Monday, May 4, 2009

TREK WEEK - BJO TRIMBLE interview, The First Lady of Fandom!

Chances are if it wasn't for Bjo Trimble, there wouldn't be a Star Trek movie coming out this weekend.

Or ever.

More than likely, it would have been a somewhat forgotten series, not the pop culture juggernaut that it has become.

In 1968, when the cancellation of the original series was announced, Bjo, and her husband John, became two of the most influential fans that geekdom has ever seen before or since.

Together, they led the "Save
Star Trek" letter writing campaign, which led to the third season going into production, thereby providing enough episodes for syndication.

They also assisted
Trek creator Gene Roddenberry set up Lincoln Enterprises, a mail order company run by Majel-Barrett Roddenberry that sold Star Trek merchandise. The Trimbles also led a letter-writing campaign directed toward President Gerald Ford petitioning the naming of the first space shuttle, Enterprise.

Today, the Trimbles live in Southern California where they own and operate Griffin Dyeworks & Fiber Arts. Bjo, the Grand Dame of Trek Fandom, was kind enough to to speak to Forces of Geek.

FOG!: For those who aren't familiar with your accomplishments, explain how you saved Star Trek.

BJO: I am always credited with saving Star Trek, but it was not just me. My husband, John Griffin Trimble, was a vital partner in this. We had two small children, so there was no way I could have done it alone. Without his constant encouragement and support, and hard work, it would never have happened. We saved Star Trek for a third season, which set it on its long career. Back in the 1960s, if a series didn't have 3 seasons, it was permanently shelved and never shown in re-runs. That might have happened to Star Trek, and further generations would never have seen it. But please give John his due. Thank you.

John and Bjo Trimble

What set Trek apart from other series that inspired the passion to not only save the series, but also were behind the campaign to name the first space shuttle "Enterprise". How exactly did you accomplish that feat?

Trek was the first "adult" science fiction TV series that stayed adult. Not what is meant by "adult" as found on the Internet, but interesting themes with real people who acted like grown-ups, not whining little kids. Witness the shows that were extant at the time and you can see what I mean. Lost in Space started out with adults who had adult problems but it quickly devolved into a kid, robot and whining adult who screamed at everything that looked alien. This was what caught our attention about Star Trek. It didn't pander to advertisers, the network, or the more childish area of the public. It gave us real characters, good stories, and a message. John and I liked that.

Actually, naming the Enterprise came about not because it was a Trek name, but because John and I are major space fans and wanted to draw the public's attention to our then-faltering space program. "Enterprise" caught the public imagination, as we hoped it would happen.

We accomplished both campaigns by mail, well before home computers. We got mailing lists from SF conventions, book dealers, and from the Paramount mailing room (with GR's help) to get addresses. John studied up on the then-new zip code so he could sort mail faster and bundle it for quick mailing. Fans came to our house to type mailing labels, mimeograph off instructions on how to run a mail campaign, and hand-fold some 23,000 pieces of paper to fit in envelopes. Then we hand-stamped the envelopes and got them out to as many people as possible.

The major part of the campaign was: write a letter and ask 10 people to writer a letter. They ask 10 people to write a letter. Those other 10 people ask 10 people to write a letter. And so on and so on. It worked. All this without a computer!

Years later, I helped pass the word about the Pluto Project by calling up all the fan clubs I knew of at the moment, and pressing one button on my computer - within minutes I had reached thousands of people! What a difference.

Is there a specific Trek character that you identified with?

I'm about half Dr. McCoy and (I hope) Captain Kirk. McCoy because of his Southern compassion and because I loved DeForrest Kelly. Kirk because of his amazing intelligence that fans never seemed to notice because of his love-life. They never seems to realize how swift on his feet the Captain had to be; far more so than Spock.

Your book, Star Trek Concordance, was the definitive resource for the original Trek. How did that book come about?

It actually started with another fan making notes about everything she saw on Star Trek. I liked the idea and started helping her. Then suggested that we should make a fanzine of it. She agreed, but was rapidly losing interest in the project. I continued with the note-taking, and we finally self-published a fanzine. Well, 2 fanzines, because of the long delay between the last episode. We put out the first two seasons in one fanzine, and the last season when the final episode was shown as the first episode in the re-runs.

The delay was caused by the death of ex-President Eisenhower. Then someone showed the fanzines to Ballantine Books and they offered to publish it. I shared my royalties with the original note-taker for a time, but finally lost track of her. Though the book was the best-selling trade edition in the entire US publishing field at one time, Ballantine never reprinted it. You see, they knew that Star Trek fandom would crater in a short time, and leave them with a warehouse full of unsold books, so it was no use to reprint the book.

Now as Star Trek prepares for it's re-imagining, what do you think makes the voyages of the U.S.S. Enterprise still pertinent 40 years since it's initial launch?

First, I am adamantly against "re-imaging" anything that is doing just fine as is. Look what has been done with other great ideas that were not in any need of "re-imaging" at all.

As for Trek's longevity, all I can do is repeat Gene Roddenberry's comment when he showed me the newly built TNG bridge set: "It is not often a man is allowed this kind of a second chance!" It is wonderful that the concept has lasted this long, but Gene's vision has all the pertinent elements needed for a good story: characters to identify with, great villains, good stories and a message for us.

Somehow much of that seems to be lost on everyone else who produced the newer series. Enterprise is the most unhappy example. There was much to like, but there was not enough. Almost all of Gene Roddenberry's vision had been deliberately blurred until there was very little left of what we had come to love over all these years.

What do you think Gene Roddenberry would think of the reimagining of his original characters?

I'm fairly sure he would not be entirely pleased. At the very least, I think he would have expected to see all the original series characters in the movie, playing their own ancestors, and possibly even some of the TNG characters. At the very best, I believe he would have expected the latest permutation to have some to be the dawning of his - not someone else's - incredible concept.

What do you currently geek over?

This will probably disappoint many people, but we don't watch much TV, don't read comics, and seldom go to movies (it's a very high price to stick to the floor and listen to people talk over the dialog). While we love music, we are jazz fans, and enjoy light classical. Music has to have a tune and better lyrics than the same four foul words screamed into the microphone over and over.

What we geek over is travel, lots of it, anywhere. John's personal idea of a great vacation is to find the best musty old used book store in the area and if that's not geekdom, I don't know what is. I am a natural dyer, so I enjoy ancient dye research as well as experiment with various dye plants I find in my travels. Anyone who wants to know more about what we do can look us up: at the Griffindy Works website or check out our Griffin Dyeworks Fiber Retreat, where I teach dye workshops.

Do we still go to Trek conventions? We'd love to do it but not so many nowadays. We are regarded as Old Pharts with nothing much to tell the modern hip Trek fan. They overlook how much historic Trek we can relate, but there ya go.

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