I cannot do a year of posts about Star Trek without spending one talking about Majel Barrett Roddenberry, known to many fans as “The First Lady of Star Trek.” She has been seen or heard in every Star Trek series since the beginning. And I mean the very beginning.
As I’ve discussed in earlier posts, before Star Trek reached the air as a television series, it went through the unusual step of having two pilot episodes. The first episode, “The Cage,” which was filmed in 1964, starred Jeffrey Hunter as Captain Christopher Pike. Also appearing were Leonard Nimoy as a far more emotional version of Mr. Spock and relatively unknown actress Majel Barrett as the ship’s first officer, called simply Number One.
According to Star Trek lore, NBC executives who saw “The Cage” told creator Gene Roddenberry that audiences would never accept a woman as second in command and that he needed to get rid of her. They also wanted him to lose the satanic-looking guy with the pointed ears. Barrett herself joked that faced with that choice Roddenberry “kept the Vulcan and married the woman.” In later years, that story has been called into question by those close to the situation. Roddenberry was no saint and was in fact having an affair with Barrett as his marriage crumbled. In this version, the executives wanted Barrett gone because they knew she was Roddenberry’s mistress.
Regardless, Number One did not show up in the second pilot, with Mr. Spock instead filling both the role of Science Officer and First Officer. Barrett wasn’t done with Star Trek, though, and appeared in multiple episodes of the original series as Nurse Christine Chapel. In 1969, after Roddenberry’s previous marriage had ended in divorce, he and Barrett married and remained together until his death in 1991.
As Star Trek continued, so did Barrett’s involvement. She returned to voice Christine Chapel in episodes of the Star Trek animated series and voiced many other female characters, including M’Ress, an Enterprise officer with catlike features. Chapel appeared in Star Trek: The Motion Picture and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home as well.
With Star Trek returned to television in 1987 with Star Trek: The Next Generation, Barrett voiced the ship’s computer, a role she would perform for every Federation computer throughout TNG, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Star Trek: Voyager, Star Trek: Enterprise, and even JJ Abrams’ 2009 Star Trek film. She also performed the role on several computer games and other software, such as the Star Trek: The Next Generation Interactive Technical Manual. For many fans, her voice is just what we want our computers to sound like. If they find a way to replace Siri with Barrett’s voice on my phone, I’d be thrilled.
Barrett also appeared on screen in nine episodes of TNG as Lwaxana Troi, the mother of the Enterprise-D’s ship’s counselor, Deanna Troi. She was a vivacious character, who delighted in making Captain Picard uncomfortable with her flirtations. She also appeared in DS9, where she developed a friendship with Constable Odo. Barrett’s final onscreen appearance as Lwaxana was the 1996 DS9 episode, “The Muse.”
Off-screen, Barrett was executive producer on two television series based on material left by Roddenberry after his death, Andromeda and Earth: Final Conflict. She also went to many conventions. I saw her at one in 1988, just after the first season of TNG. She brought along the show’s blooper reel, which the crowd loved, and was happy to talk about the show and her time. My main memory of her was when I went to get her autograph. I was pretty young at the time and didn’t have a lot of money to buy the usual glossy photos that you have the actors sign normally. I’d drawn (as best I could) a picture of the Enterprise-D on notebook paper for her and the other guests to sign. I was really embarrassed that it was all I had for her to sign, but she was very gracious about the whole thing (and kind about my terrible artwork). I gather that she was that way with all of the fans, though, which is why they loved her.
Majel Barrett died in 2008 at the age of 76, shortly after completing her voice work for the 2009 Star Trek film. Her son with Gene Roddenberry, Rod, has since worked to continue his parents’ legacy. While Gene gets most of the credit for creating Star Trek originally and helping it become what it is today, I cannot imagine Star Trek without Majel Barrett having been a part of it.
- Alan Decker
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