Monthly Archives: February 2015

In Memoriam: Leonard Nimoy


“A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory. LLAP”

— Leonard Nimoy’s final Twitter post, February 23, 2015

It isn’t often that I find myself at a loss for words, but yesterday’s news that Leonard Nimoy had died left me floundering. What do you say about the loss of a man you never met in person but who nevertheless felt like a member of your own family?

I do not remember a time when I had never seen Star Trek. That’s the plain truth. My mother has told me she and I started watching the show together when it went into syndication in the early ’70s. She wasn’t a science-fiction fan, particularly, it was just part of the afternoon block of old sitcoms, westerns, and spy shows that provided background noise while she did the housework, and I was a captive toddler audience playing on the living room rug in front of our old console TV, the one that I once fell against and split my scalp open. Why Star Trek sank its hooks so deeply into me instead of Gunsmoke or Mission Impossible is anybody’s guess, but it did. One of my earliest memories is talking to a little girl in my kindergarten class about a dream I’d had involving her and Mr. Spock, Nimoy’s signature character from that show. (You could tell a girl something like that in kindergarten without fear that she’d crush your soul with derisive laughter and then make you persona non grata with the rest of the class; such repercussions didn’t become a risk until somewhat later… fifth grade, in my experience.)

Many of my fellow travelers shared their memories on social media yesterday and they were all telling the same basic story, about how they felt like outsiders growing up, and in the half-human, half-alien Spock, they found a character to identify with, a role model who could guide them through the tricky business of finding yourself when you just don’t quite fit in. I understand why they were drawn to him, but I never identified with Spock in that way myself. Oh, I had plenty of moments when I felt like an alien among my peers. I think every kid does, even the ones who don’t prefer comic books and sci-fi paperbacks to football and dirt bikes. But I always gravitated toward Captain Kirk as my inspiration and role model. Spock was… well, if Kirk was the man I wanted to be, Spock was the friend I wanted to have. When I think of the character, that’s the first thing that comes to my mind: not his struggles to suppress, then to understand and finally to accept his human half… not his logical thinking or his trademark pointy ears or his Vulcan neck pinch, but all the times he and Kirk expressed their friendship, their fierce loyalty — their love — for one another.

In the classic episode “The City on the Edge of Forever,” Kirk and Spock are displaced in time, and a 20th century woman named Edith Keeler — played by the luscious Joan Collins — tries to figure out where these two strange men ought to be. She can’t imagine at all where Kirk belongs, but Spock, she says, she sees always at Kirk’s side. In Star Trek: The Motion Picture, after a disastrous attempt to telepathically mindmeld with the super-intelligence called V’Ger, Spock takes Kirk’s hand and tells him that “this simple feeling” — i.e., friendship — “is beyond V’Ger’s understanding.” And of course the most famous line Spock ever uttered, from his death scene in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan: “I have been and always shall be your friend.” (Man, I remember writing that in a lot of high school yearbooks and feeling like I was so deep and clever.) Watching that scene on YouTube yesterday morning just about ripped my heart out of my chest, and I’m not ashamed to admit I shed a few tears sitting in my cubicle on the 13th floor of a skyscraper in the heart of downtown Salt Lake City, a long way away from that living room rug in front of the TV in a little farmtown in the early 1970s. Because yesterday it felt like he was saying those words to me. Spock… Leonard… my friend… from the time I was a very small boy… saying goodbye.

There was much more to Leonard Nimoy than just Spock, of course. He appeared in many other classic television shows, from Perry Mason and The Twilight Zone to Mission: Impossible. He hosted In Search Of…, which more or less established the template still followed by countless overly credulous “documentary” shows about the unexplained. On stage, he played Sherlock Holmes and Vincent Van Gogh, and Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof. He was downright creepy in the 1978 remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the rare example of a remake that’s just as effective — arguably better, in fact — than the original. And only last week, I watched him in an fun little curiosity called Baffled!, a failed TV pilot that had a lot of interesting ideas behind it but just didn’t quite come together. As a director, he scored a tremendous non-Star Trek hit with the 1987 ensemble-comedy film Three Men and a Baby. He wrote poetry. He was an accomplished photographer. And he recorded music, even though he himself admitted he wasn’t much of a singer. (Talented singer or not, his 1967 novelty tune “The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins” is bizarrely charming, unlike much of William Shatner’s musical output, which is just bizarre.) But of course it’s Spock that he will forever be associated with, a character that has so thoroughly penetrated popular culture that he’s known even to people who’ve never seen a single frame of the television series or movies he comes from.

