Saturday, March 28, 2009

Chapter III: Working with Gene Roddenberry

Before directing other films, Danny got an opportunity that most Trekkies would kill for: working with the Star Trek creator, Gene Roddenberry.

Danny Steinmann: Back to LA, the three of us moved into an apartment on Halloway Drive. A few years later, Sal Mineo would be murdered in the garage of our building. Kind of spooky.

I was hired to work on a film entitled The Man in the Glass Booth, loosely based on the Adolf Eichmann trial. It was to be a big budget movie directed by Arthur Hiller.

To watch the filming of a movie and work behind the scenes was a great way to learn about the film business. I met the makeup man, Stan Winston (Note: Stan Winston would go on to do the makeup for Alien, The Terminator and Jurassic Park.) and we became instant friends. For the next ten years, we and our families would do just about everything together. Our wives were close friends, and our kids – best friends.

The shooting of the film ended and I was out of a job. One of the producers of the film was Mort Abrahams – probably the sweetest, kindest man I’ve ever known. He and Arthur Jacobs would produce all of the Planet of the Apes films. We tried to develop a film project together, but failed. Mort would become my mentor and I’ve always felt so lucky to have known him.

Over the years, Arthur Hiller could not have been nicer to me. He introduced me to Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek, who was looking for a right-hand man. We hit it off right away, and the next day, I had an office at Paramount. Gene was working on a few scripts and asking for my input. I didn’t know it at the time, but he had become a celebrity with a legion of fans. Truthfully, I was not a follower of Star Trek, but kept this to myself.

He would travel often, giving lectures and talks to thousands of admirers. He had a small company set up to deal with the fan mail and publish his monthly newsletter. He was a huge man physically and spiritually. He and his wife, Majel, were a loving couple with an adorable kid. They always held hands and hugged and kissed each other.

Finally, he got the nod to produce his script, Spectre, for 20th Century Fox. It was to be shot in England and directed by Clive Donner, starring Robert Culp, Gig Young, and John Hurt. Sort of Sherlock Holmes and Watson investigating the occult. Gene would produce and I would be the associate producer. We both took our wives and kids to London. I was surprised that the studio would finance the film because I felt the script was a piece of shit. But what did I know?

I felt fortunate to be around these gifted men, appreciated their abilities, and would learn and grow from the experience. Twice while filming, a large group of men and women would descend on the set. They were not dressed in costume, but all wore a nametag with a Star Trek figure on it. When Gene approached, they became silent and reverential. He led them off the set and filming continued.

Quite often, Gene and I went out together after dinner. Invariably, we would wind up in the neighborhood where porno shops were located. We would enter a store and Gene would rifle through the magazines, express interest in the sex toys and leave. He would never buy anything. We would then go into the next porno shop and Gene would repeat the same behavior. A bit odd.

Principal photography ended and Paula and Robby went home. Post-production was taking forever. I was anxious to get back to the States. I missed my family so much. Gene wanted me to remain in London until the end. Weeks went by and for some insane reason, I flew home. Gene called me after I got back, but I never returned his call. I’ve done some terribly hurtful things in my life – things that I can’t take back. This was pretty close to the top of the list.

Gene and Majel are gone now. Their ashes were launched into space. I hope they found each other. I’m sorry, Gene.

Over the next few years, I worked on some films produced by the BBC and HBO. I loved being an associate producer. It gave me the freedom, most times, to place myself where the action was, to ask questions, make suggestions and hopefully digest new information that I would use in the future. Two of the films were once again shot in England: Deadly Game with George Segal, Trevor Howard, and Robert Morley, directed by George Schaefer, and Separate Tables with Julie Christie and Alan Bates, directed by John Schlesinger.

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