Reminisce With Me/"The Needs of the Many..."

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The following represents the fannish memories of Nancy Kippax, which she recorded on LJ in the last months of her life. Permission to archive these memories has been granted to us by April Valentine.

Jun. 23rd, 2008

The word was out. At first it was just unbelievable rumors. Then the rumors solidified and carried more weight. As time passed, and it got closer to the opening of the second Star Trek movie, it became a reality: Spock was going to die!
It hit fandom like a sucker-punch to the gut. All those years that we had kept the dream alive, that we had campaigned and sent billions of letters to Paramount and The Powers That Be, and this was our reward. We felt cheated and betrayed. Was Nimoy to blame, our logical Vulcan and author of "I Am Not Spock"? Was Gene Roddenberry, our beloved Great Bird? Or was it The Suits at Paramount Studios? Speculation was rampant and essentially pointless. The script was written, the filming was underway. What could we do but watch, like spectators at a train wreck?
We didn't have details – we didn't know how it would be done or why – at least I didn't and my friends didn't. Perhaps other fans in other places had gained access to more information that we had, but I just don't know about that. Security on the set was pretty tight, from what we heard. They had hired a new director, Nicholas Meyer, whom fans remembered from "Time After Time", a good sign. And some "TV guy" named Harve Bennett had taken on the job of co-producer with Gene Roddenberry. Lots of changes, lots of shake-ups, and fans didn't want that much change.
Some dedicated Spock fans were threatening to boycott the film. Everyone was uneasy about what we would see when the film opened. But the train had taken off, was on the rails and coming toward us faster than we wanted it to be. On the one hand, halt this endless speculation and uncertainty. On the other, let us enjoy our fantasies for as long as possible.
But open it did, right on schedule. Some fans in select cities had seen a preview screening a week before the actual opening, and while no one would tell the details, the reports were favorable. In June of 1982, we bought tickets to the first show. In Baltimore, in New York, New Jersey, in every state across the country, we went in groups of two or more, because no one could stand the thought of going to see this movie alone. And many of us took packages of Kleenex along.
And it was a wonderful film. It was also a terrible film. ". . .It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." Indeed. The anticipated tears were copiously shed, even though the ending held out a hint of promise. It was, after all, science fiction, and in science fiction anything was possible. Spock was dead – or was he? They had written in an escape clause, just in case. And, we later learned, it had been the doing of Harve Bennett, who had slipped in that back door, leaving an opening for upcoming films.
The reactions of the fans were diverse. It had certainly rocked our boat! There were some who couldn't get past that death scene and felt the pain so deeply that it drowned out all the rest of the film. But upon repeated viewings, most fans came to appreciate the film for its merits and take into consideration that "open" ending.
"The Wrath of Khan" was pure "Star Trek" as we knew and loved it. We went to see it over and over again, now seasoned filmgoers. In Baltimore, we fans formed an alliance with a local theater that was showing ST:TWOK. We set up a display in their lobby cases, memorabilia and fan items we wished to display. In exchange, we got tickets before they went on sale to everyone else, and developed a rapport with the theatre manager. At times, we could slip in and avoid the lines that formed outside. Other times we waited on line just like everyone else so that we could chat and meet the other patrons, never knowing where a TruFen might be standing, someone to whom "Star Trek" might mean more than a casual movie experience. We became the Ambassadors of Everything Trek.
Later that summer, another event took place that certainly had a negative influence on fandom, but as with so many memories, it has now become a special privilege to have been a part of it. I'm talking about a convention – an extravaganza – that took place in Houston, Texas called "The Ultimate Fantasy" – which became known among fans as "The Ultimate Fiaso" or, "The Con of Wrath"!
A group of fans in Texas had decided, around the summer or fall of 1981, that they were going to put on the biggest and best Star Trek convention in history. As I remember it, they hooked up with a convention promoter, an entrepreneur whom they trusted to run things. Fandom was deluged with flyers and ads. Calling their massive event "The Ultimate Fantasy", they rented out not only a large portion of a downtown Houston hotel, but the Civic Center Auditorium, where they planned to mount shows on the Saturday and Sunday of the con. Their guest list included every one of the original cast except Leonard Nimoy (who was apparently the only one with sound business sense), but also the featured performers from "The Wrath of Khan" – Merritt Butrick, Kirstie Alley, Bibi Besch. And Producer Harve Bennett. They offered various package plans. You could buy all the convention activities plus any or all of the shows at the Auditorium, you could have your hotel room included or not. There was even an opportunity to be a Gold Sponsor or a Silver Sponsor, which entitled you to everything plus some special perks to boot. The materials and presentation seemed organized and comprehensive. It sounded like it was going to be a fabulous weekend celebration.
Everything started to unravel almost immediately. People arriving at the designated hotel on the night before the con heard strange rumblings about money problems and a much lower attendance than the promoters had planned for. I'm not sure why this con failed to get the anticipated numbers. After all, the early cons in New York had drawn 14,000 and more. Perhaps it was the Houston location – a long trip for anyone other than a devoted (and flush) fan. The con itself was expensive, even if you didn't get one of the larger package deals. It was summer, and Houston was hot as Vulcan, the kind of humid heat that plastered your shirt to your body if you just stepped outside for five minutes. Whatever the reasons, fans just didn't come forth in great numbers, not enough to pay for everything that had been contracted for plus the appearance fees of all the guests they had invited.
Those guests started arriving, expecting to pick up their checks before they went on stage, and it soon became apparent that there was no money with which to pay them. At this point, the con committee, made up mostly of long time Star Trek fans, were running all over the place trying to find the man who controlled the money, the Promoter with whom they had been working, but the man was no where to be found.