Like his other Star Trek costars, most notably Shatner, Nimoy has at times expressed ambivalence about that silly old television show being his legacy. In the ’70s, he wrote a memoir with the somewhat-petulant title I Am Not Spock. And if you delve into the production history of the Star Trek movies, there was always a question of whether he would consent to appear, at least in the earlier ones. At one point, Spock was not included in the script for Star Trek: The Motion Picture, and the original plan around the character’s death in The Wrath of Khan was for him to stay dead. (Honestly, I’ve often thought that would’ve been a more courageous and creatively interesting path for the series to take, and possibly a healthier path for the franchise as a whole… but of course that argument is academic at this point, after three decades, four more original-cast movies, and appearances by Nimoy-as-Spock in both The Next Generation and the JJ Abrams reboot films.)  But eventually Nimoy came to embrace his Vulcan alter ego, to the point that he penned a second memoir in the 1990s and called it I Am Spock, a nod to his earlier book as well as a direct refutation of its title. And he adopted a charming, sly, and self-deprecating sense of humor about the whole thing, which was nicely displayed in an Audi commercial he filmed a year or so back with Zachary Quinto, the young actor who plays Spock in the reboot films.

I’ve been fortunate enough over the past few decades, and especially since the Salt Lake Comic Cons began in 2013, to meet quite a few of the actors I grew up watching. I’ve found it genuinely fulfilling to shake their hands and tell them how much their work has meant to me, whether I’m talking to Adrian Paul from Highlander: The Series or Erin Gray from Buck Rogers or Bruce Campbell of Evil Dead fame or Danny Glover from… well, all kinds of things. But my experience of meeting people associated with the original Star Trek has been on a whole different plane from the others, and almost shockingly moving for me. Of the seven main cast members, I’ve met four: Shatner, Nichelle Nichols (Uhura), the late James Doohan (Scotty), and the irrepressible George Takei (Sulu). Sadly, I never got the chance to meet DeForest Kelley, a.k.a. Dr. “Bones” McCoy, who died in 1999. And I didn’t get to meet Leonard either, although I kinda-sorta came close. He was invited to the last Salt Lake Comic Con, in September of last year. He couldn’t come in person due to his declining health, but he did arrange to appear via Skype in a panel discussion… which Anne and I did not attend because the timing conflicted with something else at the con that we’d spent considerable money on and so were committed to doing. I did, however, buy one of the limited number of autographed photos that Leonard had sent on ahead to the convention organizers. While a cynical part of me notes that there’s no way to be sure he actually signed the photo or touched it in any way, I choose to believe in its legitimacy… and I am glad to have at least that much of him. Because I knew six months ago that it was the closest I was ever going to get to him.

Nimoy maintained an active online presence through Twitter, interacting with fans and signing every post “LLAP,” an acronym for his Spockian catchphrase, “Live long and prosper.” In recent years, he took to calling himself “Grandpa” and offering to be an honorary grandfather for anyone who cared to take him up on it. For the record, I never did… at least not formally. (I wish I had.) But when I read of his death, I felt as if I really had lost a grandfather. To be honest, I think I felt more grief yesterday than I did when I lost my real grandfathers, neither of whom I was close with. But Leonard… ah, Leonard I felt like I gotten to know, and I liked him. It’s not the loss of “Spock” I’ve been mourning. It’s the kind, good-humored old Jewish man with the quick smile and the big laugh and the unmistakable voice, the lively wit and strong sense of social justice, the celebrity who seemed genuinely concerned for his fans when he urged them to learn from his example and stay away from cigarettes…

At Spock’s funeral in Star Trek II, his friend Admiral Kirk says, “of all the souls I have encountered in my travels, his was the most… human.” And although my fellow fanboys have already turned it into a cliche to use this line in reference to Leonard Nimoy, I can’t think of anything better to sum up this actor, this icon, this man whom I really wish I’d been lucky enough to meet.


