On November 1, I reported on the possible (but likely) discovery of the long-lost original 33-inch (aka the “3-foot”) pre-production model of the U.S.S. Enterprise…for sale on eBay, of all places, for a starting bid of only $1,000!
Designed by the legendary MATT JEFFERIES and constructed in late 1964 by Hollywood model builder RICHARD C. DATIN and a sub-contractor, the model was used for all but one of the visual effects shots for the first Star Trek pilot “The Cage” before being replaced by the larger, lighted 11-foot model that is now restored and on display at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.
The model was stored by Paramount after production wrapped on Star Trek TOS in 1969, and in 1973, when GENE RODDENBERRY returned to the the studio to oversee the new animated series, Paramount presented Star Trek‘s now-revered creator with the 3-foot model as a gift. And it remained proudly on Gene’s desk at home in Bel Air Estates for the next five years…
When pre-production began in 1978 on what would become Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Gene was “asked” by the studio to loan out the model to visual effects company Robert Abel & Associates, which used it to help build an early shooting model of the refit Enterprise that was never actually seen in the film because RA&A dropped the ball and was fired from the project a year later.
The model was never returned to Gene, and although he attempted to track it down and recover it, his efforts went nowhere. Eventually Gene moved past the loss and never blamed anyone openly nor showed any bitterness in public. (I’m not sure the same could be said for his wife MAJEL BARRETT.)
And so the final fate of the 3-foot model remained a mystery until an auction item was posted on eBay late at night the evening of Halloween after a seller apparently found a whole slew of Hollywood paraphernalia in an abandoned storage unit that he himself won in an auction. The listing was quickly discovered and first reported via X (formerly Twitter) by Trekcore.com co-owner ALEX PERRY. I wasn’t even clear the lister realized that this wasn’t some prop replica of the starship but rather THE original model!
Fans leapt into action, reached out to Gene’s son ROD RODDENBERRY, and the auction was quickly removed from eBay. The questions now were:
- Was this indeed the long-lost 3-foot model? If yes…
- Would Rod be able to take possession of it? If yes…
- What would happen to the model after that?
Fans had many thoughts on this last question. From photos, the model is obviously in pretty poor shape and would need significant restoration, along the lines of what was done to the 11-foot model…
But assuming those repairs were made, should Rod keep it? Display it at the offices of Roddenberry Entertainment? Auction it himself to the fans? Or donate it to a Star Trek, sci-fi, or Hollywood history museum…or even to the Smithsonian itself?
As of earlier today, many of those questions were answered in an e-mail sent to subscribers to the weekly “Roddenberry Transmitter” newsletter. Here are the relevant portions of Rod’s message to fans…
Along with much of the Star Trek community, I was excited and pleased to learn that the original 3-foot filming model of the Starship Enterprise appears to have been discovered after being missing for decades (pending full authentication). I can confirm that I am now, through an intermediary, in contact with the individual who possesses the model.
Beyond its physical value, the greater significance is this prototype Enterprise model really represents the underpinning ideas my father imbued into the series. That we are clever, resilient and can learn from our mistakes. We can and will move beyond archaic belief systems. And once we truly embrace the infinite diversity all around us, both in form and idea, we will then take those next steps into a prosperous and unlimited future.
Guided by this principle, one of my primary goals over the past decade has been to locate, recover, and digitally archive significant Star Trek materials and artifacts through the Roddenberry Archive project. The intention would be to scan it in the finest detail for the Roddenberry Archives and, after rigorous scrutiny, make it available to the public. Furthermore, I firmly believe that a piece of such importance should not be confined to any private collection. This iconic artifact should be enshrined alongside the 12-foot shooting model at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, where it can serve to help tell the story of television history, the history of space exploration and, ultimately, a beacon of hope for the future.”
— Rod Roddenberry