Creation NJ Convention Recap, Day 1
The 45th Anniversary Official Star Trek Convention (produced by Creation Entertainment) in the New York metro area (at the Parsippany, NJ Hilton) promised to be a weekend of heartfelt memories and wonderful guests, but even before opening the show everyone was buzzing about the surprise appearance of our esteemed Captain Kirk, William Shatner himself. This tightly guarded secret was due to the fact that Shatner was on hand not as an appearing guest, but rather as the director of Creation Entertainment's reality TV series pilot FAN ADDICTS. Bill and Creation's crew of producers and camera people moved at a brisk pace, capturing Co-CEO Adam Malin, Talent Producer Stephanie Dizon, Technical Director Douglas Murray, photographer Chris Schmelke and the Creation team as they prepped the show, dealing with pre-show challenges and the inclement weather system that had delayed the arrival of some key guests. Several attending fans were interviewed for the show, which delves into the human interest stories and passion we all share as fans of Trek (and many other significant entertainment properties). The appearance of William Shatner caught the Friday crowd by surprise, and they happily participated in the shoot, which continued throughout the day.
This weekend event also marked the first-time-ever webcast pay per view of on stage Creation programming to its global audience, through a visionary partnership with CBS, CBS Consumer Products, and Startrek.com. Friday's programming webcast would include Nana Visitor and Rene Auberjonois, headlining later that day.
The on-stage activities began with a spirited welcome from Malin, who noted that it was not only the 45th Anniversary Salute to Star Trek in the New York area, it was also the 40th anniversary of Creation events in New York. Then he brought on Gene Roddenberry's longtime right-hand man, Richard Arnold, who entertained with an amazing slideshow of archival images from the production of The Original Series. Some of the remarkable images included early test photos of NCC-1701 (several different models including the 11-foot model that would eventually be the "hero" model for the series) and Leonard Nimoy's two appearances as Spock other than on the series itself: in a live parade in Ohio (where he was introduced as Leonard Nimsey) and from a Carol Burnett TV episode.
After Arnold's presentation, Grace Lee Whitney took the stage. Still beautiful and energetic, the lovely Grace recounted her illustrious show business career. She spoke about advice given to her by Lucille Ball during the early days of Trek. She also claimed credit for the mini-skirt look that Rand favored (she told Bill Theiss to make her skirt shorter). She recalled makeup sessions shared with Leonard Nimoy (while Fred Phillips applied the pointy ears to Spock, she would be having a hair stylist wrestle with her wig, the so called "cosmic bun"). She discussed an episode of inebriation on the Paramount lot which led to her dismissal from the show, and her subsequent struggles with sobriety. She is proud to be 30 years sober today.
Following Grace Lee, makeup wizard John Paladin came on stage to take Dan, an unsuspecting member of the audience, and turn him into a nefarious Klingon. John's witty banter accompanied his artful makeup application, which started with a cleaning of the subject's facial skin and application of latex facial appliances. John's skillful brushwork in applying glue made the edges of the appliances disappear, blending particularly after the use of so called "duo" adhesive at the binding edges. He also demonstrated the use of translucent base powder and greasepaint which alter the color of the complexion to match the Klingon facial hue. Seeing the amount of time that even a relatively simple application could take really demonstrated the commitment and artistry of Trek's makeup artists headed by the genius Michael Westmore (of the illustrious Westmore makeup dynasty).
