An Interview with Richard Compton Jr.


1. What was your perception of Gene Roddenberry's attitude toward gays and lesbians?

Gene was a highly intelligent, enlightened man who had a number of gay and lesbian employees on his personal staff. He hired Ernest Over, who was gay, as his driver and eventually placed so much trust and confidence in him that he made him his personal assistant. Ernest Over drafted the 1991 statement to The Advocate for Gene, stating that gay and lesbian crewmembers would begin to appear in fall episodes of The Next Generation. Ernie was the only person Gene took with him to the last meetings he had with Paramount. Since Gene pushed the limits in terms of featured characters who were non-white, I believe he was ready to take the next step and push past homophobic barriers.

He certainly had gays and lesbians at parties at his home. I first met with Majel Barrett Roddenberry and Ernie Over at the French Quarter, a gay restaurant in West Hollywood, and can tell you that she was absolutely comfortable there.

2. Did that attitude apply to your step-mother Dawn Roddenberry?

No, unfortunately, it did not. I remember an incident when I was still living with Dawn and my father on his yacht, the Magnifico, during the annual powerboat races in Marina Del Rey. She was watching a group of gay men on a nearby boat and turned to me and said, "That's disgusting. I can't stand fags." I was fifteen or so and having sex on the beach with other guys ... so I kept my mouth shut around her.

3. Why do you think she had that attitude, considering her father's openness?

Gene was a workaholic and might be described as a "studio father", so Dawn was raised almost exclusively by her mother, Eileen. Eileen had led a very sheltered life and had some rather parochial attitudes.

Dawn may have been rebelling a bit, too. Gene did not approve of her relationship with my father, who was an handsome older man with money that came from some questionable sources. I personally think Dawn was attracted to my father because she was looking for someone to replace her father and give her the kind of lifestyle she expected to have with her father.

4. How did Dawn Roddenberry and your father meet?

She and Susan Sackett, Gene's secretary, were visiting the marina where the yacht was docked. My father was sleeping late after a party and I was working on the deck. Dawn --who was quite pretty with long auburn hair-- asked if she could come aboard and look at the boat, so I woke up my father to see if it was okay ... and the rest is history.

5. There's a story being circulated on AOL by representatives of Paramount that Ernie Over drafted and released the 1991 statement about gays and lesbians on Star Trek without Roddenberry's permission. What's your reaction to that?

Ernest Over has too much integrity to ever do such a thing. I think he drafted the statement at Gene's request and with his input. I think Gene signed off on it and I think Ernest presented it to The Advocate at Gene's request because Gene was ill. I suggest you talk to Ernest if you want to clarify that issue.

Ernest was the person who gave me a personal tour of the Star Trek set and offices after Gene's death --where he spoke about some of the changes going on. We try to keep in touch..

6. What were your impressions of the set?

It was interesting to see how they do the magic ... take the pieces of something that's very ordinary and functional and through the magic of camera angles and framing make it into somthing extraordinary ... something that looks like more than the sum of its parts. You might see a doorway and a sidewalk where actors say their lines, but when the show airs you'll see an entire building with a valley in the background --or a planetary landscape outside what's an empty window during taping.

7. What was it like knowing your step-grandfather was the producer of Star Trek?

It was exciting. I had developed a strong interest in science fiction. Like many people, I watched TOS as a kid. Spock was my favorite character. I remember I hated Captain Kirk. Later, after my mother divorced my father, I lived with her and her second husband, George Stevens, who worked at North American Rockwell. George was on the design team for the Saturn rockets ... so not only was I watching Star Trek, I was visiting Rockwell, touring the plant, watching heat shield tests. I got to meet the astronauts. I had models of all the rockets ... and the Enterprise. George bought me a telescope. Testing had revealed that I had a high I.Q., so I was enrolled in the California Gifted Students program and encouraged to pursue an interest in the sciences. When Dawn and my natural father married, I was intensely interested in making a connection with my new grandfather.

8. Why was Spock your favorite?

Spock was an intellectual character with fascinating powers. He seemed to have more depth --and he had great physical strength which he restrainted. I liked the way he could throw people around when he had to fight, including Kirk. He had control of his environment, which was something I didn't have at that time. I remember concocting a whole culture and history of Vulcan based on a few bits and pieces mentioned during the series. In fact, I have an idea for a novel set on Vulcan based on the life and times of the great Vulcan philosopher Surak.

9. In your statement, you say you've suffered deeply because of anti-gay hatred. Can you talk a bit about that?

Yes, I can. Three things come immediately to mind.

First, when my natural mother remarried after the death of George Stevens, she married a homophobe. When he discovered I was gay, he refused to allow my mother to have any contact with me --and went as far as to write the military a letter telling them I was gay in an attempt to get me dishonorably discharged. I still cannot visit or call my mother --except secretly. While I've offered her help in leaving him, she has not been able to make a break.

Second, when I was about 24 and working in New Mexico, I invited a couple of people I had just met to stop off at my place for some dinner. Apparently, one of them found my stash of X-rated gay magazines in the bathroom while searching for drugs, because there was never any mention of my sexual orientation. When he returned to the kitchen, where I was cooking, he stabbed me eight times in the stomach and then spun me around and sliced through my jugular. Blood exploded all over the room and --in a complete panic and rush of adrenalin-- I hurled him away and burst through my trailer door to get some help from the neighbors. When the police arrived to interview me at the hospital and discovered that I was gay, one of the officers said "You got what you deserved." I left New Mexico as soon as I was released from the hospital.

