Media Fandom Oral History Project Interview with Eileen Salmas
|Interviews by Fans|
|Title:||Media Fandom Oral History Project Interview with Eileen Salmas|
|Interviewee:||Eileen Salmas (Eileen Becker)|
|Date(s):||February 28, 2013|
|Click here for related articles on Fanlore.|
Interview length: 59:46.
For more information about the origins of this interview, where it is housed, contact information, suggestions regarding future interviewee candidates, and how to become volunteer interviewer, see the Media Fandom Oral History Project page.
Some Topics Discussed
- early Star Trek fandom
- being the PR person for Star Trek Lives!, and working with the International Star Trek Convention and Al Schuster
- working for Gene Roddenberry
- babysitting Hans Gudegast's child (Rat Patrol)
- making a student film with Michael Praed (Robin of Sherwood)
- corresponding with Lew Collins (Pros)
Well, I actually started way, way back at the beginning. I joke that I can date how long I know some of my friends because I met them picketing NBC to keep Star Trek on the air. So I go way, way back. And I'm one of the five people who organized the first Star Trek convention. And I used to work for Gene Roddenberry. So I go way, way back in the fandom. All the way to the beginning.
I mean, I didn't organize [the Star Trek fan campaign], I, you know, was just one of the people who, as you say, picketed NBC. And that was when I actually discovered fandom. I think I saw, you know, it was in the New York Times, they had this little article about Star Trek going off the air, and the fans were going to be down at NBC. And I had always read science fiction, but I wasn't aware of science fiction societies, or clubs, or anything like that. And when, as I say, when I went down to NBC, that's when I met some people who were members of the Lunarians, which was the New York Science Fiction Society. And I said, "Wow! This is great; people that have common interests!" So I started getting involved in the Lunarians, and working on some of the committees. I mean, as you know, back then, they would have an annual convention. I mean, like LASFS here, and Lunarians in New York, but it was very literary based at that time. There wasn't really media fandom; you know, it was all the books. It was mostly the authors that would come, and so I knew Isaac Asimov, and Heinlein, and Bob Silverman. So I met these people, and so that's how I got involved, that's how I discovered and got involved in fandom....
And you know, this was when a convention had an attendance of two hundred and fifty, three hundred people. And, as I say, it was mostly literary based. And I think it was, oh my god, Al – what the heck is Al's name? - Al Schuster. I think it was Al that said, "Why don't we do a convention about Star Trek?" 'Cause at this point it was already off the air. I think it was a year or two after it was off the air. And, you know, like I said, it was like Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney. "Oh yeah, ok, let's put on a show!" and with the naiveté of youth, and not really knowing how crazy difficult something like this is. [laughter] I mean, we did things like, we wrote to Paramount and we said, "We're putting on a show. Could you send us a couple of episodes?" Well, they sent us all of the episodes, in 16 – yeah, it would have been 16mm film.We wrote to Gene, and we said, "We want to do this convention," and Gene said, well, I'm going to be in New York because of the, he had two pilots, Questor and Genesis II, that he was trying to pitch to the networks. And we were doing this over Labor Day weekend? Memorial Day weekend? It was one of the three-day weekends. And he said, "Well, I'm gonna be in town anyway," and that was great, because the networks paid for his flight. And all we had to do was pay for was the hotel and the food. Little did we - well, maybe I don't want to talk about that. [laughter] That wouldn't be nice. Needless to say, the bar bill was more than we expected it to be. ... Well, again, we'd never done anything like this before. And again, because we were dealing with mostly authors, we never had Hollywood celebrity types. And we contacted NASA. "Could you send, you know, just some information?" Well, as far as NASA was concerned, they put a man on the moon because of Star Trek, and they sent us an astronaut. They sent us a one-third size mockup of the LEM. They sent us a space suit. We had a whole room that was just dedicated to NASA. I mean, it was amazing. Everybody was just like, "Wow! What a great idea! They're doing a Star Trek convention!" And we were all, "This is easy!" I mean, my God. And, I think it was Labor Day weekend. And again, you have to understand, we were used to conventions of two hundred and fifty, three hundred people.
I was maybe sixteen, seventeen years old – they said, "You handle PR."
I said, "What's PR?"
