On August 19, on what would have been Gene Roddenberry’s hundredth birthday, Deadline announced a new film in the works about the Star Trek creator’s life. There’s certainly a lot to cover there. Roddenberry belonged to that incredibly ambitious generation—in the days before we all grew up staying inside, watching Star Trek—when seemingly everyone had led multiple, adventurous lives by the age of thirty. Before Roddenberry created one of the most enduring works of popular fiction of all time, he’d already served as a decorated World War II pilot; flown around the globe as a Pan Am pilot; survived a fiery crash in the Syrian Desert, where he heroically led his passengers to safety; and even worked as a Los Angeles police officer, all before getting into TV writing. His is an epic tale that’s bound to make for a fascinating biopic—and that’s not even getting into Roddenberry’s unabashed womanizing.
The film will also force us to confront a long-standing and surprisingly complicated question: Was Gene Roddenberry a Texan?
To apply a sort of dry, unsparing Vulcan logic to it, yes. Roddenberry was from Texas. He was born in El Paso in 1921, which makes him a “Texas native” by dictionary definition. According to genealogical records, his father, Eugene Edward Roddenberry, hailed from Georgia, but his mother, Caroline Glen Roddenberry, was born and raised in El Paso, where she married Gene’s father in 1920, after he’d returned from World War I. Caroline was just sixteen at her wedding, a mere seventeen when Gene was born, and the two crazy kids lived modestly on Eugene’s salary as a lineman for the local electric company. According to David Alexander’s Star Trek Creator: The Authorized Biography of Gene Roddenberry, the family fortunes shifted once Eugene passed the civil service test and was given a police commission in Los Angeles. The Roddenberrys packed up and moved there in 1923.
So Gene Roddenberry was just a baby, barely two years old, when his family moved away from Texas. Any movie about his life would surely pick up in L.A., omitting his time in El Paso entirely. After all, it’s not like Roddenberry would have recalled much of anything about his days there. For example, I was born in Virginia, where my father was stationed at Marine Corps Base Quantico. Like Gene Roddenberry, I was still in diapers when we moved back to my parents’ hometown of Fort Worth. I have zero memory of my time in Virginia, other than a few old photos of me toddling out into the Atlantic. Yet despite spending my entire waking life here, raised by a family whose Texas roots extend back for generations, I’m a Virginian, according to our state’s most uncompromising bumper stickers. As we learned from native New Yorker Hank Hill, those are just the rules.
But while I’m technically as much a Virginian as Roddenberry is a Texan, there is next to no chance that, when I die, Virginia will put up a plaque near the floors I once drooled upon, like El Paso did for Gene Roddenberry in 2002. The sign posted at 1907 E. Yandell Drive marks where the Roddenberry family’s rented house once stood—a “tiny home, two bedrooms, red brick,” according to Jose Dyoub, who told the El Paso Times that he bought it in 1969, then tore it down the very same year. Over the decades, the property has been a parking lot, an office space, and—most recently—a machinery and supply company.
This nondescript strip still pops up on the market as “Gene Roddenberry’s Birthplace,” with at least one savvy realtor suggesting that it could be the ultimate souvenir “for serious Trekkie collectors.” That same pitch suggests that someone could even transform the property into a Roddenberry museum and “Trekkie cafe,” asserting that “its long term historical value could be similar to that witnessed by Ernest Hemingway’s property in Key West Florida.”
Maybe not, although that certainly hasn’t stopped El Paso from trying to drum up Star Trek tourism over the years. The birthplace plaque was laid by former El Paso city council representative Anthony Cobos, who paid for it out of his own campaign funds, in the hopes that, as he told the El Paso Times in 2002, “we can become a big Trekkie town.” The year before, the El Paso Independent School District had already renamed its planetarium the Gene Roddenberry Planetarium (or “the Roddenberry”). As its director at the time, John Peterson, recalled for El Paso Inc., discovering that Roddenberry had been born in El Paso had come as a total surprise to him, although thematically, at least, the renaming seemed a perfect fit.
Next came a couple of Star Trek conventions, including 2003’s Great Bird of the Galaxy Star Trek Celebration, named after Star Trek associate producer Robert Justman’s loving sobriquet for Roddenberry. That year, El Paso played host to thousands of Trekkers, as well as nearly all of the original series’ cast members, including William Shatner, George Takei, and Nichelle Nichols.
Unfortunately, Great Bird of the Galaxy “went a little too big for El Paso and went into the red,” as Peterson recalled. It proved to be El Paso’s last Star Trek convention—or Star Trek anything, really. In 2019, the Gene Roddenberry Planetarium announced it was moving to a new location to receive a modern overhaul (thanks, in part, to a $951,000 grant from the city). But the Roddenberry has remained closed ever since, its reopening delayed indefinitely by the COVID-19 pandemic. Cobos, meanwhile, never got to realize his dream of turning El Paso into a “Trekkie town”; in 2013 he pleaded guilty to participating in a bribery scheme, which landed him in federal prison, and in 2016 he was found guilty on embezzlement charges. As of right now, any Trekker visiting El Paso will find only that old, solitary plaque, declaring with all-caps bravado, “It must be remembered that this phenomenal man and his great vision was a NATIVE EL PASOAN.”
