Archive for the 'Celebrities' Category

Gossip, discussion, and critique of specific personalities. Includes the "Fade to Black" subcategory.

In Memory of Leonard Nimoy

03-Mar-15 8:48 PM by
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It's been hard to come to terms with the passing of Leonard Nimoy, the actor who brought Star Trek's half-Vulcan science officer to life and created a cultural phenomenon that would persist for generations — including within my own family.

My father introduced me to Star Trek when The Next Generation premiered in 1987. At that age, I didn't understand that different people led different lives, and I went to school the next day thinking all my classmates had watched it, too. I spent my recess talking about Star Trek to anyone on the playground who would listen, nonplussed when they weren't as excited as I was. It wasn't until years later that I learned of IDIC — Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations: that differences are to be not just tolerated, but celebrated. Decades after discovering Star Trek, I've grown deeply curious about those differences, interviewing people every week to learn about their lives and experiences, so that I never again make that same lunchtime assumption I did in second grade.

My earliest memory of Leonard Nimoy was watching Star Trek: The Motion Picture on VHS with my family. When Spock first beams aboard the Enterprise, whereas Kirk and McCoy are happy to see him, Spock is unmoved by seeing his old crewmates. I asked my parents what was wrong with him, and rather than try to explain the alien suppression of emotions, they just said that Spock didn't remember his friends.

But Vulcan's emotions run deep and hot: they feel everything humans do, even more so, which is why they can't allow themselves to be ruled by their feelings, lest they run amok. I was raised in a family that did not celebrate such passions, so, like Spock, I kept mine reined in. I learned the hard way that it's better to embrace one's humanity… something that Spock at times struggled to understand himself.



Spock wasn't the only one with an identity crisis. I'm too young to remember Nimoy's efforts to break typecasting, which may be for the best: while I try to acknowledge actors' lesser-known works, Nimoy was always Spock to me. And unlike some actors who fade from the limelight, Nimoy always seemed to be doing something special, whether it was as silly as a Priceline commercial, as fun as directing Three Men and a Baby as invisible as voicing a Transformers villain or narrating a video game, as meaningless as singing a silly song, or as meaningful as advocating for diversity in body types. While I may've believed Spock had forgotten his friends, it was impossible for us to forget Spock. It felt like Leonard Nimoy would always be there; waking up on Saturday to a world without him was hard.

I never got to meet Leonard Nimoy. The closest opportunity I had was a Boston convention in November 2009, but I was at a Star Wars concert narrated by Anthony Daniels instead. It was a similar venue in which I did finally see Leonard Nimoy, though: he narrated the Boston Pops' "Out of This World" concert this past May. No one in the audience, least of all me, imagined it was Nimoy's last May in his final trip around the sun.

That concert was a homecoming for Nimoy, being born and raised right in the heart of Boston. He often lent his sonorous voice to his hometown, narrating not just the Boston Pops but also the Boston Museum of Science's Omni Mugar theater. As a student and teacher, child and adult, I've been to the MoS many times; Leonard Nimoy is my earliest memory of it.

Now all we have are memories and Nimoy's exhaustive library of art. There have been and will be other Spocks, of course — most notably Zachary Quinto, but also other incarnations across many fan films, and the continuing voyages of the starship Enterprise in novels and other media. But there never will be another Leonard Nimoy.

It's been less than a week, and I miss him already.
The Joy of Tech comic… The Federation remembers

I may not have properly expressed or acknowledged, even to myself, Nimoy's importance. I've been going to Apple conventions my entire life, but it wasn't until 2013 that I attended my first Star Trek convention. But both Apple and Star Trek have been fundamental in informing my outlooks and philosophies.


Celebrities aren't my only heroes, but celebrities can help me get to know my heroes. Star Trek is something I've shared with my father ever since TNG's debut. We've been at the opening night of each of J.J. Abrams' Star Trek movies. I hesitantly mark our time together by these milestones, knowing that the same COPD that claimed Nimoy now stalks my father. As a friend of mine recently put it, "Time will take all the people I look up to."
Star Trek Into Darkness opening night

Live long and prosper…


But we are fortunate to have had Leonard Nimoy grace us for 83 wonderful years. From wherever he came, he has returned. We salute him and his many contributions to art, science, and humanity. Thank you for so many adventures and missions.


Hailing frequencies closed.


Reflecting on Super Megafest 2011

17-Nov-12 11:41 PM by
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Every year's weekend before Thanksgiving is host to the Super Megafest, an annual convention of sci-fi, comics, wrestling, and nostalgia. I have recently returned from my sixth consecutive attendance at the event — but what about the fifth?

