Reminisce With Me/IT LIVES! The Premiere of Star Trek: The Motion Picture
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.
I would like to pause for a moment in recounting these 'Tales of Yore' and the Grand Time That Was Had By All, to try to explain (if explanation can be found) what made Star Trek fandom in the '70s such a phenomenal and creative breeding ground. Unlike many shows and fandoms today, Star Trek was about more than liking a pair of characters or actors. Sure, my personal involvement was due to that interaction between Captain and First Officer, but Star Trek had things going for it that were unique and special to its fan base. There was the element of space exploration and mankind's relentless pursuit of the stars, an optimistic concept that has all but disappeared today. In those turbulent yet promising times when we all believed that we could make things different on our planet, Star Trek posed a significant hope that things would get better, that men and women of all races would be treated equally and fairly by all. Sure, we were naïve, to a point, but the times, too, were naïve, and supported such a future.
When I entered fandom, slash was still several years away, at least widespread acceptance of slash. Even the term was unknown, its initial creation now shrouded in the mists of time. Today, fandoms spring up for nearly every show, every movie that is viewed by two or more as worthy. All it takes is one person writing one good story or novella, and a fandom is born. Fans can like a particular character or actor and choose to sing their praises while enticing other fans to do the same. "Pimping", we call it now, with a modern down-and-dirty vernacular. Can Star Trek fandom trace itself back to a single person's promotion of the show? Or did it happen simultaneously in various places around the country, around the globe? Whatever or however, it caused a wildfire of creativity and a devotion unparalleled in the years since. There was something inspiring about the philosophy of IDIC, about the Prime Directive, about boldly going where no man has gone before.
For those of us who lived through those early years, the period before the dawn of 1980 was completely absorbed by the goal of reviving the show and getting the Enterprise to fly again. If The Powers That Be were indecisive, we fans were not. We stood firm and solid in our efforts to bring Star Trek back in an acceptable form. Everything we did, every story we published and portrait that we drew, was grounded on that ultimate outcome.
After years of writing letters, of living through all the rumors, disappointments, all the false leads and promises, finally, in 1979, it appeared as if our dream was really to be fulfilled! Not only were plans announced that Paramount was filming a major new motion picture of the Star Trek universe, but the entire original cast had signed on for the project! Before long, we heard tales of the filming, and of certain West Coast fans who were actually allowed – and paid! – to be extras on the set!
At one point in the filming, a casting call went out to various known fan groups in California, garnering a host of applicants. The lucky were chosen and allowed on set for a brief stint. Roddenberry was, reportedly, responsible for this, as his way of saying "thank you" to the show's loyal fans.
I'm not sure if it were Roddenberry or other forces, but a second "gift" was given, this time to those loyal East Coast fans. It was announced in November that the film's premiere would be held in our nation's capitol in a gala Hollywood-like affair which would include a red carpet entrance, rotating Klieg lights, and – the most exciting part – the entire cast of the film!
We were all clamoring to discover exactly when this would take place and if we could get tickets. Quickly, we put out feelers and consulted every contact we possibly could, but the exact details were shrouded in secrecy and rumors. Time was ticking down to the scheduled date of December 7, and in Baltimore we still had no idea where or how to accomplish this feat. Finally, someone told us – I forget who – that the premiere was a fundraiser to benefit the National Space Club in Washington, DC. And, we were informed, the tickets remaining after members of the club were given first crack, were being sold for $100 each! I think it was about a week before the premiere when we finally learned the details of where to go and what to do. We obtained a phone number and Bev called the NSC and the woman affirmed that a donation of $100 would buy a seat, but she wasn't sure how many were left or how long they would last. We called our regular group to see if anyone else was interested, and only [April Valentine] said yes, she would bring the money over in the morning. Still, for some reason, we weren't sure we would successfully purchase them. They could be sold out, or our informant could be wrong and only members of the club were allowed to purchase them (one of those rumors we heard).
As soon as the bank opened the next morning, I went in and took out $300 in cash. (We weren't sure this place would take a check.) Then I drove over to Bev's and we proceeded in her car to the address we'd been given on M Street. We were so nervous going over, and when we entered the small office on one of the upper floors, we could barely squeak out that we were interested in purchasing three tickets to the Star Trek premiere. The woman nodded and walked back into another room. She was gone so long that we got worried again, thinking she was checking on something – that somehow we had to be approved to attend!
When she came back out, there was a brief exchange of money and an envelope into which she had slipped the treasured tickets. Bev and I walked out of the office, down the hall, and into the deserted elevator before we exploded with lusty screams and finally pulled out the gold-trimmed squares of paper – one, two, three of them! We were going to the premiere!! It had actually happened!
I think that moment was nearly as sweet as the actual evening we anticipated.
So now we had about one week, as I recall, to get ourselves ready. We had learned that the actual screening was to take place at the old art deco MacArthur Theatre in DC. But we were to report first to the garage below the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum, where we would leave our cars and board a shuttle bus that would take us to the theatre. After the film, we would be shuttled back to the main entrance of the Air & Space, where the reception would be held with food, music, the cast, everything. It was a formal affair, black tie, very posh. The three of us decided to buy gowns and started rummaging for borrowed furs (It was December, after all!). Appointments were hastily made to get our hair done the day before. This was the Big Time, and this was the Real Thing! We would see Bill and Leonard and De, hopefully see them together. We'd be the first in the country to see The Motion Picture. It seemed as if five years of hard work and devotion had paid off for us after all. If we had not had the connections we needed or not persevered, we wouldn't have had this opportunity of a lifetime. With gratitude and excitement, we got ready to participate in this gala occasion of Star Trek's rebirth!