On the Connection Between Cars and Rock Music


“…the mobility afforded by the automobile combined with a rockin’ soundtrack was a recipe for spiritual liberation. Play loud and drive fast – these things go hand in glove. It’s really not a coincidence that the popularity of hot rods and custom cars was concurrent with the rise of rock ‘n’ roll – they’re really about the same thing.

–Billy Gibbons, lead guitarist, ZZ Top

Quote sourced from here; photo from here.


Local Landmark Is Kunstler’s Eyesore of the Month!

I make no claim to knowing anything about architecture as an art or a science, but I know what I like. And more importantly, what I don’t like. Guess which category this falls into?

federal-courthouse-slcThat’s the new U.S. federal courthouse in Salt Lake City. Completed just about one year ago, the building houses 10 courtrooms along with associated offices and agencies, is LEED certified as a “green” building, and has won a number of awards from architectural and engineering organizations. It’s designed to make use of natural daylight as much as possible, it’s built with recycled materials, and it even has an open-to-the-public cafe in the lobby. Oh, and free Wi-Fi in the cafe, too.

Too bad it’s so frakkin’ hideous.

What the architects describe as “a primary form, projecting grounded dignity, immovable order, and an equal face to all sides” looks like an aggressively uninviting aluminum box to we lesser beings who do not dwell in the rarefied air of the modernists and post-modernists. I pass this monolith on my daily train commute every day, and I’ve heard out-of-towners and locals alike say things along the lines of, “what the hell is that?!” as it heaves into view. I’ve never heard anyone say, “Oh, I really like how its austere exterior challenges my bourgeois sense of aesthetics with its defiant lack of traditional ornamentation!” Certainly nobody has ever called it “pretty” within my hearing. What we Salt Lakers mostly call it is “the Borg Cube.”

Given my feelings about this monstrosity — which, by the way, were not at all influenced by the demolition of one of my favorite watering-holes from my younger days, the late, lamented Port o’ Call, to make room for this thing — I couldn’t help but laugh when I heard that James Howard Kunstler, author of The Geography of Nowhere: The Rise and Decline of America’s Man-made Landscape, has chosen it as his February Eyesore of the Month. Describing the architects’ sterile conceptual rendering, Kunstler says:

[Architects Thomas Phifer and Partners have] really caught that old security state spirit in a building that looks uncannily like the computer server that contains your credit record, your tax filings, your phone log, your internet purchase trail, the drone photos taken outside your girlfriend’s bedroom window, and all the other nifty data-crumbs that the world’s greatest democracy is harvesting in order to maximally coerce you. Note, they didn’t even bother to airbrush in the theoretical pedestrians but opted to show the street in its actual glorious entropic deadness.

And that in a nutshell is the problem I have with so much modernist architecture (or would this sort of thing be post-modernist? Hell, does it matter, since the last distinctive form that had any real appeal to regular people was Googie?): It often seems to be designed in a vacuum where the context of the surrounding structures don’t matter, and human beings don’t exist. The architects can describe their ivory-tower thematic concepts with as much poetry as they muster, but the truth is, if it’s not a place human beings actually feel comfortable being in and around, it’s not a good design. But superstar architects nevertheless have a way of convincing the community that their “visions” are important or even, yes, beautiful, and anyone who doesn’t agree is simply not educated in the field. It’s a real-life case of the Emperor’s New Clothes, in my opinion…

PS It’s not part of the passage I quoted, but Kunstler’s best phrase is when he describes the Cube as “a high-art monument to techno-necrophilia.” Love it!


