Monday, October 13, 2014

Read Bob Justman's Resignation Letter from Star Trek (and Gene Roddenberry's Reply)

Gene Roddenberry and Bob Justman (1989)
The third season of Star Trek was not a pleasant time for Bob Justman. Although he had been bumped up from associate producer to co-producer, he felt slighted that Fred Freiberger had been named the show's producer instead of him. Likewise, his friends and collaborators were mostly gone. Gene Roddenberry, Gene Coon, D.C. Fontana, and John Meredyth Lucas all contributed scripts to the third season, but they were no longer a part of the day-to-day process of making the show. Nearly three decades later, Justman would write:
I despaired about the show's loss of quality. By the time episodes were filmed, whatever excitement existed in the original stories and scripts had been diluted by a rewriting process that was no longer overseen by Gene Roddenberry; it was now strictly budget-driven. There were no highs and no lows—just a boring in-between. My never-ending battle to cut costs without compromising quality had failed. The Star Trek I knew, and was proud to be a part of, was no more.
By the midpoint of the production season, I dreaded coming to work every day. It felt like being in prison—and I wanted out.
-Bob Justman, Inside Star Trek: The Real Story (1966), p.407
Nowhere is Justman's disappointment more clearly reflected than in his memos for Star Trek's third season. During the first and second seasons of the series, his nearly daily ritual of lengthy memo writing was as notable for its wry sense of humor as it was for its attention to detail. By the time the third season rolled around, however, many of Justman's memos were short* and humorless. As Justman would later say, "the thrill was gone."

Ultimately, as filming wrapped on 'That Which Survives,' the fourteenth episode of the season, Justman decided to walk away from Star Trek. It would be eighteen years before he was allowed to walk on the Paramount lot again, to help develop Star Trek: The Next Generation. As he was leaving, Justman took the time to write a letter of resignation to Gene Roddenberry, who had offered Justman the job of associate producer in 1964, and finally got him to take the job in 1965:
Mr. Robert Justman
[Address redacted]
Los Angeles 24, California
October 3, 1968
Mr. Gene Roddenberry
National General Corp.
6330 San Vicente
Los Angeles, California 90038
Dear Gene:
Evidently one of the eggs that the Great Bird Of The Galaxy laid a couple of years ago has finally hatched and the fledgling is ready to fly away.
You know that a young bird is always eager to try its wings because it feels it can soar like an eagle.
And yet, this young bird feels its heart wrenching at the thought of leaving the nest. It wants to stay with Poppa Bird and relive all the good and bad times they lived together. It’s funny how bad times either seem never to have existed, or else seem to have been transformed into the very best of times.
However, birds are like human beings. They can’t live their lives over again and the tenderness of their formative years can never really be recaptured. They'll have tender years later on, but they won’t be the same tender years and with the same tender people.
Remember what we said a few years ago? “... To explore strange new worlds. To seek out new life and new civilizations. To boldly go where no man has gone before.”
You taught me how to fly. I have to go where I've never gone before.

To his credit, Roddenberry showed no bitterness in his reply to Justman's resignation:

October 8, 1968
Mr. Robert Justman
780 North Gower Street
Hollywood, California 90038
Dear Bob:
I suppose everyone has a secret dream that he might someday do something important enough to justify a feature biographer rummaging through his papers. Your lovely letter is the kind of thing that he would hope he found there.
Just to keep the record straight, however, I learned a great deal from you during the years you mention. Star Trek could never have been made without your considerable talent and knowledge. Most important of all, I had your friendship.
Go boldly!

Special thanks to TrekBBS user and TOSGRAPHICS.COM proprietor feek61 for passing along the Bob Justman Profiles in History auction catalog from 2002, which includes a legible photograph of Roddenberry's reply to Justman's letter.

*When Bob Justman sold most of his original Star Trek files as part of a Profile in History auction in 2002, according to averages derived from figures in the auction catalog, he wrote 12.2 pages per episode in season one, 15.5 pages per episode in season two, and 5.9 pages per episode in season three (counting only the episodes that credit Justman as co-producer). Those aren't precise figures, since they only reflect what Mr. Justman put up for auction in 2002, but if the materials he donated to UCLA are any indication, his collection was remarkably intact at that time.

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)


  1. That's really interesting; thanks for posting that. I've read a lot of ugly things about Gene Roddenberry over the years, and I'm glad to read that he was gracious to Mr. Justman when Bob was leaving the series.

    I wonder what Season Three would have been like if Bob Justman had been made the main producer, and Freiberger hadn't been brought in. I guess we'll never know.

  2. Fantastic history as usual! Thank you!