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"Even in Star Trek's darkest moments Solow was a staunch ally."

Herb Solow (14 December 193019 November 2020; age 89) was a studio executive serving, originally on behalf of Desilu Studios, on the first and second seasons of Star Trek: The Original Series, officially credited as "Executive in Charge of Production". As assistant to Vice-President of Programs Oscar Katz, both men were seeking new television properties for their employer.

The Original Series[]

Hired on 1 April 1964, Katz, who was very inexperienced with West Coast studio production and business, almost immediately hired former acquaintance Herb Solow as his assistant, and – before they even had the time to settle into their new offices – it was to them that Gene Roddenberry made his original early April 1964 "Wagon Train To The Stars"-pitch (the in lore famed exact phrase was actually coined by Samuel A. Peeples before the Desilu pitch occasion, not Roddenberry, who had called it "a "Wagon Train" concept", but typically, was by him appropriated as his own nevertheless). Desilu picked up the proposition and together with Roddenberry, the studio executives made the rounds of the television networks to reciprocally pitch the proposition to them, ultimately finding Solow's former employer NBC interested in early May 1964. Prior to this pitch, it was Katz who took Roddenberry to CBS, the network that traditionally aired Desilu's television productions, but, not backed-up on that occasion by Katz (already foreshadowing things to come), Roddenberry seriously botched his presentation on that occasion. (These Are the Voyages: TOS Season One, 1st ed, pp. 21-25, 28-32)

Dismayed, as CBS represented the best chance Star Trek had, due to the network's longstanding relationship with Desilu (CBS aired Ball's own I Love Lucy show), Solow subsequently took over after being informed of this. He thoroughly groomed, prepared, and coached Roddenberry for his next, very last-chance, meeting with NBC the following month, as well as taking an active part in the presentation. Additionally, Solow instructed Roddenberry to keep quiet when not required to speak (which, given Roddenberry's predilection to the contrary, was excruciating for him), as NBC was wary due to their previous dealings with Roddenberry on The Lieutenant, and, most notably, to drop the "Wagon Train To The Stars" pitch-line Roddenberry had used on the previous pitching occasions. This eventually resulted in success, but "(i)t was Herb's tenacity and Herb's presentation that sold the series," as NBC executive Jerry Stanley later conceded. (Inside Star Trek: The Real Story, 1997, pp. 13-23)

Solow was subsequently heavily involved with the studio oversight and marketing to NBC of the two pilot episodes, "The Cage" and "Where No Man Has Gone Before". While not a science fiction fan, Solow strongly believed in Roddenberry's format, which he considered a more adult counter balance to the somewhat juvenile Lost in Space series of CBS. After the production of the two pilot episodes and after NBC had in effect ordered the series, Solow had to vigorously defend Star Trek in early February 1966 before Desilu's conservative Board of Executives who, balking at the costs of three expensive series in development, virtually unanimously, save for executive Bernard Weitzman, wanted to proceed with Mission: Impossible and The Long Hunt of April Savage (also brought in for Desilu by Katz and Solow, the former ordered by CBS, and the latter, also produced by Roddenberry, ordered by ABC) only. Katz was also a board member, but was not present as he was already on his way out. Fortunately, Solow – unlike Katz not a board member, nor would he ever be – managed to get the studio head, Lucille Ball, on his side and who, as Chairwoman had the power to overrule her board, which she did by approving the continuation of Star Trek with a mere nod towards Solow, or as author Marc Cushman had put it succinctly, "That was all Star Trek needed. A nod of Lucille Ball." Incidentally, Ball's then husband Gary Morton (usually handling the studio's business and financial affairs) also opposed Star Trek as co-chairman of the board. (These Are the Voyages: TOS Season One, 1st ed, pp. 32, 94) One of the other nay-sayers on the board, studio accountant Edwin "Ed" Holly, later conceded, "If it were not for Lucy, there would be no 'Star Trek' today." [1] On 6 March 1966, both Mission Impossible and Star Trek were alloted space on the Desilu facility, while Katz was let go three days later. For all intents and purposes, and contrary to widely held beliefs in Star Trek lore, this was factually the very first time that The Original Series came exceedingly close to cancellation.