A Few Thoughts on Breakfast at Tiffany’s

I honestly thought I had seen this one, I truly did. I mean, hell, who hasn’t seen Breakfast at Tiffany’s? It’s one of the all-time beloved film classics, a flick that routinely turns up on all the “top romantic movie” lists that proliferate this time of year, and the inspiration for a pretty decent pop song from the mid-1990s. So surely I, a self-proclaimed movie buff and champion of the old stuff, surely I must’ve crossed paths with it at some point, right? But alas, no. I really hadn’t seen it, which I figured out about halfway through a recent special-engagement theatrical screening when I realized I had absolutely no idea of how it was going to end. (Well, I had a general idea, of course; I’ve seen enough movies to know how they usually turn out, and my mama didn’t raise no fool. I just mean that I didn’t know the specifics of how the story was going to get there.) I guess I must’ve seen bits and pieces of it over the years, as well as all those photos of Audrey Hepburn in that black dress and designer sunglasses, with her hair up and her two-foot-long cigarette holder, as iconic an image as James Dean in his red jacket or Bogart in his trench coat, and somehow fooled myself into believing I knew the movie.

To cut to the chase, I liked it. It was a lovely evocation of a long-gone, more urbane world than the one we now live in, and it was genuinely funny in places and truly heartbreaking in others, and generally pretty smart overall. And “Moon River,” is, of course, one of the greatest, sweetest, saddest songs ever. Nevertheless, the film wasn’t quite what I thought it was, back when I thought I’d seen it before. Here are a few observations that may seem pretty elementary to fans of the film, but struck me as worth noting:

  • First and foremost, I finally see the appeal of Audrey Hepburn. I’ve long respected her as a Hollywood legend and old-school movie star, as well as a great humanitarian and, by all accounts, a damn nice person, but I never really got it when people would talk about how beautiful she was. I guess I always thought there was something a little too saintly and, frankly, sort of asexual in her later incarnation as a UNESCO spokesperson and a beloved institution. In Tiffany’s, though… ah, in Tiffany’s, she was vivacious and earthy and very, very human. I mean, this is not the face of a saint, is it?


  • I also see now that she was clearly the model for a character we now call the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, the type of kooky free spirit that Zooey Deschanel has built an entire career on playing. Or rather, her Tiffany’s character Holly Golightly was the original MPDG, with one important distinction. While the MPDG’s usual role is to help a male protagonist grow as a person, or discover the joy of living or some such — think of Kirsten Dunst in Cameron Crowe’s Elizabethtown (the film that inspired critic Nathan Rabin to coin the term in the first place) or Natalie Portman in Garden State, or even Ruth Gordon in the cult classic Harold and Maude — in Tiffany’s, Holly is the broken character in need of help and growth. Rather than a person to admire or emulate, Holly is gradually revealed to be a miserable flake. Which leads me to my next point:
  • For a movie that’s usually described as a comedy and a great romance, it’s actually pretty bleak. Holly Golightly and her would-be suitor Paul (played by an achingly young George Peppard) are both unhappy with their lives, Holly badly hurts poor old Buddy Ebsen and openly pursues wealthier men for their money, the plot involves a drug ring and adultery, and I’m sorry but I just don’t buy the “happy” ending… as flighty as Holly has been revealed to be, I just can’t see her sticking with Paul for longer than a year or two.
  • And another thing: Breakfast at Tiffany’s is yet another classic that disproves the old lie that there wasn’t any sex in movies made before those nasty hippies came along and wrecked the studio system. Oh, sure, there isn’t a gratuitous scene of what Roger Ebert used to call “the old rumpy-pumpy,” but there is sex in this story, quite a lot of it, and none of it the sort conservatives would approve of. George Peppard’s Paul is a kept man who is being paid a stipend by the married woman he services. The scene in which Holly pops in through Paul’s window to get to know him takes place while he’s lounging in bed just after his “friend” has departed. (Yes, I did wonder what he might have had on, if anything, under the covers.) There’s a pretty strong suggestion that Holly, if not a full-time prostitute, has at least resorted to taking money for it on occasion. And what is going on in the film’s famous opening scene, in which Holly walks up a deserted street early in the morning, dressed in an evening gown, and eats a lonely breakfast of pastry and coffee in front of the windows of Tiffany’s jewelry store (hence the film’s title) if not a so-called “walk of shame?”
  • It sounds as if I’m pretty down on the film, but I’m not. As I said, I quite liked it, overall. I was just surprised by how different it was from my preconceived notions of it. There was one thing about the film, however, that really did rub me the wrong way, and that was Mickey Rooney’s shockingly insulting portrayal of a Japanese man. Good lord. Now, I’m generally pretty forgiving of Hollywood’s past racial insensitivity, and I’m not reflexively put off by white people playing other ethnicities, even though modern political correctness deems that an unforgivable sin. I really didn’t mind the idea of Johnny Depp as Tonto, and hell, I’m on record as a fan of Charlie Chan movies! But Rooney’s Mr. Yunioshi is such a conglomeration of unflattering stereotypes that it’s impossible to overlook it. The buck teeth, the Coke-bottle glasses, the overly excitable personality, the fractured English… Yunioshi could have stepped right out of a World War II propaganda cartoon made 20 years earlier! Surely he was already an anachronism by the time Tiffany’s was made, in 1961! Seriously, if you cut all the scenes with Rooney, the movie would be surprisingly modern in its sensibilities, but every time this caricature appears, Tiffany’s suddenly creaks like your great-grandmother’s rocking chair. It’s the one truly regrettable flaw in an otherwise fine film.
  • Finally, a word about George Peppard. We Gen Xers know him from The A-Team, of course, when he was white-haired and a bit soft from age, but he had quite a different look when he was a hunky young leading man on the rise. I recently saw How the West Was Won (1962), and spent much of that film trying to figure out who he reminded me of. It finally clicked for me during Breakfast at Tiffany’s: young Peppard was a dead ringer for young Stephen Collins, who’s probably best known as the patriarch from the schmaltzy TV series Seventh Heaven, but is better remembered by we Trekkies for his role as Commander Will Decker in Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979). I think he was probably about the same age then that Peppard was in Tiffany’s, and the resemblance is uncanny, to my eye:

