Schuster Star Trek Conventions

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Star Trek Convention
Name: Schuster Star Trek Conventions (also referred to as "Tristar Conventions", also by a variety of individual names)
Dates: 1970s....
Frequency: annual
Location: New York, and then later in other cities
Type: actor conventions, for profit
Focus:
Organization:
Founder:
Founding Date:
URL:
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Schuster Star Trek Conventions (with a variety of individual titles, as well as "Tristar Conventions") were a series of Star Trek conventions by Al Schuster which replaced the fan run Star Trek Lives! conventions in New York in the late 1970s.

Eventually, the franchise began holding "Schuster Star Trek Conventions" events in other cities such as Atlanta and Philadelphia. These cons were headed by Al Schuster and/or John Townsley.

Many of these earlier cons were organized under the organization Tristar Industries. The last two cons (1981) were produced by "Capital Expositions" which was the same company and address but with a different name.

Other Cons at This Time

Schuster: a 1976 Video Interview

See Al Schuster, along with Harlan Ellison, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, and Walter Koenig discuss cons, the "cult" of Star Trek, fan exploitation, violence in Star Trek, and a whole lot more.

About

Conventions in the Schuster era were notable only for the masses of pilgrims who came willingly to each one. Al Schuster was a promoter, an entrepreneur who staged "shows" much like today's Creation Cons. There was no "programming" to speak of, nothing past 5 p.m. except Costume Call, no panels, no use of fannish talent. There were only the actor guests, but for those of us who had never had an opportunity to get up close and personal with any of our beloved Trek idols, that was enough. And we knew no different kind of convention experience.

New York wasn't the only venue for Schuster. He staged smaller cons in Washington, DC, in Philadelphia (at the hotel later known for the "Legionnaire's Disease"), and in other cities farther removed from me. At these "smaller" cons, the guest list would be shorter and the con would last only two days. And the reign of Schuster was only for a few years, although it seemed longer at the time. But it was John Townsley who put on the Show of All Shows – Bi-Centennial Ten – which was in 1976, only three years after Schuster started with the Committee in 1973.

The Townsley cons went on up into the 1980s sometime, and it was he who held two in New York every year. We lived for the end of summer and the Labor Day weekend convention. And Christmas became an afterthought as we geared up for the President's Day Weekend con in mid-February. Although, as the years passed, we went to other conventions in other locales, nothing compared to the ones in New York, because it was there we saw the majority of our fellow east coast fen. [1]

Over-Reaching, Greed, and Other Complaints

In 1976, Al Schuster notified fans that, due to financial difficulties, plans for his Seattle convention have were canceled. [2]

A fan in very early 1981 wrote:
Are you as totally fed up with the irresponsible behavior of J. Townsley as I am? I'm referring, of course, to the recent Philadelphia convention fiasco. [Referring to schedule changes with no notification]... in both cases, I suffered considerable financial setback and an even greater degree of mental anguish. I am (to put it bluntly) sick of getting screwed by this turkey, and I want to shoot him down! True, he is the only person who handles pro cons, but his cons are little better than nothing. And surely there must be some way we could stage our own larger-than-fan cons. Townsley's advertising efforts are so pathetic. I would be surprised if we couldn't do better via the grapevine. Perhaps we have legal recourse?... Or perhaps we could stage a boycott in hopes of getting Townsley to improve? I am as anxious as the next fan to get together with friends, especially since I don't live on the east coast where gatherings are common... but I do think we owe it to ourselves to consider alternatives... [3]
A fan in July 1983 complained about another fan's slam on dealers, and mentioned both the last Houstoncon and the Schuster/Townsley cons:

I must object most strongly to your unfair and unkind remarks about dealers. Practically every dealer is also a fan and collector him/herself, who happened to become a dealer, some almost accidentally, in order to further and support their

own fannish habit—not too different from many fan artists, writers and editors. If anyone gets the hard time from Paramount, or from con managements, it is the dealers; look at what happened at Houstoncon last year, or the last Townsley cons where many dealers never received refunds for the tables they never got. [4]

Much Strife with "Star Trek Lives!" and Other Cons

Caption for this negative and mocking 1976 article from the UK paper, "The Guardian," "Trekkie with antennae; embarrassing to the SF straights," an example of the worst of mundane and fansplaining reporting about fans.

Schuster broke off from the Star Trek Lives! cons after the third gathering, something that caused much strife. But both the producers of "Schuster Cons" and the "Star Trek Lives!" cons agreed on was mutual dislike of Lisa Boynton's two cons, Star Trek Chicago and New York Star Trek '76.

