He may have taken audiences to the furthest reaches of the galaxy, but Gene Coon got his start in Beatrice, Nebraska.
Though he may be best known for his work as a writer and producer for the original “Star Trek” series, Coon's story in the world of showbiz started right here in Nebraska where he started singing on the radio in Omaha at the age of four, and later spent part of his teen years as a newscaster for KWBE in Beatrice.
Next weekend, the Gage County Classic Film Institute—a part of the Gage County Historical Society—will host a program dedicated to the Beatrice-native and his work in the entertainment industry. The three-day program will feature a symposium and screenings of Coon’s work on TV science fiction and westerns, and it will include a visit from a very special guest who worked with Coon.
On March 2 at 6 p.m. at the Beatrice Public Library, the Gage County Classic Film Institute kicks off “Gene Coon: From Beatrice, Nebraska to Star Trek and Beyond” with a presentation by “Star Trek” writer David Gerrold and a screening of “The Trouble with Tribbles.”
Gerrold is the man who invented Tribbles and gave Captain James Kirk his middle name, “Tiberius.” He will be signing books and giving a presentation before the screening, which will be free of charge.
In his time, Coon was a big name in classic western TV shows like “Bonanza,” “Maverick,” “Have Gun – Will Travel,” “The Wild Wild West” and “Wagon Train.” But his work with the “Star Trek” series may be what he is most famous for. Coon created Klingons, gave Starfleet Command its name and came up with the character of Khan.
“He was very famous as a writer with the original Star Trek,” said Leigh Coffin, who serves on the Gage County Historical Society board.“ His stories actually developed the ongoing relationship between Dr. McCoy and Spock and Captain Kirk.”
Saturday, March 3 is the lengthiest day of the program. Starting at 9 a.m. at Community Players Theater, film historian Jeanelle Kleveland will discuss Coon’s TV westerns and librarian Laureen Riedesel will give a presentation on Coon’s Beatrice roots. Following the program, a 1960 “Bonanza” episode called “The Ape” and a 1963 “Wagon Train” episode called “The Emmett Lawton Story” will screen at the theater.
From there, the program heads to Valentino’s at noon for a question and answer session moderated by Omaha film historian Bruce Crawford.
At 1:30 p.m., it’s back to Community Players, where Gerrold will discuss Coon’s contributions to “Star Trek,” followed by screenings of 1967 episodes “The Devil in the Dark” and “A Taste of Armageddon.”
The Saturday morning and afternoon sessions are covered by a $35 ticket that can be purchased at the Gage County Museum during business hours or online at eventbrite.com by searching for “Gene Coon.”
There’s another free screening on Saturday night at 7 p.m. at the Beatrice Public Library featuring “The Questor Tapes,” a Coon-written TV movie about an android searching for its purpose.
On Sunday afternoon, the Beatrice Public Library will also be offering a free screening of “Star Trek: The Motion Picture”—which features Gerrold playing a crew member.