george-peppard_stephen-collinsAm I wrong?


Friday Evening Videos: “Jukebox (Don’t Put Another Dime)”

A year ago last month, The Girlfriend bought herself a new car, and along with that, she received a free one-year subscription to SiriusXM satellite radio. At first, we scorned this value-add as an unnecessary luxury, but we both quickly became rather fond of it. The lack of commercials is a big attraction, of course, but what really won us over was the variety and depth of the programming. The stations are categorized by decade and genre — e.g., classic rock, country, 1980s, etc. — which sounds as if it would be extremely constrictive, but in practice, there’s a mind-boggling number of categories to choose from, far more variety, in fact, than you find on over-the-air broadcast radio. Also, the satellite channels tend to dig much more deeply into the back catalog. We’ve both heard songs we’d forgotten we ever liked, as well as a lot of things we’d just plain forgotten… or never knew at all.

Case in point: this little ditty by a band called The Flirts, which I heard one afternoon while Anne was listening to “First Wave,” the so-called “classic alternative” channel:

I don’t remember ever hearing this one back in the day, but I’ve been unable to get it out of my head for the past couple months. A little research reveals that The Flirts were not a band in the traditional sense of the word, or rather, the girls you see in this video weren’t the ones actually singing the song. They were models and actresses hired by a guy named Bobby Orlando to be the faces for music that he himself wrote, played, and produced. The vocals were recorded by professional session singers, and then the “performers” lip-synced the tracks during “live” appearances and in music videos — exactly what Milli Vanilli were excoriated for in 1990.

The Flirts had better luck that Rob and Fab, though. I don’t know if maybe the band’s phoniness was an open secret, or if nobody cared about that sort of thing in the early ’80s, as opposed to the more uptight latter half of the decade, but The Flirts had quite a successful ten-year run that included six studio albums, 12 singles that charted in either the U.S. or Europe, or both, and even a number of international tours. This song was their first hit, landing at number 28 on Billboard‘s U.S. dance charts in 1982. In addition, the video got heavy rotation in the early days of MTV… not at all surprising, given the attractiveness of the band’s “faces.”

