gazing through trees in sorrow hardly a sound till tomorrow

I saw Menage A Trois last night on TNG, which is the episode where Picard gives Wesley his field promotion to Ensign, complete with cool regular spacesuit and slightly-less-dorky haircut. I’d forgotten the promotion happened in that episode, because, despite fantastic performances from all the actors (especially Majel) the bulk of that story just feels a little too close to slashy fan fiction for me. In my mind, I’d uncoupled the B story about Wesley from the A story about Riker, Troi, Lwaxana, and the Ferengis.

There’s a scene in that episode where Wesley thinks he’s leaving the
Enterprise to go to Starfleet Academy, and as he walks across the back
of the bridge, behind Worf and to the turbolift, he turns around and
slowly looks at the bridge, you know, sort of taking the whole thing in
like he’s seeing it for the last time and wants to remember.

When I saw that last night, it reminded me of the first time I went on
Star Trek: The Experience in Las Vegas, and how I did exactly the same
thing. Art imitating life imitating art.

Most of you who are TNG fans already know this, but it’s a cool story that I’ll tell anyway: Gene Roddenberry, who created Star Trek and was a good friend of mine while I worked on the show, was field-promoted to Ensign during World War II, and when Wesley was field-promoted on TNG, Gene came to the bridge one afternoon, gathered the cast and crew together, kicked out the set photographer, and shut down production for a few minutes to present me with the bars he’d received when he was promoted in the real military.

I can connect with that memory right now as if I’m watching it on a television all over again: Gene presents me with his bars, everyone breaks out into applause, and I feel like I really didn’t deserve it — I was just an actor, after all.

I was too young and immature to fully absorb the magnitude of the
gesture, but I recall that Gene shook my hand, then pulled me into him for a big hug, and I felt that sense of pride and embarassment that
you get when your dad brags on you in front of everyone at the family
reunion for making the final out that won the All-City Championship, but you secretly know that you just held up your glove and the ball managed to find its way into the pocket.

I remember that Paramount wanted to make a big publicity deal out of it, and have a camera crew from Entertainment Tonight and a bunch of photographers there, but Gene wanted it to be a private, "family" moment. I always thought that was cool of him, and illustrates how seriously he took that moment; though I wish I had pictures from that day, if there’d been a photographer or film crew there, it would have cheapened the moment. I think Gene knew that and kept it real long before "keeping it real" was a popular pastime on MySpace.

58 thoughts on “gazing through trees in sorrow hardly a sound till tomorrow”

  1. DUDE. I remembered that story when I saw the show last night. My mom used to watch TNG when it first aired, and for some reason my friend and I have been really getting into it again via G4, which – despite the obnoxious ads everyone despises – has made it way easier for a girl to get her fix chronological order-stizz.
    LOVE Majel, every time she shoes up it’s a good ep. Gene sounded like a pretty amazing guy.

  2. Hadn’t heard the story before. Cool. I’ve never been pinned with someone else’s rank, let alone from a respected friend and combat veteran.

  3. Everytime you start wondering about your abilities, please take those bars out and hold them in your hand for a minute.
    Maybe you didn’t deserve them then, but Gene was a visionary. Maybe he envisioned that the environment you were in was going to make it hard for you to hold onto your identity later on. Maybe he saw that the road you were on wasn’t kind.
    Maybe he envisioned that you’d need them one day.

  4. “Especially Majel.”
    Count me among those who didn’t appreciate way back when how ‘deliciously’ she acted that role. Now I hear her say “Mr. Woof” and I’m laughing for days afterward.
    I think I know how your feel about those bars too. I had occasion to wear a cat pin (we are a cat-loving bunch) that my cousin gave me that was her mother’s, note past tense. My aunt faced her long health ordeal with such grace and energy, I kept the pin in a drawer and hadn’t worn it until I had to go to an event I wasn’t really looking forward to and just up and decided to channel some of her grace and patience through wearing that pin. We weren’t close due to geographical logistics, but she was the kind of person where that didn’t matter.
    She was the kind of person who wrote short but sincerely crafted thank you notes for simply sending her a ‘hello’ note. Even when she was sick.
    You have your bars, I have my cat, and together we can face things one issue at a time.

