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 of age, 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 the member of both The Gage County, Nebraska 4-H Club and had been a Boy Scout. Later attending Omaha Technical High School and, participating in ROTC and playing in the school band. During this time, he was also a teenage newscaster for KWBE-AM in Beatrice. He later moved with his parents and younger brothers, Merle Jack Coon and Bloice Newell Coon, to Glendale, California. His father found work there as a poultry man, and Gene himself eventually dropped out of high school to serve in World War II.
Coon served in the U.S. Marine Corps for four years, from 1942 to 1946. He saw action in the Pacific and was later stationed in Japan as part of the occupying forces. He was subsequently posted for eight months to northern China, where he published a small English-language newspaper. As a Marine Corps Reservist, he returned to active duty during the Korean War, from 1950 to 1952. There, he received additional 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. (Both were out of print as of early September of 2017.) Upon his demobilization, Coon found work first as a radio newscaster before turning to free-lance writing under the mentorship of 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 column he (Sherman) wrote for The Farmer's Market, 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 1960s, 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 of this last, whose format was worked out by Allan Burns and Chris Hayward and whose characters and situations were developed by Norm Liebman and Ed Haas, was yet another hit show.
His Wagon Train scripts contained strong moral lessons concerning personal redemption and opposing war, and he later repeated very similar themes in his Star Trek scripts. (The latter series, though it owed much to C. S. Forester's novels about Horatio Hornblower and Jonathan Swift's satire Gulliver's Travels, had had to be sold to the NBC television network using the unofficial nickname of "Wagon Train to the stars.") Coon joined Star Trek during the first season; David Gerrold credited him with being a skilled showrunner before Coon left in the middle of the second season. Coon was responsible for many rewrites of Star Trek scripts.
His credited creations for Star Trek include the Klingons and the Organian Peace Treaty (in "Errand of Mercy"), Khan Noonien Singh (in "Space Seed," where he adapted a Carey Wilber story), Zefram Cochrane (in "Metamorphosis"), the Prime Directive in "The Return of the Archons" and "Bread and Circuses", the United Federation of Planets in "Arena," and Starfleet Command in "Court Martial." Since he also had the responsibility of revising scripts, he worked uncredited on many other episodes. He also mentored the young Gerrold and helped him polish the script for the episode "The Trouble with Tribbles." Other Star Trek episodes that he wrote included "The Devil in the Dark," "Arena," and "A Taste of Armageddon." He is credited with much of the character development of Star Trek's characters, much of the humor of Star Trek, and the "bickersonewque" disagreements between Spock and McCoy.
Following arguments with Roddenberry over the tone of the installment "Bread and Circuses," partly a satire on the medium of television, he recommended to John Meredyth Lucas that the latter take over as showrunner of Star Trek. Lucas, who had already written the instalments "The Changeling" and "Patterns of Force" for the program, quoted Coon as saying, after announcing to him (Lucas) that he (Coon) was leaving, "Why the hell don't you take over? You produced The Fugitive and Ben Casey and that shit." Lucas suspected Coon might have had cancer by then, but he never definitely learned whether this was the case.
Coon continued to contribute scripts for the third season, but he had to do so using the pseudonym Lee Cronin, as he was by then under contract to Universal Studios.
Following his period with Star Trek, Coon produced the Universal Studios series It Takes a Thief, starring Robert Wagner, during which time he mentored Glen A. Larson. He also continued to write for Kung Fu and The Streets of San Francisco. In 1973, he served as co-writer with Gene Roddenberry on the NBC-TV movie The Questor Tapes. The movie was to serve as a pilot for a new series, but Roddenberry balked at changes made by NBC (eliminating the character of Jerry Robinson, Questor's human companion/mentor). He died before the pilot aired in early 1974. He also co-wrote the pilot for Roddenberry's Genesis II (film) and the proposal for Spectre (1977 film), despite having turned down Star Trek: The Animated Series. He also started up UniTel Associates, one of the earliest production companies aimed at the home video market.
Coon was known as one of the fastest writers in Hollywood, and it was not unusual for him to rewrite a script for shooting overnight, or over a weekend. He had a dry sense of humor, as reflected in his two novels, Meanwhile Back at the Front and The Short End of The Stick, published in 1964 about the Korean War. After years of separation, Coon again found his first love, model Jackie Mitchell. In 1967 he divorced his wife Joy so that he could be with Jackie, with whom he spent that last five years of his life.
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 of 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.
D.C. Fontana dedicated her novelization of The Questor Tapes to him. William Shatner dedicated a chapter in his 1993 memoir Star Trek Memories (transcribed by Chris Kreski) to him titled "The Unsung Hero," in which he attributed many aspects of Star Trek to him. Leonard Nimoy did likewise in his own memoir (I Am Spock), as did Herbert F. Solow and Robert H. Justman with Inside Star Trek: The Real Story. In the closing credits of the 1999 Star Trek tribute film Free Enterprise, he is referred to as “The Forgotten Gene” (in comparison to the recognition received by his close friend and collaborator, Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry).
He worked on Dragnet, Bonanza, Zorro, Peter Gunn, Have Gun – Will Travel, Wagon Train, The Wild Wild West, The Four Just Men, Combat!, and McHale's Navy. Later his role was producer for The Wild Wild West.The Killers (1964)
By Gene L. CoonMeanwhile Back At The Front (New York: Crown, 1961. 309 pp.) A novel dealing with the improbable exploits of the Public Information Section of the 1st Marine Division during the Korean War.
The Short End (published 1964) The novel deals with the lives and problems of American troops stationed along the DMZ in Korea after the war ended. It includes how they got along with and were treated by the native Koreans, focusing on sex and cultural clashes. It is also one of the earliest publications to discuss the drug problems of the bored occupation troops and how commanders dealt with them.
About Gene L. Coon
Gene L. Coon: The Unsung Hero of Star Trek Amazon Kindle 2017. His life story covering his start singing on Omaha radio at four years old. Covering aspects of his early life and military career. To his postwar career beginnings as a pharmacist and his reporter apprenticeship under Gene Sherman. His early screenwriting career leading up to and after Star Trek and founding one of the first home video companies in the early 1970's.