer of the music, Alexander Courage, and engendered some bitterness on his part. Two and a half years later, on October 3, 1967, Gent wrote to Courage in an attempt to straighten things out. 
--David Alexander, Star Trek Creator: The Authorized Biography of Gene Roddenberry (1994), p.235 
These two accounts are somewhat contradictory. According to Solow's account, Roddenberry did not write his lyrics until Star Trek had been placed on NBC's schedule; in Alexander's version, however, Roddenberry's lyrics were written in December of 1965, a few months before NBC ordered the first season. Luckily, the archival evidence is enough to point us in the direction of the version closer to the truth.

On December 16, 1964, Desilu attorney Ed Perlstein sent a memo to Shirley Stahnke asking her to draw up two contracts with Alexander Courage, "one covering his services as conductor and arranger, and the other covering his compositions in respect to the one-hour pilot film 'Star Trek' for a total fee of $2,000 or scale, whichever is greater." In the very next paragraph, Perlstein addressed the issue of royalties, writing, "Please provide the 50-50 split with respect to monies received from exploitation of the music other than from BMI (Desilu is to receive the BMI publisher's share of royalties and Mr. Courage will receive composer's BMI royalties)."

This initial (and typical) royalty split, however, did not last long. Two weeks later, on December 30, 1964, Perlstein sent Stahnke another memo asking her to revise the terms of Courage's contract:
Please alter the Alexander Courage contract with Desilu for the "Star Trek" pilot to indicate that Gene Roddenberry has the right to write lyrics for the theme music and continuity music, and that in the event Gene Roddenberry writes lyrics for the theme music and/or continuity music, Gene Roddenberry will receive one-half of the composer's share of the BMI royalties for the theme music whether or not such lyrics are used on the television series; and if Gene Roddenberry writes lyrics for the continuity music and such lyrics are utilized on the series, then Gene Roddenberry shall also share the composer's BMI royalties with Alexander Courage for the series.
According to Courage, he didn't read his contract fully, and was therefore unaware of this last-minute addition to it. Star Trek's first score was recorded a few weeks later, on January 21, 1965.  The response to the music seems to have been quite positive, and there's no evidence of any friction between Courage and Roddenberry a this point. In a March 5, 1965 letter from Roddenberry to Courage, for example, the writer-producer wrote:
The reaction to the music you composed and directed for STAR TREK has been so universally outstanding that I thought I owed you this letter. What we have had is not just an occasional compliment but rather consistent praise. 
You successfully avoided all of the stylizations [sic] and other traps of science fiction, successfully blended feelings of past and present and personal identification, in short did really outstanding work. You've made a lot of admirers and friends during this job.
On March 29, 1965, Roddenberry sent Courage a short letter informing him that NBC had ordered a second pilot episode for the series and on July 6, 1965 he sent the composer a complementary letter along with the script for "Where No Man Has Gone Before." In that letter, Roddenberry wrote:
There has never been any question in my mind that you are the man to do this one too -- and I have hopes this episode will put us over the top and into a long association together. 
As you probably know by now, one of the primary things we must prove in this episode is that we can bring STAR TREK in on budget. As a result, budget and cost is very important to us on this one. My hope is that we can use at least fifty percent of the music from the previous show and devise the rest with an eye to doing the best possible job at the least in men and time. Because this is so important, it is probably wise that you have this script well in advance so that you can begin to do some thinking on it. 
Assume the deal has been made -- if not, or if there are any problems, please let me know immediately. I the meantime, looking forward to seeing you soon.
The production's plan to reuse music from the first pilot in "Where No Man Has Gone Before" was ultimately abandoned. On November 29, 1965 (the same day Courage recorded his score for the second pilot), Ed Perlstein wrote a memo to Shirley Stahnke explaining the change in plans:
In as much as we will not be using any of the music with respect to the first "Star Trek" pilot film in connection with the second "Star Trek" pilot film and the amount of original music that will be composed, arranged and conducted by Alexander Courage will be equal to, if not more than the original 25 to 26 minutes of music originally scored, it is agreed that Alexander Courage will receive a fee of $2,000 instead of $1,2500 for conducting, composing and arranging for the second "Star Trek" pilot film.
Alexander Courage's score for the second Star Trek pilot featured a new theme, although the production ultimately opted to use Courage's theme music from "The Menagerie" when Star Trek became a weekly series. December 1965, the month after the score was recorded, is when David Alexander claims Roddenberry wrote his lyrics to Courage's (first) Star Trek theme, but in fact, Roddenberry wouldn't pen his lyrics until a full year after this date.