During the production of the two pilot episodes, it was discovered that Katz, who had no prior experience with television production, was unsuited for the position and was subsequently let go. At the start of the production of the regular series and before he had to defend Star Trek for the Board, Solow was promoted into his position instead with the official title "Vice-President of Programs". Unlike Katz, Solow was a very hands-on executive and closely collaborated during his entire tenure on The Original Series with producers Roddenberry and Robert H. Justman in particular. As he had described in his reference book Inside Star Trek: The Real Story and corroborated by Justman on several occasions (amongst others in the reference book Star Trek Memories), his input was especially required to keep Roddenberry's perceived eccentricities in check and to run interference for him and the upper echelons of the studio and the network. (Inside Star Trek: The Real Story, 1997, pp. 25-et al.) Solow's primary responsibilities however, were to safeguard the, often tenuous, finances of his employer and it was he, frequently against his grain, who had to inform Justman that budgets had to be dialed down. On the other hand he shared Justman's appreciation of the Star Trek production team, and had no qualms for example, of immediately approving Justman's suggestion of promoting Art Director Matt Jefferies, who Solow likewise held in the highest regard. (Inside Star Trek: The Real Story, 1997, p. 169) Previously, directly after the production of the second pilot, it was Solow who had managed to get Jefferies (who until then was only allowed to work in Hollywood as set designer) inducted into the Art Directors Union. (Star Trek: The Original Series Sketchbook, p. 114)

While the first season of The Original Series was in production, Solow has claimed that he, after having saved his creation, also saved the career of Roddenberry; Lucille Ball – by then well known for her character trait of valuing moral propriety after her marriage with Desi Arnaz (which had fallen apart partly due to his philandering), and expecting this of her staff and employees as well – found out that the married Roddenberry had an illicit affair with Majel Barrett. This kind of behavior she could not abide with, and wanted to fire the both of them on the spot. Ironically, Ball had wanted to do something similar, albeit at the opposite end of the spectrum, with Mission: Impossible co-stars Barbara Bain and Martin Landau, when she found out that the two were actually a married couple, and wanted to fire them as she suspected a severe case of nepotism, which she could not abide with either. And indeed, this had been the additional reason for Ball for wanting to fire Roddenberry as well, as she had also became aware that he had surreptitiously sneaked an as a blonde disguised Barrett back into the Star Trek production (as nurse Christine Chapel) against the express wishes of NBC. Through an intermediary, her personal publicist Howard McClay, Solow had a tough time to convince Ball otherwise. (Inside Star Trek: The Real Story, 1997, p. 223; These Are the Voyages: TOS Season One, 1st ed, pp. 25-27)

Halfway through the pre-production of the second season, Desilu was sold to the conglomerate Gulf+Western, formalized on 27 July 1967, which choose to merge their acquisition with the hitherto relatively small television department of their subsidiary, Paramount Pictures, to form Paramount Television. While most former Desilu executives were let go, Solow was asked to remain in the employment of the new owner, which he agreed to by becoming "Vice-President of Programs Paramount Television", answerable to his new boss, Paramount Television President John T. Reynolds. Nevertheless, Solow found himself increasingly dissatisfied with the more businesslike approach Gulf+Western financial executives wanted to impose on the production of the television series he was responsible for, including Star Trek, which in practice resulted in ever increasing budget cuts and near obligatory creative meddling. It was therefore that Solow choose to tender his resignation just prior to the slated start of the regular production on the series' third season. Solow's departure had consequences for Roddenberry as well, as the latter was now no longer able to maintain his position and, and though he was still officially "on staff", he was effectively superseded by Fred Freiberger. (Inside Star Trek: The Real Story, 1997, pp. 365 et al.)

Per Hollywood union rules, studio executives are formally not entitled to official production credits, as they, as overhead, are not supposed to be involved with the actual creative aspects of productions, they being the purview of producers as highest factual operation managers. Yet, Solow, together with his successor for the third season, Douglas S. Cramer (displayed on the penultimate end title credit card of each regular episode) and Star Trek: The Motion Picture's Lindsley Parsons, Jr., hold the rare distinction of becoming the only Star Trek-affiliated studio executives receiving one, that of "Executive (Vice President) in Charge of Production", displayed in the former two cases on the penultimate end title credit card of each regular series episode, whereas a fourth studio executive, Bill Heath, held the credit of "Post Production Executive" for the Original Series' first season.