Incidentally, when I wax nostalgic for the fashions of the ’80s, this is the sort of thing I’m thinking of, not the heavy shoulder pads and ratted-up hair that reached such ridiculous extremes by the end of the decade. My vision of the ’80s is a lot closer to the ’70s than what most people apparently think of…


Hell Has Frozen Over

If you’ve been online in the past 24 hours, you’ve no doubt seen the news: Author Harper Lee has a new book on the way, a sort-of sequel to her beloved classic To Kill a Mockingbird (which, you may recall, I just revisited for the first time since high school), and only the second novel she has ever published. The new book, titled Go Set a Watchman, is set in the 1950s, some 20 years after the events of Mockingbird, and concerns an adult Scout returning to her hometown of Maycomb, Alabama, to visit her father Atticus and “grapple with issues both personal and political.”

The Internet being what it is, the grumbling began immediately, with many people deciding in advance of reading one single word of the new book that it can’t possibly be as good as Mockingbird, or, indeed, any good at all. This morning, I saw that the initial skepticism had already congealed into something far more cynical with the suggestion that there’s something mysterious and unsavory behind this unexpected announcement, namely that an elderly and possibly ailing Lee is being exploited by forces that stand to make a lot of money from a Mockingbird sequel that she, herself, never wanted released. I honestly don’t know that much about Lee or her circumstances, and I sincerely hope the conspiracy theorists are wrong about what’s happening here. But let’s assume for the sake of argument that she is not being exploited and is completely onboard with Watchman being released. If that’s the case, then I find I’m rather enthused about it. Not in an overheated fanboy sort of way, but because (a) the timing of it coming now, just after I re-read the original, is pleasantly coincidental, and (b) I love the idea of lost treasures being rediscovered in metaphorical attics. Blame my romantic nature, I guess. In addition, I always like to see what the fictional characters I like get up to later in their lives — this is a big part of why I can’t condemn the fourth Indiana Jones movie, because I enjoyed seeing my old friends Indy and Marion again. And finally, as a would-be novelist myself, I am intrigued by Watchman‘s relationship to the other book. You see, Watchman was actually Lee’s first attempt — it was written before Mockingbird, and took place roughly in the same time period in which Lee was writing it (as opposed to Mockingbird, which takes place 20 years earlier). Her editor was taken with some flashbacks in the manuscript and suggested Lee write another story about the younger version of Watchman‘s protagonist. (That’s why I referred to this “new” novel as a “sort-of” sequel, because while it technically is a sequel in the sense that its story happens after the familiar one, this story was created first.)

In truth, I don’t expect the new book to be the equal of Mockingbird, for a number of reasons. It’s bound to have a different tone than the original, since it was intended to be a (then) contemporary story and probably lacks the nostalgic filter that overlays Mockingbird. It’s also possible the details of the two stories won’t entirely line up, since Lee might have changed her mind about things as she wrote the second book. And it’s the first novel by a young writer, so it’s possible — likely even — that it will have a lot of rough edges. (The article I read suggests there’s been no revision to smooth over inconsistencies between the two novels, or indeed, any revision at all. What’s being published is what Lee wrote 55 years ago.) But if nothing else, knowing this was the first attempt, I think it’s going to be a fascinating peek into the process that created the classic. In other words, my interest is based on geeky writer stuff…

Go Set a Watchman will be released on July 14, and is already available for preorder on Barnes and Noble’s website.


