Starlogging With David McDonnell
Younger sci-fi and Star Trek fans out there may not remember Starlog Magazine, but for many of us, it was our sci-fi bible. Pre-Internet, it was THE place to learn about upcoming genre movies, to see some of the first pictures from eagerly awaited movies and shows, and the publication in which to read in-depth, well-illustrated interviews, set visits and more. You waited breathlessly for it to arrive in your mailbox, at a local comic book shop or at the nearby magazine stand or bookstore. J.J. Abrams collected Starlogs. While promoting the recent movie Mama, director Andres Muschietti told journalists that he was inspired by reading Starlog to pursue filmmaking. Starlog was edited by David McDonnell, who spent more than 25 years with the publication and truly put his stamp on it. Sadly, Starlog went the way of the dinosaur in 2009, a victim of the economy and the woes (still) facing the publishing industry. McDonnell has plenty of stories to tell about his Starlog days, his encounters with the legends of the time, many of them beloved Trek figures, and anecdotes about the travails of putting together a magazine. StarTrek.com invited McDonnell to share some of those stories, and he's agreed to do so. So we welcome David McDonnell into our StarTrek.com guest blogger family and, today, present the first installment of Starlogging.
Welcome to the Science Fiction Universe! Table or Booth?
Starlog, the pioneering science fiction media magazine, launched in June 1976. Initially, it was intended to be a one-and-done publication entitled Star Trek, focusing solely on the space saga created by Gene Roddenberry. But lawyers intervened to avoid any hassles, and publishers Norman Jacobs and Kerry O’Quinn wisely renamed the magazine and expanded its coverage to the wider arena of SF and fantasy films and TV. So, you see, Starlog’s DNA has always been entangled with Star Trek.
That one-shot sold so well that the distributor called up to ask when issue #2 would be available. So, suddenly, there was going to be an issue #2, soon followed by quarterly and then monthly publication. The May 1977 release of Star Wars: A New Hope (cover-featured on an early edition) propelled SF into the mainstream at warp speed and Starlog to more than 30 years of continuous publication (and mixed metaphors).
I joined the Starlog fleet in October 1982 after a stint (my first professional job) at Mediascene Prevue, a magazine that examined (in a motto I coined) "Today’s Personalities and Tomorrow’s Entertainment." It was a periodical edited, designed and published by the legendary Marvel Comics writer-artist Jim Steranko (famed for his iconic run on Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. and for creating the concept art that helped sell Raiders of the Lost Ark).
My love for comics (and SF, fantasy, horror, mysteries, Westerns, thrillers, spy flicks, pulp magazines) had led me to this pop culture landscape more than a decade before. How? I wrote letters of comment about comics stories and had several dozen published in various Marvel books (I even won a coveted "No-Prize" for one!). Contributions to fanzines (amateur magazines then printed by photo-offset or ditto publishing) were next up. I wrote (allegedly) humorous satiric fiction, scripts for comic strips illustrated by others, book reviews and media news about comics, SF and fantasy properties becoming movies and TV shows. In 1975, I started doing a similar news column, Media Report, for (what was later known as) The Comic Buyers’ Guide (then with a circulation of 13,000 plus across the U.S.) while a student (West Virginia’s Bethany College, graduate school at Syracuse University)...and then another one, Coming Attractions, at Prevue in 1980... and yet another, Medialog, for Starlog until 2009.
For 31 months, I served as Starlog’s Managing Editor. Then, Howard Zimmerman exited for Byron Preiss Visual Publications and I succeeded him as Editor in April 1985. That gig lasted til December 2009. During all those years, while simultaneously working on Starlog, I served as Editor of Comics Scene (comic books, strips, animation and their creators), Fantasy Worlds (fantasy films and literature) and, for a brief time, Fangoria ("Horror in Entertainment," another subline I originated). Additionally, I edited official movie magazines for the Starlog Group showcasing pictures both great (Aliens, Total Recall, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Starship Troopers, The Shadow, Willow) and not-so-great (Battlefield Earth, .Wing Commander, Conan the Destroyer, Streetfighter, Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, Masters of the Universe). I also edited several authorized magazines devoted to various Star Trek and James Bond films.
