In Memoriam: D.C. Fontana and How William Shatner’s Chest Inspired one (or more) Female Television Writers to Succeed in the Boys Club of Hollywood

In fond memory of D.C Fontana, who died yesterday at the age of 80, I am reposting this homage I wrote for the Mindful(l) Media podcast in 2015. She will be greatly missed. – Rosanne


In Memoriam: D.C. Fontana, Star Trek & Women via Mindful(l) Media

How William Shatner’s Chest Inspired one (or more) Female Television Writers to Succeed in the Boys Club of Hollywood

As a child I didn’t come to Star Trek for the fantasy or for the fun futuristic optimism or even for the glory of the gadgetry of the tricorders and communicators. I came for William Shatner’s chest. Glimpsed quickly one day while changing channels, my pre-adolescent hormones screeched to a halt as I sat transfixed. That tight Star Fleet uniform shirt truly rippled across his chest, which seemed to strain to be released. We didn’t ‘flip’ in those pre-remote days. We sat in front of the set and manually spun the dial like the combination lock on our high school lockers, which brought us in to much closer contact with the (sometimes still black and white) pictures flashing upon our (compared to modern day frightfully small) screens. I don’t even remember which episode it was that first placed his pecs in front of me, but this obsession with Shatner’s chest focused me so much so that I never cared for the writers’ propensity for finding ways for his co-star to flaunt his own brand of sexuality. Forcing the unfeeling Mr. Spock to feel never moved me at all, so in second, third and fourth runs I never found “This Side of Paradise” much to my liking. In the epic mash up between Sexy Shatner and Sexy Spock, Shatner always won. But being a budding television writer even as a ten year old, I recognized in the idea the need to offer the actor a way out of the rigid character description enforced upon him by his creator.

Fontana 1970sViewed now from the perspective of a fifty-year old female television writer and scholar, no longer merely a fan, I find the episode fascinating for what it says about the history of women writers — and the female characters they create — in television. In those days of heady chest-worshipping I didn’t know that the D. C. in D. C. Fontana stood for Dorothy Catherine. When I later learned that information from reading The Making of Star Trek, I took her success as a beacon for my own journey, as did many other future female television writers I came to meet throughout my career. While countless books have been written about the influence of the program on science fiction and on television in general, what I came to learn was the influence Star Trek wielded on bringing women into the industry — and how their participation changes the way female characters are portrayed.

Because of Fontana, future writers of future Trek franchises invited other female writers to pitch ideas so that, to my great joy twenty years after I stumbled upon the original Trek, I found myself in the offices of Star Trek: The Next Generation pitching ideas for stories involving what was still largely a boys club of characters. Sure, they had accepted two women into their continuing cast — both in ‘soft’ occupations as ship’s counselor and medical doctor and still under the command of Captain Picard. But the franchise had proved a stepping stone for a variety of female writers I admired (including Jane Espenson and Melinda M. Snodgrass) and I was excited to be among them. I never sold a story to that iteration of the show, but I kept watching — and kept noticing — that written by women, female characters were (and sadly are still) often more developed (in ways other than their chest measurements).

In “Paradise” that is true of what actress Nichelle Nichols is given to do as our cast regular female, Lt. Nyota Uhura (whose first name I never knew until the writing of this essay) and what Jill Ireland is given to do as the guest character, Spock’s former girlfriend, Leila (who in the tradition of sex objects was never provided a last name). Normally confined to dialogue discussing ‘hailing frequencies’ and only seen taking orders from Captain Kirk, in “Paradise” Uhura commits mutiny against her captain. He has to state for the Captain’s log that, “Lt. Uhura has effectively sabotaged all communications.” While all the male starship members also commit mutiny, Uhura is given one-on-one screen time with the lead actor to do so. Likewise, while Leila seems at first to only be demonstrating that the most perfect, porcelain-faced blonde can even be sexy in overalls, she was also spouting Thoreau (as in Henry David) and his brand of 19th century Transcendentalist philosophy to Spock — and to the audience. For a show airing at the height of the hippie movement, Leila served as a mouthpiece for their dream of peaceful co-existence, one not yet shared by other generations. In several online interviews Fontana has chosen Leila as one of her favorite characters, so we know much of what Leila says comes from Fontana’s own philosophies.

