Sunday, November 1, 2020

Looking Back at D.C. Fontana

On December 4th of last year I wrote the following piece on the late television scribe, Dorothy Fontana....

Written by D.C. Fontana

Dorothy Catherine Fontana, perhaps better known as “D.C. Fontana”, was an important force in creating Star Trek and its mythology. Credit too often goes to the Great Bird of the Galaxy himself, Gene Roddenberry, as being the great all-encompassing creator of Star Trek. As noted by Desilu studio exec Herb Solow and associate producer Robert Justman, there were many stellar contributors to the show that started it all, including but not limited to: cinematographers; designers; composers; and writers.

With Ms Fontana’s passing, there is not a lot of key Star Trek production people still with us. Gerald Fried is still alive and composing music at the age of 91. David Gerrold, creator of Tribbles, as in “The Trouble With Tribbles”, is still writing and publishing at 75.

In the then male-dominated dramatic television arena, undoubtedly it was a woman’s touch that helped humanize Star Trek, supplying vital stories and dialogue to characters powered by what my brother describes as “The Beatles Cast”. Ms Fontana had said in interviews that there were female writers working in television in the mid-1960s but they tended to work on non-drama programs. Roddenberry assigned Fontana, his then assistant, the story editor position after he read what she had rewritten of "This Side of Paradise", a script by another writer. (She had earlier written "Charlie X" -- the 5th episode shot in series production.) In this coveted staff role Fontana not only wrote her own scripts, but, as per the job requirement, rewrote others, helping shape the stories into the series whole. Along with other staff writers, she even took a stab at polishing Harlan Ellison's "The City on the Edge of Forever". (When I interviewed Mr Ellison in 2007 I did not broach the subject of "City" since his feelings are well documented; including by him.)

Music composers will say that talking or writing about music is clumsy. Best to listen to the music. The same could be applied to writing about writing.

The following quotes are out of context for the uninitiated, but one can surmise what is going on. It also shows how in television drama writing, every word must count. Not only moving the story forward, but revealing character.


From "Charlie X":

KIRK: You go slow. You be gentle. I mean, it's not a one-way street, you know, how you feel and that's all. It's how the girl feels, too. Don't press, Charlie. If the girl feels anything for you at all, you'll know it. Do you understand?


KIRK: Charlie, there are a million things in this universe you can have and there are a million things you can't have. It's no fun facing that, but that's the way things are.

From "Journey to Babel":

SPOCK: Any competent officer can command this ship under normal circumstances. The circumstances are not normal. We're carrying over one hundred valuable Federation passengers. We're being pursued by an alien ship. We're subject to possible attack. There has been murder and attempted murder on board. I cannot dismiss my duties.

AMANDA: Duty? Your duty is to your father.

SPOCK: I know, but this must take precedence. If I could give the transfusion without loss of time or efficiency, I would. Sarek understands my reason.

AMANDA: Well, I don't. It's not human. That's not a dirty word. You're human, too. Let that part of you come through. Your father's dying.

SPOCK: Mother, how can you have lived on Vulcan so long, married a Vulcan, raised a son on Vulcan, without understanding what it means to be a Vulcan?

AMANDA: If this is what it means, I don't want to know.

SPOCK: It means to adopt a philosophy, a way of life, which is logical and beneficial. We cannot disregard that philosophy merely for personal gain, no matter how important that gain might be.

AMANDA: Nothing is as important as your father's life.

SPOCK: Can you imagine what my father would say if I were to agree, if I were to give up command of this vessel, jeopardise hundreds of lives, risk interplanetary war, all for the life of one person? 

AMANDA: When you were five years old and came home stiff-lipped, anguished, because the other boys tormented you saying that you weren't really Vulcan. I watched you, knowing that inside that the human part of you was crying and I cried, too. There must be some part of me in you, some part that I still can reach. If being Vulcan is more important to you, then you'll stand there speaking rules and regulations from Starfleet and Vulcan philosophy, and let your father die. And I'll hate you for the rest of my life.

SPOCK: Mother

AMANDA: Oh, go to him. Now. Please.

SPOCK: I cannot.

From "This Side of Paradise":

LEILA: I love you. I said that six years ago, and I can't seem to stop repeating myself. On Earth, you couldn't give anything of yourself. You couldn't even put your arms around me. We couldn't have anything together there. We couldn't have anything together anyplace else. We're happy here. I can't lose you now, Mister Spock. I can't.

SPOCK: I have a responsibility to this ship, to that man on the Bridge. I am what I am, Leila, and if there are self-made purgatories, then we all have to live in them. Mine can be no worse than someone else's.

MCCOY: Well, that's the second time man's been thrown out of paradise.

KIRK: No, no, Bones. This time we walked out on our own. Maybe we weren't meant for paradise. Maybe we were meant to fight our way through. Struggle, claw our way up, scratch for every inch of the way. Maybe we can't stroll to the music of the lute. We must march to the sound of drums. 

SPOCK: Poetry, Captain. Non-regulation.

KIRK: We haven't heard much from you about Omicron Ceti Three, Mister Spock.

SPOCK: I have little to say about it, Captain, except that for the first time in my life, I was happy.

From "Yesteryear", from the animated Star Trek series:

SPOCK: Every life comes to an end when time demands it. Loss of life is to be mourned but only if the life was wasted.

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