Monday, May 4, 2015

RIP, Grace Lee: For many, you were our first

Our last two losses were hard, if not unexpected—but I didn't see this one coming.

Grace Lee "Yeoman Rand" Whitney, whose passing at home May 1 hit the web hard two days later on Sunday afternoon, was boppin' around the Vegas Khaaan landscape like always last August when I chatted with her for the umpteenth million time—perhaps most of all over the years while on set for Commander Janice Rand's final onscreen canon moment in Voyager's "Flashback" anniversary episode with George Takei.

But this week, my mind goes back to this moment, 17 years before that ...

...when we really first met, at a small convention in Dallas the summer The Motion Picture debuted (when everyone was disappointed that the TMP "trailer" so highly hyped was a non-event of ship stills "animation." Little did we know...). Yeah, she was a judge for the costume contest, and that's me afterward as my Tellarite in dress uniform, Dr. Ffalst—and this would be your typical selfie moment.

But our bonding moment that day was really more about this mood...

...when she was consoling me on losing out to not one but two sets of Rocky Horror babe-pair entrants, thanks to the otherwise all-male judging panel—and confiding that she had voted for me as obviously the best for anyone not acting on hormones alone. After sweating in the Texas humidity with that nose-putty pignose almost sliding off, delayed due to overflow to see the triler, her words were a comfort—but it was still the last time I ever went all-out and fully made up for a con masquerade. I had shared this pic before, but I had not shared the sentiment.

But hearing of Gracie's sudden loss on Sunday, checking it out with the Fresno Bee paper, and, again, soaking up the heartfelt words and memories so many fans online have poured out over social media everywhere… well, it struck me what so many of us first-generation fandom share: There's a good chance Gracie was our first.

Think about it: Before the Internet, of course, and even before the plethora of large well-run conventions... most of us in small towns and cities only read about our Trekfolks coming to cons in L.A. or New York, or Chicago. Our little "local" cons weren't about to afford Shatner or Nimoy—but, given pecking order and star billing, there was a good chance that a lot of small-time and start-up cons had Grace Lee as their first guest. And thus, she became the first "regular" that many, many fans ever met in person, chatted with, maybe grabbed a photo (from an actual camera), but at least came away clutching an autograph.

I've come to realize the past couple of days that, more than any other of her castmates, I have more Gracie stories stored up from both sides of the fan/pro demarcation than I'd realized. That also means, as sweet natured as she was, those same small and start-up cons could also be a trap: I know at least one instance when we bought her dinner, without her knowledge, when the host promoter smilingly sat at the table of the "guest dinner" but bailed on our bill.

But those are the exceptions to the rule. Gracie, much like Majel at her Lincoln table, was the epitomy of accessibility for her fans. Yes, star billing order drove that, but for small-town fans hungry for some "real life" contact with their favorite show in those pre-Internet, pre-saturation, and pre-'87 sequels days where it all began... well, Grace Lee was their first.

And from what I saw at Vegas 2014... she still was, for many.

All photos: Kevin Hopkins
Total disclosure, but more sharing: Gracie was actually my second, truth be told, after meeting George the year before—but I also remember, at that same Dallas convention, when we chased away those obnoxious singers on the millionth round of "Star Trekkin'" so she and her agent could chat with fans at her table in peace, as recorded in this Instamatic special (at right)!

Swift journeys, sweet, strong lady.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

So long, CyPhaCon: sci-fi cake will never be the same

Been a week since I got back from CyPhaCon in Lake Charles, La., where it was great to
not only see a con that has tripled in size since I was there in 2012, but to see my Lake Charles buds again—from top dawgs Garrett and Stuart, and Rachael the best guest assistant ever (well, one of them anyway)...  I only wished I'd gotten out to prowl around all three floors more often.

I must say also that it was a miracle that I was able to reign in my infamous sweet tooth in these post-LifeGoal days of Weightwatchers... with all the goodies on-site abounding from 
Corina Joshlin at Cajun Cakes N Creations, and others ... and Rachael's mom's own catering ... But all that has decidedly led me to realize and codify my new theorem on #Southernfandom and its #concakes.
I mean, really: Apparently, no Southern convention happens without a cake, or two. I used to just know this, having grown up in Southwestern fandom, so it was a happy re-discovery for me. And these ain't no SoCal fandom cakes for show—these actually get eaten. With little to none left over to cram into someone's fridge and then spoil—as you'll see.

