by Christopher DeFilippis
DeFlip Side Vol. 1, No. 23
First Appeared: April, 2001; First Light E-zine, Issue 102
Richard Herd is a very serious man.
Who’s Richard Herd? He’s a character actor. You’d know him if you saw him. He’s made dozens of guest shots in lots of SF shows. He even starred as the lead alien in the mini-series V, and the thankfully short-lived series it spawned.
I, of course, know him best from his work on Quantum Leap. He appeared in two of my favorite episodes: “Future Boy” and “Mirror Image.” You know all about “Mirror Image” from last month, but in the “Future Boy” ep, he played a character named Captain Galaxy.
Imagine my surprise when I arrived at the latest I-Con and saw him at a table in the corner of the dealer’s room. I had no idea he was going to be there. What a kick! Grinning like an idiot, I shook his hand. “Hey! Captain Galaxy!”
He returned the enthusiasm. “None other! Would you like an autograph?”
He chose two glossy prints from the stacks of photos spread out before him. “Would you like one of just me, or one with me and Scott?” He meant Scott Bakula.
I looked at both. “With Scott, I guess…”
He just looked at me.
I looked back.
He kept looking.
It was getting weird.
Finally I noticed that he was lightly drumming his fingers on the table. I looked there instead. Beneath them was a little blue sign that said “All Autographs $20.” My eyes almost fell out of my head. Twenty bucks?!?
I looked back up at him. He must have seen it in my eyes, but he proceeded with the grace of an old pro, all smiles and enthusiasm. “So, who should I make this out to?”
I took a step back. “Gee, Captain Galaxy,” I said. For some reason I began scratching the back of my head, maybe to make it look like I was thinking. I probably just looked like a dope. “I don’t know,” I continued. “Truth is, I know about three people who would just love one of those.” It was the truth, sort of. I do know three people who would like an autographed picture of Captain Galaxy. But what I was really thinking was Are you out of your fucking mind? I’m gonna spend twenty bucks on your autograph? I don’t think so!
“Well then,” he said, taking two more pictures off the stack, “maybe we can work out a deal.”
“Ummmmm…. Uhhhhhhh….” I continued to back away. “I’m gonna have to get back to you, Captain Galaxy.”
The smile disappeared from his face and he threw the pictures down on the table. “Fine!” No more warmth. No more enthusiasm. Just deadly seriousness. I practically ran away.
And so began my weekend of Science Fiction, Fantasy and fandom at the 20th annual I-Con convention on the campus of the State University of New York at Stony Brook.
My run-in with Captain Galaxy was prophetic in a way, because my experiences at this year’s outing seemed to revolve around folks with strong—even legendary—personalities.
Inside the SF Actors Studio
One highlight of was a panel called “Inside the SF Actors Studio.” It featured Brad Dourif, Marjorie Monahan, Lisa Howard, Adrienne Wilkinson, Richard Herd and Erin Grey. Out of the six, I only knew the last two from any specific shows. It was mainly a row of faces, only a couple vaguely familiar. But it didn’t matter. It was entertaining as hell.
I attribute that to the moderator, Dr. Howard Margolin, a good friend of mine who for years has produced and hosted a radio show broadcast from the Stony Brook campus called “Destinies: The Voice of Science Fiction.” Howard picked the exact right questions to ask, and turned a potential train wreck of b-list celebrity ego into an insightful, far-reaching and entertaining discussion of the realities of being a working actor.
Herd’s overriding seriousness came to the fore again. If he wasn’t going on about the horrible disfiguring dangers of the makeup used in many genre shows, he was screaming about how young actors today don’t care about the craft but are all out for a big payday. I tell you, the man needs to take a pill. But his rants were more than offset by humorous moments, such as when Erin Gray informed everyone in the audience (including her son) that fucking is her favorite thing to do.
It was diverse and lively. All con organizers out there should try and do something similar with their media guests. It’s a great way to showcase them and allow fans to get to know them beyond the pat presentations they have prepared for their solo appearances.