"Contact some of the media and tell them about the con." So, again, naiveté of youth, we called The Hollywood Reporter, we called Variety, you know, The New York Times. And, so, the convention was running. Pre-registration was Friday, and the convention was running Saturday, Sunday, Monday, the Labor Day weekend. Friday, Variety, top of the fold, just a little box in black, "Star Trek Convention at the Statler Hilton Hotel," and a little bit of the details, and I think it maybe said Gene and Majel were going to be there. Got picked up by the local news. [laughter] Got picked up by the national news. Friday night we had, I think like a thousand people. By Saturday morning they were flying in from all over the country. By Saturday night they were flying in from all over the world. I believe, and don't quote me on this, but I think we had somewhere between eight and ten thousand people.
There was not a hotel room left in New York. The fire marshal was ready to shut us down because people were hanging off the chandeliers to get into the speaker's rooms. This was a show that had been cancelled. This was a convention – I mean, the Worldcon the year before had had its maximum, had had its largest attendance ever of thirty-five hundred people. This was a convention for one show that had been cancelled! Somewhere between eight and ten thousand people.
Gene, on Tuesday, was meeting with the networks to sell pilots. [laughter] The networks were looking at this and saying, you know, this is when they said one letter equals ten people. Not a hotel room in New York to be had. They were buying anything that Gene was selling. [laughter] I mean, Gene could have walked in with - they were buying.
Now Gene – God bless him, I adored this man – he loved the fans. He really did. He recognized that the fans kept the Star Trek flame burning. I mean, let's face it – Star Trek was the cash cow for Paramount. Star Trek has made more money for Paramount than probably anything else they've ever done, before or since, and it's still making money for them....I adored [Gene Roddenberry]. He was a lovely, lovely man. And, I mean, he would go to the conventions – I mean, he hired fans! He would go to the conventions, whether they were Star Trek conventions or whether they were other conventions, and, he, you know, the kids who designed the costumes for the Saturday night costume. And the, I mean, Greg Jein, who I believe has won Oscars and Emmys for model building, I mean, he gave Greg his first job. Dorothy C. Fontana! I mean, he hired a woman on the original series! Nobody was hiring women to write action-adventure. I mean, she had to go by D.C. Fontana, she had to hide it, but Gene was hiring a woman. I mean, remember, the first interracial kiss was Kirk and Uhura. So many southern stations refused to show that episode. I mean, Gene was a visionary. And like I said, I adored him. I am convinced that I got into UCLA because he wrote a letter of recommendation for me. And it was right after he had donated all the episodes to the UCLA archive.
Oooh, God, slash started. You'll love this story. I'm working in the office, you know, I'm in the office. And another thing about Gene: he did not have an unlisted phone number. Fans called 24/7; I mean, three o'clock in the morning the phone would ring and a fan would be calling from Japan, because they didn't understand the time difference. And he'd talk to them! And so, we're, I think his assistant had gone out, and I'm sitting at the desk, and a call comes in, and, you know, it's a fan. And judging from the sound of the voice, she didn't sound like she more than sixteen, seventeen, eighteen. And Gene had just gone into the office; he was having a meeting with Leonard Nimoy. And she's, you know, can I talk to Gene. And I say, he's in a meeting right now, perhaps I can help you. She says, well, I'm writing some fan fiction, and I have a question. "Let me see if I can answer your question, and if not, I'll have Gene call you back." And she said, "Are Spock's balls green?" I said, “I beg your pardon?" And she said, "Are Spock's balls green?" And I thought about it for a second and I said, "Well, I mean, if you're gonna -I mean, if his blood is green, I think you could safely make the assumption that his balls are green." And as I was about to say, "Would you please send me this story?" she said, "Oh, thank you very much!" and hung up. It wasn't so much that she wanted to talk to Gene, she just wanted a fact check... "Wait! Send me this -" And I hang up, and I bust out laughing. I mean, I am over the desk laughing when the door opens. I am still laughing, and I'm saying, "Gene, you are not going to believe this phone call OH MY GOD never mind," because I forgot that Leonard was with him. [laughter] And the two of them are, "What's so funny?" And I'm [coughing and laughing] "It really HA HA HA really wasn't that funny." And you have to understand that Gene is like 6'4", and Leonard is, and I'm sitting, and the two of them are standing over me, and "What's so funny?" and I'm "No, no,"and I'm looking straight at Leonard and saying, "You really don't want to know." [laughter] "You really don't want to know." And they're saying, "Obviously, something was very very funny; what was so funny?" And I so said, "Okay, okay." And I stood up, and I'm, well, eye to chest with Leonard, and I said, "Just remember, I told you. I told you you didn't want to know." And I just looked at him straight on, and I said, "Leonard, are Spock's balls green?" And then I waited about ten seconds and said, "I guess I better call her back. They're definitely a dark shade of purple." [laughter] And he looked at me and he said, "You’re right. Next time, if you tell me I don't want to know, I -" But the fans were always sending stories to Gene, they were sending art to Gene. I remember once an envelope came and it was two nine by twelve envelopes that had been taped together, because the piece was this big. And I start to pull it out, and Spock's head, and Spock's body, and there's no clothes, and as I'm slowly pulling this out I'm saying, "Please God, let there be pants." And again, I don't remember whether Gene was there behind me or what, but as we're pulling it out, it was like little briefs, and I'm thinking, "Thank God." [laughter]But the fans just, and Gene loved it. I mean, he thought it was hysterical. He loved the fact that the fans were getting in to it, and he didn't care whether it was straight, or slash, or you know. And I remember, I don't remember which movie it was, the one where Kirk says to Sarek, "You have no idea what your son meant to me," and I'm sitting in the audience, and I hear in the back somebody yells "Vindication!" [laughter] I mean, they knew what they – I mean, Gene was gone by then, but they knew all about it.
And again, when they were writing that, they weren't writing it to appeal to that kind of an audience especially. I mean, maybe gay men were reading in to that, but in view of the fact that for the most part slash is written by women, they weren't writing to a slash audience. I mean, what was the study that was done? I don't remember what it was called, but they used Ben-Hur as, Ben-Hur and, God, the one with Tony Curtis and Laurence Olivier, where he was the bath boy – Spartacus. Ben-Hur and Spartacus where it was the, that hidden theme, that yeah, it was there, but we don't really mean it, but we do really mean it. Because, I mean, Charleton Heston always denied there was anything going on with the Ben-Hur character between him and the Roman, I don't remember the character's - the character's name. The bath scene in Spartacus was cut from the film. And it wasn't put back in until it came on out VHS. I mean, it was released with that originally, but it was cut very quickly from the film. There was actually a book, it was a book or it was an academic study. There was a term for that, you know, that hidden gay theme  ... And, you know, so I think to a certain extent there was that celluloid closet. Some of it were people who were writing and just oblivious to the fact that people were going to pick up on an underlying meaning. Some of them were writing very cognizant of the fact that that underlying meaning was there. And certainly, anything that you see now, they're very aware. There's not a writer or an actor out there who doesn't know about slash. I mean, if they do, they've got their heads buried in the sand, and they shouldn't be, and they wouldn't be writing for TV and be oblivious to what's going on around them.
Early Star Trek days, well, I came back, and frankly, when I came back from overseas, I wasn't as involved in fandom any more, because I was on the West Coast. By that time the conventions had been taken over by Creation Con. Oh my God, if we had known! I mean, when we were doing the conventions, it was, we were doing something, we weren't in it as a money-making business. Had we known, I mean, I could be a multi-millionaire now! You know, I mean, we could have been the ones that turned it into a business. But that wasn't our objective. And so I wasn't really involved in conventions, and going to conventions. I kind of got reintroduced to stuff because a girlfriend of mine was big in the, was really a fan of The Professionals. And that's when I found out about the Slash Bashes out here, and started going to those at Lily Fulford's house, because she hosted them for the most part, and she was a big Pros fan. Really, the only convention that I was going to was Escapade. I think once I went to MediaWest, and I decided I would never fly on that puddle-jumper [to Lansing, Michigan] again.
I got involved with going to Escapade, and at one point, and I don't remember who, and it was so funny – because I read the fan stories before I actually ever saw a Pros episode. And I kept hearing about this frail, little Doyle person, [laughter] this little, elf, thing. And I finally saw a Professionals episode, and I was literally fifteen minutes into the episode when I finally turned to somebody and I said, "So, when does Doyle gonna appear?"