If there’s very little of Gene Roddenberry left in Texas, the truth is there was little of Texas in Gene Roddenberry. He returned briefly in 1942, and then only by military order: Roddenberry married his first wife while he was stationed at San Antonio’s Kelly Field, but he shipped out to the South Pacific shortly thereafter. Whenever Roddenberry spoke of his birthplace, which was rarely, it was usually to put his own views in stark relief. His father Eugene had been a “bigoted Texan,” Roddenberry said in 1997’s Inside Star Trek: The Real Story. At home, Eugene was given to spouting racial epithets, Roddenberry told his biographer David Alexander, prompting Alexander to suggest that “much of the Star Trek philosophy [Roddenberry] developed later in life was in reaction to his father’s prejudices.” Star Trek offered a vision of a progressive utopia, one that had evolved beyond racial divisions. Diversity and inclusivity became pillars of the franchise—a complete rejection of Eugene’s “bigoted Texan” worldview.
Roddenberry’s mother Caroline had been raised a strict Southern Baptist. She insisted on dragging Gene and his siblings to church and holding weekly prayer meetings, experiences that Roddenberry rebelled against in his teenage years. As he recalled in a 1991 interview, it was all of that compulsory religion that cemented his atheistic, humanistic worldview as an adult, something that repeatedly found its expression in Star Trek. The crew members of the Enterprise only had faith in science and in each other, and their missions were guided by skepticism toward self-avowed gods who inevitably turned out to be frauds and tricksters. Religion and superstition were the refuges of the fearful, the show repeatedly suggested. They were, to quote Mr. Spock, illogical.
Sadly, if anything about Gene Roddenberry or Star Trek can be truly tied to Texas, it’s that he spurned everything he thought Texas represented in relation to his parents’ personal values. While Roddenberry never expressed any specific enmity toward Texas, he bristled toward the general attitudes of the South. His son, Rod, would fondly recall his dad’s response to all the Southern TV affiliates who balked at carrying the show over its racial diversity: “F— off then.” In the 2012 documentary Star Trek: The True Story, Rod also related that Eugene Roddenberry’s chief response to the series was shame, spurring him to go “up and down the block, knocking on everybody’s door, apologizing for his crazy son, who would put on that ridiculous show.”
Knowing this about Roddenberry makes Texas’s absence in Star Trek feel almost conspicuous. After all, the original Enterprise crew boasts American heartlanders from all over—Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy is from Georgia; Captain Kirk hails from Iowa—but somehow, no Texans. Off screen, we can lay claim to Star Trek: The Next Generation cast members Michael Dorn (Worf), a Luling native, and Brent Spiner (Data), who grew up in Houston. But on screen, it took until a one-off 1997 episode of Star Trek: Voyager before we met an actual Texan, named Riley Frazier, who waxes nostalgic about a childhood she spent eating barbecue and picking bluebonnets before she was assimilated by the Borg. There was also “Texas,” a bolo tie–wearing simulation who was brought to life by an alien and spent most of his time playing craps with Data. Neither of these characters were particularly memorable—or particularly well thought out. In fact, Texas largely appears as an abstract in Star Trek, as in the Battle of the Alamo that various Deep Space Nine crew members spend several episodes playacting on the holosuite, prompting Worf to muse on the importance of myth.
Still, to borrow Worf’s larger point, when considering whether Gene Roddenberry can be called a true Texan, perhaps it only matters that we believe in the legend—to look at how Roddenberry’s creation reflects some of the larger, more symbolic qualities that we find to be innate in Texans, even if they didn’t actually, you know, grow up here. Roddenberry was a dreamer, after all, a devotee of outlandish folk tales and pulp fiction not unlike Texas’s own Robert E. Howard. It can be argued that there is something inchoate about that quality in the people who are born here. In interviews, Roddenberry also spoke highly of his grandmother, who told him to always stay true to his beliefs, fostering an independent streak that guided his career—and that, we like to believe, is inherently Texan as well.
More than anything, however, Star Trek has an old-fashioned cowboy spirit, a story of fearless do-gooders who traverse “space, the final frontier” while selflessly rushing to the aid of others. Gene Roddenberry may not have been a Texan in the truest sense, but deep down it seems there was something of the state in his DNA. If nothing else, there was the distinctly Texan belief that we alone chart the journey of our lives, which is determined not by the trivial circumstances of who we are or where we come from, but who we choose to be.