“She was a very, very tough lady,” Mr. Skotak said. “She carried a phaser with her right up to the end.” https://t.co/jH3MxZQyHi
— Alexandra Petri (@petridishes) December 4, 2019
I’ve always thought of Fontana as the Mother of All Trekkies — she showed us it was possible. Yes, of course, that women could succeed at writing ‘action shows’ for television (which was no small thing). But also that women — we — could play with the two-dimensional sci-fi Wagon-Train-to-the-Stars characters (mysterious dark alien, stalwart trickster captain, hard-bitten hard-drinking medical man) and make something worth sharing. She certainly wasn’t the first to turn fanfic into a living (I can’t be the only one who wanted, back in the day, to see Nimoy and Shatner do a turn as Sherlock and Watson) but she gave a STEM-curious generation the key to a particular door…
D.C. Fontana, who helped craft the lore of the 1960s television series “Star Trek” and developed one of its signature characters, Spock, as the show’s first female writer, died on Tuesday at a hospital in Burbank, Calif. She was 80.
Her husband and only immediate survivor, Dennis Skotak, said the cause was cancer.
Ms. Fontana was part of the “Star Trek” universe from its early days, working alongside the show’s creator, Gene Roddenberry, as a story editor and writer…
In a 2013 interview with StarTrek.com, the franchise’s official website, Ms. Fontana said she thought her greatest contribution to the franchise had been “primarily the development of Spock as a character and Vulcan as a history/background/culture from which he sprang.”
She fleshed out the character’s back story as the child of a human mother and a Vulcan father while she was a story editor and associate producer for “Star Trek: The Animated Series” in the 1970s. She later wrote, with Mr. Roddenberry, the pilot that launched “Star Trek: The Next Generation” in 1987.
Dorothy Catherine Fontana was born on March 25, 1939, in Sussex, N.J. She was raised by a single mother in Totowa, N.J., and dreamed of becoming a novelist, she said in an interview with the Writers Guild Foundation in 2014.
After high school, she studied to become a secretary at Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey. She told the foundation that she had thought that clerical work would be a good day job for an aspiring novelist, but that her goals had changed when she became a secretary at Columbia Pictures’ television arm, which was based in New York.
When her boss died of a heart attack, leaving her jobless after just two months, she decided to move to California, in December 1959, to see if she could break into television writing. She achieved early success selling scripts to western series, which were popular in the early 1960s, including “The Tall Man,” “Shotgun Slade” and “Frontier Circus.” …
Ms. Fontana wrote for all three seasons of the original series. She later wrote for other science fiction shows, including “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine,” “The Six Million Dollar Man” and “Babylon 5,” as well as influential series outside that genre like “Bonanza,” “Dallas” and “The Waltons.” …
Speaking to StarTrek.com in 2013, Ms. Fontana reflected on what it was like to be a female writer in Hollywood in the 1960s. While working on “Star Trek,” she said, she did not realize that she had gone where no woman had gone before.
“At the time, I wasn’t especially aware there were so few female writers doing action adventure scripts,” she said. “There were plenty doing soaps, comedies, or on variety shows. By choosing to do action adventure, I was in an elite, very talented and very different group of women writers.”
From the blog The Objective Standard:
… [W]hat truly set Fontana apart was the artistic integrity of her own work. Consider, for example, “This Side of Paradise,” which tells the story of the “logical” Mr. Spock discovering emotions, falling in love, and being tempted to abandon his lifelong mission of discovery in order to remain in a seeming paradise forever. With its elegant dialogue and sympathetic tone, the episode evokes the viewer’s emotions but takes a firm stand against utopian fantasies and in favor of embracing the more rewarding challenges of real life. Reducing such a complex plot, profound ideas, and compelling character developments to a single hour-long episode was a remarkable achievement.
It was par for the course for Fontana, however, who earned a reputation for hard work and intense focus. “The first draft [a producer] gets is really my third or fourth draft, because I’m always refining,” she said. Conscious of the practical limitations of producing a series within money and time constraints, she was nevertheless committed to her artistic vision. “I just work at it so hard that I feel, this is what I want to say.”…
Asked once how she would like to be remembered, her answer was simple—and characteristically straightforward. “I would like to be remembered most just for being a damn good writer.”
Howard Beale IV
And the actor who played Pro on ST:DS9 has passed away…
DC Fontana and Rene Auberjonois, both gone. Dammit.
Goku (aka Amerikan Baka)
RIP DC Fontana.
One of my favorite episodes of hers was “Tomorrow is Yesterday”, from the original series. ST: OS was never my cup of tea, but it was what created Star Trek in the first place.
So, TIL, apparently in the TNG era they had a script manual available to everybody and they encouraged submissions for episode scripts from the public. How did CBS’ legal department let this happen?
