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“The Women” was an episode logline featured in the original “Star Trek Is…” document and became one of the three story outlines that Gene Roddenberry wrote for NBC to choose from when planning the original series pilot. (The other two were “The Cage” and “Landru’s Paradise,” later to be made as “The Return of the Archons.)
When it came time for a second pilot, NBC asked Roddenberry to present them with three screenplays by three different writers to choose from. Sam Peeples wrote "Where No Man Has Gone Before” while Roddenberry tackled “The Omega Glory” and Stephen Kandel handled “The Women,” which would soon feature a lovable pimp and con-man named Harcourt Fenton Mudd. Kandel had no experience with science fiction, really, but he did understand how to write for television and used Mudd’s bigger-than-life personality to distract the executives from noticing that the story he was developing involved pill-popping prostitutes.
Kandel wrote two drafts of “Mudd’s Women” during the pilot selection phase but had to hand it off to Roddenberry’s team as he was about to produce a series of his own, Iron Horse. TV writer Jack Guss received an envelope from Roddenberry with a request for an overhaul and, without knowing it had been the Great Bird’s concept from the beginning, sent a note back to the office pointing out the story’s weaknesses from top to bottom, most specifically the lack of real conflict.
Guss wasn’t invited back to Star Trek.
While Robert Justman turned in a laundry list of production issues that needed to be tackled based on Kandel’s drafts, Roddenberry handed the rewrite assignment to John D.F. Black, who’d just taken over as the show’s script coordinator. Black and Justman hashed out things while Roddenberry worked on the script for “The Corbomite Manuever” and when he finally got to read “Mudd’s Women,” he wrote a memo to Black that started out “A good script, excellent dialogue and characterizations; enjoyed reading it,” before pointing out a number of ways to improve the screenplay, all dictated while enjoying a late-night cocktail.
Black did another pass, incorporating those suggestions, Justman offered a few more notes (including one that should have been included: Ben Childress actually finds that he loves Eve no matter what she looks like) and then Roddenberry did a Roddenberry and completely rewrote it. Unlike many of his peers, Stephen Kandel understood how Roddenberry worked and in an interview stated “Oh, Gene rewrote. He loved to meddle. No script was ever finished.”
While “The Corbomite Maneuver” would see more substantial changes from first draft to shooting script, Roddenberry felt that his and Black’s contributions merited a full credit, which read “Story by Gene Roddenberry; Teleplay by Stephen Kandel, John D.F. Black and Gene Roddenberry.”
Casting Harry Mudd was easy; Roger C. Carmel had been a guest star on a number of TV shows (including multiple appearances on The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and I Spy) and he was the first and only person that Joe D'Agosta called. “He was the right person for that role and, when you look at his contribution, maybe the only person for that role,” the casting director would later say.
The three women were a bit more difficult: a group of 20 appeared but D'Agosta narrowed it down to Karen Steele as Eve; Susan Denberg as Magda and Maggie Thrett as Ruth. Steele had appeared prominently in 1955’s Marty and the acclaimed western Rode Lonesome along with a number of b-pictures.
Denberg came from Poland to Las Vegas, joining a chorus line there before being discovered and taking on a number of TV and film roles. She actually appeared in the August 1966 issue of Playboy, released just prior to the broadcast of "Mudd’s Women.” James Doohan recalled that any of the sequences in which the male cast members were required to ogle the women were not a challenge in the slightest, Denberg in particular. “I looked at her and thought, ‘Wooooeeee.’”
Maggie Thrett had made her feature film debut the same year with Dimenson 5, a science fiction film that featured former Enterprise captain Jeffrey Hunter. Harlan Ellison, who was working on his script for “The City On The Edge Of Forever” at the Trek offices during shooting, kept calling her “Maggie Treat.” When corrected on her name by a woman that worked on the show, Ellison responded that to her, she was a threat. To him, the tall brunette was a treat.
This was the first episode in which viewers would get to see William Ware Theiss’s theories of women’s clothing in action. He believed that it wasn’t how much an article of clothing revealed that mattered; it was the idea that it could slip the tiniest bit and fall to the floor. Roddenberry would (not surprisingly) attend many of the fittings for these costumes and make suggestions that would end up making things even skimpier.
The wardrobe made explicit the sexual nature of the script and while westerns had frequently featured men offering women to lonesome settlers and ranchers with very little attention from the censors, Theiss’s costumes weren’t like those featured on Gunsmoke. This caused some consternation with John D.F. Black and Justman, but thanks to Jerry Finnerman’s soft-focus technique for shooting women (which debuted here) and some discreet editing, the episode made it with very little in the way of interference.
Speaking of editing, this would be director Harvey Hart’s only episode, his technique of cutting in the camera and using elaborate setups made it hard for the editing team to put together the final product. Throw in the fact that he racked up a lot of overtime with his shooting techniques and you have a person who wasn’t a good fit for the budget-minded production.
I’m not a huge fan of “Mudd’s Women” — mostly because I object to Harry Mudd’s way of making a living and how women are treated as chattel — but for an episode early in the series, it does a number of things very well. All of the performances are razor-sharp and even with the occasional continuity gaffes and odd moments (why didn’t Ben Childress have goggles if he was a settler on a dustblown, distant world?), it looks and feels like a more mature vision than its production date would suggest.
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Fontana remembered, “The first time a television script crossed my desk, I said, ‘I can do this.’ That’s when I got really interested in writing for television.”
Once Fontana realized that the main suppliers of programming for TV were relocating to Los Angeles, she also decided to make the move. Landing in LA in 1959, she learned that Revue Studios, the maker of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Wagon Train and Leave it to Beaver, needed typists. It was a nowhere job for most but, once inside the studio system, Fontana kept a watchful eye on the job postings. One was for a western called Overland Trail. The producer needed a secretary, and that brought Fontana to Samuel Peeples. He became more than a boss; he was also a mentor…
Peeples liked Fontana’s confidence and told her to start writing. That first script was credited to Dorothy C. Fontana. Peeples had no qualms about associating a woman writer with his shoot-'em-up series, but others would.
“I was being turned down for interviews,” she recalled. “They were saying, 'Oh, well, I don’t think a woman can write this show.’ And it would be a western. And I’d say, 'But I’ve got six credits on westerns. Why don’t you think I can write this?’”
The answer was always the same: writers for television came with first names like Gene, Sam, and Rod - not Dorothy. And so the pen name of D.C. Fontana was born.
Marc Cushman, These are the Voyages: TOS: Season One, 2013.