Reminisce With Me/Conventions

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The following represents the 2008 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 Fanlore by April Valentine.

Mar. 22nd, 2008
Before 1973, Star Trek fandom was largely comprised of science fiction fans culled from colleges and universities, from SF clubs across America. But gradually that dynamic was altering as more and more women swelled the ranks --- working women, mothers, housewives, even grandmothers were jumping aboard. This was due partly, I think, to the general media picking up on this newest phenomena. The Star Trek conventions, which by 1973 were drawing literally thousands of people from all across the country, were newsworthy enough to draw amused attention from reporters.
In February 1974, I attended my first Star Trek convention in New York City – with my husband, Bob. Bev, while only mildly interested in traveling so "far" from home on such a "frivolous" journey, had the final decision taken from her control by a freak accident just weeks before, which laid her up with a broken ankle. I'd read about the convention in TV Guide, just a one-paragraph blurb on that yellow page at the back of the book. It gave the dates, the guest stars, the location, and not much more, but it was enough. I just had to see what this was all about!
Bev volunteered to keep my two little boys, and Bob and I made plans to travel up to New York by train, just for a day. This was during the Great 70's Gas Shortage, when it was nearly impossible to get a full tank of gas, let alone enough to go all that distance by car. We decided it would be cheaper and more pleasant to travel by train. We forgot to allow for it being a holiday weekend.
The train was packed. We actually had to stand. There were a lot of students traveling back to schools, I remember. Some people had brought large suitcases into the cars, and now those were pressed into service as impromptu seating. I spent most of the trip up perched on someone's hard shell suitcase.
We arrived at the hotel, or I should say we arrived a block away from the hotel, only to find a line that snaked around the sidewalk sometimes three and four people abreast, all the way around the block. This was the famous convention you may have heard about, where attendance estimates went as high as 15,000 people – er, "Trekkies". And there was no denying that you were entitled to bear that name if you were willing to endure this baptism by fire!
When we finally got into the hotel itself, even though we were still in an unending line, I felt as if I had entered some magical kingdom! It was Oz and Wonderland and Narnia all rolled up into one. It was Trek Heaven, and I had died and gone there! The "guards" who were keeping the line in order were dressed like Klingons! There were huge cardboard lobby stands of Kirk and Spock. There were people spaced out along the stanchions who kept shouting out Trek trivia to keep us amused.
The special guest that year, and the person I most wanted to see, was Deforest Kelley. Since there were schedules posted on the walls as we wended our way to Registration, I knew that he would be appearing at 3 p.m. that day, and since we were only there for the one day, I was determined not to miss him. But at the rate we were progressing, I knew we'd never make it! Surreptitiously (I believed), dragging Bob along with me, we would skip ahead in line, wherever the bend of the 'S' was. This moved us along nicely!
Some impressions of that day are cloudy, some as clear as a bell. I had time to visit the Huckster Room, as it was called then. I bought a green chocolate Spock lollipop for my 4-year-old. I saw some crudely printed magazines, but had no idea what they were, or if I did, they certainly didn't look appealing. I do remember seeing Myrna Culbreath's study of Spock, "The Spock Premise", which I was later to kick myself for having passed up. I know I bought some other "souvenirs", but I honestly don't remember what they were any more. Key chains? Buttons? Mostly, I just allowed myself to be propelled through the room, pushed and shoved by the hoards of busy shoppers. You literally could not move in any direction except forward – if you tried to reach over to a table to examine something, you were pushed ahead, bodies on every side of you. Anyone who's been to a modern convention have absolutely no concept of the crowds at those early cons!
I did get to see De Kelley, but we were way back in this huge ballroom which was, you guessed it, crowded to the gills. They kept trying to keep the aisles cleared – people were just sitting on the floor anywhere they could find an inch. Everything was so dizzying, so mind-boggling, it's no wonder my memories are blurred!
When at last we arrived home, I reported back to my sister. "You would have hated it," I told her, citing her aversion to crowds. "You never would have survived it!" Nevertheless, I told her about everything I had seen and done, like Marco Polo returning from the Orient.
"Well," she responded when I was thoroughly finished, "Next year we'll just have to get our tickets ahead of time."
And that was exactly what we did. But there was a hitch. According to a report I read in the Welcommittee newsletter, APOTA (A Piece Of The Action), to which I had subscribed, there had been some kind of split among the people who'd done the New York conventions. This coming year, 1975, there would be two dueling cons, one in January held by promoter Al Schuster, the other one in February, run by the fans who had served as his working committee. What was a poor Neofan to do? So I wrote to the Welcommittee, seeking their advice or endorsement. In true, impartial Welcommittee fashion, what they said essentially boiled down to this: If you want to see the actors, the stars, then go to Schuster's con, because he'll have the better lineup. But if you want to meet and interact with other fans, then you would prefer the one in February that's being run by fans.