So yes, the weekend as seen in my own top snaps:

From the overdue quality time with ol' Shran/Weyoun/Brunt, et al, himself, Jeff Combs!... 
(How did I not snap one with mon capitan Vic Mignogna and Bonesian heir Chuck Huber?)

And my first-ever banner charity signing ...

To our hotel clerk Emily, the very professional yet uber-DS9 and TNG fan who greeted us with the most restrained squee ever—a welcome reminder of Trekland's vastness, when you think you're merely in the middle of middle-city Southerness...

To the local color signage—thank you, KD's Diner! (But how would you ENFORCE this? ) ....

And more local color signage, courtesy KD's … I'm hoping this is just another way of saying, "Please wait to be seated." (Okay… I'm not really hoping that.)

And yep, those Orion's Envy ladies and their glee to finally see The Green Girl and stock up on  chotskis... (check back at TREKLAND soon for more with them)...

To the glorious thunderstorm monsoons I wish I could bottle up and take back to SoCal...

To what became the theme of the weekend: #Southernfandom #concake!  Hashtag dominion!
And another awesome creation—this one by Corina Joshlin at Cajun Cakes N Creations. 

But, great kid—don't get cocky!

I'm told to guess what ship will turn up cakeified in 2016 on its 50th anniversary, hmm....

Like I said: #Southernfandom #concakes are not just for looks. They get et.

(Plus, this is proof positive that they really don't have shields in Star Wars...)

Thanks again, my Cajun buds! See you next time.

With cake.

Monday, April 20, 2015

On losing Leonard: the first social mourning in Trek

I know it has been about seven weeks since Leonard Nimoy finally lost out in his battle with COPD.  On the 11th hour at deadline, official Star Trek Magazine held up a few days to include mention of his passing—and turned to me to do so. 

Very honored to do that, and very proud of the piece… especially from the angle of how, in 2015, we all experienced the moment and insight together: a real paradigm change, brought home by this central nexus in so many lives. And had we taken Spock for granted all these years?

STM's Issue 56 for Summer will be a full-on tribute issue in a few weeks, but Issue 55 for Spring is on newsstands now, with Spock on the cover of course... and this is how it opens:

Just one segment of the layout:

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

CyPhaCon: Dr. Trek, EIS, STC, Green Girl and my buds!

WOW. Can't believe that CyPhaCon is here already! But yes indeed— I'll see all you Cajuns THIS weekend, again, with a "Dr. Trek" show and a lot of friends in the guest line-up.

Both of the Lake Charles cons have had me almost every year since 2010, and it's a great corner off the Gulf, kinda midway  between Houston and New Orleans along I-10.  Treklander bud Jeff "Shran/Brunt/Weyoun" Combs is just one of the guests to be at Lake Charles with me: Mon capitan Vic Mignogna and fellow McCoy denizen Chuck Huber, my Star Trek Continues consultees, are also in the lineup as STC and anime guests—and I am pledged to help show them the town (or at least the eateries)!

Here's my own schedule— and yes, I'll be talking about the exciting, non-profit Enterprise in Space as well as leading a Trekland forum/panel.  We're starting off bright and "early" both days at 10 a.m., so I want to see you there! Tabling too—with info on all this plus sneak-peeks the next #LA2Vegas Trek Tour for 2016 with ME and Geek Nation Tours.

I'm also pleased to screen my buddy George Pappy's award-winning Susan Oliver bio-doc The Green Girl bigscreen (2:45 pm Saturday, Rosa Hart Theatre) and will have some Green Girl T's and DVDs at the table.

Most of all, it's a chance to bring back my late-night crowdfunder "Dr. Trek Show" fun in support of The Con of Wrath documentary, which we are starting to wrap up after a 2011 start.

That will be right after Saturday night's Fan Party at the Marriott con HQ hotel. If you want to "sign in" and help give me a head count for "Dr. Trek", please be sure to "check in" and sound off at the  Facebook event page—thanks!