Con attendees woke up on the Friday morning of the convention to find that the hotel had slipped notices under their doors informing them that they would have to come down to the front desk and either pay or check out. Many of these people had already paid for their hotel rooms – to the convention. But the hotel had not received payment for the rooms!
We were lucky in that we had ordered our hotel rooms independently and not through the convention. We all got the same under the door notice, but we could go down and prove that ours had been Visa or MasterCard charges to the hotel itself. But the fans who had paid through the convention had to either pack up and get out or pay the charges a second time and hope to get the original money back somehow.
Friday was a down day, with only the Dealer's Room open and no scheduled shows as all of this horror show unfolded. Even the Dealer's Room was in jeopardy of being closed down. Dealers had to take up a collection among themselves to pay the hotel.
Harve Bennett arrived in the midst of all this and quickly perceived what was happening and took charge. He rounded up the performers (everyone was there except for William Shatner, who was scheduled to arrive Saturday morning) and spoke to them all. He felt it wasn't fair to the fans who had innocently come expecting to be entertained. Harve had a very strong sense of "Star Trek's" fan base and what it meant to the franchise. He also had a strong sense of decency and fairness. At the end of that first day, it was announced that he was going to talk to us all at what had been planned as a scheduled press conference with the working press to meet and interview the actors. He had soothed and pacified the stars,convincing them all that they had to go on with the planned activities and shows at the Auditorium, whether or not they got paid. The convention Committee members had promised to pay what they owed, it just could not be that weekend. Harve called everyone together and took the helm with all the aplomb of Captain Kirk. His first words, in fact, as he stepped out to the mike, were a modified quote from the latest movie. He said, "As of ___ o'clock, I am taking control of this ship!" And his audience laughed, releasing the tension. He rejuvenated everyone's flagging spirits and showed us what "Star Trek" was all about. It was an amazing moment, a stirring testimony to why we loved these people so much!
Harve Bennett wasn't the only "hero" that weekend. Over at the Civic Center, the sound and light crews were getting ready to walk off, because they hadn't been paid, either. Young Merritt Buttrick took money out of his own wallet and paid the techs. His mom lived in Texas, and his family was coming to see him, so the show was personally important to him. William Shatner, for all his misgivings, came out on the stage at the Civic Center on both days and carried that audience in the palm of his hands, making everyone laugh and sigh and understand why we were fans. Nichelle Nichols gave an amazing performance of her song, "Beyond Antares". They had all pitched in like troupers and given us more than their time and talents.
Some of the events were scrapped and others reduced to bare bones, but the shows did go on and something magical had happened that was worth more than simply watching performances from afar. We had glimpsed the generosity and devotion emanating from a group of jaded Hollywood people for us, for their fans. They had reciprocated and reflected our love back at us.
And the missing Promoter? I have no knowledge of what ever became of him. But, sadly, several people on the Committee actually lost their homes and some had to declare bankruptcy, we learned later. I don't know if all reparations were ever made, but I believe an attempt was made. These people weren't dishonest or con artists. With the exception of that one convention promoter, they were all basically just fans like the rest of us. They got in over their heads, expected an attendance in the thousands and got hundreds, and ultimately had to pay the price in one way or another. There were mistakes in judgment and they over-extended themselves. For them, it was a personal disaster. As someone said at the time, they had Texas-sized ideas without the funds to back them up.
Meanwhile, back in Baltimore, the Contact crowd was still growing and evolving. Old faces departed and new ones took their place. I'm not sure exactly when it happened, but it became an established routine to gather every Saturday night at Bev's house on Utrecht Road. There were "regulars" who rarely missed a week, and there were "casuals" who just came now and then. We moved from Bev's living room to her basement, the front of which she had fixed up as a kind of family room, where we could all sit and talk and eat whatever munchies she had prepared that week.
As we moved into the early '80s, Bev and I were still publishing Contact – our 7th issue came out in September 1981 and weighed in at almost 300 pages, and our 8th issue was released in July 1982 -- but the excitement had faded. The people around us, many of them relatively new to fandom, got more of a thrill out of it than we did. It was all beginning to seem more like work than pleasure, and we were experiencing a "been-there-done-that" attitude. Eight issues of Contact, two novels, and a Christmas issue, all produced in a seven year span, had worn us out.
By the 1980s, good stories were getting harder to find, and Bev and I both felt there was a large degree of mediocrity being sold for a lot of money, as zines got slicker and costlier to produce. Our standards had always been set high, maybe too high, and there was a growing trend of editors who merely published, who didn't bother to edit the work of new writers, which had been the norm in the '70s. Thus, these new writers didn't want to be edited, they wished only for their stories to be printed, and whoever would accept their work "as is" was fine with them.
We didn't know, when we released Contact 8, that it would be the last issue. But soon after, we decided to pack away our Pres-Type and Wite-Out, our red pencils and our blue pencils, and close up shop. We were ready to move on to something else, although we didn't know yet what it would be. But an opportunity to serve fandom in a different capacity was coming our way, and look out fandom! Look out Baltimore! We were about to help organize a Convention!
Thanks again this week, to April Valentine, who helped clear away some of the cobwebs from my memory banks. She covered the Houston convention for Starlog Magazine, and gathered a lot of information and got to see some of what went on behind the scenes. Maybe she'll write a comment for us??
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