Growing up in New Jersey, Fontana decided at age 11 that she wanted to be a writer. After college, she went to New York City to work at Screen Gems, as the junior secretary to the president of the studio. He died two months later, so she moved to Los Angeles and, with studio experience, had plenty of secretarial jobs to choose from. “I was seeing scripts come across our desks for the various shows we had on the air at the time,” she said later, “and I thought, ‘I can write this,’ like so many fools before me.” So she wrote scripts on the side for several TV series, mostly “action” shows. “I grew up on Westerns. I grew up on action shows,” she said later. They were, she admits, “male-oriented shows, [but] I always loved them.” To ensure she didn’t get rejected because of her gender in the male-dominated studio creative departments, Fontana changed her pen name to “D.C. Fontana” …and still mostly found secretarial jobs. She finally ended up on a military-themed show called The Lieutenant. When that show was canceled after its first season, its creator developed another show, and asked Fontana to join as the production secretary. His name: Gene Roddenberry. The series: the original Star Trek. She told him she really wanted to write, so he invited her to pick a story idea from the series “bible” that he had written. What she chose became “Charlie X” — the second episode of the show. She went on to be the show’s story editor, writing episodes and shaping others, and is particularly credited for creating back stories for Mr. Spock
“At the time, I wasn’t especially aware there were so few female writers doing action adventure scripts,” she said later. “There were plenty doing soaps, comedies, or on variety shows. By choosing to do action adventure, I was in an elite, very talented and very different group of women writers.” In addition to working on multiple incarnations of Trek series and films, Fontana wrote for many other shows, including Ben Casey, Bonanza, The Wild Wild West, The Six Million Dollar Man, The Waltons, The Fantastic Journey, Kung Fu, Logan’s Run, Babylon 5, The Streets of San Francisco, Dallas, and more. She was inducted into the American Screenwriters Association hall of fame — twice (in 1997 and in 2002), and lectured and mentored aspiring writers at the American Film Institute. Dorothy Catherine “D.C.” Fontana died from cancer in a Burbank, Calif., hospital on December 2. She was 80.
Author’ Note: While researching this, I found some interesting but unrelated trivia about the original Star Trek series. I popped that into my blog: Call Me Tiberius.