Supporters and Whoopee!
by George Takei
LOS ANGELES - The month of August had for me as its bookends, two massive Star Trek conventions. It began with the yearly Creation Convention in Las Vegas, Nevada, and finished with a colossal extravaganza -- the biggest convention that I have ever attended -- called Dragon Con in Atlanta, Georgia. And set right in the middle of the month was a delightful trip to Louisville, Kentucky, for Easter Seal fundraising events. August was a good month. It was a month of trekking around the country to have fun with supporters and for me to be a supporter of a good cause.
People have often asked me why I do Star Trek conventions. I do them to express my appreciation to the fans for their support. It's a great opportunity to say thank you. I consider the conventions to be an amazing phenomenon. What other show, now more than 37 years old, attracts thousands of multi-generational, multi-national and multi-lingual fans to cities all around this planet to celebrate together? These fans gather for a multitude of reasons, but, at its core, they all share the shining vision of the future that Gene Roddenberry had depicted on Star Trek. I was fortunate in being a part of that future and have enjoyed and been enriched by that association.
The fans' support for Star Trek also extended to backing for each of the individual actors involved. It is very flattering. But, in addition to that ego-warming compliment, their devotion has enhanced our career opportunities as well. I have been able to work on international films - of Australia, Britain, South Korea, and the Philippines. I have been able to work on stage in Scotland and England as well as throughout the U.S. I have worked on films that have taken me on locations as far east as Bucharest, Romania, and as far west as Brisbane, Australia. I know that this is, in large part, because of the backing of the fans of Star Trek. The conventions are great opportunities to personally thank them for that support. Over the years that I've been on the convention circuit, I've come to know many of the regular attendees and they have become friends. So, very simply, the conventions are great fun. They are weekends of whoopee with friends!
None, however, have been as colossal as the convention in Atlanta called Dragon Con from which I just returned. Early estimates were that there were over 30,000 fans attending. I believe it! The turnout was incredible. The convention completely took over two mega-hotels, each with more than 1,000 rooms as well as many other hotels nearby. The streets outside and the hotel lobbies became an enormous flood of people - as well as strange alien life forms.
The Dragon Con experience was as surreal as it was massive. Saturday morning began with a parade down the main street of downtown Atlanta, Peachtree Street. I was at the head of the parade - a very ordinary human Grand Marshall riding a convertible driven by a husky, blonde Klingon warrior. Then, to the stirring sounds of bagpipes, came the most bizarre procession of life forms ever seen on this planet. There was a nine-foot tall insect-like creature spouting steam. There were ethereal beings, pale and gossamer. There were morbid life forms dripping what looked like blood. There was an unruly battalion of Klingon warriors followed by a disciplined platoon of Imperial Storm Troopers looking shiny, white, and lethal. This spectacle of a myriad galactic life forms continued on and on. I finished early so I rushed up to my hotel room balcony and viewed the whole unearthly demonstration from above. This surreal exhibition, however, was not confined just to the parade. The onlookers from the sidewalk appeared as "creatively" put together as the fantastical creatures marching past - all this on a humid Atlanta morning in late August.
That afternoon, Vaughn Armstrong, J.G. Hertzler, and I judged what was called the Miss Klingon Empire Beauty Pageant. Isn't the combination of the word Klingon with beauty an oxymoron? Or, is it just my human prejudice? The victor in this weird and wonderful contest was a belligerently buxom combatant who disgustingly demonstrated her deadly cooking skills. It was outlandish good fun. On Sunday evening, Walter Koenig and I served as the masters of ceremony of the Dragon Con Masquerade. It was another phantasmagoric spectacle. Thank heaven I did not have judging duties at this one.
Dragon Con was a singular experience. However, as at all Star Trek conventions, there were many familiar faces there. The attendees were largely from the South, but there were fans from all over the U.S. as well as a few from abroad. It was good to see Marcus Erbar from Germany who brought photos and a gift from his friend, Johannes. Thank you, Johannes. I would guess that Marcus was the one who had traveled the farthest for this convention.
My trip to Louisville, Kentucky, in the middle of the month was, not only to enjoy a convivial time with supporters, but myself to be a supporter as well. At the invitation of actor and Kentuckian, Conrad Bachmann, I flew to Louisville for a series of fund-raisers for Cardinal Hill Rehabilitation Center supported by the Easter Seals campaign. Cardinal Hill is a clinic that provides rehabilitation programs for children and young people afflicted by disabilities due to a variety of illnesses such as multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, and spinal cord injuries. I must say, Kentuckians know how to raise-funds for an important charity while, at the same time, have fun combined with that fabled southern hospitality all in one gracious weekend.
Joining me was a host of actors and musical performers. It was great to meet actor Ed O'Ross, who played the Russian suitor in one of my favorite television series, "Six Feet Under." It was, however, a bit odd to hear him talking in his normal American speech instead of his extremely convincing Russian accent. It's a tribute to his talent that he had me believing that he was a real Russian immigrant. Although I'm not a soap opera viewer, I found myself spending a lot of time with the scintillating, Patrika Darbo, of "Days of Our Lives" and her husband, Rolf, as well as her television husband from the show, Kevin Spirtas. They were, each in their own matchless way, witty, engaging, and great company. During our stay in Louisville, we visited the Louisville Slugger Baseball Museum and Factory, Churchill Downs Race Track and the Kentucky Derby Museum where we enjoyed a tour of the stables and the handsome racehorses. One of the highlights was the opportunity to view glass artists at work at the Kentucky Glassworks. I couldn't resist buying two of their sparkling creations.
The fund-raising events were spread over three evenings. The first was a delightfully entertaining one-man show with Jack Benny impersonator Eddie Carroll. The second was an evening of Bourbon and food tasting, with some of the most popular restaurants of Louisville contributing their most delectable offerings. The weekend concluded with a dazzling gala, the Lily Ball, in the Medallion Ballroom of the historic Seelbach Hilton Hotel. All proceeds went to support the work of the Cardinal Hill Center.
It was impressive seeing the people of Louisville come out in such great numbers to support a vital cause. There was a spirit of community - the businesses, the volunteers, and certainly, the people of Louisville who turned out in such numbers to contribute to the work of an important community institution. It was a privilege to be able to be a part of this splendid effort. I want to especially salute Brian Cullinan, president of Ned Beatty Hope for Children Classic for his devoted work for the charity.
As I write this, I am eagerly anticipating the airing of a television film in which I portray the U.S. Secretary of Transportation, Norman Mineta in "D.C. 9/11: Time of Crisis." It airs on Sunday evening, September 7. The film is a reminder of the horrors we suffered two years ago on September 11. It is also a powerful commentary on our democracy that I play a man who grew up in an American internment camp sixty years ago and is now serving as a member of the President's cabinet. I invite your comments on this film.