by Alex von Thorn
[Star Trek debuted on NBC in September, 1966. The network soon considered cancelling the series due to poor ratings, but a letter-writing campaign initiated by science-fiction authors, including Harlan Ellison and Frank Herbert, convinced NBC to keep the series on the air. Then in March, 1967, NBC bumped the series into the terrible timeslot of 10 p.m. Fridays. Ratings continued to drop in the second season. In December, 1967, fans Bjo and John Trimble staved off cancellation by organizing a massive letter-writing campaign that flooded NBC offices with hundreds of thousands of letters. The network decided to produce Star Trek for another year, which gave the series enough episodes to survive in syndication.
The Trimbles became famous as "the fans who saved Star Trek." In 1968, Bjo wrote the first edition of the Star Trek Concordance, with info on the original series cast and episode descriptions. In the 1970s, she and her husband initiated another letter-writing campaign, this time to convince NASA to name the first space shuttle after the USS Enterprise. The shuttle Enterprise was unveiled in September 1976. In 1979, Bjo appeared as an extra in the first Trek movie, Star Trek: The Motion Picture. The first edition of Bjo's On the Good Ship Enterprise: My 15 Years with Star Trek came out in 1982.
Bjo maintains a website at Bjotrimble.com.
In September 2002, Alex von Thorn interviewed the Trimbles at the World Science Fiction Convention in San José, California, where they were Fan Guests of Honour—Ed.]
I made arrangements with Bjo Trimble before ConJosé to meet her and John at the art show setup the day before the con. However, we didn't hook up at the same time, so I spent much of the con trying to be in the same place as them, which would have been easier if I had not also been working in ConJosé Program Ops, helping with the Seattle in '05 NASFiC bid parties and tables, and also helping with various Torcon functions. But eventually we did agree to get together after the closing ceremonies. Of course, at closing ceremonies, we were not the only ones who wanted to talk to them, but eventually we were able to get them into a quiet room to conduct the interview. I had a list of prepared questions, but in the face of their friendly informality, the interview format dissolved and we began to have just an ordinary conversation among fans. With me at the interview was Marah Searle.
My first question was about the letter-writing campaign which they organized to keep the original Star Trek on the air.
They were living in Oakland, California, and they were already active in fandom. They met [Trek creator and producer] Gene Roddenberry at Tricon in Cleveland, and he invited Bjo to visit him in Los Angeles. They went to LA on one of John's business trips, and Bjo visited the set while John was working. The episode "The Deadly Years" was being filmed, and the cast were on set doing their thing, "being very lively, and then they'd come off and they'd just be very down," said Bjo. She and John spoke to craft services, who do the on-set catering, and were told that "the word had come down" and the show was about to be cancelled.
Years later, [executive in charge of production] Herb Solow claimed this version of the story couldn't be true, because even the producers didn't know about the cancellation. But as Bjo put it, "the troops always know before the generals, and it always surprises the generals when the troops are always ready for a move-out."
On the way home from LA, John said to Bjo, "There ought to be something we can do about this." They decided to call Gene when they got back to Oakland, to find out if he was going to put up a fight, because if he wasn't, they weren't. Meanwhile, Gene had been talking to [producer and assistant director] Bob Justman about how to put up a fight, but neither knew how to reach the fans. So when Bjo phoned, the Trimbles and Gene "just kind of meshed."
The Trimbles contacted Tricon and asked for their mailing list. Howard de Boer, who was a bookseller at the time, also give them his mailing list. Then Gene asked Paramount about the fan mail. He never answered it himself, because he assumed that Paramount was handling it, but it turned out they'd just been piling all the mail up; they had 40 unanswered sacks of mail. The Trimbles couldn't answer the mail, but they took the envelopes and the return addresses. Said Bjo, "All of this was before computers. Everything was hand-typed and hand-sorted. Copying was horribly expensive, so much of our stuff was hand-cranked mimeograph." The Trimbles didn't let Gene help, to make the point that this was a fan effort. In Solow and Justman's 1996 book Inside Star Trek: The Real Story, Solow was to claim that Gene had hired the Trimbles to do the work. This was "definitely not true," said Bjo.
