In Her Own Words: An Interview with Dorothy Fontana

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Interviews by Fans
Title: In Her Own Words: An Interview with Dorothy Fontana
Interviewer: Cyndi Dressel and Frances Evans
Interviewee: Dorothy Fontana
Date(s): 1974
Medium: print
Fandom(s): Star Trek, cats
External Links:
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In Her Own Words: An Interview with Dorothy Fontana was conducted in 1974 by Cyndi Dressel and Frances Evans, two zine editors.

The 14-page interview was printed in the zine Beta Lyrae.

first page of the Fontana interview
Dorothy Fontana and her cats

Some Topics Discussed

  • Doctor McCoy's rank on the Star Trek animated series
  • Star Trek Animated, logistics, how much the writers got paid, continuity errors in it
  • detailed info about all the promotion done for the animated series
  • a very, very detailed account by Fontana of her background in writing, and how she got started in television
  • things Fontana was currently writing
  • being female in a male-dominated profession
  • filming a commercial for Equicon
  • a lot about Fontana's cats (Bobby McGee and Wizard of Fuzz)

Introduction

It was a dark and gloomy Monday night in the depths of West Los Angeles... Actually, it was a pleasant Friday evening in the East San Fernando Valley. We drove over to Dorothy' s house to interview her for the zine. Little did we know that we would also be interviewing Bobby McGee and the Wizard of Fuzz, her two feline children. And somewhere in the middle of a conversation about the STAR TREK animation we remembered to turn on the tape recorder. The discussion picks up on the topic of an error concerning Doctor McCoy's new rank that Dorothy discovered after the completion of the first episode.

Excerpts

Dorothy: In fact he had gone up to full commander...But we're going to bust him down to Lieutenant Commander where he belongs...If we go a second year we may boost him up to full Commander just to give Spock something to think about.

Cyndi: Are you going to have "Beyond the Farthest Star" at Torcon?

Dorothy: Yes, it's going to be shipped up there. We couldn't get "Yesteryear", I hoped maybe we might be able to but they're just going to make it September 8. Even at that they may even have to run a 35mm work print, not even a final print, and run the sound separately... It may actually wind up in two separate pieces of film. We're hoping not, but it might be. But you always have to do pick-ups and retakes. You look at the film the first time and you see all these little things. Some of ours are blatant. Like they're in the transporter room and all of a sudden there's a Vulcan desert scene behind Spock, Wait a minute -- that has to be reshot. There are a couple where they changed the color scheme on Sarek's jacket. So one moment he has a white jacket with, I think, it's a red band down the side and royal blue pants... which is very American, but it was different from what they had given him on the other shows. And the next minute he's got a red collar on his jacket and a blue jacket with red pants...Now wait a minute.
Dorothy: When Gene's secretary came down ill with what at first was appendicitis then exploratory surgery, I wound up being Gene's secretary for something like four months, at a run when we were in our heaviest production. Then she came back and I went back to my old post. But when he was going to do STAR TREK as his next project, he asked me to do the research on it because he knew I was interested in writing, and he had seen the things I had done for him — reports, synopses, script breakdowns, and stuff like this. So that was really my start into science fiction. I had read other science fiction, but it was bad science fiction that I had happened to pick up. So I was sort of leary. I thought, 'The Squash that Devoured Philadelphia', that was the level of what I'd read. I had thought, "Well, I don't know if you're right. Gene." Then I read the format and I said, "Hey, this is pretty good." I immediately wanted to know who played Spock, and he shoved a picture of Leonard Nimoy across the desk at me, and I said, "Terrific," because, as a matter of fact, in one of these strange things again that keeps tying lives together, Leonard Nimoy had appeared in the very first story I had written for the TALL MAN for Sam Peoples.
Dorothy: What else have I written that's modern? I just finished a STREETS OF SAN FRANCISCO script, and they are very high on it. I didn't even do a second draft, I just did a first draft. I had wanted it to star Mariette Hartley, because she was really who we were talking about when we talked about this policewoman story. And I had wanted the male guest star to be Martin Sheen, who I just love, but they had used him in an earlier episode and didn't want to repeat. He would have been just right. He was the character, the actor, that I was basing the character on. It was written for him, and I'm only sorry that they cast him in something already. (Editor's note: The role eventually went to Robert Foxworth who is QUESTOR. Also, this script was the first that Quinn Martin Productions used that was written by a woman.) I'm also doing a daytime drama — a ninety-minute anthology. This is the thing where they 're trying to do what is essentially a matinee theatre, only in a ninety-minute context rather than in a half hour or an hour, and get major guest stars. It's primarily geared toward women because mostly women will be watching it, or essentially women will be watching ti, but that gives us a chance to have some good, strong, interesting characters and some good women players.