I report on every Super Megafest for Showbits, but the past few years I've taken procrastination to new heights. Before I can in good conscience relate my experiences at the 2012 convention, here I must finally reflect on the 2011 show.

The headliners of 2011 were two stars well-known to science fiction and fantasy fans: Sean Astin and Sir Patrick Stewart. I had the opportunity and pleasure to first visit their tables, where I paid handsomely for their autographs, then attend their free Q&A sessions. In that former one-on-one encounter, the two actors could not have been more different in their receptions.

Sean AstinAstin had a table in the common area, where no one minded the queue moving slowly, as it was the product of the actor taking his time to recognize each fan as an individual. He'd shake their hands, listen to their comments, and respond with stories. In my case, I told him how, in my sporadic career as an educator, I had a high school student who wrote a paper about his family movie starring Sean Astin. Goonies? Rudy? Lord of the Rings? Nope — Slipstream, a 2005 science fiction time-travel movie that got panned by critics. When I told Astin about this paper, his eyebrows shot up to accompany a disbelieving "Really??" He then quickly harrumphed and, trying to take more pride in his work, offered a casual, interested "Really!" Astin then suggested that Slipstream was the basis for Jake Gyllenhaal's more successful Source Code, though I consider the connection between the two films tenuous at best.

Sir Patrick StewartBy contrast, Sir Stewart gave me almost nothing to relate here. Rather than wait three hours in line for his autograph, I paid for a pricey "speed pass" that got me to the head of the queue. When I was finally face-to-face with Captain Picard himself, I held out my hand, as I did with every other actor I'd met that weekend. Stewart seemed intent on putting his John Hancock on my purchased 8×10" glossy, so thinking he hadn't noticed my gesture, I asked, "May I shake your hand?" "No, sorry," he replied. Fair enough; many stars are concerned about being introduced to too many fans and their germs. I offered as an alternative: "How about a fist bump?". "No, sorry." I persisted: "Elbow bump?" At this point, his handler stepped in: "Sir Patrick has arthritis." Both gentlemen then looked to the side at the next person in line, making it clear that my time had expired. It was an impersonal experience and a real letdown: The Next Generation was my first exposure to Star Trek and defined me and my life. I never even got to say "Thank you".

Despite the discrepancy in personal encounters, both actors proved entertaining in their Q&A sessions, in which neither had to deal with fans on an individual basis. With this being Stewart's first New England convention, he reflected on the first such con he ever attended after gaining fame as Jean-Luc Picard. He said that when he stepped on the stage and the crowd went wild, "In that moment, I knew what it felt like to be Sting." Stewart has rarely turned that fame to the silver screen, though, commenting that his movie career had been limited to Robin Hood: Men In Tights (a slight exaggeration) — but that he'd recently asked his agent to actively solicit movie options. Why not just retire completely? Because in 71 years of life, 54 of them spent acting, Stewart has found that "Actors are some of the most inspiring, respectful, generous people I know." Stewart went on to talk about his gardening — he'd recently produced 24 dozen cases of apple juice, a dozen cases of pear juice, and 16 pounds of damson jam — and about taking risks, The Inner Light, William Shatner, his workout routine, and more. (He also mentioned handing out diplomas at a college and shaking 800 hands… but he couldn't shake mine?)

Sean Astin, better known to some as Samwise Gamgee, was equally entertaining, sharing the stage with Sala Baker, who played Sauron in Lord of the Rings. The two recounted how the trilogy's cast were joined in a real-life fellowship through the art of tattoo. He laughed when the film's star found the experience painful: "I'm ten years older than Elijah [Woods]; he's a punk kid." As it turned out, Astin didn't have so easy a time with it, either.

In a turn of events, Astin even took a photo of ME! You can see me in the right rear in the red sweater.

I told Astin how unusual it is to have a career that spans so many decades and genres. Demonstrating the humility of any great man, Astin seemed even more amazed than I did. As many Hollywood veterans will tell you, nepotism is alive and well, and Astin couldn't help but be recognized during auditions due to his lineage, mother Patty Duke and adoptive father John Astin. A father of three daughters of his own (with the oldest playing his on-screen daughter in The Return of the King), Astin is glad to have a filmography in which each of them can find something to relate to, especially as they near the ages at which he began his career.

(more…)

Rethinking Super Megafest

11-Nov-11 11:06 AM by
Filed under Celebrities, Potpourri; 2 comments.