TV Title Sequences: The Renegades

While reading an interview with Kurtwood Smith (a.k.a. Red Foreman, the greatest TV dad ever) the other day, I ran across a bit of pop-cultural flotsam that is so drenched in the atmospherics of the early 1980s, I can smell the Drakkar Noir through my monitor:

Let’s count the MTV-inflected cliches — er, tropes, rather, let’s call them tropes — of low-rent ’80s action shows, shall we? You’ve got throbbing synth music, ground-level camera angles, rain-slicked asphalt reflecting light and color, and a generic urban-alley setting. You’ve got the “hero walk” coming out of a completely unexplained back-light as the electric guitars crash in. There’s a cast that’s downright painful in its self-conscious diversity-by-design (i.e., token black guy, token Asian guy — who’s a martial artist, naturally — token Latino, token woman), all of them with cool(ish) names like “Bandit,” “Eagle,” “Dragon,” “T.J.,” “Dancer,” and “Gaucho.” All except for the woman, who shares the same name as the actress who plays her — “Tracy” — because, well, I guess because chicks don’t get cool street names. And of course we’ve got the cops who have to ride herd over this bad bunch: the hard-as-nails captain who thinks this whole deal is a bad idea, and the slightly more forgiving lieutenant who’s kind of amused by his captain’s discomfort and will no doubt become a father figure to these misunderstood street kids, these… renegades. You stir all of those elements together and you’ve got a show that put the awesome in the Awesome ’80s.

Except I don’t remember a second of it. And neither do you. Don’t tell me you do, either, because we both know you really don’t.

The Renegades — not to be confused with the Lorenzo Lamas vehicle Renegade, which aired in syndication a decade later — lasted all of six episodes during the 1983 television season. According to a scant Wikipedia entry, the show was inspired, in part, by the 1979 cult classic The Warriors. and also perhaps by a 1981 TV-movie starring Patrick Swayze called Return of the Rebels. The premise of The Renegades must’ve seemed pretty shopworn even in ’83: a street gang becomes undercover agents for the cops to avoid jail time. Precisely the sort of hackneyed stuff that The Simpsons and Married… with Children would be making fun of by the end of the decade. But honestly what I find really fascinating about The Renegades isn’t this show itself, but rather all the talent that survived it and went to bigger and better things.

Most prominent, of course, is Swayze, who had already appeared in Coppola’s adaptation of The Outsiders at this point, but was still a couple years away from his breakout roles in the jingoistic Cold War wankfest Red Dawn (1984) and the TV miniseries North and South (1985). Following those successes, he’d achieve matinee-idol immortality with Dirty Dancing (1987), Ghost (1990), and that basic cable favorite Road House (1989).

Tracy Scoggins  has worked regularly in both television and feature films for decades, appearing on TV series ranging from The Fall Guy, Manimal, and TJ Hooker in the ’80s to Doogie Howser, MD,  and Highlander (among others) in the ’90s, right up to a role last year in Castle. She’s well-known to sci-fi fans as Captain Elizabeth Lochley in the final season of Babylon 5 and its various spin-off properties, as well as for a regular part on Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman.

Brian Tochi was a busy child actor during the ’70s (he was a regular on the Saturday-morning live-action series Space Academy, one of my favorites back in the day). Following The Renegades, he appeared in Revenge of the Nerds and a couple of Police Academy sequels, as well as various episodic TV gigs, but he increasingly shifted into voice work, acting in a slew of animated series and, most notably, providing the voice of Leonardo in the original live-action Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle movies.

Randy Brooks has likewise done a lot of episodic TV, and was a regular on The West Wing from 2000-05. He was also in Reservoir Dogs.

And Kurtwood Smith, the man who started me down this rabbit hole in the first place, was four years away from playing the most despicable street thug ever, Clarence Boddicker, in the original RoboCop. For a long time, he was Clarence to me, no matter what he played. Then came That 70s Show, one of the funniest sitcoms ever, in my opinion. And now he’s Red to me. Forever. He’s currently part of the ensemble on ABC’s Resurrection, a series I have never seen. But he’s still Red.

There was a lot of behind-the-scenes talent on The Renegades, too. The show’s executive producers, brothers Lawrence and Charles Gordon, along with director Roger Spottiswoode and screenwriter Steven de Souza, would collaborate together again when they created the movie that made Eddie Murphy a superstar, 48 Hrs., and then a few years later the Gordons and de Souza really hit one out of the ballpark by launching the Die Hard franchise.

Oh, and it also looks to me like The Renegades might have been an influence on 21 Jump Street, which had a similar look and premise to this and helped get the fledgling Fox network off the ground, not to mention bringing a young actor named Johnny Depp into the spotlight.

