A Father, A Life, A Legacy

I carefully aimed the remote control as though it were a hand phaser and I were Captain Kirk preparing to stun a hostile alien.  I pressed the power button and watched the image disappear from the screen as the TV flickered and went off.  Having just finished watching the lovingly crafted documentary Trek Nation, I was struck by two thoughts: I hope I have formed close enough bonds with my children that, when I’m gone, they don’t feel like we never got to know each other … and… if my legacy, whatever that happens to be, includes touching peoples’ lives for the better as Gene Roddenberry did, I will have been a success.  Of course, I’d like to think the lives upon which I will have the greatest positive effect are those of my family.  If that’s the case, I will not only have greatly differentiated myself from Mr. Roddenberry, but my achievements as a man will have reached a pinnacle and any good I do afterward will be just a bonus.

The documentary followed Roddenberry’s only son on a poignant journey of discovery as he familiarized himself with his father’s greatest work – Star Trek and, by extension, came to better know the man with whom he’d had a mostly uneasy father/son relationship.  The elder Roddenberry passed away before they could enjoy the closeness that many adult sons eventually find with their fathers.  In any case, the film was appealing largely for the same reasons that Star Trek episodes are.  Its focus was decidedly on the human emotional components of the story to which we can all relate.  The fact that it relied heavily on input from the producers, writers, performers, and fans of Trek just made it that much more interesting.

For rabid fans of Star Trek, there wasn’t a lot of new information revealed.  I think we all knew that Gene Roddenberry was just as flawed as any other human being.  Nevertheless, his son provided a very tasteful treatment of the subject matter which allowed me to come away with a new appreciation for the man while, at the same time, leaving my previous image of him relatively untarnished.  The interviews helped to cement the idea that, through Star Trek, Gene Roddenberry became known as a  visionary and  had a profound impact on a very large number of the shows’ fans – ultimately causing many of them to better themselves through life altering choices.  At the same. there was a good deal of emphasis on Roddenberry’s roles as a husband and father and his seeming inability to model his private behavior on the visionary philosophies he espoused through his TV shows.

Seeing and processing just how human the man really was didn’t make me appreciate his work any less.  It did, however, make me realize the importance of giving loving attention to those closest to you.  I believe it is in that way – by giving fully of yourself where your family is concerned and teaching your children the values of Star Trek by example –  that we will affect human evolution to the point where our society will one day resemble the kind Gene envisioned.  That is the legacy I hope to leave behind.

Bricks…the final frontier

I went to great lengths in my last post – well, not so great and not so lengthy – to describe the lack of anything new in the world of Star Trek about which to get truly excited.  Silly me. When you’re a 9 year old in the body of a grown man, there’s always something to get excited about.  You just have to know where to look for it.

In my case, I needed to look no further than a little online forum I belong to.  Its sole reason for existing is to provide a virtual gathering place for people who wish the Lego Company would introduce Star Trek sets in the same way they have done with Star Wars, Harry Potter, Indiana Jones, and so many others.  It seems clear the market is there.

So, what’s taking them so long?  The rights to produce Star Trek merchandise can’t be that difficult to obtain.  Heaven knows just about every other toy company has marketed a Star Trek line at some point. How cool would it be to have officially licensed Trek sets from Lego?!  Apparently not cool enough for the good folks in Billund, Denmark.  No matter.

In our online community, we sometimes have contests to see who can design the best Star Trek Lego kits.  The most recent was a ship design contest.  I chose my belovedLego-Contest-Entry-TOS-Enterprise NCC-1701 (No bloody A, B, C, or D!).  The goal was to construct the model using your own design and then submit a single photograph for consideration.  Of course, being a bit of a perfectionist, I couldn’t just photograph the finished product.  I had to do so in a way that would demonstrate what I envisioned as the cover of the box it would come in if it were ever mass-produced.  It took me a few evenings after dinner to construct the model and perhaps one or two more to refine the design and tweak things a bit.  The photo at the right is my finished entry.  I was so excited by the chance to do the model, I celebrated with a marathon of classic Trek remastered episodes on NetFlix!

Who says there isn’t anything new in Star Trek to get excited about?  Well, I do – but I’m wrong!

The [Re]Birth of a Legend

Just a quick entry today, while it still is September 8th in my part of the world.

