Ten Forward: Dan Madsen: Star Trek's Fan Communicator

TREKCORE > SPECIALS > TEN FORWARD > Dan Madsen: Star Trek's Fan Communicator

Date Published: October 14, 2007
Author: John Tenuto

"Alexander, where I come from, size, shape, or color makes no difference, and nobody has the power."
- James T. Kirk, Plato's Stepchildren

Before the Internet, there was Dan Madsen. Star Trek fan experiences would not be the same if not for Dan. For twenty-five years, Dan was publisher and president of the Official Star Trek Fan Club providing fans with information about actors, writers, artists, and crew. For 150 issues, The Star Trek Communicator, in its various versions, was for most fans the Star Trek news. It was the Communicator that showed fans exclusive pictures from the films. It was the Communicator that allowed fans to ask questions of Scott Bakula or Rick Berman. It was the Communicator that featured exclusive collectibles to fans. It was the Communicator that allowed fans to do exactly that with each other, communicate. Dan's role in fan history cannot be overstated, for he is a true innovator. He would eventually be asked by George Lucas to create the Official Star Wars Fan Club and Star Wars Insider because of his talents and for what he provided to Star Trek fans. He is considered family by actors and convention promoters, by writers and fans. Those who meet him learn he is a well-rounded person, his true passions being his wife and son, and his fascination with Abraham Lincoln and Mark Twain. Dan is more than a Star Trek fan, yet what he has given to fans is a true gift. The great thing is he may be giving that gift again.

Dan Madsen grew up in 1960s and 1970s Colorado. He is a fan of that era of popular culture, from Happy Days to Welcome Back, Kotter. What he wasn't was a Star Trek fan. Dan's brother watched Star Trek everyday after school. After a rather harsh day at school, with fellow students calling him "shrimp" because Dan is a “little person,” he grabbed a snack and sat on the couch to ruminate. Star Trek was on, with his brother watching. The moment was fortuitous and would change Star Trek fandom forever. The episode was "Plato's Stepchildren" which featured actor Michael Dunn as Alexander, whose short stature made him the person of constant ridicule for the Platonians. During the episode, Captain Kirk tells Alexander that "Alexander, where I come from, size, shape, or color makes no difference, and nobody has the power." Dan was inspired by both the imagery and the theme of the episode. By the time Alexander beams away to join Captain Kirk, Dan was along for the ride. Thus started his life long love of science fiction and Star Trek.

Dan Madsen and William Shatner.

Although Dan's career goal was to be an actor - and he has appeared in Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace (in a George Lucas requested cameo as Jar Jar's Kaadu handler) and in Free Enterprise, or numerous commercials for stores like JC Penny - he was inspired by Star Trek to start a newsletter to help promote the show. Instead of his pay, Dan took a job with a local printer to learn the business and to print his Star Trek newsletter. The newsletter was enjoyed by Gene Roddenberry who would read each issue. Dan was able to get interviews with Leonard Nimoy and provide real news in his unofficial newsletter, which he wrote and published. In the early 1980s, Dan would receive a phone call that would change his life and improve the fan experience for Trekkies around the world.

Dan Madsen and Kenny Baker on the set of Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace.

It was Paramount Pictures calling. The phone call was ominous; Paramount Pictures wanted Dan to know that he could not write the newsletter as Star Trek was copyrighted. Dan told them that he wasn't making money, rather it was costing him money! He was merely trying to help the show and movies. Paramount knew this, and then because of what they called his proper mix of "fanaticism and professionalism" he was being offered the license to the run the Official Star Trek Fan Club. At Paramount and Roddenberry's request, Dan accepted. The Star Trek Fan Club would eventually have nearly 105,000 subscribers, offering exclusive products, news, and for fans the most amazing collection of articles and information. Dan's Fantastic Media company would eventually employ over 100 people to help create the issues and provide collectibles to fans.

Issue 150 of the Star Trek Communicator signed by Dan Madsen.

During its 25 years, the Star Trek Comunicator would provide fans with information about films, actors, collectibles, and trivia. Dan's Star Trek Communicator is the example for the modern television or film publications, which are now standards of the media industry. Most importantly, for fans, Dan and his team provided us with a variety of articles that really helped us feel connected to Star Trek. Fans were often the feature of articles. With issue #150, many of Star Trek's actors and writers told why they think Dan and the Star Trek Communicator are important. From William Shatner to Rick Berman, the Star Trek Communicator is praised. Harve Bennett writes that Dan and his editor Larry Nemecek were artists. Tim Russ asks, "Where would the Trek world be without Star Trek Communicator?" Jeri Taylor assures us that Dan and his editor Larry Nemecek "have contributed significantly to this enduring phenomenon." One of the best stories that Dan tells is how one day President Bill Clinton's secretary Betty Currie called to order from the Star Trek Communicator for the President. What was Bill's order? Star Trek boxer shorts. The Star Trek Communicator is American media or cultural history.

Photo by Dan Madsen.  Taken at the 10th Anniversary Star Wars Convention, where Gene Roddenberry was a surprise guest.  This is the only known photo of the two meeting.

The future is bright for Dan Madsen. His film screenplay, co-written with former colleagues of Matt Roloff from TLC's Little People, Big World, is being considered by Disney. Short Story is a romantic comedy about a “little person” and a person of normal height. Dan is also excited about 2009's Abraham Lincoln 200th birthday Celebrations. He is very supportive of 2008's Star Trek film. He is featured in the documentary The Force Among Us a positive film about Star Wars fans (www.theforceamongus.com). Dan is also negotiating with CBS/Paramount to bring back to Trekkies the Official Star Trek Fan Club, this version a more interactive organization. It features all the best of the previous endeavor with modern technologies. When fans learned at a recent Star Trek convention of the negotiations, the excitement was very real. Some fans wanted to sign up immediately. Others wanted to know how to help encourage CBS/Paramount to support the notion of the Star Trek Fan Club. Dan Madsen is the chronicler of Star Trek. Let us hope he also helps with the future of Star Trek. The greatest compliment I could offer about Dan Madsen is that he is a Star Trek fan.

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