|I have written many things but this is my first obituary and I find myself faced with a quandary.|
Should I keep it to the bare facts of her biography? Born Majel Leigh Hudec in 1932, in Columbus, Ohio, married in Japan in 1969 to Gene Roddenberry and the mother of Eugene Wesley "Rod" Roddenberry, Jr, she passed away on December 18, 2008, at her home in Bel-Air, Los Angeles as a result of complications from leukemia at the age of 76. These facts are important, they give us a framework within which we can place the individual, but what do they tell us about her as an individual?
There are a number of good sources of information about Majel, if I may be so bold as to place myself on first name terms with her, IMDB, Roddenberry.com, Memory Alpha and Wikipedia for example and as I've studied them they've brought to light many snippets of information that cast a new light on this lady who I, as a fan, thought I knew.
For example I find it interesting that, although she had shown an interest in the theatre since ten, she made the "sensible" decision of studying to be a legal clerk only to get a failing mark in her first year and take up the theatre full-time. The idea of such a vivacious woman as a clerk is ... unthinkable! Preposterous! It almost sounds like the plot of a musical comedy in itself!
It came as no surprise though that, after a short stint in Paramount films in the 50's, she would recognise TV as "the next big thing". She was a canny businesswoman, steering her own career and later Lincoln Enterprises, the mail order business that she and Gene started for Star Trek-related materials. After Gene's death in 1991, she showed this again when she took on the role of executive producer of two of his concepts, Earth: Final Conflict (in which she also played the character Dr. Julianne Belman), and Andromeda.
However it is as an actress that she will primarily be known and her list of credits shows a wide range of roles. It was of particular interest to me that the great Lucille Ball was one of her creative influences when she worked for Desilu studios. Majel's role as Lwaxana Troi in Star Trek: The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine is, to my mind, one of the shining examples of comedy in Star Trek.
Life however is not a collection of simple facts. To describe the role of Lwaxana as comic relief would be simplistic to the point of insult. Majel was given a complex part to deliver for the elder Troi was a woman with depth and undercurrents to her psyche. Who can forget the pathos her unrequited grief in Dark Page or the way she shows her own vulnerability to Odo in The Forsaken?
It was the same with all the parts that she made uniquely her own. Whether it was as Number One, the second in command of the Enterprise in the first, unsuccessful pilot of Star Trek, The Cage or as nurse Christine Chapel, one of the regular supporting cast of the Original Series, she had a strength of character that shone through to her audience.
Facts can give us the base knowledge of a person's life and achievements but is the measure of a person the sum total of their achievements during their lifetime? There are some people whose lives will keep on influencing us for years to come.
Majel Barrett-Roddenberry is one such person.
Her performances and support of her fans are a major, integral part of what has made Star Trek the phenomenon that it is. Her work is immortal in that beauty and talent will always be timeless.
The lady has left the stage and we are the poorer for there can be no new appearances. Luckily though, return engagements are possible through the magic of celluloid and digital memory so that generations to come can enjoy the pleasure of her company.