And they said, "That's Doyle."I said, "That's Doyle? That's the frail little flower? [laughter] Are they watching the same show that I'm watching? Okay."
Oh, one of the fandoms I was really involved with was Forever Knight. I really liked the vampire series. But I found that the lists, and online fandom – even before you were online, there was a lot of politics in fandom. But online makes it a lot easier to be nasty. And very nasty. And sometimes anonymously nasty. So people were always dropped from lists, or dropping lists, or these wars were breaking out. And, quite frankly, fandom for me is something I want to enjoy. It's something that I'm doing for fun, and I'm doing for pleasure. And I'm not interested in the politics. And, I mean, if somebody is offering – I mean, there's a way to offer constructive criticism about a story, and if someone is offering constructive criticism, you can agree with it, you can disagree with it, but don't you dis somebody who's offering constructive criticism. Now, somebody's being nasty about it – I mean, then it just escalates.
I think a lot of outsiders look down on fans. They see the people that dress up at the conventions, and they don't see the intellectual level of discourse, and of community, that the fans have. I mean, many fans have become professionals. I mean, fan stories grew out of fixing the plot holes in what we were seeing. "No, wait a minute, last week you said that, so this week you're saying this. Hell no, we gotta fix it. We have to make it right." I mean, a lot of the writers, like JJ Abrams, they, I think they grew up with an awareness of fandom that reflects in their writing. That you're not seeing the plotholes as much. You actually get a sense of when they thought this up, they thought of the beginning, the middle, and the end. I'm trying to think of some other examples. I mean, what was one of the things that was on the Slash Bash list the other day that was so funny, where it was Thor and Loki, and Loki was in chains because he had done some slash something, what was the cartoon that was on the – I mean, that was in a comic book. That was printed in, that was one of the panels in a comic book that's gone out to the general public.... I think there's an awareness. And I think writing, to some degree, is better and tighter because of the awareness. Because they know the fans are out there fixing the plotholes. So they're trying to make fewer plotholes. As I say, I think there's a lot more attention being paid to the beginning, the middle, and the end. And better continuity within what we're seeing now.
Interviewer: So, okay, you've been friends with a bunch of actors. Has it been strange, reading fanfic and so on, and then being friends with actors? Is that -Well, not really, because I could never get into Real Person Slash. I find that offensive. I don't care if you're going to slash a character, but I really don't like the Real Person Slash. Because then you are taking that person that I know, and putting him or her into a relationship that I know is just a total anathema to their being. But I don't have any problem dealing with somebody and reading slash, because I'm reading slash about the character. I'm not, you know, that's not this person. This person that I know who isn't Bodie. Parts of Lew are Bodie; they have to be. You couldn't have Bodie, unless parts of Lew were Bodie. But Lew isn't Bodie. Now, would I have wanted the boys back in a dark alley? Absolutely. But when I'm reading about Bodie, I'm not seeing Lew. I'm seeing Bodie, and I think you have to be able to distinguish that. And I'm sorry if I'm offending people who are in to Real Person Slash.
...where are we going to get the fans from the future to come from? I mean, we’re finding them online, but online, getting back to listservs, is very anonymous. What's great about these conventions, what's great about the Slash Bash, is you're having actual, physical relationship with someone. I'm sitting at the table with a kid, and they're tweeting. You know, "I'm having a conversation with you. Talk to me," you know? There are fannish communities online, but you don't meet each other, you don't know each other, and, you know, it's very valuable, but I think you're losing something by not having a personal relationship. Having that physical relationship. Same thing with, I mean, I always want to touch the zines. I want to read the newspaper. I'm never gonna give up the newspaper and get my news online. Maybe I'm old fashioned! But I like the physicality of what we have here. And the friendships that I've formed here. You know, the people that I, there's some people that you go to the Slash Bash and you see them at the Slash Bash, and that's it. And there are other people where I've formed friendships, where we do things outside of the Slash Bash. We go to the theater. We travel. We do other things. And I've made friends that, you know, how long have I been going to the Slash Bashes? Twenty years I've known these people, and we're very close, very dear friends. And I don't know if you get the same thing if it's all out there in the Ether. But at least it's a way to connect. At least it's a way to let people know that an event like this exists, so we can invite them to it.
- "The Celluloid Closet"?