From a 1976 article in the UK newspaper, "The Guardian,":

The first of New York's three [cons], at the Statler Hilton, drew a relatively modest 4,000, but that, says promoter Al Schuster, was because an alien called Lisa Boynton beamed in from Chicago and cut his throat with a much-vaunted rival Con at the New York Hilton. Ms Boynton packed 20,000 into her event, and locked maybe as many again outside.

There was well publicised strift, as well no doubt as a presentable killing, at the Hilton Con, something that did no go unremarked at the Con at the Commodore a week later [at Star Trek Lives!]. Organiser Joan Winston said rather bluntly that Boynton had "raped and pillaged," and that Schuster was just in it for the money. Mr. Schuster reported that the Commodore crowed were childishly naive, and naaive they may well have been, but they sold out the five-day Con up to its 6,000 capacity at up to $20 a ticket. Writs, meanwhile, have been far thicker in the air than starships.
From a 1976 article in the "New York Times":

In the science fiction world of “Star Trek,” earthly divisions are a thing of the past. But promoters of the cult that has enveloped the television series, who live in the world of competition, seem to be having some trouble living up to the brotherhood ideal that the program fosters.

The Star Trek convention that opens at the Commodore Hotel today is the third here in a month, and perhaps the 20th in the country in the last year. There is an industry churning out Star Trek memorabilia. There are dozens of books, and Paramount is planning a film.

The cult, it seems, is as strong as ever. But so too are the words that some of the rival promoters have for one another after two years of grand‐jury hearings, lawsuits, countersuits, settlements out of court and competing conventions.

To Joan Winston, one of the organizers of the convention that opens today, Albert Schuster is a man who is “interested only in making money.” Mr. Schuster, promoter of a rival convention here last month that lost money, considers Miss Winston and her collaborators “childishly naive.”

If the two agree on anything, it is that Lisa Boynton of Chicago, promoter of yet another convention, which drew more than 20,000 people to the New York Hilton Hotel, was an out‐and‐out interloper. Her convention came two weeks after Mr. Schuster's, which drew only 4,000. “She just came in, raped and pillaged, then left,” said Miss Winston.

“She's strictly a businesswoman, out for the buck,” said Mr. Schuster, who believes that Miss Boynton's advertising “confused” thousands of “Trekkies”—acolytes of the cult—into patronizing her convention rather than his.

“She just about buried me,” he said.

Once upon a time, Mr. Schuster and Miss Winston were on the same team. Together with about a dozen other New Yorkers, they mounted the International Star Trek convention here in 1972, the first of its kind. The organizers planned for 500 people, and got 3,000.

It was not the birth of the cult. That had been growing since 1969, when the series was dropped by network television and went into reruns, which can still be seen on dozens of stations across the country. But it was the first solid evidence that: Star Trek frenzy could be, turned to gold.

The same team followed up with conventions in 1973 and 1974, before Mr. Schuster and the others split asunder. Accounts of the dispute vary, but the essence of it seems to have been that Mr. Schuster, an entrepreneur, wanted, to make the convention more commercial than his collaborators would allow.

Miss Winston, manager of the contracts department at the American Broadcasting Companies’ headquarters here, proclaims herself a “Trekkie.” To her, the conventions are a means of propagating the Star Trek “message”—one of a future when life on earth will be peaceful, and multinational crews travel through space in search of other forms of life.

To Mr. Schuster, who lives in Hackensack, N. J., “there is no such thing as altruism.” It is fine, he said, if the conventions inspire their patrons, but the principal purpose must be “to exploit the series commercially.” Besides, he added, while some of the Star Trek programs were good, many others were “pure tripe, utter bunk, complete garbage.”

A Plethora of Suits

When Mr. Schuster parted company with the others after the 1974 convention, he said, he took with him some $6,000 from the convention bank account. This resulted in a barrage of suits that have still not ended. In the meantime, he has continued to organize a convention of his own here, as well as others in Philadelphia and Washington.

The five‐day convention at the Commodore, which advertises itself as “the real one,” will follow the pattern of the others. Some of Star Trek's principal actors will be there for discussions, and there will be a dealers’ room where enthusiasts can buy everything from Star Trek T‐shirts to jewelry. The 6,000 tickets, at $20.60 for all five days, are sold out.