As this entire blog focuses on Star Trek, I would be remiss in my duties as the blog host if I didn’t make an effort to commemorate the 45th anniversary of my beloved sci-fi franchise. It was, after all, on this very date in 1966 that the original, and still best IMHO, Star Trek series premiered on NBC with the episode “The Man Trap”.

As anyone reading this who hasn’t been living under a rock these past 4 decades knows, that original show struggled to survive while it was on network television and was cancelled after a mere 3 seasons.  Interestingly, it took a monumental effort by fans even to keep it alive for its third year.  Yet, the simple fact that I am writing this over 40 years later is a testament to the staying power of the show’s concept and the depth of its fans undying devotion to it.

ST: TAS Title sequenceThat devotion was never more keenly felt than in 1973, for it was in February of that year that the first fully realized International Star trek Convention was held in New York City. As far as I am aware, similar large conventions were held in other major cities, too.  Yes, there had been smaller gatherings of fans in previous years, but 1973 saw thousands show up when only hundreds were expected.  I believe it was that outpouring of affection for Star Trek that led its creators to try once again to “boldly go” to the final frontier; this time in animated form in a Saturday morning, half hour cartoon format.

I don’t know how long it took for Gene Roddenberry and company to go from concept toNimoy, Kelly, and Shatner taping their dialog for ST: TAS production but I do know that the bulk of the original cast was reassembled and was in the studio doing their voice-over recordings for several episodes at a time by early summer. In addition, many of the great writers who had worked on the original live-action series returned and contributed scripts to the new animated version.  Even Walter Koenig, who had portrayed Ensign Chekov in the original series and was the lone original actor not to return, wrote a story for the cartoon show.  In an elegant twist of fate, the 8th of September 1973 fell on a Saturday.  At 10:30 that morning, I and many other devotees like me had the great pleasure of seeing the first brand new Star Trek show in nearly 5 years.

Although the animated series was very much aimed at children, it did appeal to adults on many levels and even won an Emmy.  There are questions to this day how much of it, if any, is considered canonical by the producers and fans.  Nevertheless, it was extremely and indescribably significant because it was the first of many re-imaginings of Star Trek and, as such, proved that it could be done and done well.  For my money, that’s worth celebrating almost as much as the “birth” of the original live-action show.

Tomorrow is Yesterday

We had barely begun our walk down the long corridor that leads to the ballrooms when I spotted it scurrying along the floor.  “Look!”, I said to my teenage son, “A horta!”.  He knewStar Trek Horta the reference immediately and bent down to have a close look at it.  A resourceful fan had constructed it so that it could be remote controlled from a few feet away and, except for being a tad smaller than one might expect, it was a very faithful recreation of the silicon-based life form from the TOS episode “The Devil in the Dark”.  Two things occurred to me as the horta encounter transpired: this was going to be a good first day at Creation Star Trek 2011 Las Vegas and my son, attending his very first Trek convention, reminded me of myself 38 years ago attending mine.  In fact, my first day at the New York City International Star Trek Convention in 1973 began very much as this one did – with a homemade horta on the hotel carpet.

There are, of course, some significant differences between the Trek conventions of the early ’70’s and those of today; the sizes of the crowds and the prices being among them. Nevertheless, all the great things I remember from being a kid at my first con were still evident (and still great!) in 2011.  The array of stars was larger than any I’ve experienced at past cons and many of them were wandering around among the fans or seated in the dealers’ room so they were incredibly accessible.  The variety and amount of merchandise for sale would leave any Star Trek fan salivating.  The number of people adorned in costumes was mind-boggling and many of the uniforms and alien outfits were really well put together.  Most of all, however, the people at Star Trek conventions are just so friendly, outgoing, and positive that you can’t help but enjoy being around them.  To me, the interaction with other fans is one of the most enjoyable aspects of going to these things in the first place.

Us posing with Grace Lee As for the activities in which we engaged, they were many and varied. We got to see Walter Koenig on stage in the morning.  We met in-person and spoke at some length to Grace Lee Whitney, Tim Russ, Mariette Hartley, John DeLancie, Brent Spiner, Jonathan Frakes, Don Marshall, and Stephen Manley (all of Star Trek) and Richard Hatch and Herb Jefferson (of the original Battlestar Galactica).  We picked up some cool stuff in the dealers’ room and bid on some items at the auction.  My son’s tribble was a great conversation piece, especially with fans dressed as Klingons – one of them even “attacked” it!  We saw the TOS blooper reel and laughed out loud watching it. We laughed more when we took in Jonathan Frakes’ stage appearance – he is hilariously entertaining.  We got autographs from him and from Brent Spiner.  All in all, I’d say those things made for a good day…then there were the other fans who helped make it a great day!