A One-Sided Chat with Sir Arthur
Without a doubt, the most legendary personality to grace this year’s I-Con was Sir Arthur C. Clarke. And the telephone discussion with this legendary author and scientist was, without a doubt, the biggest disappointment of the entire weekend.
I, along with hundreds of others, packed into a massive lecture hall to hear the man speak from his home in Sri Lanka. There was supposed to be a panel of folks, mainly from among the con’s author guests, to host the discussion with Clarke. But when they finally let us in ten minutes late, there was no dais set up, no panel in sight. There were just three guys standing on a stage around a single microphone, like an acappella group. I still have no idea who they were, though two of them were very old.
After a few minutes of back and forth, Sir Arthur’s voice came through loud and clear over the speakers. Unfortunately, the voices of the guys asking him the questions did not. From what I can gather, Sir Arthur and the two fogies on stage were old friends, because the first ten minutes of the call was taken up by “How’s so and so? Oh. You don’t say? And the wife? Yes…. Well let me tell you….” and so on.
When they finally got around to starting the “discussion” it became doubly frustrating. Without amplification, I could barely hear what questions were being asked. If the guy next to me decided to breathe heavy or shift in his seat, forget about it.
Either way, the questions couldn’t have been that good, because I can’t really remember anything Clarke said. There was a bit about biotechnology, something about ping pong, and a word about how he just celebrated his kid brother’s 80th birthday the week before. There were no revelations or insights; just an old man who sounded like he was getting tired quickly.
I think the moderators heard this as well, because they wrapped up the call after forty minutes. It was supposed to go on for two hours.
The entire presentation—so unorganized and so technically inept—was the perfect snapshot of the incompetence that plagues the I-Con convention on the whole. The Stony Brook campus is a serious shithole. There’s squalor no matter where you look—stained brick, cracked pavement, crumbling concrete. Inside, every building is about 40 degrees too hot and none of the technical stuff ever works right, if it works at all. Compound that with pathetic signage (we’re talking chicken-scratch scrawled in magic marker on oaktag, crossed out, written over, crossed out again), poor organization, panel topics that never seem to change, and the seeming indifference to all of these things by organizers, and it’s a wonder the con remains as big as it is.
Think about it. If you can’t get it right for Arthur C. Clarke—we’re talking Arthur C. fucking Clarke!!!!!!!!!!—then when in the fuck are you going to get it right? Jesus!
Breathe…. Breathe…. Calming down now…. Okay. Sunday morning was a treat thanks to Virginia Hey, who plays Xan on Farscape, the best genre show currently on the air. I barley recognized her, considering that she wasn’t blue and had a full head of long blond hair.
Her tales from the set were hilarious, and the sincerity of her appreciation for the fans was evident.
The Ellison Experience
I’d seen him before on TV and he left me flat. I even called him an asshole in my I-Con review last year. So when the chance presented itself, I decided to finally see what all the fuss was about. I saw Harlan Ellison live.
I went to a reading on Sunday afternoon, and he spoke for almost two and half hours before ever getting around to the story he’d brought with him. They were among the most entertaining hours of my life.
Ellison’s reputation is justly deserved. He’s cantankerous, rude, loud and insulting. And I stand by my assessment of asshole. But even with all that said, he’s not really a bad guy. He’s funny as hell, honest to a fault and just doesn’t give a shit about protecting anyone’s feelings. Once experienced live, it’s easy to see why he’s a legend. Now maybe I’ll check out one of his books…
In the “last-but-certainly-not-least” category, I present to you my last legendary encounter at this year’s I-Con—none other than Randy Dannenfelser, also known as Roo to the readers of First Light. Okay, I don’t know if anyone would really consider Roo a legend, but he’s earned a reputation among those of us who know him. I was thrilled to be able to finally meet him and his lovely wife Barb face to face.
Randy is the reason my I-Con review this year is limited mainly to the “big” guests/events the con had to offer. I ditched most of the panel discussions I’d planned to attend on Saturday because I was having a much better time walking around the campus and talking to him. To top it off, he and Barb bought my wife and me dinner—a nice dinner. Which means I own them now. The bastards… I’ll catch up with them at the Millennium Phil-Con in September.