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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

My Night of Terror with William Shatner, or, '$#*! My Dad Pulled' ...

In honor of William Shatner's 80th birthday...
People who know me will have a hard time believing this, but I used to be something of a geek.

In fact, a Trekkie.  A spotty, con-going, yard'o'beer-at-the-Brew-Burger New York Trekkie. 

Back in '72 before Adam Malin and Creation homogenized the convention experience, there used to be a 'commuter hotel' called the Commodore built right over Grand Central Station, a dark, cavernous, ancient hostel. Joanie Winston and a bunch of others organized one of the earliest Star Trek cons there, and I had volunteered to help with 'security', imagining that my little yellow 'staff' ribbon would be all I needed to hobnob with the high and mighty and maybe get a shot at a green dancing girl.

We expected maybe 2,500 fans to show up.

Try 25,000.

Then Leonard Nimoy made a surprise appearance and a Star Trek convention turned into Zulu.  Thundering feet and one long screaming war cry:        


With not a mealie bag in sight. Most of the convention committee had locked themselves in the con suite and weren't coming out.  The fire marshal is throwing screaming tantrums. Joanie Winston and maybe twenty of us idiots in the yellow badges are running ourselves ragged trying to keep the savages on the other side of the mealie bags.  Nimoy-crazed fans are finding their way through every nook and cranny of the hotel like water through a wicker basket.  We got zero sleep for two straight days.

Then William Shatner comes to town to shoot an episode of Dick Clark's $25,000 Dollar Pyramid.

Now I won't say that William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy were in any way competitive (twice).  I won't say that William Shatner was in any way fond of the adoration of crowds (again).

What I will say is WE were NOT going to get stampeded by a gajillion hormone-crazed tweenies A SECOND TIME.

By this point we knew the layout of the Commodore like Charlie knew the tunnels of Cu Chi.  So Joanie rounds up as many of us yellow badges as are still mobile and arranges to meet Shatner at the side entrance to the Commodore lobby.  The plan is to bring Shatner up through the service corridors of the hotel to the ballroom floor and into the ballroom before anyone knows he's there.

Shatner shows up, "Hi, Bill!" "Hi, Joanie!" We head off into the service corridors.  The yellow badge stumbling along at the head of the cortége, who has not had a minute's sleep or downtime in two days, stops for a moment to get his bearings —

— and Shatner says "Follow me!" and takes off into the bowels of the Commodore Hotel... which he has never seen before.  

We yell "Bill, wait!  We're protecting you!" and take off after him.  Left turn, right turn, down stairs around more corners, down more stairs...

...suddenly we realize the walls have changed.  They are not faceless concrete anymore, They are old, ugly, roughly shaped stone blocks.  I mean ancient.  Orson Welles stumbles past, being chased by British military police and weird zither music.

William Shatner has led us clean out of the Commodore and into the service tunnels of Grand Central Station beneath it.

And one of the yellow badges — the Fifth Amendment does not require me to say who — said, "Let's leave him here..."

Happy Birthday, Bill Shatner!


Anonymous said...

I too, must confess a life long past that involved Star Trek.

The premier of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home was held at the Cineramadome on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood. The laser light show and music outside elevated the already building excitement of the thousands, I repeat, thousands of fans lined up.

Leonard Nimoy, who directed the picture, arrived. I quickly and as discreetly as possible got him in the side entrace, since the adoring throngs were not that far away. Luckily, he was doing his one-man play "Theo", so thankfully he looked like Theo Van Gogh than Spock.

At one point, "Entertainment Tonight" wanted an interview. There wasn't enough room inside, so it was done out the side door where there was a small wall. It was going to be tight, but hopefully the fans wouldn't catch on. Well, once the light on that camera lit up, heads began to turn as the word passed. So much for that wall. All that stood between us was the steel moveable barricades and a bit of parking lot. The screams of "Leonard" punctuated the film's soundtrack. Thankfully, the barricades held. Everyone went onto having a wonderful night. But it was nice, when his car arrived, and I handed his safety off to someone else.

Happy Birthday Bill!

Deborah Leigh

JeffS said...

Heh! Pretty cool stories.

Me, I met James Doohan once. He came to my college as a speaker, sponsored by the Student Union Board, back in 1977 or so. For Rapid City, South Dakota, this was a HUGE event. A local radio station had a Star Trek trivia contest (the winner got tickets to the event, and a photo shoot with "Scotty") that turned the local phone network into a melted mass of copper.

Understand -- this was an engineering school, full of geeks from one end to the other. We LIVED to build strange things. Star Trek reruns were watched religiously. "Battlestar Galactica" was a must see. Star Wars? My roomie made his own light saber, as did his friends, and they drove the cops nuts with their running battles across the city in the wee hours of the morning.

So you'll understand that the college students went fracking bananas. I literally had one girl scream into the phone when I couldn't answer a trivia question on the radio (she wanted to play, I didn't). And that's an example of a calm reaction. Oi!

(I still remember the trivia question: "What is the range of the transporter on the Enterprise?" I looked up the answer later: 30,000 miles.)

I won't describe the reaction of the ROTC staff to this chaos. Suffice it to say, guffaws were heard daily down in the ROTC offices.

The night of the event, the auditorium was PACKED. From one end to another. I had my first sight of genuine Trekkies, complete with Star Fleet uniforms, phasers, and tri-corders. One of them won the trivia contest, and sat right in front.

And James Doohan was a class act that night. He had a standing ovation for his entrance. It lasted maybe 5 minutes, and he took it graciously. The rest of the night only got better.

I especially appreciated how he handled the goofball questions during the Q&A session. One character asked if there was an analog to the Doppler effect with sub-space radio. His answer? "Yes, the Dippler Effect."

And I got his autograph afterwards. I still have that book.

richard mcenroe said...

Doohan was always a class act at the cons. Deborah has a lot of stories about him, if I could only get her to start a blog (NAGGING ENCOURAGED)...

Minicapt said...

Yes, but Doohan was a Gunner, and a Pilot.


RebeccaH said...

I was a dedicated fan of the show, but never what you'd call a Trekkie (no costumes or props, and I never made it to a single convention). But I've always kept up with all things Trek, and made a mental note of every new invention that was inspired by Star Trek.

Btw, I love what you've done with the place.

bruce said...

He just arrived in Sydney, and favours the royal 'we'.


'We are not looking our best'

Canadian eh?

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