  5. Hi Wil,
    I just wanted to let you know that I’m new to California and new to your website. And Dude, I’m totally enthralled! Everyday I can’t wait to read the newest post. You have me hooked and I’ll continue reading as long as you keep writing! Crossed fingers and toes here…I hope you hear something soon, as they are starting to cramp. :D
    You rock!! :)

  6. Gene sounds like he was a great man. No doubt why he was as successful. He embraces fans each time we experience his creations.
    That’s a success story.. He did for Science Fiction what Mel Brooks did for comedy.
    Thanks for story

  7. That was a beautiful memory to share, Wil.
    I must concur with the other posters above in regards to those special bars though. He did see something great in you and time after time when you’re feeling low, you should hold them in your hand again.
    I’m sure Gene is crossing his fingers for you too right now wherever he is.

  8. You may not have realized the significance at the time, but you definitely understand it now. Gene was a visionary and he knew that you would realize that in time. Thank you for sharing that with all of us.
    And we’re still pulling for you with the sci-fi gig!

  9. Both our triumphs and our failures serve important purposes in our lives.
    Whether you get this gig or not, understand that it was still essential that you tried out for it.
    As long as your will is to succeed, you never fail, even when the surface goal appears not to have been met.
    Another, deeper goal, is always accomplished, though it is seldom reflected upon or recognized. Only when your WILL is to fail, do you truly.. Keep the chin up.

  10. I hadn’t heard that story before. Thank you for sharing; I love hearing stories about Gene. Wish I could have met him.

  11. What a wonderful and tender story. It is good to know that someone that had that much influence on you in your younger days was a such a caring and thoughtful person. He gave you something that could never be replaced. You’ve done him proud Wil.

  12. As I mentioned to you when we met in Vegas at the WPBT, I’ve been in the Army for almost 20 years. Your comments about my service were heartfelt and genuine, and I truly appreciate what you said.
    I’ve had the occasion to be presented someone’s rank, and it’s a big deal. In fact, it’s a BIG DEAL. Welcome to the club.
    -DrC

  13. People can bitch about Wesley all they want. I always loved that you and he were actually normal teenagers like the rest of us. It was a brilliant piece of casting putting you in that role. When you tell stories like that I realize how much of you we probably got to see in Wesley, and the other actors got to react to you as a person in these episodes as much as their characters got to react to Wesley. Cause I don’t care how great an actor Jonathan Frakes might be– that was definitely some real-life proud-of-Wil emotion coming from him at the end of that episode!
    At the time I just knew I enjoyed watching ST:TNG. But now I really think that was a big part of *why* I enjoyed it.

  14. Thank you, Wil, for sharing memories like this with us. I just finished reading Dancing Barefoot and blogging about your journey through The Experience before reading this. I got all choked up. Thank you.

  15. Thanks for sharing that story with us. Getting presented with someone else’s rank is a HUGE honor. When it’s coming from a mentor and friend, it speaks volumes about your talent, your character, and how much Gene saw in you. I agree with justme: “Everytime you start wondering about your abilities, please take those bars out and hold them in your hand for a minute.”
    I am still sending all sorts of positive vibes, energy, mojo, etc. your way.

  16. As a bit of a fanboy – I can only imagine how exciting, terrifying, and nauseatingly-star-struck I’d feel in that position.
    Thanks for Sharing that. Every time I wonder why I do the things I do, hang out the places I hang out, and refresh the pages of my favorite blog 7 times an hour – I now get it.
    PS: [Woogawooga-goodvibes-tightlines]

  17. Being in my late thirties, I too, find myself reflecting on my past. I find paralles to whatever situation I am currently in. It is these situations that dredge up these long forgotten memories, from the vast warehouse of the past. It is these memories that help carry me through the trial I my currently face.
    I am not worried about you will. Your doing just fine on your won.

  18. Damned Google spell checker…lol…Something you my want to implement in the new WWDN, the the ability to pull and edit you own comments. at least for a few seconds after you post.
    If it is possible with the tools you use.

