Celebrating 40 Years since Trek's 1st Convention
Where were YOU from Jan. 21-23, 1972? This weekend marks the 40th anniversary of what is considered the first-ever major convention devoted to Star Trek, the one that set the stage (and the bar) for everything that followed. It was held in New York City, at the Statler Hilton Hotel (now the Hotel Pennsylvania), spearheaded by a core group of devoted and ambitious fans dubbed The Committee, and far more people than anyone ever imagined turned out for the event. The legend goes that 500 people were expected to attend and more than 3,000 arrived to share in the fun, which included a dealers' room and appearances by Gene Roddenberry and Isaac Asimov. To celebrate the 40th anniversary of that landmark Star Trek convention, StarTrek.com invited two now-very-familiar Star Trek figures who were there to recount their memories of the experience: Howard Weinstein and Robert Greenberger.
Nope. I was not at Woodstock. But I was at that very first Star Trek Convention in 1972. Really. Honest! I don't recall how I even knew about it – probably from TV commercials I'd have seen during Channel 11's week-nightly Star Trek reruns in New York. Which means I probably didn't even hear about the convention until I came home for my college winter break a month before the convention would happen on January 21-23 in Manhattan. Luckily, my Christmas vacation included that weekend, and I decided I could not miss this event. I mean, it would probably be the one and only Star Trek convention ever held, right?
Since I lived on Long Island, I was just a 45-minute train ride from the city. And the convention would be at the mid-town Statler Hilton Hotel, across the street from the Long Island Railroad terminal at Penn Station. So getting there would be easy. But who'd go with me? Nobody, as it turned out. By the time that weekend rolled around, most of my friends were already back at school or not interested. Well, dammit, Jim! I wasn’t going to miss it, even if I had to go by myself – which I did on Sunday, the convention’s final day. By that time, the committee had famously run out of badges – and space: they’d expected a few hundred fans and stopped counting at around 3,000!
I think the con was on the hotel’s 18th floor, and Star Trek fans filled every square inch up there. I made one round of the dealers’ room, which was packed like a rush-hour subway train. As for the ballroom where the guests spoke and films were shown, I’m sure I never got a seat through the hours of listening to Gene Roddenberry and Isaac Asimov, and watching the infamous blooper reel (which was hilarious, and the first time I’d seen anything like that).
My specific memories of that day are fairly hazy, and influenced by reading accounts of the convention in TV Guide and books by the late Joan Winston, a funny lady who helped run all five original New York Trek cons and was a welcome fixture in fandom for decades after. And I didn’t get to another convention until 1976, when I began my own long run as a guest speaker after writing a 1974 episode of Star Trek: The Animated Series.
Little did we know what would follow that first organized outpouring of love and loyalty for Star Trek, which was nothing less than a revelation of epic proportions. I think that ‘72 convention – and the intrepid fans who conceived it – literally changed the face of television and how fans interact with (and influence) programs and movies they love. Even though I did nothing more than enjoy the fruits of their labor, I’m thrilled that I was present at the birth of something special.
Howard Weinstein is a longtime Star Trek writer and fan whose credits include the Star Trek: The Animated Series episode "The Pirates of Orion" and many Trek novels and comic books. He’s now a co-founding member of www.crazy8press.com, an Internet-based publisher selling new books directly to readers. You can find his blog HERE.
Forty years later, I can’t recall how I first heard there was going to be Star Trek-specific convention. Being a part of New York fandom, I presume I heard about it from someone, most likely at the very first Creation con the previous November. Regardless, there was nothing stopping me, at 13, from taking the train from Long Island to Manhattan for the con. Accompanying me that Sunday was my cohort Jeff Strell and we were stunned. Previously, we walked across the street from Penn Station to the slightly run down Statler Hilton Hotel, home to the July 4 weekend Phil Seuling-run comic conventions, and had little trouble navigating our way. This was clearly something different.
It was packed. The corridors and programming room were jammed with people of all ages, sizes, and shapes. We paid our $2.50 and managed to join the throng and were able to make our way around. The NASA exhibit was kind of cool but I was there for Star Trek and was far from disappointed. We somehow managed to get seats and in my mind’s eye, we were far back and stage right, but could make out the speaker. He was talk, stocky, and soft-spoken, but I recognized Gene Roddenberry. He talked, answered questions and made us laugh. Then we saw some of the episodes Paramount had kindly sent along. Did I see the Blooper Reel for the first time? I know I saw it repeatedly during the five years The Committee ran those first cons but couldn’t swear it was at the first.
I do know I brushed close to Roddenberry in passing, but it was also the first con where I actually met and spoke to Isaac Asimov, who was always counted on to appear at NY-based events. He couldn’t have been friendlier even if I wasn’t a pretty girl.
It amazed me, like it did everyone else, that there were these many people interested in the television series. At the time, I was hooked thanks to the reruns on WPIX, but this was at a time where it was not unusual for most everyone in attendance to have actually watched the original airings. Like the few other cons I had been too, people were friendly, regardless of age or gender, and we could recite favorite lines, crack jokes, and share our passion without any consideration of negative reaction. It was festive and the high volume of people was a positive we all embraced.
The experience certainly hooked me and when I heard there was to be a second such show a year later, I made a point of going back, swearing to never miss a single day again. Nor did I, going on to volunteer for the final three of The Committee cons where I got to meet many people who became friends and colleagues I still talk to today.
Robert Greenberger went from con attendee to editor of DC Comics’ licensed Star Trek comic for eight years in addition to writing several Star Trek novels and short stories for Pocket Books.