At some point in late 1966, Desilu made an agreement with Dot Records to have Charles Randolph Grean record a pop version of the Star Trek theme. On December 2, 1966, Ed Perlstein sent a memo to Howard Rayfiel, the resident counsel for Desilu Productions, along with the Dot Records contract for the recording of the Star Trek theme:
The contract indicated the composer as Alexander Courage but I inserted the name of Gene Roddenberry with Alexander Courage because Gene is writing the lyrics to the Star Trek theme even though the record which has been prepared for distribution, which, incidentally, will be released within the next week or so, does not contain lyrics. The proper composers and lyricists for receipt of their share of royalties are Alexander Courage and Gene Roddenberry. 
Gene has advised me he is currently writing the lyrics and will be submitting them shortly. The covering letter requests that we furnish Dot with the author, which we have, the publisher, which is the Bruin Music Company, and copyright registration data, which I am sure you have, and two copies of the music and lyrics of said composition. I am enclosing herewith two copies of the music for the composition.
The contracts cannot be returned to Dot until we have the lyrics and I am sure, by copy of this memo, Gene will get to it and get the lyrics to you as quickly as possible.
A week later, on December 9, 1966, as the record was about to be released, Roddenberry sent his lyrics to Perlstein along with a short note:
Per your request, attached are my STAR TREK lyrics. 
Is this sufficient?
Although Roddenberry's lyrics have been printed elsewhere (Inside Star Trek: The Real Story includes the sheet music with the lyrics on pages 179-182), eagle-eyed fans will notice a slight difference between Roddenberry's initial version of the lyrics (below) and those which were later printed on the sheet music and reproduced elsewhere:
    STAR TREK     
Beyond the rim of the star light
My love is wandering in star flight
I know he'll find in star clustered reaches
Love, strange love, a star woman teaches 
I know his journey ends never
His star trek will go on forever
But tell him while he wanders his galaxy
Remember me
Although the album had been recorded and manufactured prior to the date when Roddenberry actually wrote the lyrics, contractually, that didn't matter -- Roddenberry would receive half the music royalties related to the record, in addition to any other use of the theme.

The arrangement between Star Trek and Dot Records and Charles Randolph Grean appears to have gone well. On December 14, 1966, Herb Solow sent Ed Perlstein a memo encouraging him to pursue the record deal with Dot Records, because "the more time we can get the name 'STAR TREK' in front of the buying public, the better it is for all of us." Ten days after he submitted his lyrics, on December 19, 1966, Roddenberry sent Ed Perlstein a memo requesting promotional copies of the record and inquiring about a proposed album by Leonard Nimoy:
Reference promotional copies of the STAR TREK theme record, this office could use five dozen of them for “thank you” give-aways to science fiction “greats” who are currently helping us out on a mail campaign, and other similar places. 
In the matter of the Leonard Nimoy album, since it will undoubtedly contain something of the STAR TREK theme, I would expect to receive a lyric royalty. And, since “Mr. Spock” is a creation of mine (maintained against some odds) I would like to have some voice in the nature and direction of this album, nor do I feel that a special arrangement with myself and Norway Corporation on profits from that album would be at all out of order. 
Reference both items in the preceding paragraph, would very much appreciate an answering memo on them at your earliest convenience. 
-- Quoted by Herb Solow and Bob Justman, Inside Star Trek: The Real Story (1966), p.184 
When the promotional records finally arrived at Desilu, Ed Perlstein sent Gene Roddenberry a memo, dated January 11, 1967:
I am delivering to you some four to six dozen records (I haven't counted them) which were ordered by me from Dot at a cost of 15¢ per record which we are charging to earnings from the Dot recording deal and any other record deals we may make on STAR TREK. This is per your request for submitting records to various science fiction writers, etc. 
In a previous letter which I forwarded to you which included a letter from Dot, Dot indicated they had neglected to put your name down as author of the lyrics in the first Dot release but will do so in connection with future releases of this Dot record.
Although Dot Records would credit Roddenberry on at least one other version of the Star Trek theme they released (1967's Mr. Spock's Music from Outer Space), subsequent re-releases of the version recorded by The Charles R. Grean Sounde in 1972 and 1975 still omitted Roddenberry's name, crediting only Courage.

