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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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”).
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.
“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).