Groundbreaking writer known for Star Trek

Born: March 23, 1939;

Died: December 2, 2019

DOROTHY Catherine ‘DC’ Fontana, who has died aged 80, was an American writer, script editor and occasional producer who worked in television throughout her life. Her career incorporated many famous American TV shows, particularly Westerns and crime thrillers, although it’s with Star Trek that her name will be indelibly linked.

She was also recognised as a trailblazer for gender equality in both the television writing industry and the genre of science fiction, both of which were very male-dominated from the time she entered them. Fontana had wanted to be a writer – a novelist, in fact – from her youth, and had already sold scripts to the Western shows The Tall Man (1960) and Frontier Circus (1961) when she first met Star Trek’s creator Gene Roddenberry. At this point she was working as a secretary on Roddenberry’s previous series The Lieutenant.

Fontana, who wrote under her initials in an attempt to head off gender discrimination from producers, made sure that Roddenberry was aware of her ambitions and her experience, and he encouraged her to keep working. When his next, defining series came to be made, Roddenberry – whose belief in inclusive American liberalism fed the scripts and subject matter of Star Trek – brought Fontana on board, as he had with a number of The Lieutenant’s former cast and crew members, including future star Leonard Nimoy.

From the beginning of Star Trek’s development, Fontana was involved, although initially she also continued to work as Roddenberry’s secretary as well as an occasional writer. She wrote Charlie X, the second-ever episode of Star Trek to be broadcast, from a story by Roddenberry; it told of a troubled teen with mental powers, and was seen on the 15th of September 1966. Robert Walker, the actor who played the title role, died three days after Fontana.

Four months later her own story Tomorrow is Yesterday brought the crew of the USS Enterprise back to Earth in the 1960s, and a few weeks later she was assigned by Roddenberry to script edit the episode This Side of Paradise. Pleased with her work, the producers offered her the script editor job – leaving her secretarial post behind – for the rest of the first series, and she was retained for the second, although she went fully freelance as a writer for the third. Between 1966 and 1969 she was credited on ten episodes of Star Trek, some with her own original stories, and on others as the writer or editor of other people's.

Over the following decades, Fontana had more involvement with individual Star Trek series than any other writer. After the original series, she was hired – with Roddenberry acting as consultant only – as associate producer and story editor on 1973’s short-lived Star Trek: The Animated Series, writing one episode.

Later, with 1987’s reimagined Star Trek: The Next Generation she returned to the series at Roddenberry’s invite, co-scripting the pilot episode Encounter at Farpoint with him, and working on four other episodes in the series’ early months, although a dispute over the terms of her role caused a bitter breakdown in the pair’s relationship, and she departed.

Roddenberry died in 1991, and two years later Fontana made one more contribution to the televised adventures of Star Trek, co-writing the teleplay to Dax, Peter Allan Fields’ episode of the spin-off series Deep Space Nine. She later wrote the novel Vulcan’s Glory (1999), which told of the early life of Spock, wrote or co-wrote three spin-off video games during the 2000s, and contributed an episode to the fan-made tribute series Star Trek: New Voyages (2006).

“(I learned how) to tell stories about human beings,” Fontana said of her time on Star Trek. “How do they think? How do they work? How do they achieve? How do they grow? Why are they this way? And why are they not better? We reached out to people. We tapped them on the head and said, ‘Hey, are you paying attention?’”

Born in Sussex, New Jersey in 1939, Dorothy C. Fontana wanted to be a writer from a young age, although she ended up studying for a secretarial degree at Fairleigh Dickinson University in her home state. Moving between secretarial jobs, she ended up at Revue Studios in Los Angeles, where she managed to sell her first script for The Tall Man at the age of 21; a debut Western novel followed four years later.

During and after the original series of Star Trek, she worked as a writer and script editor on many other well-known series, including The Wild Wild West, Bonanza, The Six Million Dollar Man, The Streets of San Francisco, Logan’s Run, The Waltons, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century and Babylon 5.

She was nominated for a Writers Guild of America Award for her work on Then Came Bronson in 1970, won the Guild’s Morgan Cox Award in 1997 and 2002, having served on their board, and was inducted into the American Screenwriters Association Hall of Fame in 2001.

She married visual effects artist Dennis Skotak in 1981, and died after a short illness.