One of the longest-running Star Trek mysteries may be on the verge of being solved. In 1977, the first shooting model of the U.S.S. Enterprise from The Original Series went missing, and for the last 46 years, no one has known where it is, or whether it had been destroyed. But just a couple of weeks ago it appeared to resurface in an eBay listing, which was soon suspended after fans started buzzing about the potential historical importance of this model. TrekMovie can confirm that Rod Roddenberry, son of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry and the President of Roddenberry Enterprises, is actively trying to authenticate and acquire the model that sat on his father’s desk at Paramount for years.
In a statement to TrekMovie, Roddenberry says: “Along with much of the Star Trek community, I was excited and pleased to learn that the original 3-foot filming model of the Starship Enterprise appears to have been discovered after being missing for decades (pending full authentication). I can confirm that I am now, through an intermediary, in contact with the individual who possesses the model.”
The first USS Enterprise disappears
The model in question is a 3-foot (actually 33 inches) pre-production model of U.S.S. Enterprise, built mostly out of wood by Richard C. Datin, Jr. in 1964. Working from drawings by designer Matt Jefferies, Datin constructed and painted the model as a sub-contractor of the Howard Anderson Company, which was hired to do the special effects for Star Trek’s first pilot, “The Cage.” The model was used in behind-the-scenes photographs with Gene Roddenberry and series lead Jeffrey Hunter, and because it was available for shooting long before the more detailed, illuminated 11-foot model was ready, it was used as a shooting model for most of the ship exterior shots in “The Cage,” and for the famous fly-by shots in the show’s opening credits sequence.
The 11-foot model (which is on display at the Smithsonian) was used in “The Cage” for the show-opening zoom-in to the bridge and for most exterior shots in the second pilot and beyond, but the 33” model was revised to match the series version in April of 1966, and appears in a number of Star Trek episodes, most notably as a miniaturized Enterprise in the episode, “Requiem for Methuselah.”
When the series finished filming, the smaller 33″ model was given to Gene Roddenberry as a gift from the studio, and it appears in photographs sitting on Roddenberry’s desk, and was taken by Roddenberry to Star Trek conventions and exhibited alongside other screen-used props. Roddenberry loaned the model out to an effects house during the making of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, and after that, it went missing. Roddenberry wrote letters to Paramount Pictures exec Jeffrey Katzenberg asking for his help in retrieving the model, but to no avail.
The model reappears… on eBay? [UPDATED]
The model appeared to reemerge on October 31st in an eBay listing: “Rare Custom Star Trek USS Enterprise Spaceship by Richard Datin.” The starting bid request was $1,000. Star Trek collectors and fans started buzzing about the item online, identifying it as possibly Roddenberry’s long-lost original shooting model, although clearly underpriced for such a historic item. Just last month the original 2-foot model of the Star Trek Galileo shuttle (from the Greg Jein Collection) sold for $225,000 at auction. An original X-Wing model from Star Wars sold for $3.15 million. So it’s no surprise that just 12 hours after that initial eBay listing went live it was ended by the seller without a sale.
Many fans continued to pore over the photos from the eBay listing to attempt to verify the authenticity of the model. Rumors circulated that Enterprise expert Gary Kerr had authenticated the model, and that he had purchased the model himself in a storage unit purchased at auction from the estate of filmmaker Burton Holmes, who died in 1958.
UPDATE: Gary Kerr, in a statement to TrekMovie, shot down these rumors. “The truth is more mundane. Shortly after the news of the model’s reappearance broke, people started asking my opinion of it. After looking at the 16 photos posted online, I said that the model looked like the real thing, but that’s a far cry from ‘authenticating’ it, which would entail a full forensic examination of the model. Since then, I’ve made comparisons between hi-res, fairly obscure photos of the model in the 1960s and the eBay photos. Tiny details in the model match perfectly, and in my opinion, the eBay model is the real McCoy. I reemphasize that this is simply my informed opinion.”
UPDATE 2: In a comment on this article, Noel Datin McDonald, the daughter of Richard C. Datin, Jr., the builder of the original model, offered her opinion on the model’s authenticity: “The business card on the bottom of the stand that it was put on for display on Gene’s desk is [my father’s] original business card at the time we lived in North Hollywood. My father also wrote about the fact that it was a microphone stand that he used, which is shown in the current photos.” She also offered to confer with authenticators, saying “I may even have a piece left over from its construction.”
Rod Roddenberry wants to secure the model for history (if it’s real)
The eBay listing also got the attention of Gene Roddenberry’s son. TrekMovie received a statement from Rod Roddenberry, confirming that he is in contact, through an intermediary, with the person who has the model. If authenticated, Roddenberry plans to digitally scan and archive the model for future study as part of the Roddenberry Archive project. He doesn’t feel the model should be in a private collection and hopes it will one day be kept in the collection of the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, which currently maintains and houses the 11-foot shooting model of the U.S.S. Enterprise.
Here is Roddenberry’s statement in full:
“Along with much of the Star Trek community, I was excited and pleased to learn that the original 3-foot filming model of the Starship Enterprise appears to have been discovered after being missing for decades (pending full authentication). I can confirm that I am now, through an intermediary, in contact with the individual who possesses the model.
This prototype played a key role in the visualizing design of the famous television starship during Star Trek’s early development in 1964. Once the show went into production, the model was actually filmed in numerous visual effects shots seen throughout the life of the original Star Trek series, along with a larger, 12-foot model that is currently displayed at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. I am convinced that this prototype model holds immense significance for Star Trek and its 58-year history. From its creation in the mid-60s until about 1977, the model was in the possession of my father, Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry. Unfortunately, it went missing after being loaned out during the production of Star Trek: The Motion Picture.
Beyond its physical value, the greater significance is this prototype Enterprise model really represents the underpinning ideas my father imbued into the series. That we are clever, resilient and can learn from our mistakes. We can and will move beyond archaic belief systems. And once we truly embrace the infinite diversity all around us, both in form and idea, we will then take those next step into a prosperous and unlimited future.
Guided by this principle, one of my primary goals over the past decade has been to locate, recover, and digitally archive significant Star Trek materials and artifacts through the Roddenberry Archive project. The intention would be to scan it in the finest detail for the Roddenberry Archives and after rigorous scrutiny make it available to the public. Furthermore, I firmly believe that a piece of such importance should not be confined to any private collection. This iconic artifact should be enshrined along side the 12-foot shooting model at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, where it can serve to help tell the story of television history, the history of space exploration and ultimately, a beacon of hope for the future.”
Of note in this statement is that Roddenberry has not yet definitively authenticated the model. Beyond the authentication of the model, Star Trek historians will one day want to know how the model went missing, where it has been for the last 46 years, how the current possessor of the model came to have it, why they listed it on eBay, whether or not they knew what it was, why it was removed from eBay, and many more details.
Still, this is potentially one of the most exciting finds in the history of the franchise. The 33” model is the only thing that appears, in the same condition, in every episode of Star Trek: The Original Series, through the opening credits fly-by sequence. Costumes, actors, sets, and props were changed, but that fly-by footage remained the same for all 79 episodes of the series. It was held by Gene Roddenberry, Jeffrey Hunter, William Shatner, and Leonard Nimoy. It is an amazing artifact whose value, as Rod Roddenberry said, goes far beyond the physical object itself.
Fans await further confirmed information, and TrekMovie will update this story as facts are substantiated along the way.
See the 3-foot Enterprise in action
This video from Trek World complies shots from Star Trek where the 3-foot model was used.