STARLOGGING WITH DAVID MCDONNELL: Thanksgiving with Gary Lockwood

By David McDonnell - November 27, 2013

Star Trek 2001: A Space Odyssey2001: A Space Odyssey remains a mind-blowing motion picture nearly a half-century after filming began in 1965. Sure, parts of its tomorrow are now merely yesterday (Pan Am flying? The Bell Telephone monopoly operating?). And some other 2001 promises for tomorrow (like Moon excavations and routine civilian space travel) haven’t quite come to pass as of today. But computers like HAL talking down to us as if all humans are idiots—well, there's a prediction that came disturbingly true. Fortunately, they haven't learned to lip read, gone mad and tried to off us (yet).

Like millions of other moviegoers, I was entranced upon first watching that Odyssey with my Dad when it premiered in 1968—even if I didn’t really understand it all then. Or later. Nonetheless, along with Star Trek, The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits and Planet of the Apes, 2001: A Space Odyssey defined science fiction on screen in the 1960s.

Legendary SF visionary Arthur C. Clarke co-scripted 2001, based on his own short story, with its director Stanley Kubrick and also wrote a novel version. Years later, he did some Kubrick-less sequel books including one that got filmed in 1984 as 2010: The Year We Make Contact. In real life, we didn’t make contact that year or any other (yet). Starlog Press did, however, "make contract" in 1984, producing the Official 2010 Movie Magazine (on which I worked).

Clarke’s later novel efforts offer up answers to the questions of 2001, which were probably better left unexplained. Some riddles shouldn’t be solved. If you really get to know the Monolith, it isn’t so Monolithic anymore. Or so magical.

Smash cut to a few years before the actual 2001, the late 1990s, and an odyssey to yet another SF convention. This one was Thanksgiving Weekend in Chicago, Illinois, and I flew over from Newark, New Jersey, on the holiday itself. Since airline passengers are comparatively sparse on Thanksgiving Day, I had a whole row, mid-plane, to myself. And in the row in front of me: the actor who played ill-fated space-farer Dr. Frank Poole in 2001, Gary Lockwood. All by his lonesome. But he wasn’t for long! He charmed every stewardess on that plane! They were soon plying him with peanuts and dispensing (not-so-soft) drinks. Lockwood was the life of that party!

He chit-chatted with other passengers and entertained everyone within earshot (even reticent me; I was busily trying to catch up by editing a manuscript). Flight time went quickly thanks to this impromptu Thursday afternoon floor show. We debarked and I found the con’s promoters. They were (natch) there at O’Hare to pick up both of us. So, I then officially met fellow guest Lockwood—and, luggage in tow, we all headed to the convention hotel. In the van, Lockwood was again the life of the party, entertaining us all with very candid anecdotes from his past life and career.

Of course, he famously appeared in Star Trek's second pilot, portraying Lt. Commander Gary Mitchell in "Where No Man Has Gone Before"—this after starring in Gene Roddenberry’s previous, short-lived TV series The Lieutenant (now finally available on DVD). In the episode (which Lockwood filmed in 1965, long before shooting his 2001 scenes), Mitchell, Captain Kirk's old friend, gains awesome powers that make the man a sort of god. "People always thought I was egotistical," a wry Lockwood told Starlog's Edward Gross in 1986, "so when I got to play that part, many people laughed and said, 'He has finally found his niche.' That has been a joke among my friends."

Star Trek Lt. Commander Gary Mitchell

Lockwood suffered for his art. "It was a very hard job," he noted of being god-like in that issue #124 interview. "I couldn't see the other actors because of the silver contact lenses. They didn't blind me initially, but after a few days, my eyes swelled up and got sore. Afterwards, to have them on for just two or three minutes was agonizing.

"Gary Mitchell was a tough character to reach because there's no prototype to look at. So, you create a mental image and try to fill that slot. All I tried to do was downplay the mechanics and not to be too dramatic. It's the same thing I did in 2001—try to play the part very quietly and very realistically."

He added, "I guess the pilot is effective because it sold the series."

