Thursday, June 5, 2008

Bob Justman is gone and will NOT be forgotten

I knew it was coming soon, but I still have to spill some thoughts. Bob Justman has passed away.

I was on the road in Germany for DaedalusCon, and my site was not even fully functional, when we got the news. But he meant so much to me, to so many and most of all to Star Trek that I'm not about to let this latent moment go by unnoticed.

First and foremost: Whatever credit Bob got for his role on Star Trek--both original and TNG—just bear in mind it was not and never will be enough. His stories have only begun to be told, even in co-writing Inside Star Trek with Desilu studio exec Herb Solow in 1996 ... The Okudas got snipperts of his tales of TOS in print, and I have a few recorded for some future projects—but it is hard to grasp, and as no knock on GR at all, how much of day-to-day classic Trek is in Bob's hands—and in turn influenced everyone and everything from The Next Generation (which he helped launch) to the Next Retro-Generation we are passing through today.

Compared to today's world of a dozen writer-producer credits before you ever get to the opening scene, the Trek staff was pretty bare: just GR, the showrunner like John D.F. Black or especially Gene Coon, a second staff writer like Dorothy Fontana, and then finally a post-production supervisor like Eddie Milkis. Bob did or headed the rest—and not just physical production with a hand in opticals and effects; he wrote script notes and even pitched stories. Including the pitch for what became "Tomorrow is Yesterday," the "Big E" as UFO over today's Earth, though he never got paid or credited for it--as documented in his book.

He was part of the old guard back in 1986-87 who re-gathered to prove Star Trek was no television fluke, and TNG was the result. That's where Bob saved my ass without even knowing it: given three months to write the development and first five seasons of the TNG Companion back in 1992, a four-hour interview with Bob at his home—and opening up his hard drive for printing out memo after memo—allowed me to put together the earliest detailed evolution of the show, complete with twists and turns and roads not taken. A lot of that interview still has not been published, but his own ideas in memo proof: Families aboard ship, a tough but sexy female security chief, an android character, a "Klingon marine" on the bridge to show the detente and distance from Kirk's era ... not to mention the "discoverer" and champion of Patrick Stewart as Picard .... Yep, that's all Bob.

In the past few years as his health slackened I made it a personal quest to try to help reconnect Bob with the fans, and the 20o5 Grand Slam appearance in Pasadena opened the door to a couple more--the last being last year's Vegas con (with thanks to Adam and Gary at Creation for doing so). In '05 I tho0ught he might have an hour to sign photos, but the day so energized him he stayed on for nearly four hours (photo above). All I wanted, all he deserved, was to get as many of today's fans to know his true impact on what they take for granted, and hear firsthand as many of his tales and insights as possible. During a DVD bonus features shoot in 2007 when his allotted 20-minute interview slot was up, just as he had gotten warmed up and overcome the rigors of mounting Parkinson's shakes, it was heartbreaking to hear him ask, "Oh, are we done already? I have a lot more to say"... I wanted to scream! to keep the rest of the notables waikting and let that camera roll for another half hour, but it was not meant to be.

Nice guys do not always finish last—they just tend to get overlooked, no matter how hard they work their butt off. THAT was Bob Justman, the meticulous worker and file-keeper of unbound energy and ideas whose career in film and TV will ways be capped by his love of Gene, his love for the vision, and his love Star Trek and its fans.

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