Monday, October 6, 2014

Read Gene Roddenberry's Letter to Gene Coon about 'Spectre of the Gun'

Still from "Spectre of the Gun" (1968)

In early July of 1968, Gene Roddenberry was mostly absent from the Star Trek offices on the Paramount lot. Instead, he was at National General Pictures, writing a treatment for a Tarzan feature that ultimately went unproduced. He must have felt the irony. Just the year before, he had been complaining to NBC that Star Trek was being hurt by a poor lead-in. The show in question? None other than Tarzan (1966-68), produced by Banner Productions, a division of National General.

Roddenberry wasn't entirely absent from Star Trek, however. As the show's executive producer, he had certain duties to meet. One of those duties included watching the final cut of each episode as it was completed, and delivering his comments to producer Fred Freiberger and co-producer Bob Justman. After screening 'Spectre of the Gun,' the first episode of the third season to go before the cameras, Roddenberry sent a short letter of appreciation to the episode's writer, former Star Trek producer Gene Coon:

National General Corporation
One Carthay Plaza, Los Angeles California 90048
[phone number redacted]
July 11, 1968
Mr. Gene Coon
4421 Huesta Court
Encino, California 91316
Dear Gene:
Just wanted you to know I saw a final cut on a rather bizarre type of western, written by a mutual friend of ours, and it looked very good indeed!
Just finished up the Tarzan screen treatment and am appalled to see that it runs over a hundred pages in total. Well, I guess it’s better to write more than I need than less -- easier to take out than to add, I hope.
How are things going? In case you want to get in touch with me and I’m not at Paramount, the National General number is: [phone number redacted] – Ext. 451 or 452.
Give my regards to all of yours.
Gene Roddenberry

Recently, it has been suggested that Coon and Roddenberry had a professional falling out partway through Star Trek's second season. Given the tenor of this letter, and the fact that the two writers collaborated on the script to The Questor Tapes (1974) just a few years later, I tend to view these claims with a healthy dose of skepticism, but I cannot comment on them definitively.

I can definitively comment, however, on the claim that "the episode is stamped with Gene Coon’s pseudonym, Lee Cronin, a moniker he slapped on all his show’s after leaving the series in the second year, when they were re-written." In actuality, there's no evidence that a writer other than Gene Coon wrote 'Spectre of the Gun' (the collections at UCLA include two story outlines and a teleplay for the episode -- all by Coon). According to Bob Justman:
'The Last Gunfight' was one of the stories that [Gene Coon] was developing at the time he left Star Trek. But now, Coon was working elsewhere on an exclusive contract, and legally he could write only for Universal Television, his new employer. Intending to honor that contract, Coon explained that he would not be able to write the teleplay for 'Gunfight.' Being a man of his word, however, Gene Coon arranged for 'Lee Cronin' to complete the assignment. It was filmed and retitled 'Spectre of the Gun.'
-Bob Justman, Inside Star Trek: The Real Story (1996), p.402 
Image courtesy of Trek Core.


The Paramount Collection, UCLA

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

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

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