  19. It is wonderful that you are looking at and reflecting on the gift of those stories with you in NG.
    Both the experience with Gene and the episode both more “rites of passages” a container of experiences (done in a ceremonial context) designed to show/teach a microcosm of the macrocosm of the truth of how you interact with life.
    You were recognized and honored by a very great humanitarian. His actions said “you have been doing great important things that have value”. (value to humanity was where his heart lay). “In this gift/award, you are recognized not just for what you have done and where you have been, but the potential of what you can do.”
    So look at where your are/what you do! Isnt it true?
    It was as Luxanna that I realized Majel held a very special image place for me of what I want to be like as a crone. Her character side, the way she handled her relationships especially with Gene, her life as a Director, I actually mad a collage of her aspects to help keep my focus when I get down about getting old.
    I have been wresling with how I want to do my webside and this columm today provided the insight that I want to structure it, from the perspective of honoring my experiences, both the dark and the light, that have contributed to what I am today

  20. What a freakin’ awesome story. I am passing that on to the true Star Trek geek in my family – my step-mom. She’ll love it.

  21. Wow, Wil. Thank you so much for sharing this. It doesn’t matter what show that’s from, or who the people are. Anyone doing that sort of thing is a wonderful person.
    You have had, and continue to have, great times. Thank you for opening your windows to us.

  22. That was very cool Wil. What a wonderful memory to have of Gene. He was truly an amazing person. And Majel is bloody awesome in all her Star Trek roles, from “The Cage” on down the line to Lwaxana. She is by far one of my favorite Trek people.

  23. All right folks, if that didn’t send a wave of emotion over you, please check to see if you have a pulse.
    Thanks Wil. Hoping the best for the part you’ve auditioned for.

  24. You know that STTNG comes on Spike! TV every weekday afternoon? 3 episodes every afternoon. My daughters and I watch it while we’re doing the afternoon housework.
    Incidentally, my 13 year old daughter says Westley is her favorite ST character, as well as being the cutest on the show…
    And, she’s read Dancing Barefoot and thinks you’re even cooler now! :)

  25. Yeah, it says Juanita Harris, but the username is blckbtch. Don’t forget it! I’ve been avoiding your blog like the plague!! I’m loathe to admit that I find myself strangely attracted to your blog (as I listen to RadioFreeBurrito)…dammit. I don’t need to be distracted any more than I already am….dammit dammit dammit…Well, that’s it, no insights…loved TNG I’m a music geek…Yea, Battlestar Galactica….that’s it.

  26. I hate to bring this up, as it is such a nice story, but your memory of Mr. Roddenberry’s history is at varience with his bio.
    All the sources list him as getting commissioned in the Army Air Corps through pilot school, not a field commission to Ensign in the Navy.
    You may want to look into that.

  27. Wil, I’m so glad that Prove to Everyone finally learned to shut his mouth and left you in charge.
    Your moment with Gene is something to look back on fondly, something to relish, and something that you, and only you can truly appreciate.
    On a personal level, I remember that episode as being your “coming of age” rite of passage, and obviously, Gene felt the same way. You earned that promotion then, and screw all the naysayers who have no lives that just want to bash Wesley.
    You were and still are a fine actor, and now you’ve added fine author to your already impressive resume. Good job, Ensign Crusher!!

  28. What an awesome story. I can’t imagine being involved in something like that. It must have been wonderful.
    I feel a little strange…I’m 23 and only just now getting into TNG. It’s been a long time since a show has captivated me the way this one has. I’m finding the Shakespearean slant to the series quite enjoyable.
    I realize it was a long time ago, but I’m very impressed by your performance at such a young age. You possessed all the subtlety and refinement of the more polished actors you shared the screen with, and I find I have a little smile on my face whenever you’re on camera. I look forward to seeing (and reading!) more. Have a fantastic day.

  29. You may be correct, Dan. This happened over fifteen years ago, so my exact memory of the words said and the precise nature of Gene’s Ensign bars is a little hazy.
    What I clearly recall, though, are the emotions I felt that day, and how it was a microcosm of my relationship with Gene.
    If I messed up the precise origin of Gene’s gift to me, it wasn’t intentional; I’ll be sure to double check with some of the people who were there that day, and make a correction if necessary.
    And thank you for your incredibly kind words, justme. I read your comment early this morning, and haven’t had a chance to reply until now.