The Leonard Nimoy record deal, of course, went through and led to a number of successful albums. After concluding the recording sessions on the first, Charles Grean wrote to Ed Perlstein in which he praised Nimoy's performance.
The finished album has eleven numbers -- six of them vocals and recitations by Leonard (who, incidentally, did a wonderful job and was most cooperative). Although it is really no concern of mine, I think Nimoy should be given a higher percentage than you have offered him, since he actually performs on more than half of the album, and since he worked so hard and so efficiently to make this an outstanding record. He also will do a great promotion job for the album, and has shown the ability to do this while in New York the past few days. Again, I say, this probably isn't any of my business, but since Desilu will receive money from four copyrights, I think Leonard deserves his proportionate share. I have not discussed this with him.
Nimoy's first album -- the aforementioned Mr. Spock's Music from Outer Space -- included a version of Courage's Star Trek theme. When the royalty money from the record arrived at Desilu, Ed Perlstein issued a memo to Art Baron (with royalty recipients Gene Roddenberry, Gene Coon, Wilbur Hatch, Lalo Schifrin, and Alexander Courage on carbon copy) detailing money to be paid to the composers of the various compositions on the album. When Courage saw the following line item, it must have prompted him to call Roddenberry and ask him to explain the situation:
Alexander Courage (composer) $ 77.06 
Gene Roddenberry (lyricist)    77.05 
Bruin Music Company          154.11 
The content of that conversation is unknown, but Roddenberry's written follow-up to Courage, dated October 3, 1967, is not:
Dear Sandy: 
After the telephone conversation with you, I sat down and spent some time going over old notes and jogging my memory regarding our conversations so long ago regarding STAR TREK music. Perhaps this will help refresh your memory -- in my old office, the small bungalow across the lot, you and I sat down one afternoon and discussed sharing the credits on the music. I recall very distinctly that you shook your head and stated you would naturally prefer not to split the money on the theme but, on the other hand, since this was the way it was and since we were working closely together on the concept you would go along with it. You may recall that shortly afterwards I assigned you to do the theme on POLICE STORY, unfortunately not sold, and did not ask for a similar arrangement since I had no strong notions about that music and did not expect to work as closely with you on it. 
I think you know it has never been my way or policy to be unfair. On the other hand, I have always considered handshake agreements not only to be as binding as written agreements but also more important. I am certain you feel the same way and intend no effort to violate such agreement. 
I am sending the enclosed to you in all hopes that a reference to your old notes on the subject will recall to your mind that conversation.
Although Inside Star Trek: The Real Story indicated that Courage's absence* during the second season was due to the composer being upset over splitting the royalties, as I wrote previously, the vast majority of the second season's original scores had already been recorded by the time Courage seems to have been made aware of anything unusual with his royalties from the theme music.

*As several readers have pointed out -- and as I wrote about last year -- Courage wasn't totally absent during the second season, as was asserted by Solow and Justman in Inside Star Trek: The Real Story and has been repeated in various places online. In fact, on June 16, 1967, he conducted thirty minutes of library music (much of it newly composed), as well as a new arrangement of the Star Trek theme.

Image from 'Where No Man Has Gone Before' courtesy of Trek Core.

Editor's Note: A few readers have asked if I will be reviewing Marc Cushman's These Are The Voyages - TOS: Season Two. If I get my hands on a copy of the book, I will certainly take a look at it, but I won't be spending any money on it. In other news, I'll be moving next week. While I'm getting settled in my new place, it might be a while until I manage to write anything new. If you'd like to drop me a line while I'm away, ask me a question, or send me behind-the-scenes documents, feel free to contact me using the form to the right.


The Gene Roddenberry Star Trek Television Series Collection (1964-1969)

Star Trek Creator: The Authorized Biography of Gene Roddenberry (David Alexander, 1994)

Inside Star Trek : The Real Story (Herbert F. Solow and Robert H. Justman, 1996)

Star Trek: The Original Series Soundtrack Collection (Liner Notes by Jeff Bond, 2012)


  1. And of course Courage conducted the recording of the theme for season 2 and composed quite a bit of library music for that season.

  2. Absolutely. By my count, Courage wrote more than twenty minutes of new music for the second season. Those library cues may actually be some of Courage's most memorable music for the series.

    It occurs to me now that I didn't thank several TrekBBS posters who answered my questions and offered tidbits of information while I was writing this post: bbailey861, BeatleJWOL, Daddy Todd, M, and M'Sharak. Everyone's input was much appreciated on this one.

  3. Thanks for the interesting post, and best of luck with the move!

  4. I heard this music played by the Boston Pops last night, in their "Out of This World with Leonard Nimoy" performance. Hearing it played by a full orchestra, with Mr. Nimoy sitting right there, I started crying. Admittedly, I'm usually a sap, but this took me by surprise. I've heard the Star Trek theme HOW many hundreds of times? But hearing it played by a full orchestra (and with Leonard Nimoy sitting 25 feet away), I was gone by the time they played those first four notes.

    Mr. Nimoy was adorably playful with the conductor, and he looked surprisingly healthy. Those airport photos of Mr. Nimoy in a wheelchair with an oxygen tube alarmed all of us, but he didn't cough or clear his throat at all, and he walked on and off the stage at a pace that I hope *I* can move at when I'm 83, so his COPD didn't seem to be bothering him much.

    Mr. Nimoy read some prepared text before each piece of music, and he's still got it! There were some funny lines, some moving lines, and some informative lines, and Mr. Nimoy did them all beautifully. There were some lines that seemed as if they were far too long for a normal person to say in one breath, but a trained actor who's played the Enterprise's Science Officer laughs at info dump lines. :-)