Star Trek Lt. Commander Gary Mitchell

Besides 2001 and other movies, Lockwood also swashbuckled through the campy, charming-in-its-way fantasy flick The Magic Sword (which he discussed in a hilarious talk with film historian Tom Weaver in Fangoria #288). He was married, for a time, to Stefanie Powers, TV’s The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. (a crush of my youth), though I didn’t realize that fact when I met him. It would have taken more chutzpah than I've ever had on hand to admit, "Hey, Gary, I was crazy about your ex-wife way back then... when I was ten."

Now, let's flashback today to another yesterday. Arriving at the Chicago hotel that November afternoon, both Lockwood and I were starving. Only peanuts on the plane, you know! We headed to the hotel restaurant for the traditional meal—roast turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy and cranberry sauce. Everyone else (con staff and all other guests) had already eaten. So, we had Thanksgiving together, just the two of us! I still can’t believe it. I ate Thanksgiving dinner with HAL’s pal, Gary Lockwood. And, unlike space fare, it wasn't even freeze-dried.

That’s my holiday-appropriate, odd encounter with Lockwood. And, let me again emphasize, these memory plays are about MY offbeat experiences so, sorry, but there's always going to be a certain, unfortunate amount of "me" to them. The essays aren't necessarily intended as a) character study appreciations or b) name-dropping fables with clearly-determined morals or c) autobiography, though they may occasionally be d) some of the above or e) all of the above. Please consider them as I always do: "shaggy Trek" stories.

Star Trek 2001 memoirs: an actors OdysseyIn fact, almost everyone I know has had their own strange interludes with the famous. I've known people who hobnobbed with otherwise-reclusive H.P. Lovecraft at a 1930s party in New York... picnicked with John F. Kennedy as he ran for President in 1960... worked with Jane Fonda to shoot Barbarella's provocative publicity pix... hung out with Bill Murray, Boris Karloff, Timothy Leary, Steve Ditko, Benedict Cumberbatch, Arthur C. Clarke (although, naturally, not all at the same time).. .the list goes on. Many folks have this kind of tale to tell. These "Starlogging" essays just happen to be mine.

Speaking of pals' anecdotes, I do have a Promethean postscript about Gary Lockwood, that impossible-to-dislike nice guy. Convention promoter/Space Debris Autographs dealer Jonathan Harris (not the Lost in Space actor) and his wife Susan became quite friendly with Lockwood. Jonathan and the late Tulsa, Oklahoma-based con dealer/comics shop owner John Harper (a much-missed friend) even teamed to publish Lockwood's fascinating autobiography 2001 Memories: An Actor’s Odyssey (written with R.A. Jones).

And on one of his odysseys across America, Lockwood ended up staying at the Harris home in Florida for several days. It would make a better story here if this happened near Thanksgiving time, so close your silver eyes tight and let's make it so, at least for anecdote's sake. Ready?

While there, the actor-turned-Prometheus gourmet-cooked atop Susan’s stove and apparently managed to set the area aflame. Smoke detectors went off! A fire extinguisher had to be used! It was a minor blaze and quickly put out, but as Susan told me much later, with a great laugh and (hopefully) a generous dash of exaggeration: "Dave, Gary Lockwood almost burned down my house!"

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David McDonnell, "the maitre’d of the science fiction universe," has dished up coverage of pop culture for more than three decades. Beginning his professional career in 1975 with the weekly "Media Report" news column in The Comic Buyers’ Guide, he joined Jim Steranko’s Mediascene Prevue in 1980. After 31 months as Starlog’s Managing Editor (beginning in October 1982), he became that pioneering SF magazine’s longtime Editor (1985-2009). He also served as Editor of its sister publications Comics Scene, Fangoria and Fantasy Worlds. At the same time, he edited numerous licensed movie one-shots (Star Trek and James Bond films, Aliens, Willow, etc.) and three ongoing official magazine series devoted to Trek TV sagas (The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager). He apparently still holds this galaxy’s record for editing more magazine pieces about Star Trek in total than any other individual, human or alien.

Copyright 2013 David McDonnell

 

 

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