Bio and interview of Majel Barrett
Creation Presents MAJEL BARRETT
New York City, August 25-26, 1990
Aside from its creator, the "Great Bird of the Galaxy," no one
person has been more closely associated with Star Trek in all
its incarnations over the past 25 years than the great bird's wife,
Majel Barrett Roddenberry. From her role as the cool, enigmatic
"Number One" in the original series pilot, through 20 years as
Nurse (then Doctor) Christine Chapel, and finally a delightful trio
of appearances as Lwaxana Troi among Trek's "Next Generation,"
Majel has endeared herself to Star Trek fans the world over.
Since I had become an ardent Trekker only a couple of years
ago, and had seriously been attending conventions for only a few
months, I hadn't yet had the opportunity to see Majel "live" when
a flyer arrived from Creation Conventions announcing that she would
appear at their summer con at the Penta Hotel in New York City on
August 25-26. Attending the con would mean cutting short my
vacation on Cape Cod, but I immediately made arrangements to do so.
Majel (I don't think many of us are formal enough to call her
"Ms. Barrett" or "Mrs. Roddenberry") took the stage on Saturday
afternoon to a chorus of enthusiastic applause. She seemed
astounded at the number of people in the audience, asking, "Where
did you all come from??" Since she had been available to chat with
fans during most of the day at her Lincoln Enterprises table in the
dealers' room, she said she expected to see no one in the autograph
line after her talk. "Every single one of you already has my
autograph," she chuckled. Her plan for the day was to give us a
little updated news, then open the floor to questions. "If I don't
know the answer," she said, "I'll make one up."
Filling most of her time these days is the redecoration of the
Roddenberry home, which was built over 50 years ago as Cary
Grant and Barbara Hutton's "honeymoon cottage." Gene and Majel
found the house's two bedrooms insufficient, and have added two
new wings (including a "children's wing" for son Rod) to the home
they purchased two years ago. Renovation/redecoration has been
no simple task, she explained; workers who showed up to begin the
project two years ago seem to have looked on it as a "career move."
The work that's been completed is a success, though -- 16-year-old
Rod and his friends are apparently delighted with his new "wing"
and bunk room, as each weekend morning his parents find anywhere up
to a dozen young people in Rod's quarters, eager for breakfast.
According to Majel, Gene's frequent question is, "Don't their
parents ever feed them at home?"
The Roddenberry heir is at "a terrible age," says Majel, who
thinks it would be a good idea to turn over the world's governments
to teenagers "while they still know everything." Rod worked as a
gofer for his parents during the summer, until he became bored with
his duties -- when he discovered Majel and Gene wouldn't "make him
producer," he quickly moved on to something else. Joking aside,
Majel mentioned that Rod now holds a second degree brown belt in
jujitsu, and may represent the United States if that sport becomes
a part of the Olympic games in 1996.
Majel's newest hobby is the growing of orchids, which she
loves and says she raises on the "rotation system...I buy them,
they die, I buy them, they die." Pleased with the fact that "I
really have to work hard to kill them," she decided to use the
flowers to decorate her home for a party, only to discover that a
mere three out of 500 plants were in bloom!
Moving on to questions about the original Star Trek cast,
Majel assured the audience that there will be a sixth Trek motion
picture, but she felt certain that it will not be ready for the
25th anniversary in September 1991 since the studio does not yet
have a script to work with. Much of the problem with ST VI and
future films, she explained, is the fact that the classic cast have
"outpriced themselves": William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy each
command $6 million up front for their participation, adding
enormously to the budget for any Star Trek film. The same problem
holds true for "Next Generation." With production costs (now
budgeted at $1.6 million per episode) and actors' salaries rising
each year, she predicted that the series will continue only through
the sixth season with the present cast. At that point, the "Next
Generation" will move on to films, and the TV berth will be filled
with a third cast. To fans concerned about Star Trek coming to an
end, she promised, "As long as the thing is making money, there
will be more."
The fifth motion picture she thought suffered mainly from a
"bad story" and not from poor direction. "I think Bill is a
marvelous director," she said firmly, citing the intimate scenes
between the Kirk/Spock/McCoy triad as examples of Shatner's
ability. Would she be interested in directing a Star Trek movie?
"Are you out of your mind?" was her reply. And what about writing?
She declined that idea also, saying, "I can barely sign my name to
the bottom of a check."
In answer to questions about her role as the original Number
One in "The Cage," Majel said the network (NBC) had
vehemently objected to the character, convinced that no one in the
viewing public would stand for a woman in a second-in-command
position. Her husband, given the choice between keeping Mr. Spock
(whom the network also hated) or the woman character, "kept
the Vulcan and married the woman, 'cause he didn't think Leonard
would have it the other way around."
Her heart was broken by losing the role of "Number One," but
she kept an eye on the early "Star Trek" scripts, hoping a good,
solid new role would present itself. In the fourth or fifth script
she discovered the role of a French doctor named Christine who was
searching for her missing fiancee. This eventually evolved into
Christine Chapel. "I never particularly cared for Christine,"
Majel noted, explaining that she was a "wishy-washy" character who
accepted without question a demotion from doctor to nurse, and then
proceeded to fall in love with someone "who only comes into heat
once every seven years. Let's face it, this broad's a real loser."