Frances: Are they planning on doing any more with Joanna McCoy in the animated?

Cyndi: After what happened to It?

Dorothy: Well, doggone it. Gene came up with a story for somebody else that involves Joanna and I was affronted, however, I may get a chance to do it myself since the writer can't do it right now. Gene came up with the idea — the reason they have to go down to this planet is because Joanna is down there, and, of course, that's a tie for McCoy. We didn't want to bring in anyone else's relatives. We'd more or less exhausted Kirk's and we 'd done Spock 's already so McCoy was left. Of course, we could have done something with Scotty, but he's not as prominent as the other three really.

Cyndi: All of fandom has heard about Joanna for so long.

Dorothy: Yes, I know. In fact, I don't even know what the story is about, yet. I have it with me and I have to read it. (Editor's note: The Joanna story was not completed for this season. There is no definite word on next year's shows.) But this particular writer has been signed as the producer on CHASE and it's absolute panic time for them — script and air dates and writers are all busy. They have the same problem, too, we're having now in getting materials.

Cyndi: We've heard several reactions to the animated. Some can't wait and others don't like it at all.

Frances: Those are the ones who like Kirk.

Dorothy: Actually I think the drawing of Bill is quite good.

Frances: I was impressed with the way they were doing the artwork. McCoy looks like McCoy.

Dorothy: De had seen his picture — "Gee, I was hoping that they would make me a real handsome devil but they just drew me the way I am."

Cyndi: Did they all like their heroic bodies?

Dorothy: I don't think they saw that. We did give Kirk the slim look, though.

Cyndi: Do women in the industry encounter much prejudice from the male chauvinists?

Dorothy: There are a few genuine male chauvinists in the business, but most are not like that. When you come in as a professional whatever — an actress, writer, artist, technician of any kind — generally speaking, you are treated as a professional whatever-you-do, and you are given at least that respect. Now they may turn you down for whatever reason, and it may be quote "a chauvinistic reason" or a discriminatory reason but you cannot prove it by them. If that is the reason they always come up with another excuse. Sometimes there is a genuine turndown only because they haven't got room or they are not open at this point to hire anybody or this kind of thing, of if you are a writer and you turn in a story that they don't really care for or you are telling a story that they have already done or can't do. There are lots of reasons for not getting a job. But I think on the whole you are treated pretty well in this industry because women have been in it for a long time and have proven themselves. There are a lot of women editors, for instance — women sound and film editors — and you will see their names come up on the screen for big pictures, they're action adventure, all sorts of things; and of course, there are women costume designers. There are not too many women directors. I think most women don't gravitate toward it. That really is kind of a male sort of job — orders, the whole thing. I personally think it takes a strong man to run a set, I really do, because it is a very peculiar kind of relationship.

In a TV series the producer is the father image; the director is the lover because he comes in on a one shot basis, really, or on an alternating basis, but he is not there all the time and he is not up front all the time. The director comes in and kind of woos the actors and calms the upset feeling. He is really the lover figure, and women gust don't gravitate toward that easily. I think Ida Lupino is one of the most successful in TV, and then there have been some women directors coming along the line in film direction. Women have just as good a camera eye as men do, certainly, and there are some excellent women photographers, so there is no reason why there can't be women cameramen because the cinematographer, per se, does not move the camera. It is not a physical thing most of the time, although when you have to it is a sixteen pound dolly and that is not all that heavy. You lift children heavier than that and carry them around — you lift grocery bags heavier than that. The big cameras are always on mounts of some kind anyway, but if they have to be moved the crab dollymen are men — they move the cameras. So what really comes around is that to be a cinematographer or a photographer in this business you don 't have to be a guy because strength is not required. What is required is artistry, taste, a good composition eye, and a lighting eye. You do have to learn how to work with lighting men and lighting a set, but that comes with experience and work — you can learn. There are women hairdressers but not very many women make-up people, although when you do body make-up you do have to have a woman do a woman and a man do a man. But if it is just faces it is mostly men anyway. I don't see why a woman could not be an art director, or there are some women decorators. a matter of fact, I don't know about art directors, but again there is no heavy physical work involved. You have to be an artist. You have to have that eye for design, creativity, and for color — what it will do under lights and to the camera.

Cyndi: When we shot the Equicon '73 commercial we chromokeyed in blue (This is a complicated process used when shooting with color video tape to use a background shot which is not actually on the set.) and "lost" anyone on the monitor in blues and some purples. All the glitter and tribbles.

Frances: We gave David a poster that we had made out of a picture we had taken and handed it to him the last day of Equicon. He was gassed out of his mind.

Dorothy: Everybody was! Listen, I tell you, why don't we go down to that Howard Johnson's and have some ice cream.

AND WE DID!