Goodbye D.C. Goodbye Dorothy.
I will never get a change to tell D.C. Fontana what she meant to me as a little boy growing up in turbulent times, or as a grown man tempted by the writing bug. Dorothy, who wrote under the byline “D.C.” because the world isn’t what it ought to be, has died at the age of 80.
I’ll never get to meet her, and what I’d have to say would mean even less to you than it would to her. So with apologies to a man I can passingly call an acquaintance, here is what Star Trek writer and longer time associate of D.C Fontana, David Gerold posted on learning of her passing:
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.
Despite my inexperience, despite my lack of social skills, we still became friends. I had no idea that our friendship would endure for more than half a century, but I am singularly blessed by it.
There is so much to say about her skill as a writer and producer, as a teacher and mentor, but much more to say about her as a friend and colleague, I don’t know where to begin.
So I made a list of words:
Loyal, efficient, dependable, knowledgeable, informed, meticulous, intelligent, indefatigable, committed, passionate, sincere, honest, generous, loving — and funny.
But those words aren’t enough. It’s only the smallest tip of a huge iceberg of personal gravitas. Dorothy Fontana had little patience for rudeness and stupidity, even less tolerance for unethical behaviors anywhere. Her guidance and advice at several key moments in my life were profound. I saw her provide that same sense of integrity everywhere.
I have to offer a personal observation. It is an angry observation, but not unwarranted. Were it not for the inherent misogyny of an industry best described by William Goldman in three words — “Nobody knows anything.” — Were it not for that inherent misogyny, DC Fontana would have had the opportunities to become one of the most effective producers in television. She simply got it — she knew what makes a script work as if it was as simple for her as breathing. Anyone who didn’t listen to her advice was an idiot. And the failure of the industry to recognize her excellence remains an unforgivable lapse.
Okay, now that I’ve said that, here are some personal memories:
During the 70s, Dorothy was a frequent guest at science fiction and Star Trek conventions. She was a sometime belly-dancer, yes! She often participated in the masquerades as well. She taught screenwriting at Los Angeles City College for a while — I sat in one year and enjoyed how she answered a self-involved student’s question, “What qualifies you to teach writing?” It took her several minutes to list all of her credentials.
Dorothy asked me to write “More Tribbles, More Troubles” for Star Trek Animated and the following year, I asked her to write “Elsewhen” for Land Of The Lost. She turned in a script so good it became one of the single best episodes of the entire series. She had a way with character that few other writers have matched — and she set the standard for all of us who followed. (Did I mention that she did more development work on the character of Spock than Gene Roddenberry?)
We both worked for a short time on Star Trek, The Next Generation. It wasn’t always the happiest of experiences. Where the original series had been the product of a small community of people who loved the idea of exploring strange new worlds, the reboot had too many people onboard who had little idea of what Star Trek was really about. At one point, when it was suggested that a Betazoid female might have six breasts, Dorothy responded with a polite memo acknowledging that the management of such might be a logistical problem. She asked how these multiple mammaries would be arranged? Horizontal, vertical, linear, or in two columns of three? The idea was dropped immediately.
Let me say it this way. DC Fontana had a black-belt in literary eye-roll.
Some people may have seen her as distant or aloof. She wasn’t. She was cautious. She was reserved — but when you were worthy of her trust, you were part of a remarkable community of marvelous people.
During the eighties and nineties, Dorothy accompanied me almost every week to the writing classes I taught at Pepperdine. Later, she used some of the materials I developed in her own classes at the American Film Institute. Every December, when Dorothy and Denny would go off to the Rodeo, I would step in and deliver the notorious “Seven Dwarves of Characterization” lecture. It was always an honor and a privilege to be a part of her work.
But here’s the memory I cherish the most. In 1991 I applied to adopt a little boy. Dorothy Fontana wrote a glowing character reference. She knew me better than anyone and when I read what she wrote I was deeply moved. (The other important character reference came from Harlan Ellison, so hers was a necessary balance.)
They say that you don’t get to choose the family you’re born into, but you do get to choose the family you want around you. Sean considered Dorothy and Denny (and Harlan Ellison) his favorite aunt and uncle in our close circle of friends.
I’ve mentioned Harlan a couple times, let me expand on that — I’ve had two great friendships in my career and also two great role models. Harlan was one. Dorothy was the other. They both, each in their own way, demonstrated what I consider the single most important trait of a great writer — passion for the craft of storytelling, passion for excellence in the craft, and passion for personal integrity. Treat any of these with less than total commitment and … well, you weren’t worthy of their respect. More than anything, I wanted then (and still today) to be worthy of the respect of both Harlan and Dorothy. The three of us loved each other for half a century. and that love was unconditional.
Dorothy has now gone on to another world. I would say that I am beyond words, but obviously I’m not. It’s just that all these words are insufficient. I feel like I’ve lost an emotional safety net. I cannot imagine how deeply others are feeling their loss. I can remind myself that the depth of our grief is a measure of how much we loved her, but I am still trying to deal with the idea of a future without her. She was an important part of so many lives and to say that we will miss her profoundly is simply insufficient. We have lost our writer. We have lost our friend.
Today we will have our pain and our sorrow. Tomorrow, we will begin to celebrate what she accomplished in her life. Dorothy Fontana made a difference everywhere she worked and in every life she touched.
Dorothy Fontana made the world a better place for having been part of it and there is no better legacy than that.
— David Gerold
Nothing I can say can add to that. Goodbye Dorothy. You mattered.