Odo (aka René Auberjonois) also passed today.
May they boldly go where ever it is any of us go (or not go). I sometimes tend towards sequels, ie reincarnation, but who the heck are any of us kidding. We don’t know. IMO entropy is a fairly strong guess.
@Goku (aka Amerikan Baka): That was the most amazing thing about ST: anyone could submit a script. Hell, even I did! It didn’t get accepted, but what a cool thing to be able to do!
I did too, but they told me the network censors wouldn’t accept the holodeck scenes.
“but takes a firm stand against utopian fantasies and in favor of embracing the more rewarding challenges of real life.”
The more rewarding challenges of punching each other. This episode could have been written by Jack Webb in his Kill the Hippies phase.
Fondly remember Rene from Altman films like Brewster McCloud and McCabe and Mrs Miller.
A giant of popular culture has left us. R.I.P. DC Fontana.
@CaseyL: I never got a script accepted either, but I got on their pitch list. And man, did I feel Important going onto the Paramount lot for my pitch!
And, of course, she went by her first and middle initials professionally because women sci-fi writers were much less likely to be taken seriously.
She also wrote for Buck Rogers in the 25th Century and you all can shut up because 12-year-old me loved that show. The first season, anyway. I’m not saying I have it on DVD, but I’m not not saying it, either.
I looked up René Auberjonois on Wikipedia. He had a long career and leaves behind an impressive body of work, most of which I didn’t know about. R.I.P. Chef Louis.
Goku (aka Amerikan Baka)
Holy shit! That sucks : (
The actor who played Nog died this year too. My favorite DS9 episode was a Nog episode, “It’s Only a Paper Moon.”
Between DC Fontana and Odo, we lost Charlie X.
Of all the series, DS9 was my favorite, and in terms of character development, Odo was a close second to Worf.
Goku (aka Amerikan Baka)
Too bad the policy was axed during Enterprise, though as I understand it, it was mostly just a means to get your foot in the door to the writers’ room for professional freelancers. Everybody could submit unsolicited scripts, but it was usually the veterans you were competing with that got the pitch their ideas over the phone or in person.
Do you still have the script laying around, perchance?
Mmm, Erin Gray as Wilma . . .
“Buck’s in trouble! I’m going down!”
The chief engineer was the hard-drinking one, not the chief surgeon.
@oatler.: He was also Father Mulcahy in Altman’s film version of M*A*S*H. I first remember him playing Clayton, the snooty chief of staff on “Benson”.
Goku (aka Amerikan Baka)
They all got shit-faced drunk in one episode to be fair. But you’re right, it was Scotty. Honestly, early on, I don’t think it was clear what James Doohan’s character was supposed to be.
The same situation happened with Geordi La Forge too. Early in season one of TNG, he was supposed to be in the Command division because he wore red, but was later made Chief Engineer in season two. This almost didn’t happen as one of the engineers of the week in season one (the bearded one) was going to be made a recurring cast member, but there was something hinky done with the fan voting process, so that idea was scrapped
One of DC Fontana’s best Star Trek scripts was “Yesteryear”, probably the best-loved episode of the animated Star Trek series from the early 1970s. It managed to be a sequel to both “Amok Time” and “The City on the Edge of Forever”, and established a lot of material about Spock’s childhood that actually became solid Trek canon. All this in an story that was half the length of a normal Trek episode.
This has been a rough week for Trekkies. I think I saw on Twitter that Marina Sirtis’ husband passed away. What the hell… :(
@Steeplejack: Might you be available for a part in Project Merlin? We need some last minute consultation or driving if you’re up to it. t o m a t o q u e e n at gmail dot com . Thank you.
@Goku (aka Amerikan Baka): I don’t think so. It was written in 1991 for TNG, on a Mac Classic SE (!) which has since gone to Computer Heaven. I doubt I have a hardcopy anywhere. The plot involved a theatrical company traveling aboard the Enterprise, and a malevolent entity that wrecked havoc. The most fun was writing parts of a musical comedy version of MacBeth.
Went away for a while, to search for some info on Star Trek DS9.
Wound up watching on Netflix, a movie called Roll With Me.
The story of Gabriel Cordell, a paraplegic in a wheelchair trek across America, Santa Monica to New York.
I’m about 1/2 way through and this is an amazing story. I highly recommend it if you want to see humanity at it’s best, from some rather unlikely characters and complete strangers.
West of the Rockies
Now he’s really in trouble!
Couldn’t find the musical scene on its own but feel the ~40 seconds it runs apropos. Link is cued up to the start of that portion.
Fontana wrote some episodes for and was involved in the group’s fan-produced enterprises.
Villago Delenda Est
@Amir Khalid: As Spock commented in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, she was one of “The Giants.”
