With all of the comic book conventions I've attended, I'd never been to a Star Trek convention until late July of this year. I've never been a Trekkie by any stretch of the imagination. I've seen most of the original show, a bunch of the Next Generation episodes, a few of the movies, and read a couple of the books, but I can't quote lines chapter and verse. I don't have any of the schematics of the ships on the walls of the house. Actually, I hardly own any Star Trek material at all. None of the shows or movies on DVD or Blu-Ray, and I believe there is only one Star Trek graphic novel in my fairly extensive library...and I only have that because Chris Claremont wrote it and Adam Hughes drew it.
The biggest Star Trek convention of the year is held every summer at the Rio here in Las Vegas. In addition to tons of rabid fans, many of whom dress as their favorite characters from some incarnation of the show, there are lots of celebrity guests. Many of the actors appear, ranging from folks who had a walk-on role one time as an alien who died almost as fast as he materialized onscreen, to the biggest of them all in the Star Trek Universe, William Shatner. But you also get many of the behind the scenes folks connected with the actual making of the shows, including make-up artists, production designers, and writers. And one writer in particular who had a connection to the show is one of the greatest writers in the history of fantasy, someone whose work I enjoy, and whom as a person I admire tremendously, named Harlan Ellison. And once I realized that he would be attending a gathering that would be a 20 minute drive from the house, it appeared the void of having never attended a Star Trek convention (a void I was never really concerned about previously) was about to be filled.
However, this entry is not about Harlan Ellison...nor is it about Star Trek. Among the many guests who had a tenuous connection to the crew that boldly went where no man had gone before was an actor with a career that spanned half-a-century, but was most well known for one role that he played in two movies in the 1970's. In wandering the show floor on Thursday, the first day of the convention, I spotted a familiar looking giant of a man. I soon recognized him as the man who portrayed the iconic James Bond villain with the metal teeth, known as Jaws. All 7 foot 2 inches of Richard Kiel was seated behind a table, chatting with a couple of fans. This day, I only went to the show after I got out of work, making it there just in time for Ellison's panel. I roamed the floor a little bit after I got squeezed out of the Ellison signing line by just one person...oh well, I'd be back on Sunday with my wife.
In all the years I've attended GeekFests (my little pet name for large gatherings of nerds, more commonly known as comic cons), I've never had as much fun at them as when I go with my wife. She has an enthusiasm for things like this that is infectious. And while I'm usually there to see specific people, and don't really stray beyond the ones on my list, she just wanders around looking at everything, since she's not there to see anyone or anything specifically. And she has fun with all of it. So when I pointed out that Kiel was seated right nearby, she made a beeline for him, with me, as always, in tow.
As we approached his table, his overly large fingers were fumbling with a small packet of candy. After failing to open it after a couple of tries, he looked up at my wife and said "I'm sorry, can you get this open for me?"...and our conversation was begun. We chatted for a few minutes about some of the movies he'd made, jobs he'd worked on, locations he'd been to, and stars he'd worked with. In looking thru the 8 by 10 inch glossy photos he had for sale, he pointed out one that was a little hidden on his table, but that he was fond of. It was a photograph from his time on Cannonball Run II, and it's him standing behind (and towering over) legendary entertainers Dean Martin and Sammy Davis, Jr. He was nice enough to autograph that for us, but that wasn't the end of our interaction.
As part of the nominal fee for the autographed photo, he also took a couple pictures with us. First my wife sat down with him, and I took a nice shot of the two of them. Then it was my turn to sit in the chair next to him, but as soon as I did, before I even realized what was happening, two massive hands gripped my skull from the top and bottom...and I laughed internally and went with what he was doing for the photograph.
When we were finished, we thanked him, as we really did appreciate our time with him, and how genuinely nice and pleasant he was. The pictures came out great, and are part of a fantastic day my wife and I had at the Star Trek convention.
A few weeks later, I get a call from a friend of mine back in New York, asking what I had done to Richard Kiel. I didn't know what he was talking about, and told him as much. That was when he informed me that Kiel, age 74, had just died. As shocking and sad as this was, it just made us both a little happier that we'd stopped and spent some time with the gentle giant.
Blog Post Soundtrack: Baltimore Orioles at New York Yankees (Derek Jeter in the final week of his career), Iron Chef America, Los Angeles Angels Of Anaheim at Oakland Athletics