For the past several years, I've made an annual tradition of attending the Super Megafest, a sci-fi and nostalgia convention held in Framingham, Massachusetts. It's not a massive affair, but for its size and location, it's still fairly enjoyable, with several aspects to entertain the showgoer: vendors of various geek goods; celebrities on-hand for personal autographs (not free or even cheap!); Q&A sessions with said celebrities; and more.

R2!But I found 2010 to be mildly disappointing, due to a variety of logistical decisions. The Q&A sessions are scheduled for specific times and days, but the event coordinator chooses not to publicize those schedules ahead of time, such as on the Super Megafest Web site; my email requesting this data confirmed that it is not available in advance. Although I realize celebrities' schedules often cannot be determined until the last minute, it's frustrating for me to not know if I should be at the conference on Saturday at 10 AM or 5 PM, or on Sunday. Without the Q&A, I need only an hour or two to absorb the event in its entirety; it's unreasonable to block out an entire two-day weekend for whenever the Q&As might be.

The comfort of the celebrities is of course the organizers' priority, so rather than have the stars stand for an hour during Q&A, they're allowed to sit. But the session is held in a conference room large enough that folks in the back can't see someone seated at the front. A simple riser that would elevate the celebrity would be a simple fix.

Last year, I calculated the cost of admission plus that of Christopher Lloyd's autograph and decided it was worth getting the "VIP speed pass", which included admission and autographs by Lloyd and Lea Thompson. The "speed" aspect allowed me to bypass the line for this celebrity, which would otherwise take hours to traverse. But there was no fine print indicating that this privilege was valid only from 9:30 AM to 10:30 AM! The Web site informed me only that I was paying for "a beat-the-line speed pass". Such vague terminology bordered on the deceptive.

Christopher Lloyd at the Q&A.Despite all that, I was still glad for the opportunity to meet the stars. Few people had paid for the speed pass, which also granted exclusive access to Lloyd's Q&A session, which made for an intimate setting. Everyone got to ask a question, with mine being: "Does an actor of your renown still have to audition for parts, or are they written for or handed to you?" Lloyd said that sometimes, the writers say to themselves, "Oh, this script calls for a drunk? Let's get Lloyd." But more often, he still needs to audition, as it's not always clear whether he or someone else will be right for a part. Lea Thompson never showed up, so my pass got me two Lloyd autographs instead.

I also met Marina Sirtis, better known as Deanna Troi from Star Trek: TNG. She was very friendly and fun, laughing and smiling and calling everyone "hon". When I saw the various 8"x10" glossies she had available to autograph, I chose an off-camera shot from First Contact, commenting, "You were so funny in that film!" She responded, "I was more myself in that Star Trek movie than in any other."

I had some time to kill between sessions, so I sat in on a Q&A by Kristin Bauer, who plays Pam De Beaufort on True Blood. I'd never seen this show so wasn't very interested, but she redeemed herself with the credit of playing Lt. Laneth on an episode of Star Trek: Enterprise.

I ended the show by getting Peter Mayhew's autograph. The taciturn Wookie didn't have much to say and didn't offer to personalize his signature, though he did do so after I handed it back with the request.

The headliners for this year's Super Megafest are Patrick Stewart and Sean Astin. After a month of waffling, and with just a week to spare, I coughed up the dough for another VIP speed pass. I'm a bit disenchanted with Super Megafest, though, and would not have been roped in for another expensive pass for anyone other than Captain Picard.

William Shatner Performs Bohemian Rhapsody

20-Oct-11 7:55 PM by
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As my friend Andy put it: that which is seen cannot be unseen.

William Shatner, who launched his musical career in 1968, has not let his lack of talent deter him from staying the couse. "Bohemian Rhapsody" is part of a twenty-track album that Shatner released last week:

Captain Kirk lives! With an eclectic set of songs about space, William Shatner continues his hilarious, touching, inspired, and insane approach to music. Since he isn’t really a singer, he surrounds himself with folks like Brad Paisley, Sheryl Crow, and Lyle Lovett to help with the heavy lifting.

Seeking Major Tom is currently available for $11.99 from Apple iTunes, $7.99 from Amazon, or $13.99 as a physical CD. Though before making an investment, you may want to consider how far Shatner's musical abilities haven't come:

(Hat tip to Roddenberry.com)

Pete Postlethwaite Passes

04-Jan-11 10:54 PM by
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Pete Postlethwaite full length portraitBritish actor Pete Postlethwaite died Sunday at the age of 64 from cancer.