There were people in attendance of all ages, colors, shapes, and sizes.  Some of them came from a few miles away and some from other parts of the U.S. and even from otherFans in costume countries.  There was no shortage of homemade costumes on display as well, many of which were outlandish and all of which were very creative. The common denominator in all these cases though was the great joy in meeting and talking with all these folks who were beyond friendly.  They made me feel comfortable, which was nice as I hadn’t been to a Trek con in over 15 years and they made my son comfortable, too.  I think it’s safe to say that he will look back on this day with fondness, just as I do when reminiscing about my first experience at a Star Trek convention.  In many ways, I was enjoying being a kid again vicariously.  It was like we spent a day back in 1973 at the International Star Trek Convention…and we’ll do it again tomorrow.  I guess tomorrow really is yesterday!

To Boldly [Le]Go Where No Fan Has Gone Before

“You must be either an obsessive crackpot who’s escaped from his keeper, or Samuel T. Cogley, Attorney at Law!” .  That line, spoken by the character of James Kirk in the original Star Trek TV series episode Court Martial, has always given me a laugh.  I think it would be just as accurate to replace the “Samuel T Cogley” part with, “Chris Collins, adult fan of Lego and Star Trek fanatic”.

Sometimes I do think others perceive me as an obsessive crackpot but it’s OK.  I’m perfectly happy to have that reputation.  In fact, there are times I go out of my way to live up to it.  One such time occurred recently when my family had to give up their dining room table for the entire winter while I constructed a scale model of the ST:TOS Enterprise bridge out of …

Wait for it …

LEGO!

TOS Enterprise bridge made from Lego

Looking back on the project, I realize there are a hundred things I could have done to make it better. That’s the obsessive crackpot in me really coming out though.  Ultimately, it was a very satisfying undertaking and one that I would like to tackle again someday, albeit with a little more advance planning.  This one I threw together hodge-podge just to see if I could improve on a similar Lego project I had attempted as a kid.  There was a marked improvement; so much so that I created a profile at MOCPages.com where I have uploaded the only existing photos of my Lego bridge from childhood as well as a whole series of shots taken while I built the new one.

To me, this is one of the great appeals of Star Trek.  I know that I am only one of many millions of people who feel bolstered by Star Trek, its characters, and its stories.  Granted, others have made major changes in their lives because of inspiration derived from Trek, while anything I have achieved as a result of my fandom is much less profound.  All the same, I like to think that the “you can do anything you set your mind to” approach is something that was brought out in me, at least partially, by Star Trek.  I am not particularly athletic.  While I am intelligent, I am no rocket scientist.  I am at least somewhat creative though, and my love for all things Star Trek has given me numerous outlets for that creativity – to say nothing about the fomentation of that part of my personality, which sprang up quite unexpectedly while I was a youngster obsessed with Star Trek

Star Trek Uniform Horror Stories – Phase II

I find myself in a strange and unique situation, well…unique for me anyway.  After 40+ years of being a die hard Star Trek fan, collecting all sorts of books, toys, games, and videos, and attending numerous conventions – I am 5 weeks away from Creation Star Trek Las Vegas, the first convention at which I will don a Trek uniform costume.

This 45th anniversary celebration will undoubtedly be the largest Star Trek con I’ve ever been to.  It’s also going to be my first in nearly 15 years as I’ve shifted my focus to concentrate on raising a family and earning a living.  Now I have a 13 year old son who’s just as big a Trekker as I.  He will be coming with me and appearing in costume as well, as fans at this con attempt to set a world record for the largest single gathering of people dressed as Star Trek Characters.

Much attention around our house has recently been devoted to acquiring all the materials, notions, and other components from which my wife plans to lovingly construct our costumes.  As insignia, rank braids, etc. have begun arriving, many memories of my childhood are flooding back – motivating me to blog about some of my earliest costuming experiences and the mishaps that accompanied them.

