Star Trek 50th anniversary: How Gates McFadden kept her son from confusing her with Dr. Crusher

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As part of CNET’s coverage of Star Trek’s 50th anniversary, I chatted with a dozen cast members from across the franchise about everything from Star Trek’s inclusive message to how to play a fake doctor in the future.

By Ian Sherr

Gates McFadden didn’t watch much TV before she landed a role on the Star Trek revival “The Next Generation.” And when she admitted to friends she had almost no Trekkie knowledge, they were horrified.

“I didn’t understand what warp speed is or what a Klingon is,” she said.

That’s probably why she turned down the role. Twice. It took several conversations with Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry to turn her around. His goal for her character, Dr. Beverly Crusher, was to give a woman a command position on the Enterprise and much more substance than Communications Officer Nyota Uhura had in the original series.

“It’s a character that has authority and it’s something people didn’t have in the show,” she remembered Roddenberry telling her. Crusher would be able to challenge Capt. Jean-Luc Picard, played by Patrick Stewart. She’d also be his love interest, in addition to being a widow and single mother.

“I had grown up when Gloria Steinem had happened and the question was, Can women have it all?” she said. “This was a different role. There was something modern about it.”

Even so, she felt the show didn’t dig as deep on some aspects of her character, like single parenting.

She also faced the challenge of being on “The Next Generation” and raising her son, who was born about halfway through the show’s 1987-94 run. Though many of us would be jealous of parts of his childhood (“My son learned to walk on the bridge, literally”), she struggled with separating Gates McFadden from Beverly Crusher.

One way she handled that was by letting her son watch rehearsals, but not the finished show. “I didn’t want him to project onto my character,” she said. “I didn’t want him to confuse realities.”

There were times the situation worried her. Once, she was inspecting an action figure of her character for approval, and her son blurted out, “Oh, a mommy doll!”

It all turned out fine, she said, and she’s happy with the 25-year-old man he’s become.

As to her on-set son, Wesley Crusher, she felt  he got a bad rap from fans who complained he was both annoying and boring.

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