How intimate the working relationship between Solow and Justman was during the former's tenure on The Original Series, was exemplified when Justman, responsible for selecting the stills over which the end credits were to be projected for the regular series run, decided to perform an in-joke on his superior, "My favorite one was the one I finally chose for Herb, the last credit prior to the closing Desilu logo. This was the only credit I never changed as long as Herb ran the Desilu operation. I used a close-up of Balok, the monster from "The Corbomite Maneuver", lit, enchantingly, with color washes of angry red and bilious green, and positioned his credit, "Executive in Charge of Production," so that it appeared just below the creature's wildly glaring eyes." Received in good nature, Solow nevertheless, managed to deprive Justman his chuckles, as the latter ruefully clarified, "I thought it a fitting tribute, as did Herb, who thanked me profusely, thereby depriving me of some heavy-duty gloating. I still have the original credit, and display it, in my office at home, suitably framed in the cheapest, junkiest black frame I could find." (Inside Star Trek: The Real Story, 1997, pp. 194-195)

In 1972, Herb Solow repeated what he had done for Gene Roddenberry in 1964 by arranging, and taking him to, a meeting with then Paramount President, Frank Yablans, to pitch his first idea for a feature film, tentatively called "The Cattlemen". The idea was based on the story outline called "A Question of Cannibalism", one of the twenty-five earliest Star Trek story outlines developed in 1964 as back-up for the original pilot episode "The Cage". Yablans was interested, but, very much aware of Roddenberry's Original Series reputation and of his utter failure as producer to control the antics of director Roger Vadim for the 1971 movie Pretty Maids All in a Row in particular (which caused the movie to run over-time and over-budget, and for which Solow had actually hired Roddenberry as script writer and producer in the first place), emphatically refused to have him serve as producer, only willing to hire him as writer. Through his attorney Leonard Maizlish, Roddenberry countered with demanding a hitherto near-unprecedented US$100,000 writer's fee (which he had actually received for Pretty Maids, courtesy Herb Solow), which Yablans dismissed as unacceptable and subsequently trashed the entire proposition. It was the very last time both men met in person, ending, despite all the frictions, a friendship which had lasted for nine years. (Inside Star Trek: The Real Story, 1997, pp 420-421)

Setting the record straight[]

When Solow published the Inside Star Trek: The Real Story reference book in 1996 together with the by him highly valued Justman (with whom he co-produced and hosted the subsequent book-based documentary), they voiced for the first time a far more critical view on the series' creator, Roddenberry, than was hitherto commonplace. While he liked Roddenberry on a personal level and had emphatically endorsed his Star Trek creation, willing to overlook some of his personal failings, he most definitely took a dimmer view on Roddenberry's other failings, notably his tendencies for self-promotion – corroborated by Justman and, at a later stage, by Spock performer Leonard Nimoy, albeit in far more subdued wordings – which according to Solow took the form of spin-doctoring Star Trek history by claiming credit where credit was not due, redacting actual events for personal gain through manipulating information dissemination to Star Trek fandom and even accusing him of "absconding" Desilu property, most conspicuously unused shot footage, for the purpose of selling these through his company Lincoln Enterprises at Star Trek conventions. Of Roddenberry, Solow has said in this regard, "I worked with Gene for about three years, it took us over 2 years to get the show on the air. I then worked with Gene when he wrote and produced a movie for me at MGM. I liked Gene very, very much, at the beginning we worked very professionally. I didn't know Gene personally, and I found that when I knew him socially, Gene was different, and our working relationship became strained. I last worked with Gene in 1972, so my comments regarding him end at that date." [2](X) In regard to setting the record straight in a more even-keeled manner where NBC's role in the cancellation of the Original Series was concerned, Solow later remarked, "I only took him to a meeting with me once. Once was enough… Gene set about making NBC the heavy, the villain with regard to everything: schedule, ratings, program practices (censor), publicity, etc., thus playing to the fans. He felt that the fans were more important than the network. He cast himself as god and NBC as some demonic force from the other side… The networks (I use the plural as they all speak to each other) felt differently…Gene went ahead and created a villain (NBC) with the help of fans – people with a financial interest in fandom." (NBC: America's Network, p. 212) In turn however, it was his debunking of Bjo Trimble's famous "spontaneous" fan letter writing campaign that saved Star Trek for a third season as being surreptitiously orchestrated by Roddenberry, that earned Solow the particular wrath of the more puritanical elements of Star Trek fandom, and thereby becoming the "heavy" as far as they were concerned, [1] one of them going truly overboard by calling Solow a "self-aggrandizing, wannabe vulture". [3]

However, these fans found at least one Original Series production staffer on their side, the very first studio model builder, Richard C. Datin, Jr.. When he discovered that the authors attributed his builds, that of the USS Enterprise in particular, to the wrong people, he wrote Solow a letter with the request for rectification. Solow flatout refused to believe the claim and did not even bother to reply. However, co-author Justman did, and, apologizing for the error, managed to get a partial rectification included in the first reprint edition as a footnote. Solow however, maintained his misconception for his follow-up Star Trek reference book, causing Datin to deem Solow "obviously highly egoistical". (The Enterprise NCC 1701 and The Model Maker, p. 148)