Third, when I decided to come out while working at Mobil Oil Corporation, I was immediately transferred from a fast track job at the Torrance refinery with a great deal of responsibility to a dead end job in the sticks. I became so depressed and angry, I went on disability and left the firm.

10. Those are three horrifying stories. I guess my next question ought to be whether or not you think that a gay or lesbian character on Star Trek would have made a difference in terms of what happened to you.

Like you, I have no illustions about one program ending homophobia in our time. At the website, you talk about the boom in black programming and black roles on television, yet we know that racism is still with us and that we still don't see black life in America accurately reflected despite all the black-oriented programming that exists. However, the programming we do see is changing lives and attitudes. A well-conceived, multi-dimensional, positive gay character on Trek might not stop all gay-bashing or job discrimination, but it might stop some ... and it might empower gay and lesbian kids so that they are less likely to become victims.

11. At what point in your life, did you come out? Did Gene know you were gay?

It's been a long, gradual process --perhaps more difficult for me because of all the instability inherent in my parent's relationships and my father's shady character. I didn't have your average American middle class family life, except during my mother's marriage to George Stevens. When he died, my mother and I both had a very difficult time. No. I didn't get to come out to Gene before he died. I have no idea whether he had heard any rumors about me, but I'm sure it wouldn't have mattered. As David Alexander implied to you when you spoke recently, Gene would probably have taken advantage of the proximity of another gay person to get my opinion on the representation of gay characters.

As for coming out, physically, I started experimenting with other little boys when I was about 5 years old --though we were basically just looking and touching. Later, when George Stevens moved the family from Southern California to rural Northwestern Canada at 11 or 12, I used to play around with a boy from a neighboring farm. Then, I learned a little more about what boys can do with other boys at military school. When I ran away from military school after my step-father died, my mother sent me back. The next time I ran away, I resolved to go find my father in Marina Del Rey. I got picked up by a straight trucker who got drunk and raped me.

By the time I got to Marina Del Rey and met a handsome young man one night while walking on the beach, I was ready for a more positive sexual experience. I used to sneak off my father's boat to meet guys on the beach on a regular basis. While sexually active, I certainly wasn't out --not even to myself. I continued to describe myself as a bisexual well into my twenties, even at the time of the stabbing.

I think my life might have been different if I had stayed in Seattle, where I met some wonderful gay men who helped me get a job and find an apartment. I had started the process of coming out and was meeting a stable group of men, who could have become my gay family. I had taken the GED in New Mexico in order to get out of high school early and enroll in college --and I was looking at a school in Seattle. But my mother, who had cut off support when I moved out of the house, swept into my apartment one day and offered to pay my expenses if I enrolled at a school in New Mexico because she had become aware of my Seattle lifestyle and wasn't happy about it.

The day I went to New Mexico, I went right back into the closet. Then, came the stabbing. Later, when I went to work for Mobil, I started out in a job that had me working 7 days a week for 12-16 hours a day. This went on for four months and --like Gene-- I started using drugs to get through it ... and it became a problem. I cleaned up --and got into the executive program. But when I came out --which was part of dealing with some underlying issues I had-- and was banished to oblivion, I developed a problem again.

Now, I'm completely out --including being upfront and honest about my HIV positive status-- and I want to make a contribution to the gay community on a number of levels. As I said in my statement, I whole-heartedly support the Voyager Visibility Project. It's appalling that the studio still hasn't honored my grandfather's wishes. I'm speaking out because I feel a strong connection to his vision, as well as a responsibility as a gay man. I'm also perhaps the only relative who is willing and capable of speaking to this issue. If the studio doesn't take some action on this proposal soon, I think a boycott of Viacom, the company that owns Paramount, may be in order.

12. What's this about a suit that Eileen, Dawn and your father brought against Majel and Paramount over profits from Star Trek?

It's a fairly byzantine situation and one that may keep Majel from involving herself in anything that a nasty, conservative lawyer might consider detrimental to the Star Trek franchise, such as your project. She has to be very careful about what she says until this is over.

Eileen Roddenberry, Gene's first wife, and Dawn Roddenberry Compton, my step-mother and Gene's daughter by his first wife, are suing Majel Barrett Roddenberry, Gene's second wife, and Paramount for fifty percent of all proceeds from Star Trek. An appeals court judge recently ruled against them, but they may appeal that ruling.

Darlene Roddenberry, Dawn's sister and Gene's first daughter by Eileen --Darlene was not involved in the suit by the way--, recently died and Majel has arranged for her ashes, along with Gene's, to be interred in space courtesy of NASA and the space shuttle. Dawn is angry with Majel because Majel didn't immediately inform her of Darlene's death, even though they were not on friendly terms and Dawn never informed me or my father's family of his death after a long illness during which she kept him in seclusion with her. We only found out through Majel a year and a half later. My father died with a fortune larger than Gene's, but Dawn was the sole beneficiary.

Now, Dawn is contesting Darlene's will, just as she contested Gene's will ... and lost her portion of the inheritance as a result of the fact that she wanted more than he left her.

My sister and I have decided to sue Dawn because I believe she defrauded my father's estate and is now using the money to sue Majel and Paramount. Got all that? Incidentally, Gene and Majel had a son, Rod Roddenberry, who is Dawn and Darlene's half-brother and my uncle. He's in his early twenties. As far as I know, he's not suing anybody.