Gates McFadden is pretty much known for one thing in Hollywood and one thing only, which is a shame. As Dr. Beverly Crusher in the long-running Star Trek: The Next Generation, McFadden played the popular doctor for six of the series’ seven-year run as well as starring in the four Star Trek movies that followed. But McFadden’s career is more than just Beverly Crusher. She is a wonderful stage actress and, believe it or not, a choreographer too.
Gates McFadden’s Beginnings
The actress was born in 1949 as Cheryl Gates McFadden. After attending Brandeis University and graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in theater arts, McFadden moved to Paris to study with French actor Jacques Lecoq at his renowned École internationale de théâtre (school of physical theatre).
Gates McFadden got her acting career started in soap operas, first starring in Another World, then moving on to The Edge of Night. Her first feature film came in Jim Henson’s The Muppets Take Manhattan, which is also notable for McFadden doing the choreography for the movie.
At the time, she worked for The Jim Henson Company as their Director of Choreography and Puppet Movement. In that role, McFadden choreographed a few other Henson projects including The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth. McFadden would later choreograph an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. This was during season 4 on the episode titled Data’s Day in which Dr. Crusher teaches Data how to dance. As a choreographer, McFadden is usually credited as Cheryl McFadden. With acting, she goes by Gates McFadden.
Other than the soap operas and other occasional appearances, McFadden’s early career revolved more around choreography than it did acting. She did appear in When Nature Calls and then on the TV series’ The Wizard and The Cosby Show. But her big break didn’t come until 1987 when she was asked to step into the Star Trek universe.
Star Trek: The Next Generation
According to Adam Shrager in his book, The Finest Crew in the Fleet: The Next Generation Cast on Screen and Off, Gates McFadden was quite reluctant to accept the role as Dr. Beverly Crusher because she was fully committed to the La Jolla Playhouse and its production of The Matchmaker. But McFadden did finally jump on board the USS Enterprise. While she ultimately considers the role a great one, the first season had more than a little bit of turmoil.
Rocky is probably a nice way of describing the first go around and it wasn’t just Gates McFadden who got caught up in the rinse. For starters, The Next Generation writing staff saw massive upheaval. David Gerrold, a writer on the original Star Trek series, scripting the episode The Trouble with Tribbles, was part of the initial writing crew for Star Trek: The Next Generation. He was one of the 30 or so writers and staff that left the series during its initial season.
Rick Berman, who is everything Star Trek related, also said looking back, “There were a lot of falling-outs involved in those years.”
For Gates McFadden, her ouster came at the hands of Maurice Hurley. As Berman describes via Redeeming Culture, “She got fired.” Berman went on to explain:
“The head writer on the show during the first season, and there was a lot of tumult on the first season, was a gentleman named Maurice Hurley. Wonderful guy. Maurice did not like Gates. He had a real bone to pick with Gates. They just didn’t get along. He didn’t like her acting, he didn’t like her… after the first season, Gene decided to step back and leave everything to me and to Maurice, and Maurice went to him and said, ‘You gotta get – please, please let us get rid of her.’ and, I – I let it slide. I didn’t feel passionate enough to argue about it.”
Berman also didn’t have the clout at the time to reverse the decision nor did he appear all that willing to go to bat for McFadden.
Gates McFadden was able to look back on that tumultuous first season, reflecting on the time:
“I felt that some of the writing was sexist, and I was probably too vocal about it, and I think that’s why. Ultimately, it cost me my job at the end of the first season because I was so unsavvy about the politics of a studio, and the politics of film, and how there’s a lot of people involved, and there’s a whole way you do things… I think I spoke my mind, and really pissed people off, basically.”
No one was happy about the firing, least of all Sir Patrick Stewart. “Gates was fired, and we were, all of us, horrified. And appalled.”
Producers brought in actress Diana Muldaur as Dr. Kate Pulaski but not before a request from Whoopi Goldberg came in to ask if she could replace Gates McFadden. Goldberg was a huge Star Trek fan and wanted to be part of the show. LeVar Burton, who played Geordi La Forge on the series, said that Whoopi had been asking him to get her on the show during the entire first season production.
But Berman decided, “Whoopi just wouldn’t have worked as the doctor.” Instead, the producers did decide to cast her in a role they specially created for Whoopi. That role was as More Than Just A Bartender, Guinan.
Despite the recasting, Diana Muldaur lasted only one season. Ultimately, she didn’t feel comfortable in the role. It was obvious to her that despite Hurley’s misgivings Gates McFadden was missed. Muldaur decided to step away., leading to McFadden’s return.
Star Trek: The Next Iteration
Obviously, Gates McFadden came back into the Star Trek fold. It took some convincing from Berman who reached out personally to convince her to reconsider the role despite the turmoil in the first go-around. The first call she received, though, was from Patrick Stewart. McFadden said in a conversation with SBS:
“I know Patrick (Stewart) had wanted me back because he was the first person to call me and ask if I’d consider it. I was told it was still going to be the love interest to Picard, but I felt they really pushed away from that when I came back. In the beginning, they had a lot of scripts for (replacement character) Dr. Pulaski. I could see they were taking Pulaski scripts they had and tried to make it Crusher.”
Gates McFadden also credits the Star Trek fans as the ones who truly helped push her back into the role. She said about the fan feedback:
“I was blown away when, in the second season, how many letters I got from fans. Thousands of letters and people who said they loved the character and loved me…So, for me, that was terrific. I know that the fans had something to do with it. They (the producers) would never admit that, but I know it’s true. I was surprised at how powerful the fans felt about things and vocal about it. It was very moving to me when I came back.”
Gates McFadden finished her time on The Next Generation in 1994 when the series concluded. But in true Star Trek fashion of course, she wasn’t truly done. After the series ended, she returned and reprised the role of Dr. Crusher in four movies: Star Trek: Generations, Star Trek: First Contact, Star Trek: Insurrection, and Star Trek: Nemesis. As of right now, there is no word on whether McFadden may see a return of her character to the TV series Star Trek: Picard for its second season.
Gates McFadden’s Life after Star Trek
Gates McFadden ended her time on Star Trek with the movie Star Trek: Nemesis in 2002. Since that time, she has continued to work as an actress though not as often as maybe she would have liked. Her biggest role following Nemesis came on the TV series Franklin & Bash on which she played a recurring role as Judge Mallory Jacobs. McFadden has also starred in the series’ The Handler and NCIS and also the features Dirty and Make the Yuletide Gay. Her career has slowed considerably.
But there is that Picard series looming. Will she come back in some way to a series that’s gotten some of the old band back together? Trekmovie put that question to McFadden recently and she responded, “Well, I don’t know. There’s a good chance, let’s put it that way. But I have no contract signed.”
It would be nice to see Gates McFadden’s Dr. Beverly Crusher back in the mix. Considering it’s been 20-some-odd years since she’s been away from her one-time love interest Jean-Luc Picard, we’d love to see if maybe sparks could fly again.