Mr. Postlethwaite was the sort of actor whose name you might not know, but you'd recognize him in a heartbeat. Perhaps best known for his appearance in The Usual Suspects, he appeared alongside Kevin Spacey again in the comedy The Shipping News as a hard-nosed reporter who bore a grudge. In one of my favorite fantasy films, Dragonheart, he provided comical relief as Brother Gilbert, a wandering friar and would-be minstrel who became troubled when faced with the moral conflict of doing evil for a greater good. He also had roles in movies such as Amistad and Inception, and he earned an Oscar nomination for In the Name of the Father. In these roles and others, he garnered a reputation for his devious, diverse, and nuanced characters.

If you still don't recognize Mr. Postlethwaite's face, you might have heard his voice: "Truth is I thought it mattered, I thought that music mattered. But does it bollocks! Not compared to how people matter." It was he who spoke these opening lines to the song "Tubthumping" by Chumbawamba.

Mr. Postlethwaite was born in 1946 in Cheshire, England; became a drama teacher, then a full-time stage actor; broke into television in the late 1980s and Hollywood in the early 1990s; and had two children. He will be missed.

Surely You Can't Be Dead, Leslie Nielsen

28-Nov-10 10:14 PM by
Filed under Fade to Black; 3 comments.

Leslie Nielsen, star of Police Squad, Naked Gun, and Airplane!, died Sunday at the age of 84.

Mr. Nielsen was much loved and fondly remembered for the many laughs the above films brought to generations of American theatergoers, but his legacy is older and more eclectic than many fans may realize. His acting career began with a television appearance 1948, from which he built a diverse portfolio as a talented, serious actor. But it was his turn as Dr. Rumack in the 1980 comedy Airplane! that introduced him to the comedic genre upon which he would establish three decades of celebrity status. The film, itself a parody of Zero Hour!, cast stars who would essentially be playing parodies of the dramatic characters for which they were previously known.

Mr. Nielsen's small but important role in that movie produced what the American Film Institute deemed the 79th top quotation in American cinematic history:

(Other Airplane! stars who passed away this year include Peter Graves [Capt. Clarence Oveur] and Barbara Billingsley [the jive-speaking passenger]. As Lisa Hoover put it: I hate you, 2010.)

Two years later, Mr. Nielsen cemented his transition to the genre and his status as a comedic powerhouse when he landed the leading role in Police Squad!. In this short-lived television series, he maintained his ability to deliver one-liners with a timing and tone that packed as much punch as any buildup:

Though the show lasted only six episodes, it spun off three feature-length films, something accomplished by not even the likes of Get Smart! or Firefly. Mr. Nielsen went on to play the lead in further spoofs such as Mel Brooks' Dracula: Dead and Loving It, Spy Hard, and Wrongfully Accused, and appearing in other comedies including Scary Movie 4 and Superhero Movie.

It was just this past Thanksgiving Eve that my girlfriend and I finished watching the complete Police Squad! on DVD. As it aired before she was born, she'd never heard of the show but immediately cottoned to it, riveted to catch every rapid-fire joke and subtle gag. It didn't take us long to decide that we had to give this set as a Christmas gift to introduce even more people to this brief, overlooked, yet valuable contribution Mr. Nielsen made to comedic history. We never expected that he would so soon be a part of history himself, making it especially poignant to discover there will be no more adventures of Frank Drebin.

As the optimistic Wil Wheaton: Leslie Nielsen's in a better place. "A better place? What is it?" A construct to help cope with grief, but that's not important right now.

Q Reads Edgar Allen Poe's The Raven

31-Oct-10 6:43 PM by
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A brief post this Halloween night to share Star Trek alumnus John De Lancie reading Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven" — a production of QMx Online:

(Hat tip to Charlie Jane Anders)

The Legacy of Jive-Speaking Barbara Billingsley

17-Oct-10 12:43 PM by
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Barbara Billingsley, whose fame was founded by playing mom June Cleaver on Leave It to Beaver but who also enjoyed popularity as a jive-speaking passenger on Airplane! and as Nanny on Muppet Babies, passed away on Saturday at the age of 94, CNN reports.

Although I never saw Ms. Billingsley in her original black-and-white role, I've seen how surprised people are when they realize that the three parts listed above were played by the same person. It's a mark of a talented and open-minded artist that they can and will move so fluidly among a variety of performances. But I wonder if she wasn't the least bit frustrated that she achieved so much fame from such a minor part?

If she did, she graciously never let it show, instead focusing on gratitude for the opportunities it presented, as demonstrated in this interview:

She was a classy lady of a bygone era.