Gene L. Coon Poster

Biography

The son of U.S. Army Sgt Merle Jack ''Pug'' Coon and decorator Erma Gay Noakes, Eugene Lee Coon was born in Beatrice Nebraska on January 7, 1924. At four years old, he sang on the radio at WOAW-AM in Omaha. He knew twenty four songs, including one in French and one in German. As his boyhood went on, he was a member of The Gage County, Nebraska 4-H Club and had been a Boy Scout. Later he attended Omaha Technical High School, participating in ROTC and playing in the school band. During this time, he also was teenage newscaster for KWBE-AM in Beatrice. He later moved with his parents and younger brothers, Merle Jack Coon and Bloise Newell Coon, to Glendale, California. Another brother died at ten years old when they still living in Beatrice. His father found work here as a Poultryman and Gene himself transferred to Glendale High.

Coon served stateside in the U.S. Marine Corps for four years from 1942 to 1946. After his return from service, he studied radio communications at Glendale College and performed in a production of Ayn Rand's play "The Night of January 16th" before transferring to The University of Iowa. Coon returned to active duty during the Korean War from 1950 to 1952 after several years as a Reservist. There, he received further training as a war reporter as well as running a pharmacy and building houses. He wrote about many of his experiences in the novels "Meanwhile Back At The Front" and "The Short End of The Stick". Upon his demobilization, Coon found work first as a radio newscaster before turning to free-lance writing under his mentor, Los Angeles Times reporter, Gene Sherman. He also operated a pharmacy at the intersection of Beverly Boulevard and North Ardmore Avenue between 1954 and 1959. Sherman, in fact, covered his pharmacy exploits in Page 2 Cityside column for The L.A. Times. Sherman also allowed Coon to have a guest spot promoting "Meanwhile Back At The Front" in The Farmer's Market column he wrote using the pen name ''Dick Kidson''.

From 1956, Coon was primarily involved in scripting teleplays for popular western and action shows like Dragnet (1951),Wagon Train (1957), Maverick (1957) and Bonanza (1959). At Universal in the early 60's, he turned McHale's Navy (1962) from a one-hour drama into a successful 30-minute sitcom. Together with the writer Les Colodny, Coon floated the idea for The Munsters (1964) as a satirical spin-off from The Donna Reed Show (1958) to MCA chairman Lew Wasserman. The result was yet another hit show.

Often referred to as 'the forgotten Gene' (a reference to Gene Roddenberry), Gene Lee Coon was one of the most important creative minds behind Star Trek: The Original Series (1966). He is credited with inventing the Klingons and had a hand in creating Khan. He developed the interpersonal dynamics between Kirk, Spock and McCoy (in particular, the invariably humorous verbal banter). He established the enlightened image of Starfleeet/The United Federation of Planets and often ended episodes with an anti-war allegory. A robust-looking, heavy-set man possessed of seemingly boundless creative energy, Coon was a prodigious reader and an immensely focused writer of prolific output. It was said, that he authored his novels and teleplays by assuming a state of near self-hypnosis, which he himself called 'automatic writing'. In one instance, he managed to produce the script for the Star Trek episode "The Devil in the Dark" in the course of a single weekend. Either as writer, or line producer, Coon had extensive, often critical input into some of the show's best-loved episodes, including "Arena", "Space Seed", "A Taste of Armageddon" , "The City of the Edge of Forever" (generally regarded as the best of the series), "Mirror, Mirror" and "The Doomsday Machine". Coon also often acted as a 'script doctor', doing uncredited rewrites. He left Star Trek in March 1968, likely the result of personality clashes with members of the cast (in fact, Coon had a reputation for not getting along with actors in general), but continued to write several more episodes under the pseudonym 'Lee Cronin' in order to fulfill his contract with Paramount.

After Star Trek, Coon worked as writer/producer on _"It Takes a Thief" (1968)_, while at the same time founding one of the first 'cartridge TV' video companies, UniTel Associates, with Colodny as executive vice president. He had, by then, also turned turn offers from D.C. Fontana to write for Star Trek: The Animated Series (1973).

A chain smoker of cigarillos for most of his life, the man whom fellow writer/producer Glen A. Larson referred to as 'the spirit and soul of Star Trek', died of lung and throat cancer -- one week after being diagnosed -- in July 1973, aged just 49. Another possible cause of his cancer was radiation from Nevada Bomb Testing Sites he attended with his mentor Gene Sherman and his first wife Joy in the 1950's.

On the weekend of March 2-4, 2018 there was a tribute in his hometown of Beatrice, Nebraska.