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JERRY SOHL

If you search the Internet, you’ll find Jerry Sohl’s name among a pantheon of science fiction writers. He’s listed as the writer of several of Star Trek’s early episodes.

Sohl has been a writer all his life. He began writing for his high school newspaper and progressed to the editorship of an Illinois weekly before being drafted in World War II. After the war he became a newspaperman again, covering a gamut of assignments from reporting accidents on nearby Route 66, to music and book critic, to editor again. But in his spare time, he wrote science fiction.

Sohl didn’t have a science background. What he had was an imagination. Simon and Shuster published his first novel “The Ha ploids” in 1949. It was a story about genetic engineering long before the reality of genetic engineering. He wrote more than fifty other novels. Several of them made the New York Times bestseller list.

In the late fifties, he moved to California and began writing for the movies. He adapted H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Colour Out of Space” as one of Boris Karloff’s last pictures. Other work he bemoans. “Frankenstein Conquers the World” and several other scripts starring actors like Raymond Burr became part of a myriad of Japanese schlock science fiction films made at the time. One thing about his Japanese movies Sohl appreciated however. They respected their writers. In a Japanese film the writer’s name was always more prominent onscreen than the actors.

In the early sixties, Jerry recalls meeting Gene Roddenberry, then the producer of some television cop show. Two years before the pilot of Star Trek, Roddenberry began meeting with several prominent science fiction writers, fishing for ideas. When the Star Trek pilot was picked up, Roddenberry hired Sohl to write one of the first episodes, “The Corbomite Maneuver.”

“I remember meeting with Gene (Roddenberry) and Howard Justman (Star Trek’s producer),” Sohl relates. In the early episodes there were several problems to work out. How big was the Starship Enterprise supposed to be? Like god describing the size of the ark, Roddenberry laid down the exact size of the spaceship. Even though he made it larger than a football field, the set still fit on a sound stage. And how would the crew communicate with aliens? That was easily solved. English would just have to serve as the galaxy’s universal language. Leonard Nimoy (Spock) didn’t like his ears. He had to get to the set an hour earlier than everyone else to put them on. But Roddenberry insisted the ears stay. Since Nimoy was under contract, not even a Vulcan could change Roddenberry’s mind.

Jerry Sohl has had a prolific career. He’s written more than fifty published novels, six movies, more than one hundred television scripts. In his eighties now, he lives with his wife on a quiet cul de sac in Thousand Oaks. But he’s a man who knows all about galaxies far, far away.