Gene Coon: From Beatrice Nebraska to Star Trek and Beyond
Interview with Local Historian Jeanelle Kleveland, Gage County Classic Film Institute
“To me, in many ways, Gene L. Coon was the heart and soul of Star Trek.”
-David Gerrold, screenwriter, The Trouble with Tribbles
This weekend the Gage County Classic Film Institute in Beatrice Nebraska celebrates the career of native son Gene Coon, writer and/or producer for many beloved classic TV shows including Dragnet, Wagon Train, Maverick, Bonanza, and Star Trek. Coon joined Star Trek as a screenwriter and producer during its first season and is credited with developing the Klingons and the interpersonal dynamics between Captain Kirk, Spock and McCoy.
The 3-day event kicks off Friday evening, March 2, with a screening of the fan-favorite Star Trek episode The Trouble with Tribbles hosted by ‘Tribbles’ screenwriter David Gerrold. Saturday’s schedule includes discussions with David Gerrold, local film historian Jeanelle Kleveland and librarian Laureen Riedesel, and features screenings of Bonanza, Wagon Train and Star Trek episodes. The event winds down on Sunday with a screening of the first Star Trek movie.
That said, we are delighted to have been able to sit down for a minute to chat with Jeanelle Kleveland about the event.
CMH: Hi Jeanelle, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and the Gage County Classic Film Institute?
JK: I grew up, and live, in Beatrice, Nebraska, a town of about 12,000 people, about 40 miles south of Lincoln. I graduated from high school in Beatrice and then attended the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, where I got my undergrad degree and law degree.
The Gage County Classic Film Institute was founded by a small group of people to create events that celebrate famous people in the entertainment industry that have connections to Gage County. It still amazes me that we have so many talented celebrities from such a small community – among them Hollywood legends Robert Taylor and Harold Lloyd; three-time Oscar winner for special effects, John P. Fulton, and his father, special effects Oscar winner Fitch Fulton; character actor Janet Shaw who appeared in over 30 films; and television writer, Gene L. Coon, best known for his major contributions to the original Star Trek.
Before our Institute was formed, I attended two events celebrating Robert Taylor in Beatrice, organized through the Gage County Museum and Beatrice Public Library. I then became involved as a volunteer, and have been flattered to be asked to be involved with putting together these programs.
I’ve been collecting movie memorabilia for quite some time, primarily focusing on famous Nebraskans – and I have made it my personal mission to educate people about stars from here – Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift, Fred Astaire and Henry Fonda to name a few.
CMH: When did the Gage County Classic Film Institute organize?
JK: We started organizing in 2014 and have had four events, two of which featured Robert Taylor. The first Taylor event was in celebration of his 105th birthday (August, 2016) and featured discussions with two authors who wrote books on Taylor. His children, Terry and Tessa Taylor were in attendance. We also screened the Taylor film, Escape, co-starring Norma Shearer and Alla Nazimovaz, and featuring character actor Janet Shaw from Gage County. At our second Taylor event, we screened Quo Vadis.
We’ve also done two events about John P. Fulton’s special effects. The first one featured speaker Joanne Fulton Schaeffer (John P. Fulton’s daughter) and included a screening of The Ten Commandments for which John P won an Oscar for Best Special Effects. Our second Fulton event last March featured Jill Fulton McClure (John P. Fulton’s granddaughter) who brought along Fulton’s Special Effects Oscar for Bridge at Toko Ri. We were so surprised and thrilled that we all had the opportunity for a photo opp holding the Award!
CMH: What is the next event you have planned?
JK: On March 2-4, 2018 we are celebrating Gene L. Coon – one of the early writers and creatives on Star Trek. He invented the Klingons and developed much of the personalities of the main characters. He was known as the ‘other Gene.’ Coon was born in Beatrice Nebraska in 1924. His family moved to Glendale, California when he was a teenager. He was a teenage newscaster on the local radio station in Beatrice.
This event will feature David Gerrold as our keynote speaker, who was mentored by Coon on Star Trek. Gerrold wrote The Trouble with Tribbles and Coon produced it. We are showing this episode as a free event at the Beatrice Public Library on Friday night and will be having a reception with Star Trek refreshments. I can’t wait to see them!
On Saturday, we will be discussing the Beatrice years and showing two westerns written by Coon – an episode of Bonanza and an episode of Wagon Train that Coon co-wrote with his brother, Bloise. I will be discussing the similarities in Coon’s stories for westerns and science fiction. In the afternoon, we will feature two Star Trek episodes and keynote speaker David Gerrold. We have two more free events at the library on Saturday night and Sunday afternoon. You can see the entire schedule here: Gage County Museum Info.
CMH: Does the Gage County Classic Film Institute have any future events planned?
Next year we are planning to spotlight the legendary Harold Lloyd. He lived in Beatrice as a child, and was born in Burchard, Nebraska about 25 miles away. We are very excited to be developing this event. Please feel free to follow us on Facebook at Gage County Classic Film Institute to see what we have in store for the future and to also find out about ‘our stars’ on television.
We want to thank Classic Movie Hub for helping us to advertise our event and putting us on the CMH calendar.
We hope we will have a big turnout for Gene L. Coon, one of my famous Nebraskans.
CMH: Thanks so much Jeanelle for spending time with us. Good luck with the event!
–Annmarie Gatti for Classic Movie Hub