And where will Mr. Schuster be? Right there, in his rivals’ dealers’ room, purveying his Star Trek wares.

“Unfortunately,” he said, “I don't have any choice. Since my own debacle last month, I have to find Trekkies wherever I can.” [5]

Specific Cons

Subpages for Schuster Star Trek Conventions:

Also see Star Trek Christmas Festival, a mini-con in 1977.

Other Names

Some cons may be missing in this line-up.

Also, fans were very casual in how they referred to these series of cons, often calling them titles that were a fusion of the "official" names, as well as the Star Trek Lives! series of cons. This makes sorting these early cons out very tricksy.

Who Ran Them?

These cons were first run by Al Schuster, a former member of the committee that ran Star Trek Lives!. Several of these cons were titled" "The International Star Trek Convention." After Al Schuster split with the Star Trek Lives! conventions in 1975, the name "International Star Trek Convention" went with him.

Al Schuster and John Townsley were in charge of later cons.

Many of these conventions were organized under the name Tristar Industries [6]

From At the Helm #1/2, "The Schuster Syndrome."
This is all very confusing. In New York City in the mid 70s there were at least three rival Star Trek conventions with Star Trek Convention being the oldest. The Star Trek Lives! committee split in 1974, with its chairman, Al Schuster, leaving to create a rival convention.

He kept the name (International Star Trek Convention) from the previous conventions while the committee started using Star Trek Convention for theirs. Many in fandom distinguished the new Al Schuster-run conventions from the old committee-run conventions by calling the Schuster-run series "Al Schuster's International Star Trek Convention"...

Al Schuster's 4th Annual International Star Trek Convention was scheduled a month before Star Trek Lives! (the Star Trek Convention) so that in 1976 things came to a head with three New York Star Trek conventions in a two-month period. Al Shuster's 4th Annual International Star Trek Convention was first, being held on January 22-25 at the New York Hilton, the Star Trek Convention 1976 was on February 12-16 at the Commodore Hotel (which had a membership limit of 6000), and a commercial Star Trek convention two weeks later.

The Shuster-led convention attracted between 20,000 and 50,000 people according to the New York Times with many ticket holders being turned away when the facilities were completely swamped. (Its committee seems to have been entirely unprepared and quite disorganized.) The New York Attorney General investigated and both fan-run conventions ended. See also Star Trek Fiasco.

This had a fortunate side-effect in that it probably helped to kill the SF Expo, an convention planned for June of that year at the New York Hilton which was an attempt to create a regular SF convention on the scale of the Star Trek conventions. [7]

Enter John Townsley

In the Beginning, there was Al Schuster, and the Committee. And the two would be split, and briefly each would offer up a different event, before Schuster would reign alone as the King of New York. His Heir Apparent was a man named John Townsley, who inherited the multitudes which Schuster and the Committee had grown.[8]

"Star Trek America" Replaced the Fan-Run Cons... And Then in Turn, Was Replaced by Creation Con

Star Trek cons followed a familiar fandom life-cycle, one fueled by money.

"Star Trek America" had moved into prime fannish territory as a for-profit venture, only to be ousted less than ten years later by an outfit with similar goals but deeper pocketbooks -- Creation Con.

The "Tristar Cons" as they were called then, lasted until about 1981, when a few things happened. The price of hotel space skyrocketed to the point many organizers couldn't afford "big city" hotels space anymore. Also, after 1979 and STAR TREK THE MOTION PICTURE, Trek became "hot" property again and Paramount Pictures, wanted a piece of the action in terms of licensing the very name "Star Trek" to a convention-which became an expensive proposition. Also, major "A" list guests started wanting astronomical fees for their appearances at such events, and many also declined going to them.

The last "Tristar Con" I believe took place someplace out on Staten Island at a low-rent Holiday Inn and the last guests, I believe, may have been Roger C. Carmel (Harry Mudd, who lived around New York at the time) and Howard Weinstein. Weinstein, btw, was the writer of the Trek animated "The Pirates of Orion". I never attended that one. But it was around 1982, that Creation Conventions actually made a somewhat exclusive deal with Paramount to hold "Star Trek" conventions, much to the chargrin [sic] of the smaller local conventions which were being told by lawyers to no longer use "Star Trek" in their promotions or convention names. Creation went onto well into the 80's and 90's securing many if not all of the biggest names in all of the varying "Star Trek" series. [9]

