Fondly remembering Majel Barrett.
When looking back at the legacy of the Star Trek on the franchise’s fiftieth anniversary, we have a tendency to remember the strong male presences. We think fondly of Roddenberry, Shatner, Nimoy, Takei, and Stewart. When we think of women, we think of Nichelle Nichols and Kate Mulgrew, but we often overlook the woman who had probably the most profound impact upon Star Trek’s history, Majel Barrett.
Ms. Barrett had been involved with Star Trek since the very beginning. In the unaired pilot episode made in 1964, before the signing of William Shatner as Captain James T. Kirk, Majel Barrett was cast in the unnamed role of First Officer. Her character was referred to as simply “Number One,” a motif that is paid homage to during all of The Next Generation in how Captain Picard refers to First Officer Riker. At the same time as the production of the pilot episode, Ms. Barrett began a romantic relationship with Star Trek god Gene Roddenberry.
When the series was restructured and William Shatner was brought on board for his iconic role in the series, Majel lost her large role as first officer. Network executives at NBC were none too thrilled with the idea of a woman in the role of First Officer and became even more infuriated at her having been cast as such when they learned of Barrett and Roddenberry’s romantic relationship. Barrett often joked that when Roddenberry was given the choice to make Nimoy’s character or her character he: “kept the Vulcan and married the woman, ’cause he didn’t think Leonard (Nimoy) would have it the other way around.”
Even with the role of First Officer taken by the logical Mr. Spock, Ms. Barrett joined the cast of The Original Series in the recurring role of the nurse, Christine Chapel. When the series was cancelled after only three years, she and Roddenberry married in the summer of 1969.
Ms. Barrett lent her shining talents to the Star Trek universe in all of the remaining series as well, both in a larger-than-life flamboyant but memorable character as well as a subtle omnipresence. In The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine, Barrett shone in the role of Lwaxana Troi, the Ambassador to the Federation from the telepathic world of Betazed, and the mother of the Enterprise’s Counselor, Deanna. Lwaxana is known for her elaborate dress and her inability to keep from flirting with unavailable men whose personalities are in stark contrast to her own. The character of Mother Troi has been a fan favorite for many years, and is probably the most recognizable of Majel’s roles throughout the Star Trek canon.
She lent her talents to the universe her husband created even after his death. Even as she reprised her role as Mrs. Troi over and over, she also lent her voice to the ship’s computers. The Majel Barrett computer voice made its way into The Next Generation, Deep Space 9, Voyager, Enterprise, and a wide array of Trek-themed video games. It has even been reported that while Ms. Barrett passed away in 2008, her voice may still be used for the computer interface in the upcoming Star Trek: Discovery to premiere next year.
Majel Barrett’s contributions to the Star Trek universe have probably been more far-reaching than anyone knows. As the wife of the series’ creator, one can only assume that she had prior knowledge and influence toward many aspects of the franchise that we know and love today. It would not be such a stretch to insinuate that the Star Trek we know and love would have been impossible without her touch. On the fiftieth anniversary of the franchise, I believe that it is only right to pay our respects to the woman that Roddenberry loved and who left her own mark, independent of him, on the franchise.