Not bad for a cheesy misfire that nobody remembers, eh? It makes me wonder how many other bad and forgotten shows were an unlikely nexus of future success?


Missing Something

fanx-2015_bannerFanX 2015 is now in the books, and, well… I’m feeling pretty weird about not going. This was the fourth major pop-culture convention held under the Salt Lake Comic Con brand, and, counting the rival FantasyCon, the fifth convention of this type in Salt Lake in the past fourteen months. And my lovely Anne and I have attended all of them… until now.

We chose to sit this one out for perfectly good reasons. Coming only a handful of months after the last Comic Con in September, and only one month after Christmas, it was hard to justify the expense again so soon. Plus, we’re saving our pennies for a major adventure we have planned for the fall — more on that another time. And also, the first few celebrity guests that were announced just didn’t excite us that much. The con this time around looked like it was going to be built around several TV properties that are very popular right now, but which we’re not that into: Doctor Who (which I enjoy but I’m not crazy about), The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones. And to be perfectly honest, I think we were just a little burned out after going to four of these things in the space of a year. So we decided to pass on this one, and we were perfectly okay with that decision.

Later on, I was tempted when the organizers announced Christopher Lloyd, who was scheduled for one of the earlier cons but disappointed us by cancelling, but we decided one person really wasn’t reason enough to change our minds, considering the cost. Then came Carrie Fisher. I’ve met her before at a book signing, already have her autograph and a fuzzy snapshot of myself with her… I adore this hilarious, eccentric woman and would love the opportunity to get a better photo with her, but… I’ve met her before, so it was okay. Anthony Michael Hall and Ralph Macchio, two icons of my teen years in the Awesome ’80s, would’ve been fun to meet, but I could resist them. Same for Ray Park, a.k.a. Darth Maul in The Phantom Menace. Or so I kept telling myself. By this time, I was experiencing some genuine pangs of regret, but I stuck to my guns.

Last Monday, only days before the event, the organizers announced they’d gotten Nichelle Nichols, a.k.a. Uhura in the original Star Trek television series and movies. She was the first celebrity I ever met, way back in 1988, and the snapshot I have of her with me and my college buddy Jaren is one of my most cherished mementos. Jaren and I chatted soon after the announcement about how fun it would be for the two of us to take that photo to her and ask her if we could recreate it… but he wasn’t going to FanX this time either. If he had been, I would’ve caved. As it was, it just wouldn’t be as much fun to meet her again without him along, not after he and I had talked about it.

Then the con got underway, and a couple of my coworkers went to it, and photos started appearing on Facebook of cosplayers and celebrities and little kids with big excited eyes, and the local news covered it every night like it was a big important political rally. And those little pangs of regret started mushrooming into… something else. I felt an anxiety I haven’t really experienced since I was a kid. I’m an only child and I always liked being around the adults more than kids my own age, so when the adults were off someplace where I wasn’t welcome — parent-teacher conferences, R-rated movies, parties or bars, you get the idea — it drove me absolutely crazy. I couldn’t stand the feeling of not being included. I sometimes worked myself into a complete dither because I might be missing something. That’s what I’ve been feeling all weekend as FanX 2015 unfolded. Like there’s something happening that I should be at, but I’m not.

I kept these feelings to myself, at first. I thought I was being silly. Then, Friday night, Anne asked me if I wanted to try and go for the final, biggest day, which was yesterday. Saturday. I asked if she was just indulging me. And she said no, that we had been there at the beginning, at the very first Salt Lake Comic Con when nobody thought this thing was going to fly, and nobody knew what they were doing. “It’s like we’re a part of it,” she said, “and it feels really weird to not be there.”

I kissed her on the end of the nose and told her I felt the exact same way, and that I loved her for saying it.

We did not go, in the end. Again, we had reasons… money, timing, other priorities. Grown-up, responsible reasons. But we spent an hour tonight looking through other peoples’ photos on Facebook, and wishing we hadn’t been so damn responsible…