Gene and Majel Roddenberry worked hard to raise their son in an environment that was as normal as possible — even in the midst of “Star Trek” becoming the cultural phenomenon that many recognize now.
So when young Rod Roddenberry was around, Gene and Majel never even mentioned the show. One could say they were even shielding the young boy from what was quickly making his father the most famous name in science-fiction.
By 1980, “Star Trek” was at its first peak, and many fans were still talking about “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” from the year before. At the same time, a 6-year-old Rod was starting school, completely oblivious to what was happening in pop culture.
But one thing Gene and Majel couldn’t control was Rod’s classmates.
Gene Roddenberry would actually recount that story to a People magazine reporter in 1987 when “Star Trek: The Next Generation” was launching in a recently unearthed story. But it does provide an interesting glimpse into the Roddenberry household of the time, and how much both Gene and Majel could play along.
“When Eugene ‘Rod’ Roddenberry III was 6 years old, his classmates noticed his last name was the same as that of the creator of TV’s space series cult phenomenon, ‘Star Trek,'” wrote reporter Ned Geeslin. “Since his parents had never discussed ‘Star Trek’ in front of him, Rod told his fellow first-graders that he was not related to the Roddenberry in question.”
What Rod didn’t know, however, was that he was wrong. Completely wrong. And that’s probably why his classmates insisted he was wrong. “So the boy finally decided to check out this ridiculous rumor for himself,” the story continued.
“Majel was preparing dinner at the time,” the older Roddenberry told Geeslin, with a smile. “Rod was unusually quiet. Finally, he blurted out, ‘Mr. Spock!’ Neither of us responded. Then he tried, ‘Capt. Kirk!’ Again, silence. So Rod went back to school to tell his pals they were crazy.”
By the time Gene shared that story with Geeslin, Rod was 13. And although he was no longer oblivious to Star Trek, the reporter was able to pick up on something Rod would talk about quite extensively later in life: “He was unimpressed.”
Geeslin would move on in the story to focus more on Gene and Majel, what was at the time a 17-year marriage, and about the Shinto marriage ceremony the two had in Asia.
“It seemed sacrilegious to hire an American minister in Japan,” Gene said at the time. “Majel had to carry a dagger so she could kill herself if I dishonored her. She also had to carry a purse of coins so she could get home, in case I changed my mind. And she had to wear a hat that hid the woman’s horns of jealousy.
“All I had to do was carry a fan to keep cool.”
With typical understatement and mock thoughtfulness, he added, “They’re kind of man-oriented.”
Gene, of course, had worked hard to try and bring a better gender balance to television, even casting Majel as the second-in-command in the original “Star Trek” pilot.
“Majel often questions my ideas about sexual equality, but it’s something I’ve always believed in,” Gene said. “I think they’re silly little creatures, but …”
“He believes in the equality of women,” Majel interrupted, “as long as it doesn’t interfere with his home life.”
And that probably says it all.