Dorothy Catherine Fontana has passed away after what’s described as “a brief illness”. She was 80 years old.
Born in New Jersey, “D.C. Fontana” moved to Los Angeles in the late 1950s to forge a career as a writer. Her first scripts were Westerns, starting with The Tall Man, created by Trek episode director Samuel A. Peeples. Following that, she landed on The Lieutenant as production secretary to producer Del Reisman. Once the show was cancelled, its creator Gene Roddenberry started shopping around Star Trek, and Fontana followed him to Desilu when Star Trek went into production. But during that time, she was more than just “Gene Roddenberry’s secretary”.
“From 1964 through the making of two Star Trek pilots, plus two other pilots Roddenberry produced, to beginning of Star Trek production in 1966, I wrote a script for Ben Casey (produced), Slattery’s People (bought but not produced as the series was cancelled) and The Road West (produced). So when we came to production on Star Trek‘s first season, Roddenberry assigned me to pick one of the stories in the bible and write the script. I chose “Charlie X,” and that was the start of my science fiction writing. I was far from being a novice writer, and Star Trek was not my first credit – far from it.”
Fontana wrote eleven scripts for Star Trek, including those that gave us a bulk of Spock’s back-story and the Vulcan heritage (including the animated “Yesteryear”, which many consider to be canon even if the rest of the animated episodes might not be). Talking about her episode “Journey to Babel”, Fontana noted it’s a favorite of hers. “As we entered the second season of Star Trek, it was clear Spock was an important and popular character, and I wanted to explore who he was as a half-Vulcan half-human and what had made him that way,” Fontana told StarTrek.com. “It has also turned out to be a very popular episode with the fans, for which I am most appreciative.”
Fontana was the third story editor — and the youngest in Hollywood at the time — on Star Trek, following Steve Carabastos and then John D.F. Black. Her run ended when she left the show prior to the third season, but she would continue to write scripts as a freelancer.
She would work with Roddenberry again as his assistant on The Questor Tapes, writing the novelization as well as a script for Genesis II. Her other writing credits include The Six Million Dollar Man, Logan’s Run, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, Automan, The Streets of San Francisco, Dallas, and The Waltons, among others. After writing for Star Trek: The Next Generation, she wrote the episode “Dax” for Deep Space Nine and several episodes of Babylon 5.
Questor was not her only novel. For Pocket Books, she wrote Vulcan’s Glory, delving into the story of Spock’s first mission on the Enterprise under the command of Christopher Pike. She also contributed stories to IDW’s Star Trek comic book series. Unfortunately, her relationship with Roddenberry soured during the production of TNG, and she later revealed in William Shatner Presents: Chaos on the Bridge, that it was due mainly to the interference by Roddenberry’s lawyer, Leonard Maizlish.
After joining the Writers Guild of America in 1960, she served on the board of directors between 1988 and 1990, and again from 1991 to 1993. She received the Guild’s Morgan Cox Award in 2002, and was inducted into the American Screenwriters Association hall of fame twice, in 1997 and in 2002. Most recently, Fontana was a senior lecturer at the American Film Institute, where she “devotedly taught and mentored many classes of aspiring screenwriters, producers and directors by sharing a lifetime of expertise, craft, heart and integrity.”
Reaction from the Star Trek community has been swift and consistent with praise for Fontana’s impact on the franchise.
David Gerrold writes on his Facebook page, “I met Dorothy Fontana on the soundstage of Star Trek in 1967. I didn’t know who she was at first. I was the brash arrogant naive terrified kid. She was the story editor — I was so inexperienced, I didn’t even know what a story editor was. But DC Fontana started mentoring me from the git-go — it was one of the greatest gifts of my life. Everything she said about scriptwriting was pure gold. She was the single greatest story-editor I have ever had the privilege and honor of working with.”
Michael Okuda shared, “she helped breathe life into the characters that we have loved, helped to bring continuity and verisimilitude to the Star Trek universe, and she treated Star Trek‘s fans – including us – with respect. We will always remember her talent, her humanity, and her kindness. We are lucky enough to have worked with her on the first season of ST:TNG, and we’re grateful for her friendship over the years, including the day we were her guests at a taping of The Big Bang Theory. Star Trek‘s universe just got a little bit smaller with the passing of D.C. Fontana.”
Author Dayton Ward writes on his blog, “From my earliest days as a fan watching the original series, I knew the name “D.C. Fontana.” As I grew older and my appreciation for the show expanded in various ways, I became more interested in its production and behind-the-scenes stories, so I learned more about the woman behind the initials. Yes, Star Trek was created by Gene Roddenberry with the able assistance of producers Herb Solow and Bob Justman. However, along with writer-producer Gene Coon I consider Dorothy Fontana to be absolutely instrumental to the shaping and caretaking of the series during its formative years, laying the foundation upon which stands everything that followed. The width and breadth of her impact on Star Trek cannot be understated.”
We have lost a true genius, writer of many iconic Star Trek episodes. D.C. Fontana, your many-decades mission showed us new life and new civilizations indeed. https://t.co/JqcXMqrBvT
— George Takei (@GeorgeTakei) December 3, 2019
I only met D. C. Fontana a few times in passing, but she was #StarTrek family, the matriarch of us all. She was a terrific writer, by all accounts a wonderful woman, & an inspiration to countless fans & generations of writers. 2nd star to the right & straight on til morning!
— Robert Hewitt Wolfe (@writergeekrhw) December 4, 2019
We're sad to hear of the passing of Dorothy Catherine "D.C." Fontana. She was a remarkable writer and a huge part of the Trek family, having worked on TOS, TAS, TNG, and DS9. https://t.co/m3TOewrQVv https://t.co/SWz4i2KWWf
— Discovery Writers (@StarTrekRoom) December 3, 2019
Sad to hear of the passing of Star Trek legend D. C. Fontana. She was a nice person and a talented writer. Worked with her briefly on DS9. She took the first pass at the episode Dax. Peter Allan Fields took it the rest of the way. Now they’re both gone in the same year. R.I.P.
— Ira Steven Behr (@IraStevenBehr) December 3, 2019
Saddened to learn of the passing of Dorothy "D.C." Fontana, one of the seminal writer-producers of STAR TREK on TV. Her work shaped much of what we now take for granted about Trek — Vulcans in particular. #RIP Dorothy. May your work and memory live on as a blessing. pic.twitter.com/BKSJE8hhkx
— David Mack (@DavidAlanMack) December 3, 2019
D.C. Fontana. Thank you for everything.https://t.co/yrFnEnkeFE
— Sam Witwer (@SamWitwer) December 3, 2019
Heartbroken to hear of the passing of Dorothy D.C. Fontana. The world of #StarTrek owes her a debt that can never be paid…..
— @startrektour (@startrektour) December 3, 2019
Mourning the passing of D.C. Fontana, a trailblazing woman and one, along with Gene Coon, who polished Gene Roddenberry's notion and made it shine. Her contributions beyond @StarTrek should not be overlooked either. I adored her novelization of Questor.
— bobgreenberger (@bobgreenberger) December 3, 2019
RIP to Dorothy "DC" Fontana, one of the great minds and writers behind STAR TREK. Thank you for being a fierce inspiration and advocate for writers. Watch her oral history video now. https://t.co/HdwTuExkAi
— Writers Guild Foundation (@WritersGuildF) December 3, 2019
So sad to lose D.C. Fontana. She will always be a huge voice in the Star Trek universe. The galaxy will miss you. pic.twitter.com/cFlx0fOMku
— Dan & Kevin Hageman (@brothershageman) December 3, 2019
Fontana is survived by her husband, cinematographer Dennis Skotak