Celebrity Cons

This morning I am considering celebrities and how so many of us seem to lose our sensibility around them — and sadly, I have to include myself in this consideration.

Nowadays, if some celebrity by chance were to wander into Pat’s Screen Printing —

[It could happen: once upon a very long time ago, actor Robert Logan (the Wilderness Family movies) came into the stereo store that shared a building (about three doors away from present-day Pat’s) with my mom’s children’s clothing store. All the women in the building, which also included a t-shirt and jeans store, immediately freshened make-up, and the cynical New Yorker who owned the stereo store fell all over himself offering discounts and personal delivery. I was sad to have missed this brush with fame.]

— odds are short that I wouldn’t have any idea the person was a celebrity. In fact, when I was working at the airport and there was a film crew wandering around, I asked my boss what was going on and he said they were filming “The Hills,” and I thought he meant the mountain with the big W just south of the airport. He instead meant a reality show starring Heidi Montag, who grew up in Crested Butte, as I learned later. Although that still means very little to me.

But there was that period of my life when I devoted a fair amount of time attending sci-fi conventions. (And I’m forgetting the time when Terri and I and maybe someone else wrote a letter to Ed Bruce, mostly a singer but just then starring on a reboot of Maverick with James Garner. It quickly became clear he never saw the letter, but someone on his PR staff at least took the time to write back and say “Ed said” we “sounded like a fun bunch.”)

I went to my first Star Trek convention (con) when I was 16 or 17. I went with Terri and her friend Angie, whose parents drove us to Denver for the express purpose of going to this con. Star cons were a relatively new concept way back then, and this first one was much more low-key than the several I went to in the ’90s.

Cons consist of several aspects. There are panel discussions and contests (I entered a trivia competition that first year, and even though I knew Captain Kirk’s serial number, that was not enough to get me out of the first round), how-to workshops (costume and make-up) and basic Klingon life skills. Then there’s the dealer’s room, where you can plunk down endless dollars on items that may or may not have anything to do with the shows. And finally there are the celebrities.

That first year we went, the celebrity “line-up” mostly consisted of James Doohan, the actor who played Scotty on Star Trek. Organizers scheduled four appearances for him, plus autograph time. Terri, Angie and I were on hand for all of that.

Much of the celebrity appearance is always given over to answering questions from fans, who turn out to have a very limited repertoire. The third or fourth time someone asked Mr. Doohan which was his favorite episode, Terri and Angie answered for him, not without a little disgust: “The Doomsday Machine.” (Remember, they were about 14.) Mr. Doohan said, “I see someone’s already been here,” and then he confirmed that yes, that was his favorite episode.

This was not nearly as bad as the time John Travolta came to a Denver con, promoting Battlefield Earth, his expensive failure of a movie. His fans, so nervous about getting to “talk” with their hero, must have been rehearsing what they were going to say as they stood in line at the microphones waiting their turn to ask their question. Because none of 20 people seemed to realize he had already answered the question they wanted to ask, which was: “What’s your favorite movie that you did?”

Here’s something for you: although he more-or-less patiently (“Doesn’t anyone have a different question?”) answered that same query at least 20 times, I can’t tell you the answer. Even if I wasn’t standing in line to ask a question.

In fact, out of all of those cons, I think I only asked one question once, and I can’t remember the actor or the question, but that audience had no questions and the actor was floundering, trying to kill time and nothing to kill it with. So I probably asked him or her what their favorite episode was.

There was Richard Hatch, a rather sad figure unable to let go of his glory days on the original Battleship Galactica. He was so pathetic that when he came to a second con Terri and I made nine friends go in to listen to him, because it was so bad it had to be seen to be believed. Although perhaps it worked out for him: he was lobbying long and hard (in the wrong place — none of us were producers) to be given a chance on a reboot of that show. Which did happen, and he was ultimately given a part, although probably much smaller than he wanted.

Then there was John deLancie, who appeared several times in The Next Generation as Q, who really was there to advertise some play he had written and was starring in. He seemed quite put out that we all wanted to hear about his days as Q. He kept likening it to a good meal: fun while it was lasted, now it’s done, move on. It didn’t seem to occur to him that his appearance fee was being paid by people who wanted to review the fun meal. And even though some of us went to an excerpt of his play, it was bad, which is probably not what he wanted from us either.

Robert Beltran of Voyager kept trying to dodge the man we referred to as “the head goober,” the organizer who took such obvious delight in introducing the space celebrities and who in this instance kept “awarding” cheap little trophies to the speakers. Mr. Beltran tried every which way to leave his trophy behind him on the stage, but the head goober kept chasing him down. I’m quite sure it ended up in the trash can of Mr. Beltran’s hotel room.

This was the best lesson for sycophantic me, after watching all these mortal human beings prove to be just that: probably the best “celebrity” I ever saw was Chase Masterson, who had a small part on Deep Space Nine. She barely rated the appellation “celebrity,” and yet of all the space people I heard from over the years, she was the most personable, the warmest and the wittiest. She knew how to work a room, unlike so many of her colleagues who commanded a higher “celebrity” status.

I stopped going to the cons as the price went up and up and the celebrity bang for my buck was diluted (they spread the limited guests over two full days and charged for both). And then they started charging to stand in the autograph lines and taking your own photos was disallowed (although you could certainly always purchase one from the celebrity). It’s clearly a bigger business now, and I gather some people are still paying to play, but not this space fan.

I also don’t know how excited I would be anymore to sit in a dark auditorium and hear an actor explain, for the four millionth time, what his or her favorite episode was. Doomsday, indeed.

I can’t seem to manage a caption for two photos at once: that’s our holy shield with space signatures on the back. My biggest regret is sitting there listening to a mumbling Billy Dee Williams instead of standing in a line to get Nichelle Nichols’ (Uhura) autograph. That was a serious mistake.

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