While Bjo was telling me this story, John came into the room and said, "I wouldn't put it above Gene to have charged the studio for it." We laughed. But according to Bjo, they got no money except for $100 at the very end of the effort, when the Trimbles were at the end of their rope and needed help with the postage. Gene also sent over deli trays for the collating parties. Said Bjo, "We just gathered fans together, and when word spread, people started sending us things--money, rolls of stamps. People would arrive on the doorstep with three reams of mimeograph paper. It was so cool because we weren't expecting this sudden outpouring from absolutely total strangers."
Bjo's only regret is that she didn't think about going to Paramount and creating "the authorized fan club." She had made up a list of eight or ten people in any town, sent them a hand-typed list, and they would then form a club. So she missed the opportunity to create a single club and charge everyone membership. "I just don't have that sense to become the next Bill Gates," said Bjo.
During my research for the interview I had found a reference to Bjo working on a second science fiction cable channel, but she quickly told me that this was not happening. Some years before, she had been contacted by someone about setting up a channel, but the man turned out to be a fraud. She had tried to let people know the project was dead, and she was glad to have the opportunity to explain this again.
I asked her whether she was thinking about adding to her memoirs. She told me about her new collaborator, Wade Brown. He had approached her and said, "I think you're having trouble getting back on track with finishing A Good Ship Enterprise for the next 20 years of it. Can we work together?" She realized he was right; on her own, she would never finish it. The process, said Bjo, is that Wade "asks me questions, and... I tell him a story and tell him some of the anecdotes about what happened, so we're collecting it that way." She didn't know how soon the book would be ready. "He's nudging me just as fast as he can," said Bjo. John added, "You mean, it's tough to try to pin her down and get her to any of them." The couple bantered a little about her being overcommitted. I said I could relate.
I asked her to share a couple of her favourite stories about the personalities she had met over the years as a consequence of her involvement with Star Trek. She launched into a tale about George Takei, who was a neighbour when the Trimbles lived in LA. At the time, he was a runner and did marathons, and he would come trotting by the house. On one occasion, a couple of fans from Germany had come to visit, but they had arrived precisely when the show was on hiatus. Bjo was sitting in her living room, racking her brains trying to think of what to do, and she saw the fans' eyes go very wide. They had seen George running up the steps. She went to the door and greeted him, and he said, "Come jogging with me!" knowing that Bjo didn't run. She answered, "Get off my porch!" And, "typical George," said Bjo, he laughed.
Inside the house, the German fans sat with an expression like stuffed owls, for she had just thrown Mr. Sulu off her front porch. She ran out, calling, "George! George!" Said Bjo, "I had to haul him down and introduce him to these poor things, and make real sure that I had not permanently damaged Mr. Sulu."
John added a story about trying to entertain a couple of English fans. Most fans who came from abroad were more than happy to look after themselves; they dropped a sleeping bag and went off on their own. But this particular couple was "very staid," said John. Bjo added, "They arrived for us to entertain them, which kind of threw us, because nothing we suggested pleased them."
Bjo asked them whom they'd like to meet in the way of Star Trek people, and they said they'd always wanted to meet David Gerrold, who wrote "The Trouble with Tribbles." They also thought that fantasy/SF author Anne McCaffrey would be "grand" to meet. Bjo told them, "Well, gosh, Anne McCaffrey lives in Ireland, and David Gerrold just left for New York for an event."
They were crestfallen. While they were digesting this, there came a knock at the front door. "The door comes flying open," said John, "and there's David!" And David yelled, "The wicked witch of the west has come to visit!" He charged into the house, and right behind him was Anne McCaffrey. Bjo said to the fans, "Well, here you go! This is David Gerrold, and this is Anne McCaffrey." But the couple were sure that Bjo had sneaked away and phoned people to pretend to be Gerrold and McCaffrey. David had to show his driver's licence and Anne had to show her passport to convince them. Then the couple were "horribly apologetic," said Bjo.