  30. not too worry about misremembering small facts/details … memory is funny that way. What we do remember accurately is the essence of the moment and feelings. The important stuff!
    It’s a good story and a wonderful memory.
    The interesting thing about Star Trek Classic and TNG is that we all have fond memories of the episodes and can reminise with a friend. Much as I liked Enterprise I don’t think you’ll hear people say remember when this or that happened or that great episode. I think that was why it never made it past the 4th season.
    Yes I love Majel in all her ST roles! I even liked her voice being used for the computer!
    I always liked Wesley mostly after they made him ensign and there were meatier storylines for the character.
    cheers,
    Patricia

  31. Wil,
    What a great story!! I had never heard it before. What a profound moment for you as well. You were lucky to have grown up with such a good group of people and to have had that experience. But, I don’t have to tell you how lucky you were!! As a young actor it was probably the best way for you to fine tune your craft as apposed to making some silly kid or teen films. You were fortunate to work with such excellent writers, as that is what pulled me into that show when it came out, the excellent writing and stories. It was the best thing on tv at that time and the writing proves that as the stories are STILL mesmerizing today!! One of my personal favs was the one where everything was in metaphors, do you recall that episode? It was driving me crazy until the ending came along and it just blew me away.

  32. I don’t think you give yourself enuf credit: you did a FINE job as a kid. And you got out of the IronMaiden in that episode – you dont rem that??? hehe Go forward.
    you’re working hard to go forward, keep trying…I’m working well below my abilities but sometimes that has to happen to pay the bills…take it as it goes.. have a little cautious faith my friend. goin ATVn this summer in Oregon -you promised hehe completely covert.you got it.

  33. Gene sounds like an incredible guy to show you so much love Wil. Despite all the sh*t you went through on the show, hang on to the good parts – sounds like you had some great fun and great memories. Life is full of the good and the bad. You often talk about balance. You TNG experience was balanced. The love of Gene, great cast and crewmates, good money, episodes you can be proud of, versus, some bad story lines, some bad producer-types, some people who can’t separate a dreamed-up character Wesley, from the real-life flesh and bone (with feelings) Wil.
    I really enjoy reading your blog. You constantly amaze me with you depth of understanding on the, broadly put, ‘human condition’. You’re not that much older than me, but I look at you as a a bit of a ‘mentor’ (perhaps thats too strong or serious of a word, lets just say I look up to you and care about what you have to say). Simply put – you are someone that I respect. You’re not full of bullsh*t. You don’t put on an act to impress ‘us’. Admitting times when you f*cked-up and were less than perfect goes a lot further than keeping up a ‘spotless’ image. Anyway, I’m rambling now. Keep it real, Wil.
    *I’m sorry, but it has to be said for all the other female TNG fans out there – wasn’t Riker hot in that blue shirt on Menage a Trois! Dammmmnnnnnn :)*

  34. What an amazing story.
    I’m not normally a weepy person, but this blog and the posts have made me teary-eyed all this week.
    Wil, you are worthy of the honor Gene did you.

  35. Hey Wil,
    It has been a long time since I last posted a comment on your website! I have had trouble over and over with my computer and letting me sign in to things has been the worst! I have been reading all of your post and they are great as always! I also watch TNG almost every night. Sometimes the best memories we have are not on paper or in pictures, but in our head. You have been a great actor since day 1. As some have already said, you do not give yourself enough credit. Look at all these people who call themselves actors. They are so blind to see the truth. You are one of the few who remains a good actor because of your good heart. The best to you always!

  36. That is a very well told story. I love Star Trek: The Experience! The next time I’m there, I’ll be able to recall your story.
    Beautiful words from justme. So true.

  37. What a moving story about Gene. Obviously he was a wonderful man and cared deeply about you. How you must miss him. I have to admit that I’ve only begun watching The Next Generation since I started reading your blog. I really don’t understand the hostility towards the character you played. Wesley was a coming-of-age young man, still discovering who he was. What’s to hate?? I was aware of your acting talent in earlier works such as “Stand By Me” and “Toy Soilders”, which were both excellent. But one of the films that I really loved was “The Buddy System” when you were very young. Even then your vulnerability was so touching and lovely. I would venture a guess that Gene was aware of how extraordinary you are and wanted to encourage that. Thank you for allowing us to relive the memory with you.

  38. Can we say group hug? :D
    Thanks for writing things like this Wil, most of us never had the chance to meet the icon that is Roddenberry. So this is nice to take a peek at just the kind of guy he was, and yeah, I hope you still have those bars, like justme said.

  39. That story made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. :)
    Do you still have the bars? It would’ve been wicked if you could’ve wore them on your uniform.
    About keeping it real: Just beware, Dave Chappelle did a skit once, showing what happens when “keeping it real goes wrong”. ;)

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