It actually was Roddenberry's spin-doctoring Star Trek history into the "Roddenberry Myth" in the 1970s-1980s Star Trek convention circuit, that increasingly troubled Solow as he later stated, "My displeasure grew over the years as he reinvented the origins of Star Trek, further enlarging the Star Trek legend and the Gene Roddenberry myth. While there is no denying that Gene created the root, the core from which the series grew, there were other important contributors to its growth: Gene Coon, Bob Justman, Matt Jefferies, and me [also including Spock performer Leonard Nimoy as the "brightest of all stars in the Star Trek universe"]. Unfortunately, the credit for our contributions was washed away in the wake of Gene's disinclination to honor them, and by doing so, he assumed their authorship." (Inside Star Trek: The Real Story, 1997, p. 430) Soon-to-be wife Yvonne Fern Solow has related an incident, that only reinforced Solow's "displeasure",

"A couple of years ago two academics approached my husband with an article they had written about the inception and origin of one of his television shows. They asked if he would look it over for them and correct any errors. Now this article was ready to go to press – to Oxford University Press, to be specific. They had done their “research” as they called it.
My husband was stunned when he read it. Not only did their research consist of talking to people who were never involved in any aspect of the inception or origin of what they were writing about (my husband is the only person left on planet earth who was not only there but absolutely fundamental to and absolutely in charge of the entire show [remark: Justman had already passed away by the time Fern made the comment] but the books they read were nonsense books written by other people who weren’t there. There were not just a few mistakes in the article – it was a horrendous parade of misinformation from beginning to end. Herb worked on it for days – and not only did they never thank him, never send him a copy of the finished article or even acknowledge that the last draft bore little resemblance to the first (he has all their correspondence and all their "work") but they argued with him about the facts as he was correcting it! These are people who teach other people, who perpetuate myths without calling them myths and consider themselves not only non-fiction but also responsible scholarly writers!(…)Hence the necessity to go "inside"." [4]

At the time, no reliable post-cancellation production history of Star Trek had become available to the general public, aside from the by Roddenberry-sanctioned publications and his convention appearances, and "scholarly writers" had solely these to rely on. It was for these reasons that Solow was enticed to embark upon the Inside Star Trek project, the first of its kind, finding a willing participant in Robert Justman. Solow himself had remarked on another occasion,

"After I left Desilu and went on to MGM and doing a lot of TV series and motion pictures, I dropped out of the STAR TREK world and was not a part of it whatsoever. I would read about it and hear about it, and I had last spoken to Gene in '72, although I kept in touch with Bob as a friend. About three years ago, I began hearing about writers writing books about what went on during the original series' production. They didn't really know what went on with us. I was the one who was there and knew what really happened, so I thought I should write a book and put out the real story. One book out there seemed to say that I never came to work some days and didn't have any involvement in Star Trek whatsoever [remark: having had Oscar Katz mistaken for Solow]. I felt it had come time to write a book about my involvement in Star Trek, and what really happened, so I enlisted Bob Justman and we wrote a book." "The book does address the myth, it does not necessarily address the man, since we were talking in the book of our first-hand experiences with Gene, from about '64 to '72. Gene did have a definite failing, I felt and feel, in that he rarely, if ever, gave credit to anyone else who contributed anything to Star Trek. It was not a definite saying that he did everything at that time (in the '60s), but he would never attribute anything to anyone else. So, by default, the vibes he was sending out in his lectures and interviews, that if you don't talk to the people who are giving you help, then you're saying you did it yourself. There were a number of people who made major contributions to Star Trek, and in the book we try to point that out, not just by saying so, but by reproducing letters from Bob, Gene, me, etc. laying [out] just who made what contributions and when." [5](X)

Ironically, while Solow – as a "studio suit" considered a justified target by Trekdom – became fandom's scapegoat, very few fans dared to attack Justman, who was every bit as critical of Roddenberry as Solow was, due to his revered status in Star Trek history. [6](X) Nevertheless, the book has since then become accepted as an authoritative production reference source by the less puritanical elements of Trekdom.

Together with his by-now wife Yvonne, Solow has co-authored a subsequent, Star Trek-related reference book, the 1997 Star Trek: The Original Series Sketchbook, paying hommage to those Original Series production staffers he had valued so much back in the day and which included, besides Matt Jefferies, Fred Phillips, William Ware Theiss and Wah Chang. Upon completing the work of putting his recollections on paper, and having had his say, Solow sold off his personal Star Trek collection still in his possession in the first specialized Star Trek auction, the 2001 Profiles in History: The Star Trek Auction.

In the Errand of Fury book series, Colonel West is on the staff of an Admiral Herbert Solow, named after the executive.