Villago Delenda Est
@Goku (aka Amerikan Baka): Which is notable in that it is focused around two supporting characters, not members of the main ensemble cast. Aaron Eisenberg sparkled in that one, wonderful performance. Nog is up there with Garak as two of my favorite DS9 supporting characters.
@Goku (aka Amerikan Baka): when i went to book store to buy the st book if the author is her i Will buy the book because I know it Will be a good read and I have been right all the time rip ms fontana
Just One More Canuck
And the puppeteer who played Big Bird (Caroll Spinney) passed away today as well
@Just One More Canuck: And the ambulance just took my neighbor away. The dude is very troubled and has had some serious mental health issues for a while. I hope he’s ok but they were pounding on his chest while they loaded him.
@TomatoQueen: For what it’s worth, I may be able to help out. I’m in Richmond, but planning to be in greater DC Thursday/Friday and should be delighted to assist a fellow Johnnie and Jackal.
Already got an email from Adam and replied to him. I can do it. I’ll send you my email address.
She was such a genius that it’s possible to appreciate her work without ever knowing what her gender/sex/whatevs was.
You’ve mentioned him before. Hope he’s okay.
@TomatoQueen: It appears all is in order. Standing down. Welcome Merlin!
I sent you an email. Let me know (here) or tell Adam if you don’t get it.
Ok so in a fit of drink-inspired nostalgia inspired by Anne Laurie Twitter postings I wondered, “I wonder what happened to billmon’s tweets with their martini glass icon? I just had a martini. I haven’t seen them in ages.” So I Googled and the all knowing Wikipedia says he deleted his Twitter account at the end of 2016. Has it really been that long? It doesn’t seem like it. Is that true? Does anyone know what he’s up to? What happened?
Just One More Canuck
@Raven: I hope he gets the help he needs
@Just One More Canuck: It’s a sad case, their house is falling apart and I don’t think he’s worked much since he lost his teaching job years ago. His wife works at the university library and I know she doesn’t make much so, at best, they are troubled.
Marina Sirtis (who played Counselor Troi on TNG) just tweeted that her husband has died. Bad time for Star Trek.
@Matt McIrvin: he also played a managing partner in Boston Legal with William Shatner and James Spader. I recently finished rewatching that series. It was even better than I remembered.
This is all so sad. Loved DC’s writing. Loved Rene in Benson years before DS9. Aaron I already knew about. And poor Marina – unimaginable pain. Belay that – unfortunately, I can imagine it quite well. Big Bird too?
Holding all who have suffered loss in the light.
she was one of the writers of the teleplay for city on the edge of forever. thank god, cause ellison’s original needed work (i mean, executions for drug dealing?).
she was fucking good, she was.
When I first read the post title I thought it was a bizarre death notice for Karl Rove. No such luck.
Bon Voyage DCF.
@chopper: Well, I believe Ellison’s original screenplay won the WGA Award for Best Screenplay.
It just wasn’t a Star Trek script (kinda understandable since he was playing in someone else’s playground in its first year…)
@rekoob: Thank you, it’s very kind of you. We’re doing the hand over on the 11th.
@Steeplejack: Sending a reply now. Thank you so much.
I think a fair number of women who wrote for TV at that time (not that there actually were that many who got work) did something similar, regardless of the genre. At a time before the Civil Rights Act, and before feminism really got going, it was extremely tough to be a woman in nearly any real profession.
@Goku (aka Amerikan Baka):
TOS took spec scripts, too, although I don’t know how open the process really was – David Gerrold wrote a whole book about the process of getting The Trouble with Tribbles made. (He wrote at least one other spec script for the show that didn’t get produced.)
@randy khan: It wasn’t just at that time and it isn’t just in script writing, from an experiment done in the early 2010’s:
“In their study, Moss-Racusin and her colleagues created a fictitious resume of an applicant for a lab manager position. Two versions of the resume were produced that varied in only one, very significant, detail: the name at the top. One applicant was named Jennifer and the other John. Moss-Racusin and her colleagues then asked STEM professors from across the country to assess the resume. Over one hundred biologists, chemists, and physicists at academic institutions agreed to do so. Each scientist was randomly assigned to review either Jennifer or John’s resume.
The results were surprising—they show that the decision makers did not evaluate the resume purely on its merits. Despite having the exact same qualifications and experience as John, Jennifer was perceived as significantly less competent. As a result, Jenifer experienced a number of disadvantages that would have hindered her career advancement if she were a real applicant. Because they perceived the female candidate as less competent, the scientists in the study were less willing to mentor Jennifer or to hire her as a lab manager. They also recommended paying her a lower salary. Jennifer was offered, on average, $4,000 per year (13%) less than John.”
OK, now I want to find episodes of “Frontier Circus”! Looked it up on IMDB and it had a *great* freaking cast!