But back to Starlog: "The Science Fiction Universe" (yet another tagline I devised). This online column, Starlogging, harkens back to those days with two kinds of idiosyncratic entries. One is the "Inside Starlog" entry (or entree, as befitting my role as maitre’d of the science fiction universe). In essays like this one, I’ll explore the time I spent at Starlog (masterminding a legion of interviews with the movers and shakers of SF and coverage of hundreds of TV series and films) and just how we created licensed magazines for Trek movies as well as three of the TV shows (The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager). These kinds of posts may or may not be interesting to you—so such insider tales will only be occasional offerings.
The other is the "Memory Play." You see, the lifeblood of the magazine feature piece is the anecdote, the funny story (funny as in ironic, humorous or offbeat). Now, here’s the thing -- I’ve tended to live my life as a series of workaholic endurance tests briefly interspersed with bizarre yet true anecdotes. It’s primarily subconscious, but I admit that a few times, I’ve entered into situations where I sorta knew in advance, "Hey, this will make a good story someday." But, mostly, all such incidents were inadvertent.
Here, I’m talking about strange celebrity encounters. Over the years, thanks to SF conventions, press events, interviews and other situations, I’ve met up with numerous celebrities. Here’s just a partial list: Stephen King, Mel Blanc, Roger Mudd, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Stan Lee, Chuck Yeager, John Cleese, Hal Holbrook, Christopher Lee, Gordon Lightfoot, John Lasseter, Chuck Jones (both of them—the late, legendary animator and the publicist-turned-shoe buff), George R.R. Martin, Rutger Hauer, Francis Ford Coppola, Buddy Hackett, Bob Kane, June Lockhart, David Prowse, Dick Smith, John Landis, Robert Bloch, Richard Sherman, Harry Harrison (both of them—the legendary NYC radio jock and the late SF writer), Bob Hoskins, Tim Burton, Adrienne Barbeau, Rick Moranis,"Moebius" (Jean Giraud), Gerry Anderson, Frances McDormand (who I went to college with), Kevin McCarthy, Joe Simon, Frank Oz, Louis Jourdan, Clive Barker, Rick Baker, Laurence Fishburne, Ray Bradbury, Jon Lovitz, Vincent Bugliosi and Tom Cruise.
And I’m not even counting celebs I saw in passing, mostly non-verbal brushes with the likes of Conan O’Brien, Penn & Teller, Jane Fonda, Morey Amsterdam, Ronald Reagan and Elton John.
Well, let me tell you one of those name-dropping memoirs now. I was down in Florida at Walt Disney World for the grand opening of the new Disney Studios park. I attended a special Hollywood Legends banquet. Dilly-dallying outside while awaiting the opening of the ballroom doors, I strode down the crowded hallway, drink in hand (like everybody else). And, suddenly passing me on the right (out of my blind side) as I was unexpectedly moving rightward (to avoid a giant potted plant) was this gorgeously dressed older woman who I damned near knocked over on her keester (because I simply hadn’t seen her and hadn’t expected anybody to walk by me on the right). "Sorry," I mumbled (I think). She just gave me a dirty look of pure death.
It was Lauren Bacall.
Yes, I had just almost—literally—walked into Bogie’s Baby. You know, the widow of Humphrey Bogart, ex-wife of Jason Robards, star of The Big Sleep, To Have and Have Not, Key Largo, Harper, Blood Alley, How to Marry a Millionaire and Murder on the Orient Express.
True. Really! It’s as if I collect these odd encounters, isn’t it? I sorta do. But you’ll notice that I didn’t list any Star Trek people above. That’s because Trek folks will be the sole focus of those kinds of reminiscences here -- so let’s keep them all as a surprise. For now.
Until next time,
Copyright 2013 David McDonnell