Stardate: 1975.2: After finding my 8 year old self in possession of a homemade Star Trek uniform tunic with a houndstooth pattern on the material (see my last post for details) I knew the only way to go from there was up.  I desperately wanted to look like my heroes from television and the only reliable resource at my disposal was the dealers’ room at the annual New York CIty Star Trek Convention.  My family attended that con in ’75 but I cannot remember if there were uniforms available for sale.  If there were, they must have been prohibitively expensive because I definitely recall not coming home with one!  Fortunately, I did bag my second complete set of U.S.S. Enterprise insignia patches with a view toward getting one of them sewn on another shirt.

The author in a homemade Star Trek shirt

The humble author in a homemade uniform tunic. Circa 1975

I think I must have been like thousands of other kids my age – pestering my mother to do something, anything to assist me in my quest to have a cool Star Trek shirt. Her second attempt was definitely an improvement over the houndstooth, of which there are no photos (thank the maker!).  But here I am in all my glory sporting the first Trek shirt I owned that I was proud to wear… even if it was the wrong color and was missing the customary black collar.

It was wintertime when we went to that ’75 ST con and my long-sleeved homemade shirt made its debut very soon afterward while the weather was still cold.  Needless to say, I also wore it as often as possible that whole summer! But when I returned to school that fall I made a new friend who had his own custom made Trek uniform shirt.  As we got to know each other better, I came to find out he was as big a Star Trek fan as I and it was through him that I eventually became aware of the first commercially available (to my knowledge anyway) line of licensed Star Trek shirts for kids. They were from Donmoor and were just about the coolest thing I had ever seen!

My friend got his blue “Sciences Division” Donmoor shirt for Christmas that year as I recall.  I was so impressed and, at the same time, so jealous!  I had to have one.  I really wanted the Command gold (which I would eventually get) but my first one was Support Services red [insert “redshirt” jokes here].  I think I received it as a birthday gift in January of ’76.  We didn’t go to the annual NYC Star Trek convention that year but I had my shirt so I was pretty happy anyway.  Sometime shortly after I got the red one, we found the gold one at a local department store and I was walking on air.

Donmoor Star Trek shirts

Donmoor Star Trek shirts - photo courtesy of John Cooley

There are actually two horror stories associated with my beloved Trek shirts from this time period.  Having grown into a somewhat obsessive perfectionist adult, I must say that the first horror story was the Donmoor shirts themselves!  They were initially available only with short sleeves.  Eventually long sleeve versions were introduced and I don’t think they even had the rank braids – but they also had black cuffs at the ends of the sleeves!  Furthermore, the colors were wrong – these shirts were far too dark.  After a fair amount of research I believe I have found out why.

Donmoor Color Samples

Donmoor Color Samples - photo courtesy of John Cooley

Apparently, Donmoor requested and was given swatches of all the original series uniform colors.  Since they were designing a product for children and anticipated a fair amount of wear & tear and multiple washings, they darkened these shades considerably so that eventual fading would produce something close to the true original colors.  My new found friend and I discussed this more than once and we decided we didn’t care – these were still the coolest Star Trek shirts either of us have ever owned!

The second horror story involves my Command Division gold “Captain Kirk” shirt.  It was, after all, the one I had been wishing for since I first started watching Star Trek.  Once I owned the Donmoor version, my red shirts were mostly relegated to dresser drawer duty unless the gold one was in the laundry.

My school friend and fellow Star Trek aficionado was a huge fan of the TOS episode “Shore Leave”.  He was of pure Irish decent and simply loved the Finnegan character.  Knowing that I was equally fond of the Kirk character, he once suggested that we should learn all the stunt moves from their outdoor fight sequence in that episode.  How cool!  We watched it as many times as we could (there were no VCRs in homes yet but it was on fairly often in syndication – we probably saw it three or four times over the course of the school year).  By late spring we could do that fight move for move in our sleep.  We even used to joke about growing up to become Hollywood stunt men.  One day we decided to wear our prized Star Trek shirts to school – his blue and mine gold.  We re-enacted that fight on the athletic field much to the delight of all our friends.  Unfortunately, the lunch aid who saw us was convinced we were really fighting!  Being only 9 or 10 at the time I hadn’t given much thought to dirt and grass stains, a multitude of which I collected that day.  But when the principal was sent out to “break up the fight”, he grabbed me by my sleeve and ripped the stitches.