It felt very strange dressing up in gowns and furs and leaving for the event in late afternoon, with the sun still out. We likened it to the Academy Awards, which we'd heard were held something like 3 p.m. in California. I remember stopping to get gas (we'd decided to take my car) and it seemed so bizarrely surreal because no one else in the mundane world knew how important a day this was or why I was formally dressed at that hour. Bev had company from out of town. Darlene C. and her husband had come up from Florida, and Ruth B. from Atlanta, to see the movie with us on its official opening day. They and Russ and her kids and mine would be waiting for us to return and tell them all about the fete. But we were sworn not to say a word about the movie itself!
When we arrived at the museum, people were milling about the lobby and I remember being surprised at who was there and who wasn't. Some, of course, we had known about, had talked to about it, but others we didn't expect to see. It seems everyone had made use of fan connections and obtained tickets by hook or by crook. The Washington contingent was there, and quite a few of the fen from New York and New Jersey – all our friends and fellow Trekkers! It was like a fancy, formal convention!
It had rained earlier but was clear when we boarded the two shuttle buses for the MacArthur. Here we were, most of the prominent fans of the East Coast, and at one point we were going over this tiny bridge and someone said later that she thought, "We're going to plunge off this bridge and I'll never get to see the movie!" But we made it safely and embarked to the rotating lights above the theatre and a wide red carpet laid down to the entrance of the MacArthur.
We found our seats and then returned to the lobby to await the arrival of the actors, who were coming in limousines. We stood on either side of the wide doors and applauded as each came through – George Takei, Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols, then Jimmy Doohan and DeForest Kelley, all done up in tux and gown. Bill Shatner arrived with his wife Marcy, and we saw Persis Khambata and Stephen Collins, our newcomers. Gene Roddenberry with his wife, Majel arrived with the film's director, Robert Wise. Somehow, Bev and I missed Leonard Nimoy, and for a few moments I actually thought he hadn't come. I went back down to our seats and I said to [April Valentine], "Nimoy's not here." And she said, "What do you mean? He's right over there," and pointed across the aisle and down a few rows from where we were seated. Boy, was my face red!
And as it turned out, Bill was seated directly behind Leonard, and we three had a vantage point to watching them watch the movie. Several times, Bill leaned forward and touched Leonard's shoulder and said something to him. Once the film began to roll, I was torn between watching the screen and watching Bill and Leonard!
Before any feedback, before the reviews and the picking at it that so many would soon do, the audience's reaction was as mine: The Motion Picture was everything we had dreamed about. Maybe not perfect, but we were willing to forgive the little mistakes for the time being. We had the sickbay scene. We had "This. . .simple feeling." We were satisfied. No, we were triumphant!
When we arrived back at our point of origin, the Air and Space Museum had been transformed into a party wonderland. And as we entered the building, an orchestra was playing the brand new music from the film! (Side note here: You know, I hated when Next Generation took that music as their theme, because for me, it would always be associated with the Premiere.) The musicians also played the love theme, afterward known as "A Star Beyond Time."
Buffet tables were set up and piled with shrimp cocktail, escargot, stuffed mushrooms, and all manner of delicacies. The cast mingled with the attendees, but we saw little of Bill and Leonard. One time, for a few minutes, we were able to observe them, as I recall. I guess I should report that Bill had on a shirt with ruffles down the front and at the cuffs, while Leonard wore a tailored tuxedo shirt. So like their individual personalities, so like Kirk and Spock. There was so much going on, so much to take in. Sensory overload for sure!
Years later, I was to work for The Maryland Science Center, and part of my job was attending to the Special Events that they held there, but in 1979 it seemed totally awesome to me that the Premiere party was held in the Smithsonian. It was such a fitting place, really the only place that made any sense. Up on the second floor hung the model of the Enterprise, one of the actual models used in filming the series. There was a very cute moment when Gene Roddenberry took his young son, Rod, to look at it. I have a photograph of Rod, in a tiny tuxedo, up in his father's arms, with Gene pointing at the Enterprise model. Truly a Kodak moment!
But all too soon the magical evening had to end. We were sated and happy and so grateful to have been a part of this moment. We headed back to Bev's house, but not before pausing to help poor George Takei, who was wandering around the underground garage looking for his car! He had forgotten where he parked! We offered to drive him to it, save him from walking, and he got in my car and in a few minutes he spied his vehicle and thanked us profusely!
Back at the house, we discovered that the stay-at-homes hadn't stayed at home. They had driven over to the MacArthur Theatre to mingle with a crowd of fans who were standing outside waiting for the cast to arrive. They had talked about doing this, but when we left they felt deterred by the rain.But they had decided to go, and had all gotten glimpses of the stars.Once the celebrities were all inside, the crowd dispersed and our group went back to Bev's.
The next day, the official opening of ST:TMP, we all went to see it twice! In the afternoon, for the first showing, we went back to see it at the MacArthur, even though it was playing at several theatres in Baltimore. We met up with the Washington group and stood on line waiting to buy our tickets. That night, we went to see it in Baltimore and I remember standing on line there and someone in line said something, I forget what, and I told him he would love this movie. And he said "Have you seen it?" To which I answered, "Yes, twice!" Talk about eyes popping! The movie had only been out for a few hours; I knew he wondered how I'd seen it twice already!
ST:TMP made a lot of changes in fandom and nothing was ever quite the same as we entered a new decade and the many challenges we would face. We weren't sure if The Motion Picture would benefit or hinder fan fiction as we knew it.But more about that later, as we streak into the 1980's!