My friends, the U.S.S. ENTERPRISE has come home…to ROD RODDENBERRY!

Back in November, I reported on the discovery of the original  33-inch model of the U.S.S. Enterprise (known affectionately as the “3-foot” model) that was used in the first Star Trek pilot, “The Cage,” plus a handful of later episodes. The larger 11-foot model that was built for the second pilot, “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” now sits in the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., recently restored to its former greatness and more.

The 3-foot model, which sat on GENE RODDENBERRY’s desk during the 1970s, was loaned out (at Paramount’s “request”) to Robert Abel & Associates in early 1978 for use in constructing a model of the refit Enterprise for Star Trek: The Motion Picture. The 3-foot model was never returned to Gene, and the fate of the model remained a mystery until October of 2023 when what looked like the missing item suddenly showed up for auction on eBay.

Fans moved quickly to inform Gene’s son, ROD RODDENBERRY, and the auction for the item was promptly taken down from eBay. In the ensuing months, the item was moved to Heritage Auctions in Beverly Hills for authentication. The team of experts who inspected the model included included Star Trek Oscar winning visual effects artist, designer, sculptor, illustrator, and a makeup artist DOUG DREXLER, Star Trek scenic art legends and Trek Encyclopedia writers MIKE and DENISE OKUDA, technical consultant GARY KERR, and visual effects supervisor/production illustrator DAREN DOCHTERMAN (who does the most accurate and uncanny Gene Roddenberry impression ever!) They verified that, yes, this is the long-lost first-ever model of the U.S.S. Enterprise.

Doug Drexler along with Mike and Denise Okuda pose with the 3-foot model at Heritage Auctions (photo supplied by Doug Drexler).

Rod had reportedly made a deal with the folks who found the model and initially tried to auction it. While the details of that arrangement have not been made public, Rod told the Associated Press, “I felt it important to reward that and show appreciation for that.”

Apparently, there was once a rumor that the original model had not been loaned out and never returned but instead that a four-year-old Rod Roddenberry had accidentally destroyed the model by throwing it into the family pool! “Finally I’m vindicated after all these years,” Rod told the A.P. with a laugh.

The model was officially presented to Rod last Saturday by Heritage Auctions‘ Executive Vice President JOE MADDALENA at their Beverly Hills location. “It’s priceless,” Maddalena told the A.P. “It could sell for any amount, and I wouldn’t be surprised because of what it is. It is truly a cultural icon.”

Left to right: L-R Daren Dochterman. Gary Kerr, Mike Okuda, Denise Okuda, Doug Drexler, Jules Urbach, Rod Roddenberry, Gene Kozicki, John Goodson, and Brian Chanes.

Rod told the A.P. of his plans for the model: “This is not going home to adorn my shelves. This is going to get restored, and we’re working on ways to get it out so the public can see it, and my hope is that it will land in a museum somewhere.” While a permanent display location has not yet been announced, fans are looking forward to being able to view and study this invaluable piece of Star Trek history.

The following detailed photos of the model were shared publicly by Heritage Auctions, Doug Drexler, Gary Kerr, and others online…

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Here’s what ROD RODDENBERRY has planned for the LONG-LOST 3-FOOT MODEL of the U.S.S. ENTERPRISE…

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 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:

  1. Was this indeed the long-lost 3-foot model? If yes…
  2. Would Rod be able to take possession of it? If yes…
  3. 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…

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GENE RODDENBERRY’s long-lost pre-production model of the USS ENTERPRISE found…on eBay…listed for just $1,000!

Way back in 1964, just as GENE RODDENBERRY was beginning to work on pre-production for his new Star Trek TV pilot for Desilu Studios, the first miniature of the U.S.S. Enterprise was built from drawings by MATT JEFFERIES. It was only 4 inches long, but it was enough to work from in order to build a larger, more detailed 33-inch model.

Hollywood model builder RICHARD C. DATIN was hired, and he, in turn, hired a subcontractor with a large metal lathe to work on some of the major subcomponents. Together, during the month of November, the two men put about 110 hours into constructing a mostly pine wood model with Plexiglass and brass detailing. Roddenberry reviewed the model, requested some minor changes from Datin, and the completed model was submitted to Desilu for final approval in December of 1964. Total cost for labor and materials: $600 (about $5,950 in today’s dollars).

Jeffrey Hunter and Leonard Nimoy pose with the 33-inch model in early publicity photos for the new TV series Star Trek.

That 33-inch model (known affectionately as the “3-foot” model) was used for the majority of filming for the rejected first pilot of the series, “The Cage,” while Desilu ordered the construction of a larger 135-inch (11-f00t) model constructed from plaster, sheet metal, and wood…costing $6,000 in 1965. That more detailed, lighted model made it into the opening shot of “The Cage” where the camera zooms into the bridge, but all of the rest of the visual effects used the 3-foot model with shots filmed from farther away, as it was less detailed and had no working lights.

Ultimately (with some modifications), the 11-foot model was used for the rest of the Star Trek series, with a few notable exceptions. The Enterprise that whooshes past during the opening credits is the 3-foot model. Also, the Enterprise that emerges from the galactic barrier in “Where No Man Has Gone Before” and the miniaturized Enterprise in “Requiem for Methuselah” were also both the 3-foot model…

Of course, the iconic 11-foot model now sits in the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., recently restored to its former greatness and more. But whatever happened to that 3-foot model? Well, as it turns out, Gene kept it right there on his desk at home…!

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The very FIRST Star Trek fan film ever to be SHUT DOWN by the studio lawyers was in…1968???

As we celebrate the 53rd anniversary of the premiere of Star Trek on September 8, 1966, let’s take a trip back in time five decades to what was very likely the first-ever Star Trek fan film to be shut down by the studio that owns the franchise.

It’s generally accepted in our community that the first major Star Trek fan film produced with a decent degree of quality by American fans was the 1974 project PARAGON’S PARAGON. But thanks to the folks at RODDENBERRY ENTERTAINMENT and some recently-discovered letters from the archives of the late GENE RODDENBERRY (Star Trek‘s creator), we’ve just learned that there might well have been a significant Star Trek fan film half a decade sooner—while Star Trek was still on the air!—if only a lawyer at Paramount hadn’t killed the fan project in its infancy.

Sure, we all know about the Axanar lawsuit. And some fans mistakenly believe that CBS (and before them, Paramount) hate Star Trek fan films and want to shut them all down. But if you look at the numbers, that claim doesn’t hold up. Over the decades, there have been thousands of Star Trek fan films created and released onto the Internet and, prior to that, copied from VHS tape to VHS tape and even shot on Super 8. In all of that time, the studio lawyers have only stepped in a small handful of times.

In other words, this blog isn’t a hit-piece bashing CBS or Paramount for being “evil” corporations dedicated to trying to screw over their loyal fans. Instead, it’s what Spock would consider a fascinating look back at a time when the concept of a fan film was likely as alien to a studio lawyer as an Andorian or Tellarite.

Surprisingly (or perhaps not so), Star Trek‘s very own creator—a man often considered ahead of his time—was all for the idea of a Star Trek fan film and tried to talk Paramount’s lawyer into it. But there’s an old saying that it’s easier to ask forgiveness than to get permission.

This is a story of what happened when a Trekkie tried to get permission…

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