Fan Comments Regarding Changes in Star Trek Cons

From a fan in February 1978:
STAR WARS is here, and I am glad to be in at the beginning of a new fandom. However, I don't think it will replace TREK — it might enhance it! Meanwhile, science fiction on TV marches to its doom. LOGAN'S RUN has run its course — a pity, because there were some good ideas in it. But not enough Trekkers were willing to save it, so down it goes! To be replaced, next year, by Buck Rogers which will probably be played for Camp! And what's the latest movie rumor? For anyone who wants face-to-face confrontation, I'll be at S.T. World in New York in February; at T'Con in March; then nothing till summer. And I'll explain why New York fandom supports Mr. Townsley and his Cons — at this point in time, they're the only game in town. THE Committee closed up shop In '76, and there's a Mini-Con every six months, but for a full-scale Con you need an organization and a lot of money, and Mr. T has both. Ergo — he tries to provide fannish activity and Star Fan activity and in my opinion he's done pretty well. He MUST bring in the Neofen — that's how he can support the rest of the con. And if fandom doesn't admit new members, it's doomed to extiction by slow attrition, as people gafiate. [10]
From a fan in October 1987:
The Star Trek cons today are nothing like the ST cons of the 70s, in particularly the Al Schuster and the Committee cons. First of all, they were larger, averaging 3000+, and there seemed to be more enthusiasm among the attendees. Even the one-day Mini-Trek cons were fun. Shucks, even the John Townsley ST cons were fun compared to ST cons nowadays. I went to Clippercon in February, and even though I had a nice time, the con didn't have the same electricity, the excitement of the old cons. Maybe I'm just getting old. More importantly, the ST cons of the 70s were fan run cons. With your inexpensive (by today's standards) membership, you got a con shopping bag with lots of goodies: a really nice program book, badge, pocket program, Buttons, etc. .. There were NASA exhibits, guest speakers, and usually at least one member of the cast as Guest of Honor. The dealer's room was good, the art show was decent, and the film program kept you going all night. The con suite was really active, especially after the con. At the 1975 New York ST Con, we had a con suite party that lasted 12 hours! Honest! It started when the con closed at 6:00 pm and I got home at about 8:00 am the next morning. At this party was composed the famous filksong 'Battle Hymn of the Convention'. [11]

Fan's General Comments

We always had a party to introduce the next issue of our zine. Shore Leave was easier (than the Townsley conventions) because the people at Shore Leave were nicer and the hotel people more accommodating.

The Townsley conventions were held in New York at the Statler Hilton. This was a very old hotel. They had very odd rooms—the rooms were either very large, or very tiny. (The small ones had been used as servant’s quarters decades ago.) The size of the room you got when you checked in depended entirely on the luck of the draw. A first I didn't care about room size, but after I brought out the first two or three issues of Nome, premiering them at the Townsley conventions, I started doing room parties for Nome.

We needed a big room. The last time we brought out a zine for a Townsley convention, we decided, let's tell them in advance that we need a big room. We got there Thursday afternoon. We requested a big room, but the hotel clerk gave us the runaround. He gave us the keys to our room, but when we got there other people were already in that room who had nothing to do with the con. We went back downstairs. The clerk refused to give us a better room, so I told him, just cancel the reservation; we’re local; we'll just commute. Without a word he turned around and handed us another key. It was for a big room.

After Townsley stopped dong the conventions Shore Leave was just beginning, so we switched premiering zines from Townsley to Shore Leave. We wanted a fan dominated convention, and we premiered most of the rest of our zines at Shore Leave from then on. [12]

References

  1. from Reminisce With Me/The Big New York Cons, Part II
  2. a notice in A Piece of the Action #37 (May 1976)
  3. from Universal Translator #7
  4. Barbara P. Gordon in Interstat #69
  5. "Earthly Rivalries Have “Star Trek” Promoters in Orbit," by John F. Burns, February 12, 1976, "New York Times"
  6. "These conventions, were done at the time by the now-long defunct "Tristar Industries"(it wasn't an "industry" as much as it was a few people who organized things) of Staten Island, which essentially picked up the baton left by Joan Winston's bunch, in 1976." -- STAR TREK 1978; archive link, Bob Eggleton, 2008
  7. from Fancyclopedia
  8. from Reminisce With Me/The Big New York Cons, Part II
  9. STAR TREK 1978; archive link, Bob Eggleton, 2008
  10. Roberta Rogow in Interstat #4 (February 1978)
  11. from Comlink #32
  12. from Legacy Interview with Victoria Clark in Legacy