What were her favorite episodes of the classic series? "The
ones I had the most to do in," she replied, but for sheer story
value her favorites were "City on the Edge of Forever" and "The
Naked Time." To classic Trek fans who were opposed to the idea of
a new Star Trek series, she pointed out that there's plenty of room
for both and that the new show serves to "replenish, not replace"
the Star Trek cast of characters. She does agree that the original
cast is getting a little "long in the tooth" at this point, and
laughingly noted that "we no longer take coffee breaks, they're
Geritol breaks." When asked if any of the classic cast would be
appearing on "Next Generation," she said Nichelle Nichols has been
lobbying to appear as Guinan's daughter.
While she enjoyed playing "Number One," Lwaxana Troi is
Majel's favorite Star Trek acting chore to date. She was more than
willing to take part in the new series from the beginning, but the
proper occasion didn't arise until Gene came home one afternoon
to announce that he had found a perfect role for his wife. "And
it's something you don't have to act in." In response to the fans'
positive reaction to Lwaxana, plans are underway to feature
Counselor Deanna Troi's irascible mother in her own half-hour
situation comedy series on the new Sci-Fi cable channel. For that
show, Lwaxana will serve as the "roving ambassador of protocol" for
the Federation, with a new husband (actor Harvey Korman has been
approached for this role) and a home on Earth. Though the series
will be called "Lwaxana in the 24th Century," Majel feels the show
should focus equally on Lwaxana and her husband, since "too much
of Lwaxana is not particularly a good thing." Executives at the
Sci-Fi channel are very enthused about the project, and Majel
indicated that it might well serve as one of the new channel's two
original productions for 1991.
Lwaxana will definitely return to "Next Generation" during the
fourth season, Majel said. Producer Rick Berman told her two
Lwaxana stories had been received as of sometime in August, "one
terrible and one pretty good," but she hadn't yet been told what
this season's story line would involve. She feels that Lwaxana is
a good addition to the "Next Generation" cast, providing the spur
that turns the normally unflappable Jean-Luc Picard into "jelly"
and "shows he's not a hundred percent steel." She enjoys the
interplay between Lwaxana and Deanna and feels there's a lot of
room left for character development between the two.
A member of the audience asked whether Majel could tell what
would happen during the conclusion of "Best of Both Worlds"
(an episode she thought was "sensational"), which has yet to be
aired at that point. "Yes, I could tell you," she replied. "If I
wanted to." All the "Next Generation" cast members would be
returning for the fourth season, she told the crowd, though Wil
Wheaton would be appearing only in the first few episodes and would
then be going on to college at UCLA. Wil, whom she referred to as
"a brilliant young man," had graduated high school the previous
spring with a 3.8 grade point average and had been receiving
"tremendous" movie offers he was forced to turn down because of his
commitment to the series. Since he has "only a secondary role" on
"Next Generation," Majel agreed wholeheartedly with his decision to
go on to school and starring roles in feature films, returning to
Star Trek when the time to do so is available.
To a fan who asked if Jonathan Frakes would be leaving the
series, she replied, "Lord, no!" and said Frakes is scheduled to
direct at least two episodes during the coming season. In general,
she noted, "Next Generation" has a "very,very happy cast -- they're
loving each other and loving what they're doing."
Was doing the nude scene in "Menage a Troi" difficult for her?
"I wasn't naked," she protested. "That was Marina. She's an
animal...I was afraid she was going to sell tickets." When asked
to expand on her personal view of Lwaxana, she said she sees her
character as the Auntie Mame of the galaxy, someone "wild and
free," who "reads minds and takes it totally for granted." She
believes Lwaxana has "a marvelous shallowness, with deep caring and
To conclude her talk on Sunday afternoon, Majel read sections
of a long speech written by her husband. The portion that stuck
in my mind (and hasn't yet come unstuck!) was Gene's reflection on
the isolation of our small solar system. We've managed to take
tentative steps to explore the system, but since the nearest
neighboring star is over four light years away, exploration of any
other system is nowhere within our present reach. In essence, Gene
asked: what makes us think we aren't stuck in our own back yard
for a reason? All of life is filled with a marvelous sense of order
and purpose, and it certainly would be (to quote our favorite
Vulcan) logical to believe that we've been locked inside the Sol
system to wreak havoc only among ourselves until we've come nearer
to our adulthood as a species. Listening to Majel read her
husband's words, it was easy to imagine the Great Bird there in the
auditorium as well.
As for Majel herself, I found her much like Lwaxana: salty,
talkative, irreverent, enthusiastic...and certainly "with deep
caring and niceness underneath." Her popularity among the fans
seems well-deserved, and leaving Cape Cod to spend a couple of
hours getting to know her was far from being a wasted trip. I look
forward to seeing the continuing adventures of Lwaxana Troi on
"Next Generation," and to encountering Majel again on SeaTrek next
To appear in the JAN/FEB 1991 issue of IMZADI, The Official Marina
Sirtis Newsletter. Editor William S. McCullars.
Written By Carol Davis.
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