As it turned out, David had been going out to do an event in New York, then another in Europe, and then was going out to Ireland to see Anne. But Anne had come to New York for another event, and she needed to come to Hollywood afterwards for a discussion about an option on one of her books. When David's event in Europe proved to be cancelled, he came back from New York with Anne. Since he had to pass the Trimbles to get back to his place, he dropped in to say hi. "It was just one of those weird coinkidinkies that you just can't ever explain," said Bjo. "They could have named any two authors in the whole world, and they named the two who were on their way to our house at that very moment."
I then asked what the Trimbles thought of the TV series Enterprise. Bjo immediately said, "Oh, gosh, I don't really enjoy it. I've given it about eight tries, and I'm rooting for the dog!" They hate the writing for the Vulcan character, T'Pol. As Bjo put it, "It's interesting that men can be solidly logical, but in order for women Vulcans to be logical [they have to be] bitchy. They spend more time trying to get T'Pol into a T&A situation with the guys than they do giving us a plot. So only about every third thing has a plot worth seeing again." They also disliked the theme music. Bjo said, "We should go to space with brass bands. Or at least Jerry Goldsmith or John Williams or Dennis McCarthy, but we should not go with wimpy little Kenny G whiners."
I asked what their favorite Trek series was. In order, their favourites were the original series, Deep Space Nine, The Next Generation, Voyager, and Enterprise. I asked what else they liked, and Bjo mentioned Stargate SG-1 and Farscape. What they liked about those shows and they also felt was a particular strength of DS9 was the sense of wonder, "gosh-wow, boy-oh-boy sort of thing," as well as realistic conflict between the characters, which was somewhat lost during Next Gen. Said Bjo, "Not everybody got along in the first series. McCoy and Spock's friendly adversarial attitude was beloved of all of us."
After that, we spoke about Bjo's role in science fiction convention art shows, which she in effect started back in the early 1960s. In earlier years, there was little opportunity for fan artists to display their works. The primary outlet was putting it in fanzines. Artists would sometimes invite people to their hotel room, and a couple of conventions had had displays of individual artists, but nothing like the art show of today. Seth Johnson of the National Fantasy Fan Foundation recruited Bjo to run a display of various artists at Seacon in 1961, and she continued to organize Worldcon art shows until 1977. At that time she found herself enmeshed in some unpleasant fan politics, and she withdrew from running art shows. But she continues to be involved even today.
We spoke briefly about her other activities. One of her hobbies is quilting. I mentioned my grandmother's interest in quilting, which she learned growing up in a commune (founded by the Ikariens, French utopians who followed the teachings of Étienne Cabet) where everyone had different specialties (so my grandmother had learned to sew but not to cook). Bjo thought it was very important that I record this heritage. We also talked about the Trimbles' involvement in the Society for Creative Anachronism.
Throughout the interview, although Bjo did most of the talking, John would keep the conversation on track, injecting a sentence here and there that got her started. While I tried to ask direct questions, they kept taking the conversation off onto tangents, talking to Marah as much as myself, as though we were just a bunch of fans in any con suite. But the more casual they made the conversation, the more I realized what a rare opportunity this meeting was. While I have spoken to many of the great thinkers and craftsmen of the SF genre, Bjo and John Trimble express the lifestyle of fandom in a more complete way than anyone I've had the honour to speak to. They live the way they choose, meeting the actors and creators of their favourite shows, stepping from one special interest seamlessly to the next, whatever they want to do on a particular day, able to connect with other fans and share their enthusiasms and experiences. Where some people take fandom very seriously as a substitute for academic research or political intrigue, and others dismiss it as a frivolous distraction, Bjo and John show that fandom can be a way of life that is simply fun, without pretension, and is an end in itself.
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