Of course, in the end television was then (and still is now) a man’s world so Uhura’s and Leila’s interests are eventually subsumed by Kirk’s desire to prove, “Man stagnates if he has no ambition, no desire to be more than he is.” This philosophy discounts ‘woman’ as part of ‘man’ and makes the female-gendered idea of creating peace and happiness submissive to the more male dominant idea of success defined by changing the world around him. Why is a love of nature, as evidenced in Spock’s line: “I have seen a dragon… but I’ve never stopped to look at clouds before, or rainbows” less of an ambition for man? Even the American Founding Fathers cared more for the land and its beauty than these final frontier founders seem to do as they travel the galaxy. Why is the existence of this previous girlfriend and the chance to hear “I love you” from a formerly feeling-less alien male, less of an ambition of (wo)man?

Fontana 2012Despite her straining to include her voice in this world, the male producer(s) still stamped their voice on the final product that became “This Side of Paradise”. Over the course of my career, I came to learn that Fontana shared that experience with many of the female writers who followed her, each one planting just enough seeds or dropping just enough breadcrumbs of her own opinion onto the fields of male creation for the rest of us ‘chick writers’ to follow. Where as a child I saw “This Side of Paradise” as an epic battle between sexy male leads, as an adult I see it as the continued battle for the hearts and minds of the audience waged by writers of different genders. It is a fight that several other sisters have carried on through the decades and one I’m willing to declare has been won by a relative newcomer to the scene, Shonda Rhimes. Through the creation of her own new frontier in Grey’s Anatomy, Rhimes provides male and female audiences alike with an all-inclusive world entirely conceived in a female mind. What do both the male and female doctors of Seattle Grace Hospital hope to provide their patients everyday? As Rodenberry provided a masculine ‘trek’ for man into the final frontier, the feminine goal Rhimes provides her characters is right there in the title of the hospital, ‘grace’. (And thanks to D. C. Fontana, Shonda chose to use her first name in her credits.)

All this musing makes me wonder how many young female writers are now coming to their careers because of a love of the way Patrick Dempsey’s chest ripples under his uniform shirt?

Worthy Words and Music from The Highwomen

I’ve been a classic country fan for years (since the Oak Ridge Boys) and loved the original Highwaymen (Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, and Kris Kristofferson) so when I heard this new female 4some, The Highwomen (Brandi Carlile, Natalie Hemby, Maren Morris, and Amanda Shires) with this new version honoring female heroes across the eras, I fell in love all over again. — Rosanne

Worthy Words and Music from The Highwomen

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** Many of these books may be available from your local library. Check it out!
† Available from the LA Public Library

The Highwomen: Highwomen

[Verse 1: Brandi Carlile]
I was a Highwoman
And a mother from my youth
For my children, I did what I had to do
My family left Honduras when they killed the Sandinistas
We followed a coyote through the dust of Mexico
Every one of them except for me survived
And I am still alive

[Verse 2: Amanda Shires]
I was a healer
I was gifted as a girl
I laid hands upon the world
Someone saw me sleeping naked in the noon sun
I heard “witchcraft” in the whispers and I knew my time had come
The bastards hung me at the Salem gallows hill
But I am living still

[Verse 3: Yola]
I was a freedom rider
When we thought the South had won
Virginia in the spring of ’61
I sat down on the Greyhound that was bound for Mississippi
My mother asked me if that ride was worth my life
And when the shots rang out, I never heard the sound
But I am still around

[Chorus]
And I’ll take that ride again
And again, and again, and again, and again

[Verse 4: Natalie Hemby]
I was a preacher
My heart broke for all the world
But teaching was unrighteous for a girl
In the summer, I was baptized in the mighty Colorado
In the winter, I heard the hounds and I knew I had been found
And in my Savior’s name, I laid my weapons down
But I am still around

[Verse 5: All]
We are The Highwomen
Singing stories still untold
We carry the sons you can only hold
We are the daughters of the silent generations
You send our hearts to die alone in foreign nations
And they return to us as tiny drops of rain
But we will still remain

[Chorus]
And we’ll come back again
And again, and again, and again, and again
We’ll come back again
And again, and again, and again, and again

 

Sunset in Porto – beautiful! via Instagram

Sunset in Porto – beautiful!