Meet other fans? we chorused. Why on earth would we want to do that? We want to see the Stars!! Such was our naiveté. Nor would it ever occur to us that we could attend both!
And so, in January, with pre-reg tickets in hand, hotel reservations for two nights, and husbands left behind with the children, Bev and I ventured up together to the International Star Trek Convention in New York City! By this time, we were more savvy. We were writing our own stories, contemplating doing our own fanzine, and one of our missions was to find whatever zines were for sale and scarf them up.
Find them we did, but we tried to be frugal as well. What I remember bringing home from that convention were a couple of something produced by the Philadelphia area fans, a magazine called Second Age, crudely mimeographed with line drawings to illustrate it, perhaps an issue of Masiform-D or T-Negative, both about the same quality as the ones from Philadelphia, except more fiction than articles. . . and then there was something called Interphase, a brand new first issue that was going to change the face of fanzines forever. This zine, which has since been rightfully given status as the Jewel of fanzines' crown, was produced by Connie Faddis, already a noted writer and artist in fandom at that time. Interphase was offset printed, very pricey then as it is now. It had a full color screen-printed cover, several interior color plates, and it was professionally bound.
But that con was about more than simply fanzines. There was the presence of Jimmy Doohan, who drew on his role as the Chief Engineer to bully the crowd into submission, standing up on stage with mike in hand yelling, "Clear those aisles! You've got to clear those aisles because the Fire Marshals are here and they're going to make us all leave if you don't." Or, "Clear the aisles or {whoever was next} will not come out! No one's speaking on this stage until you clear the aisles" – and then he'd point to a typical miscreant and say, "Hey! You! I'm talking to you!" We seated in the room found this whole display amusing and entertaining! We felt like we were somewhere down in the Engineering section of the Enterprise!
Bev and I, having gotten there early in the morning, had been among the first to rush into the newly-opened ballroom from the packed lobby outside the room, and we'd gotten really good seats on the right side, perhaps ten rows or so back. Throughout the day, one or the other of us would leave for a while, to go to the bathroom or eat some lunch, to browse around the Huckster Room. The other would remain in the ballroom guarding our seats. We were told that saving seats wasn't allowed, but they didn't seem to bother with fans saving one other chair.
On one of my forays into the Huckster Room, I found a real treasure: It was a bronzed mint medallion on a chain, bearing the embossed heads of Kirk and Spock on one side, and "Space the final frontier. . .written on the other side. It cost $8, but for anyone in love with Kirk and Spock, it was priceless. I bought two, one for me and one as a gift for Bev. We were to wear them very often over the next few years.
Anyone who attended those first Star Trek conventions in New York City would say how terribly different they were from today's cons. The crowds, yes, the attendance was incredible. Maybe that's why they only charged something like $10 for a four day convention. Yes, that's right – they began on Friday, usually late in the day, and being held on a holiday weekend (back then it was Washington's Birthday), ran all the way through Monday evening. Bev and I went up on Friday, but we couldn't get our registration until Saturday morning – there was no evening registration. And we left on Sunday, taking the bus back to Baltimore late in the afternoon.
The costume contest --- and there were fabulous creations of feathers and beads, authentic re-creations of almost every known alien in the Trek universe. Artists like Monica Miller and Connie Faddis designed multiple outfits and had them modeled by friends. And of course there were the silly ones, and the dozen Spocks and half dozen Kirks, the Miramanee in gold lamé. For the contest, all the chairs were taken out of the ballroom and the crowd had to sit on the floor and watch. With 40 or 50 entries, it used to last about 3 hours or more!
And who can forget the first time they saw an episode projected on a white screen in 9 mm film. The clarity! The depth! It took one's breath away to see it like that. At night, we would wrap up in blankets carted down from our rooms, or cocooned in large banquet tablecloths carelessly left out where conventioneers could get them, and sit for hours in the frigid film room, watching whatever episode was being shown, even if it was one we liked the least. But of course, they always showed our favorites – Trouble with Tribbles, Amok Time, Journey to Babel. . . And the blooper reels – oh, yes, the blooper reels! They would show episodes until one or two a.m.
Knowing what I know now about putting on a convention, I really have to tip my hat to those early committees. They obviously put in a tremendous amount of work for a very little bit of credit. I cannot even imagine registering 15,000 people! Or planning ways to keep that many entertained for four days. I'll just say it once, here, quickly: Thank you! If you're out there reading this, you have my eternal gratitude for your good work.
I'd like to hear about the first convention you attended, and what impressions it left on you. What did you enjoy the most? I'd really like to hear from those of you who were at those first conventions, and New York wasn't the only place having them. I hope you'll take a moment to share your memories here.