Maybe, just two hours from Houston, we'll even find still more Survivors the 1982 Ultimate Fantasy aka "Con of Wrath"!  I'm always on the lookout.

Oh—and if you're a visual person, here's my weekend:

Sunday, April 12, 2015

I CAN dream, can't I?: Sir Pat and the smart blue shuttle

And yes—I have a backlog of vidchats and other topics to post here... but I just had to get this down:

I almost never dream anymore—or, at least, remember a dream. But I sure woke up with a vivid one this morning. Perhaps it was the memorial meetup last night for our friend John Couch... or just some well-placed drink or spice...

Somehow, in this dream, I was with a group of modern-day people who had basically developed what you'd call a "smart", modern-day Starfleet-style shuttlecraft — "smart" like Trigger, Tony or Silver of cowboy-heroes'-horses smart, in the Western serials of old: you whistle and they not only come a-runnin, they know just what to do to serve or save you. Or follow hand signals.

Except this "smart shuttlecraft" looked just like some kind of blue-ice plastic freezer chiller for your drink chest on location. (Hey! Don't ask me--it was just a dream).

And we had this on display at a downtown hotel somewhere—was it for a convention? who knows?— but I was left in charge of it for some reason, when the group left to go... eat? And so I parked it in the freight loading dock of the hotel's lower innards, off the street. Though it was crowded, the craft parked itself and avoided all bumps, of course. And as I walked away to grab my own lonely, short lunch... I was asked by a hotel employee if I could move it, because the hotel was setting up tables to have an employee buffet feed... in the loading dock ... and it was in the way.  (Dream, remember?)

Oh, and Sir Patrick Stewart (!!) was coming in, very humbly, to eat with the workers and say hello. So of course now it was REALLY in the way.

But as I turned around and was about to whistle for the shuttle to extricate itself and head toward me and the street exit, here comes Patrick striding up all by himself, in dressed-down blue-collar peasant garb and a canvas travel bag a-slung, smiles and says  "Hello, Larry!" We shook hands, he asked if I was staying to eat, and moved on to the card tables when I begged off.

And so at that I just went ahead, got in, told Blue Blocky Shuttle to leave, and fretted all through those close dock quarters until it did exit...cleanly... with nary a bump OR grind.

And that's it. As they say... they lived happily ever after when they woke up.

Friday, April 3, 2015

RIP my friend and legal guide, John Couch

I have to take a minute and say this here, even though he was hardly a Treklander—before or behind the cameras,  merchandise or fandom...

But it's been  tough to deal with the passing of John Couch, one of our first touchstones in L.A. over these 20 years, via former TNG/DS9/VGR script coordinator turned actor's rep Lolita Fatjo; other Trek names in his circle are Eric Stillwell and DS9 guest actor (among many) Jim Metsker. He came here to pursue acting, as so many, do--wound up at Ralph Edwards Productions, and after taking a law degree in the 1990s he became their VP for business and legal affairs, and taught many law students and bar preppers.

But I remember John as a not just a wonderful, kind, quick-witted friend on the quiet side … from not just parties and get-togethers, but to our lunches near his Ralph Edwards office, across from the Chinese Theater in Hollywood, and sponsoring me into Pacific Pioneer Broadcasters after Charlie Washburn's passing, where he was a board member and longtime Ralph Edwards rep… to a patient legal ear through all the various family bumps or project repping…and finally, a reassuring force helping launch my documentary, The Con of Wrath—now, not to be there as it comes home.

Even though I must try to find a new "legal consultant," there's no way to replace a patient friend and advisor like that. Especially one who will answer a panicked call at 8 am on a Saturday in L.A. when the very first day of the shoot in Houston has a legal bombshell tossed at it!

Oh, and did I say John was one of about three in all of L.A. to give me a yell when my OU Sooners had a big win--or a big loss. He was really a basefall fan... his beloved SF Giants... but he knew what we all give up a bit to come here. "Congrats on your Sooners," he'd email or tell me.

Cancer sucks. Ten-month cancer is the worst.

But here's to all the good times, good memories, good freindship, John. Missing you much...but your legacy lives on in all those you touched.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

UK peeps–catch EIS and me via Skype at FCD next week

Hey, if Leonard Nimoy can do it, why can't I?  

