Dorothy Fontana (1939-2019): A trailblazing writer who went where no woman had gone before…

The Star Trek family suffers another great loss this year. Writer/story editor Dorothy Catherine Fontana, who helped shape early Star Trek into a warmer, more character-driven series, has passed away at the age of 80. She is survived by her husband, Oscar-winning special effects artist Dennis Skotak (“ALIENS”), whom she married in 1981.

The late Dorothy Fontana, so wonderfully frank and outspoken.
Check out her commentary track for the blu-ray edition of the Star Trek TOS episode “This Side of Paradise”, available in the “Roddenberry Vault” collection set. Also listen to the interview she gave for Rod Roddenberry about his late father Gene on his documentary “Trek Nation” (available on DVD).

In the early years of her career, Fontana kept her gender a secret by going under “D.C. Fontana”, since female writers in the 1960s were generally thought by studio executives to be poor choices to write for westerns, science fiction or action TV shows… which are just three of the many TV genres that Fontana wrote for from the early 1960s through the early 21st century.

Rewriting Jerry Sohl’s “The Way of the Spores” into the tender, sensitive Spock love story of “This Side of Paradise”, Dorothy Fontana humanized the half-Vulcan science officer and helped cement his popularity forever.

Beginning as a writer in her early twenties on western TV series such as “The Overland Trail” and “The Tall Man,” Dorothy Fontana eventually came to work for Gene Roddenberry on his short-lived TV series “The Lieutenant” (starring future Star Trek guest star Gary Lockwood) about the life of a US marine based at Camp Pendleton. After “The Lieutenant”’s cancellation, she began working as Roddenberry’s secretary and script doctor for his new “Star Trek” TV series, rewriting Jerry Sohl’s “The Way of the Spores” to become the classic, “This Side of Paradise.” Originally a love story for Mr. Sulu (George Takei), she rewrote the script for the previously ‘emotionless’ half-Vulcan Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy), popularizing the character in wildly unexpected ways.

Spock, and the unnamed Romulan Commander (Joanne Linville, whom I met just this year in Pasadena) light up the screen in TOS’ “The Enterprise Incident.” Writer Fontana knew exactly what her fans wanted, and arguably paved the way for a lot of Spock-centered romantic fanfic.

Nimoy himself credited Fontana for greatly expanding Vulcan lore, after writing episodes such as “Journey To Babel” which featured Spock’s parents, as well as “The Enterprise Incident” in which Spock seduces a female Romulan commander (like a pointy-eared James Bond). She was immediately promoted to story editor for Star Trek, where she remained until the series’ third season, until Gene Roddenberry’s departure and other behind-the-scenes personnel changes caused her to leave.

1967’s “Journey To Babel”; one of my personal all-time favorite TOS Star Trek episodes. Fontana’s script for this episode first alluded to Spock’s tormented childhood, which was later revisited in the Animated Series’ “Yesteryear”, as well as JJ Abrams’ “Star Trek” (2009).

Fontana later returned to the Star Trek family with Star Trek: The Animated Series (1973-1974), where she acted as Story Editor, and also wrote its most memorable episode, the time-travel story, “Yesteryear.” The episode showed the tormented childhood referenced earlier in Fontana’s earlier “Journey To Babel”, and was also a partial inspiration for early scenes in JJ Abrams’ “Star Trek” (2009).

Spock observes as his younger self is forced to make a difficult life choice in The Animated Series’ “Yesteryear” (1973); inarguably, the finest episode of that series.

Fontana would also write for Star Trek: The Next Generation (“Lonely Among Us”) but left after one season due to feuding between herself and Gene Roddenberry. In the documentary “Trek Nation”, Fontana tells Rod Roddenberry that her last words with his late father were not pleasant ones, sadly. Fontana was very honest, in both her praise and her criticisms. She later wrote a single episode of Deep Space Nine (“Dax”) as well as an episode of the online fan series Star Trek: New Voyages/Phase II (“To Serve All Our Days”).

Col. Wilma Deering (Erin Gray) has a blaster and she knows how to use it, in the Dorothy Fontana-scripted Buck Rogers in the 25th Century episode, “Planet of the Amazon Women” (1979).

Beyond Star Trek, Fontana had many other writing credits to her name, including series such as “Bonanza”, “Big Valley”, “Streets of San Francisco”, “Land of the Lost”, “Fantastic Journey”, “Logan’s Run” (as story editor for the 1977 spinoff TV series of the 1976 film), “Kung Fu”, “The Waltons”, “Dallas”, “Buck Rogers in the 25th Century” “War of the Worlds” (the 1980s TV series) and “Babylon 5” to name a few.

Successful Star Trek TNG/VGR writer/producer Jeri Taylor, who never had to abbreviate her name, thanks to pioneering women like Dorothy Fontana.

“D.C. Fontana” has passed away, but her legacy will certainly live on. It’s not a surprise that “Star Trek: Voyager” had a female showrunner for several years (Jeri Taylor, who also worked on TNG). In fact, the current “Star Trek: Discovery” showrunner for its third season is Michelle Paradise. Thankfully, these women of Star Trek will never feel compelled to initialize their names or hide their genders from nervous male executives, thanks to women like Dorothy Fontana who blazed that trail.

Dorothy Fontana was also inducted into the American Screenwriters Association hall of fame twice, so it’s safe to say that her storytelling talents and legacy will indeed “live long and prosper.”

Dorothy Catherine Fontana (1939-2019).

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