And then Rene Auberjonois came on stage to a huge roar of applause. The beloved actor of Benson, Boston Legal and of course Deep Space Nine recounted his years on television and in films, touching on Disney (he sang his infamous Les Poisson song much to the audience's delight), Roddy McDowell's tolerance of makeup from the Apes films ("I did it for the money!"), and the exceptional DS9 acting ensemble. About 15 minutes into the segment, Rene brought on his fellow actor Nana Visitor, stunning as ever, and the audience went nuts. Odo and Kira are one of the most-beloved couples in the annals of Trek history, and it's obvious that these two actors have genuine affection and chemistry for each other. Rene commented that on Star Trek he got to create a character that lived on, something that a character actor doesn't always achieve. He counted himself as a fan of Trek before he started acting on the show. Nana had fun describing the "swish, swish, swish" of her rubber costume as Kira, forcing her to constantly go into dialogue replacement ("looping" as Rene referred to it) to cover that. Rene recounted how Ira Steven Behr (the executive producer and one of the wonderful writers of the show) had an epiphany one day on set where he exclaimed, referring to Odo, "He loves her!" Thus began the purposeful development of the Odo/Kira romantic emotional arc. Nana referenced her notorious doppelganger The Intendant, describing her as narcissistic. She also took praise for her stint on the series Wildfire, claiming to not be a natural horse person. She loved her work on the show, filming on a farm in New Mexico. She described the horses as professionals, hitting their marks every time, but added that it could also be scary.
They also both reflected a desire to return to theater. For Nana, raising her son is a limiting factor currently, but for Rene, it's like running a marathon, particularly a musical. He described it as emotional, brutal, and exhaustive. The repetition becomes a challenge, like walking the tightrope, and he's not sure he wants to return to that. Rene also commented on his work as Mr. House on a videogame. Because of the alternative scenarios possible in continuing videogame continuities, he had to act scenes in several different ways, which was challenging. He also spoke with great affection about Majel Barrett Roddenberry, who played an amorous Lwaxana Troi in a few episodes. Fans recall the evolution of their character arc, which ended beautifully when Lwaxana helped Odo during a time of distress. It was a high point for both her character and Majel as an actress.
Nana went on to describe acting as being a gift, and Rene expressed gratitude for the recognition he receives for his work as Odo. Nana was then asked about slipping at the base of her makeup trailer in the rain. She opened the door, her feet went up so far in the air she came down like "a sack of potatoes," and then she lay there, thinking she had broken her back. She was taken to an emergency room, where a nonchalant doctor took one look at her face and screamed, "Oh my god, what did you do to your nose?" (Of course, she was already in makeup with Kira's distinctive wrinkled nose). One interesting inquiry was what it was like to portray the human condition as an alien. Rene referenced an episode of The Outer Limits where his makeup was so stifling, he had to use a wedding ring to prop his nostrils open. That experienced informed the way he behaved as a character. Nana also mentioned her work on soap operas, having enjoyed the rapid-fire work. As their segment was ending Malin mentioned that their appearance marked Creation Entertainment's historic first web broadcast, and they both did a shout-out to the global audience of fans watching before leaving the stage to much applause and admiration.
Following that was an enjoyable bout of Creation's perennial classic Stump The Star Trek Experts Contest. Malin brought three super-fans on stage and a barrage of difficult but fun questions had the experts sweating. One memorable piece of trivia uncovered was that the actor who portrayed the dead brother Sam of James T. Kirk was in fact Bill Shatner himself, in a mustache. The contest was followed by a showing of the Star Trek Blooper Reels culled from Gene Roddenberry's personal collection. These priceless filmed gems continue to entertain four decades later.
Then it was time for the staged theatrical reading from Nana Visitor and Rene Auberjonois, something they created/compiled called Cross Our Hearts. They described it as a selection of poems and words about love, in all its forms. They were also using this venue as a way to garner attention for Doctors Without Borders, a wonderful charitable cause. The audience was understandably blown away by the poignancy and intensity of these readings, some sad, some amusing, some distressing, and others running the full gamut of feelings. This was a very special performance and the audience responded with a standing ovation at its conclusion. With that the day's events concluded, followed by an autograph session.
As a post note, in the evening the Gold Patrons of the convention gathered for a special Gold Dessert and Cocktail Party in a lovely smaller ballroom, and were treated to lavish ice cream sundaes and special guests Nana and Rene, who joined them for some camaraderie and partying. A Centerpiece Competition yielded some unique fan entries, and the group also delighted in the impromptu crashing of the party by Bill Shatner and his film crew, which added to the festivities. It was a most memorable footnote to an exciting first day at the show.