Sunset in Porto - beautiful! via Instagram

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A New Stephens College MFA in TV And Screenwriting Session Begins Today!

Wow – these pictures show my first lecture with our first Stephens MFA cohort – who all became contributors to our first book!

Wonderful memories and a wonderful foundation on which to build the program as tonight we welcome the 5th cohort – the MFA candidates of the Class of 2021! — Rosanne

A New Stephens College MFA in TV And Screenwriting Session Begins Today!

Anderson Cooper pays tribute to his mom, Gloria Vanderbilt via CNN

Who doesn’t love men who love their Moms – and have this extraordinary opportunity to celebrate their lives through the use of their own art – and position – in life?  — Rosanne

Anderson Cooper pays tribute to his mom, Gloria Vanderbilt via CNN

Anderson Cooper pays tribute to his mom, Gloria Vanderbilt via CNN


* A portion of each sale from Amazon.com directly supports our blogs
** Many of these books may be available from your local library. Check it out!
† Available from the LA Public Library

Dr. Rosanne Welch receives her award at the 2019 Faculty & Staff Appreciation Night, Cal Poly Pomona [Video]

Dr. Rosanne Welch receives her award at the 2019 Faculty & Staff Appreciation Night, Cal Poly Pomona

 

Dr. Rosanne Welch receives her award at the Cal Poly Pomona 2019 Faculty and Staff Appreciation Night during the Women Bronco’s Game in Kellog Arena.

Rosanne was nominated for the award by Rebecca Islas. player on the Women’s Broncos Basketball Team who said…

“Her great energy and always being positive coming into class in a great mood. Always so eager to teach. Pushing me out of my comfort zone.

This was the first time she taught a course like this and she did a great job at it. I liked her very much as a person. She is caring and very understanding.”

Dr. Rosanne Welch receives her award at the 2019 Faculty & Staff Appreciation Night, Cal Poly Pomona [Video]

Dr. Rosanne Welch receives her award at the 2019 Faculty & Staff Appreciation Night, Cal Poly Pomona

Dr. Rosanne Welch receives her award at the 2019 Faculty & Staff Appreciation Night, Cal Poly Pomona

Dr. Rosanne Welch receives her award at the 2019 Faculty & Staff Appreciation Night, Cal Poly Pomona

Dr. Rosanne Welch receives her award at the 2019 Faculty & Staff Appreciation Night, Cal Poly Pomona

A lovely bunch of asparagus grilling for my lunch via Instagram

What’s your favorite food? Share in the comments!

A lovely bunch of asparagus grilling for my lunch via Instagram

A lovely bunch of asparagus grilling for my lunch 

 

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Lighting a candle, Basilica Sant’Ambrogio, Milano, Italy via Instagram

Lighting a candle, Basilica Sant’Ambrogio, Milano, Italy via Instagram

Lighting a candle, Basilica Sant’Ambrogio, Milano, Italy

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** Many of these books may be available from your local library. Check it out!
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Standing in James Herriot’s Kitchen and looking out into the garden via Instagram

Standing in James Herriot’s Kitchen and looking out into the garden via Instagram

Standing in James Herriot’s Kitchen and looking out into the garden

James Herriot is one of my favorite writers and I love the BBC television adaptations of the stories, too.

Back in 2016 we visited his hometown of Thirsk in Yorkshire and this amazing museum. 

More info on The World of James Herriot Museum

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More books by James Herriot

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** Many of these books may be available from your local library. Check it out!
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City of Los Angeles Certificate of Recognition for Rosanne Welch

Many thanks to Jake Flynn, Communications Director for Bob Blumenfield, for arranging the presentation of this Certificate full of beautiful hand done calligraphy. (We learned during the presentation that the city of Los Angeles has 2 full-time calligraphers on staff!)

It’s for all the work we do with the Stephens College MFA in TV and Screenwriting bringing more female voices and female-centric stories into the marketplace, which is already a pleasure. So this was truly some icing for the cake. 

Rmw certificate

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