Uggh!  Even with all the imperfections I now recognize as an adult, that shirt was priceless to me as a kid.  And it was ruined.  My mother tried valiantly but the stains never fully came out and the repair job on the ripped sleeve was obvious.  Years later, probably in high school, my friend would tease me about ruining that shirt – he’d say, “You should have had it ripped across the front if you really wanted to look like Kirk!”.

Star Trek Uniform Horror Stories – Phase 1

It is a fact of Trek fandom that hardcore Trekkies (or Trekkers, or whatever people of my ilk are being called these days) can’t resist playing dress up.  In any other realm this fascination with costumes would probably be confined to small children.  However, sci-fi fans are cut from a different mold and the almost obsessive desire to dress the part of one’s favorite character doesn’t end with adulthood.  In fact, it almost seems that it gets stronger.  Nonetheless, the first entry in this series of costume tales does concern a small child – namely: me.

When I was about 7 or 8 years old (many moons ago) the Mego company introduced a line of Star Trek toys.  The “Star Trek Lives!” phenomenon I described in my last post was at its peak and so it was altogether fitting that the stars of my favorite show began doing personal appearances at retail stores to promote the new Mego toys.  I had been dying to have a gold Star Trek tunic anyway and, to my knowledge, Donmoor had yet to release their collection of excellent Trek uniform shirts – or if they had, my mother didn’t know about it.  All the same, she was willing to aid me in my quest to have a custom-made Captain Kirk tunic in which to greet Mr. Leonard Nimoy when he came to Alexander’s Department Store in New Jersey.

We had already attended the International Star Trek Convention in New York City and thanks to my Mom’s good nature (and deep pockets) my brother and I came home with very convincing Enterprise insignia patches and patterns for uniform shirts.  When the Nimoy appearance was announced I pleaded with Mom to make my special shirt post-haste.  I don’t know where she found it but my mother was able to acquire a bolt of beautiful double-knit material that was the perfect solid gold on one side and had a gold-on-white houndstooth pattern on the other side.  She also got a great little piece of black material for the collar and very accurate gold braid for the sleeves.  So begins the horror story.

Mom’s only sewing machine was a 100 year old Singer treadle model that she had gotten from her grandmother.  She knew the Star Trek uniform backwards and forwards from having watched the show with me so many times and having taken me to the early cons. She also knew that there was no way she’d be able to put together such a complex garment in such a short period on that antique machine.  So she boxed up all the material, the pattern, the braid, and insignia and shipped them to her good friend in another state who was a sewing wiz with a top-of-the-line modern machine.  She assured me that I’d have my shirt in time for our date with destiny.

If memory serves, the package with my prized tunic arrived a day or two before the Leonard Nimoy appearance.  I’m pretty sure it was summertime but it may as well have been Christmas as I was so excited to open that box!  Then – – – utter and complete horror!  My mother’s friend had done an incredible job.  Every stitch was perfect.  The collar, the insignia, the captain’s rank braids were all in just the right places.  But our family friend, who wouldn’t recognize an episode of Star Trek if her life depended on it, had made the shirt with the houndstooth pattern facing outward and the solid gold inward.  I was crushed.  This would never do!  I’m fairly sure I cried when Mom told me there was no time to fix it and I’m certain I cried when she forced me to wear it to Alexander’s anyway.  It was one of those things that parents do when they’ve totally forgotten what it feels like to be a kid – “Yes, you have to wear it.  Connie worked very hard on this for you and you will wear it!”.

Unlike some childhood horror stories, this one has not one, but two happy endings.  I think I was still wiping away tears when we reached the front of the line at Alexander’s Department Store and I shook Mr. Nimoy’s hand.  Being a parent himself, and just a plain classy guy – he didn’t miss a beat when he said to me, “That is a fantastic uniform shirt!  Very original.  I really love it!”.  Leonard Nimoy made my day that summer afternoon at Alexander’s.  Some 15 years later I had the opportunity to meet him again at a Trek con in New York City.  When I relayed the story of the tunic gone wrong he remembered, laughed out loud, and told me how fortunate I was to have a mother who’d go to such lengths to please her son.  And he was right.