Career outside Star Trek[]

Herbert Solow got started in show business in an inauspicious fashion, starting in the mailroom of the William Morris Agency in New York City shortly after his graduation from Dartmouth College in 1953. After his promotion to the position of talent agent in 1956, Solow moved to NBC as Program Director of California National Productions which included managing the NBC Film Division. In 1960 Solow was transferred to Los Angeles, shortly before NBC, responding to government regulations dissolved the NBC Film Division. Solow then joined CBS as Director of Daytime Programs for the West Coast, and then subsequently returning to NBC a year later as Director of Daytime Programs.

He left his NBC Daytime Programs position and joined Desilu Studios in early 1964, hired by Oscar Katz as his assistant and who was urgently charged to find new television properties to develop, as the studio found itself in dire straits with only one property, The Lucy Show, left in production at the time. Appointed Vice President of Programs a year later, Solow personally oversaw the development, sales, and production of Star Trek, Mission: Impossible, the western series The Long Hunt of April Savage – which, while ordered by ABC network, was not further developed as a series after its pilot episode – and, at a later stage, Mannix. Katz and Solow were arguably a bit too successful in their original assignment, as the small, ailing studio found itself at the start of 1966 suddenly confronted with the development of three new series at once, and which is why the studio's Board of Directors, fearing, not entirely unfounded, that the studio would financially overstretch itself, wanted to forgo on the further development of Star Trek initially, the notion eventually nixed by Lucille Ball. Ironically, the fears of the Board were somewhat allayed when ABC canceled April Savage, before production of the regular series was slated to start.

After he had quit his job at Paramount Television, Solow joined Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer as Vice President of Television Production, overseeing the development and series production of Medical Center, The Courtship of Eddie's Father (produced by and co-starring James Komack), and Then Came Bronson (produced by Robert Justman and Robert Sabaroff).

After this, Solow was appointed Vice President of Worldwide Motion Picture and Television Production for MGM (whom Roddenberry had approached first with his Star Trek proposal, back in 1964). It was during this stint that he hired Roddenberry to write (and arranged for his hefty $100,000 writer's fee, which came as a godsend for the at that time near destitute Roddenberry, effectively saving his bacon for a second time after staving off his dismissal from Desilu in 1966/1967) and produce the theatrical film, Pretty Maids All in a Row, based on the novel by Francis Pollini and directed by Roger Vadim. The film featured James Doohan, William Campbell and Dawn Roddenberry in the cast. Other films made under his helm included Robert Altman's Brewster McCloud (1970, with Sally Kellerman, William Windom, René Auberjonois, John Schuck and Bert Remsen), Michelangelo Antonioni's Zabriskie Point (1970, with Paul Fix and Lee Duncan), Kelly's Heroes (1970, with Perry Lopez, Tom Troupe and David Hurst), The Strawberry Statement (1970, with Kim Darby and Bert Remsen), Alex in Wonderland (1970, with Dick Geary) and The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight (1971, with Harry Basch, James Sloyan and directed by James Goldstone).

In 1973, he left MGM to become an independent filmmaker and formed Solow Productions. He co-created and produced the television series Man from Atlantis. He was also involved in the production of the English movie Brimstone and Treacle. His last feature film production was Saving Grace, co-starring Edward James Olmos.

Solow is a member of the Writers Guild of America and the Directors Guild of America and serves on the Foreign Film, Documentary, and Special Effects Committees of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. He is currently an independent writer-producer and also lectures on television and film production.

Upon his retirement from the motion picture industry, Solow and his wife, parents of two sons and two daughters, were by 2005 living in south-west Wales, UK, where he was a part-time lecturer at the media department of the then University of Wales, Lampeter (following his wife, who, learning Welsh, had accepted a position as Writer-in Residence), returning to Malibu in 2010. (Carpe Articulum, Literary Review, pp. 24-55)

Solow passed away on 19 November 2020, one month shy of his 90th birthday. [7]


Star Trek interviews[]

  • "The Man Who Bought Star Trek", Ian Spelling, Starlog, Issue 241, August 1997, pp. 74-77
  • "The Little Program That Could: The relationship between NBC and Star Trek", Chapter 12: NBC: America's Network, August 2007, pp. 209-222
  • "Herbert Solow: The Enigmatic Former Head of MGM Studios, Paramount and Desilu Discusses His Legacy", Hadassah R. L. Broscova, Carpe Articulum, Literary Review, Vol. 3, Issue 3, 2010, pp. 24-55
  • Star Trek: The True Story, 2013 – young Herb Solow played by actor Charlie Richards for the re-enacted segments of the documentary.

External links[]