I'm talking about my first-ever convention appearance by Skype video!— at next weekend's First Contact Day con in the U.K. at Space Center Leicester, chiefly to talk about Enterprise in Space. I will always be grateful to have seen Nimoy make history with his first Skye appearance at Away Mission Tampa only just a year ago, a nod to his declining health (see photo below)—but promoter Wil Ross at FCD used the same tactic to overcome startup budgets and "have" me this year after all.

Leoanrd at his first Skype appearance
Not only that, but this is amazing: Wil, co-promoter David Limburg and everyone at FCD fell in love with the idea of Enterprise in Space, and really wanted me there to talk about it for UK fans—but late in the game, budgets were just not there for  live trip...and thus the Skype idea. Brilliant!

The convention, of course, is pinned to the day in 2161 when Zephram Cochrane will make his first experimental warp flight, and break the light barrier. And attract passing Vulcans who initiate humanity's First Contact. Of course.

But the FCD guys are so committed to our non-profit crowdfunded mission—an homage to positive future science fiction and fact that puts 100+ student projects into orbit in 2019—that they have committed volunteers to crew a booth all weekend for EIS and take crew sign-ups and offer info.

What's more, print-on-demand vendor Fantasia Memorabilia is also boosting EIS (and sponsoring National Space Society) by donating as well all the proceeds from site-printed EIS T-shirts, mugs, caps, etc,  that weekend. Wow!

This has to be unprecedented—a convention providing staffing and a vendor donating some sales profits in a commitment to help a non-profit project that otherwise is not even on-site—at least, live.

So come on, Britfolk—get your butts there this weekend (only 20-some tickets still available, try online special) and talk to Amy & company at the EIS booth, all weekend.  And then show your status after you sign up for virtual crew membership  by getting some EIS gear—on sale there, before it is here!—that thanks to Wendy at Fantasia Memorabilia will also benefit EIS, a 501c3 non-profit for any Yanks there. It won't be deductible to the UK fans, of course, but hey— it's always good to mention.

See you from the big screen in Leicester, gang! And thank all the folk there who are making this a truly unique moment for conventions' charitable instincts and logistics. 

If this Skype thing catches on, then hey…. well, still not as personable as rubbing elbows and groaning puns in person, but it has its moments…especially of restart-ups and wayfarawayers.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Awww, I miss my Seattle buds: no ECCC for me this year

One of the great joys the past few years here in TREKLAND, as the global genre landscape has evolved, has been getting out to a far wider swath of conventions than in years past—even to the big comic-cons… like Seattle's Emerald City Comic-Con.

And that's why, as some have already asked me, I'm bummed about not being there today as ECCC returns in all its booming, downtown-Seattle glory. I initially had a convention conflict this year, but as it turns out I'm using the break to go check in with my mom who's about on the same latitude as Seattle, over in northwest Montana.

Yeah, ECCC has been a destination for me in various guises ever since 2010—a first dip into a universe where I never saw myself. (I'm not a comics guy, right?)

But ECCC was my first-ever exposure with "tweet-ups" that year—thank you, Shannon and Matt of Seattle Geekly!—as well as the birth in 2012 of what's come to be called our "Dr. Trek Show"—the crowdfunder meetup for "The Con of Wrath." In the process I've watched ECCC explode, catch up with old friends, and grown a whole colony of new Trekland fans and supporters, and my thanks to all—and, yeah, I'm bummed to miss you guys this year at the Six Arms for our last-stand Sunday afterglow tradition. All Trek Seattle has been been a ton of fun AND very supportive as the documentary made micro-budget progress—and more on that coming, too.

Same goes for all my friends and followers in Seattle, and those in and out of ECCC who came by the table when I had one, much less our annual "Trekland: Between the Cracks" and other panels.
So 2015 is a break in my Seattle string. But this year is going to be different overall—fewer cons, and more new work— a lot of hard brainwork development and a continuation of what I started last year... but all for good reason. 

All the more reason why I'm gonna miss being in Seattle this weekend! But, here's to the good times—and a moment from each of our main 2012, 2013 and 2014 meetup groups ... and here's to hoping the big 5-0 anniversary year of 2016 in Trekland gets things back on track.