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Bjo Trimble and the Good Ship Enterprise

on Wed, 10/29/2014 - 00:00

The Good Ship Enterprise
Gene Roddenberry was a genius. Not only did he create one of the most enduring franchises in the history of science fiction, he was smart enough to both court and invite fans of sci-fi to be part of the original 1960s Star Trek television show from the outset. Various science fiction writers, for instance, were approached to craft scripts for Star Trek, and the very first episode did not make its premier on NBC but at a special screening during the 1966 World Science Fiction Convention in Cleveland. Science fiction fandom was strong in the United States by the mid-1960s, having been born from the pulp magazines of the 1930s and 40s, offering an instantaneous audience to a sci-fi television drama that was both intellectual and respectful of its roots.

Many of the initial fans of Star Trek were thus already members of science fiction fandom, including Bjo Trimble. The California native was an “actifan” in the community, having joined the world of sci-fi in 1952 and later organizing a “Worldcon Futuristic Fashion Show” in 1958 as well as the first Worldcon Art Show at the 1960 Pittcon in Pittsburgh.

1966 again saw Trimble taking the lead in a Worldcon fashion show, but when she arrived in Cleveland before the outset of the convention, she was met with unexpected news—the convention committee had promised the executive producer of some new television show that he could feature actual costumes from the series as part of the event. Bjo Trimble was not pleased with the agreement, but after meeting Gene Roddenberry in person to discuss the matter, she consented. She did not know it at the time, but the next fifteen years of her life would be indelible tied to Roddenberry and Star Trek as she became one of the most important and influential fans of the original series.

When Star Trek premiered on September 8, 1966, no one knew what to expect, and both the network and production company believed that it would not last for very long. After only three episodes, however, Bjo Trimble was hooked and decided to write a thirty-foot long fan letter praising the series. As she relates in her 1983 memoirs, On the Good Ship Enterprise: My 15 Years with Star Trek (Donning Company), Gene Roddenberry was ecstatic that fans were expressing their fondness for the show, especially because of the uncertainty surrounding it, and the initial group of letter-writers were extended invitations to visit the set during filming.

Bjo Trimble and her husband John were amongst them, and while other fans were more of a nuisance than asset during their visits, the Trimbles were courteous and respectful of the environment. Thus when Roddenberry was ordered to cut back on the number of fans invited to the set, Bjo and John Trimble were still welcomed.

Star Trek faced its first threat of cancellation during its initial season, causing science fiction author Harlan Ellison—who wrote the original draft for the classic episode “The City on the Edge of Forever”—to spring into action, convincing his fellow science fiction authors, many of who were also penning Star Trek scripts, to write letters in support of the show. NBC renewed Star Trek for a second season, but yet again the threat of cancellation hung over the series. This time, however, it was the Trimbles who decided to act.

Using their personal contact list of science fiction fans, they mailed letters to each of them, encouraging everyone to write to NBC as well as help spread the word about the “Save Star Trek” campaign. They were soon overwhelmed with an additional 10,000 addresses of fans from across the country. In addition to normal holiday decorations, that particular Christmas at the Trimble home was filled with letters that needed stuffed into envelopes, and dinner invitations to their friends turned into ploys to acquire assistance in their efforts.

Gene Roddenberry secretly offered his assistance as well, donating scripts that could be sold to help pay for postage and printing bumper stickers with “Star Trek Lives” and “I Grok Spock” on them. California Institute of Technology students were then enlisted to distribute the items at NBC Studios in Burbank. One particular Caltech student even volunteered to fly to New York—the airfare was paid for by Roddenberry—sneak onto the parking lot at NBC’s headquarters in the Big Apple and put bumper stickers on all of the cars.

In the end, the “Save Star Trek” campaign succeeded. Although they later denied and downplayed the number of letters received, it is conventional wisdom nonetheless that over one million letters found their way to NBC. It was a short-lived victory, however, as the network slashed the show’s budget and replaced Roddenberry as executive producer, reducing the quality of episodes during the third season and leading to yet another cancellation threat.

By this time, however, Bjo and John Trimble were working for Gene Roddenberry full-time, answering fan mail sent to both the show in general and the actors in particular. Bjo Trimble remained active in Star Trek fandom afterwards as well, attending conventions across the country—including Star Trektakular in Pittsburgh during December 1975 that featured five of the original cast members—and even organizing her own annual Equicon in Los Angeles.

In 1976, Bjo and John Trimble were again enlisted to spearhead a letter-writing campaign, this time to have the first Space Shuttle named Enterprise in honor of Star Trek rather than the NASA-proposed Constitution. The idea originated from two fans in Washington DC, but when they realized they could not make the necessary time commitment, they phoned the Trimbles to ask for help. Believing that such a campaign would also demonstrate public support for the space program—a cause near and dear to both Bjo and John Trimble—the couple consented.

Phone calls, letters and special meetings of various Los Angeles-based science fiction fan clubs were soon organized, and by the time President Gerald Ford announced the name of the Space Shuttle, it was indeed Enterprise. The Trimbles were invited to a cocktail party in honor of the first Space Shuttle, as well as its unveiling. Although NASA attendees were dumbstruck over the name Enterprise, many of the employees from engineering firm Rockwell International secretly wore “Closet Trekkie” buttons under their lapels.

During the filming of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Gene Roddenberry arranged for 150 Star Trek fans to serve as extras in a scene where Admiral James T. Kirk addresses the crew of the Enterprise. Not only was Bjo Trimble personally offered one of those slots, she was likewise recruited to spread the word within the Star Trek fanbase.

Trimble’s involvement in the follow-up film, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, was even more influential. Because the box office revenue for the first movie was below expectations, Roddenberry was removed as producer. His replacement, Harve Bennett, believed that the first film failed because it did not invoke the same spirit as the 1960s television show and used Bjo Trimble’s book, The Star Trek Concordance, as a reference guide for the sequel. More significantly, Bennett asked Trimble to read the script for The Wrath of Khan and offer feedback—which she did, writing eighteen pages worth of notes on areas she believed could be improved. Bjo Trimble continued as a consultant on the film, acquiring prop replicas of both blasters and communicators for the special effects department to inspect and offering her assistance in the creation of various sets.

Bjo Trimble was literally there from the beginning of Star Trek, having been in attendance at the 1966 Worldcon in Cleveland where Star Trek was first unveiled, becoming a regular visitor to the television sound stage and leading a “Save Star Trek” campaign that kept the show from cancellation after only two seasons.

That last effort was significant, as a third season of Star Trek meant that the series had enough episodes to go into syndication, enabling its popularity to grow during the 1970s. Star Trek may have originated from the creative mind of Gene Roddenberry, but if it wasn’t for the efforts of Bjo Trimble and her husband John, Star Trek would have become a distant memory rather than the phenomenon that it is today.

Anthony Letizia

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