The Trimbles & Wil Wheaton
Though we’ll never know for sure how much Gene Roddenberry had to do with introducing Wesley Crusher to the cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation, we are very sure that when GR agreed to the new addition he did so with a sly grin on his face… then sat back to watch the well-stirred ant hill.
Gene had a pretty fair understanding of Trek fandom, and he often liked to put things in his franchise that were aimed at his supporters. We never discussed Wil Wheaton with Gene, but we are fairly sure he added a boy genius to the Next Gen series partly because he knew that viewers would appreciate a very bright youngster fitting into a future society, and partly because it added an annoying factor that he knew would keep fans talking.
Let’s face it: nobody likes a know-it-all, especially when that person really does know it all. Even to other know-it-alls, or maybe especially to these folk, a super-smart kid is particularly irritating. Yet these brilliant young people do exist all over our world, many of them never reaching their potential due to lack of education or because they were raised with stronger and more influential naysayers than encouragers.
Back when Bjo helped Cal Tech students put together the annual Interhouse Dances, she ran into many of these brightest-kid-in-school people. She even dated a few before John Trimble entered her orbit. One of the things she observed about these young men is that many of them reacted to each other much as Sheldon Cooper does in The Big Bang Theory. Many are so shocked to end up in a school of nothing but brightest-kid-in-school students who think they can flunk out if they aren’t helped to more stability.
Bjo tried to help by teaching an evening art class at Cal Tech, just to teach some of these genius students how to relax. Some went on to become Sunday painters, at least, and more than one student said he would never be an artist, but that learning to draw what he saw sure helped with his biology assignments! But we digress….
So fans had various reactions to Wesley Crusher, Boy Genius. And, of course, many fans transferred much of their reaction -- good or bad -- to Wil Wheaton, the actor. It says much about his acting ability that he could create such a reactionary character who could evoke so much strong emotion in TNG viewers.
We met Wil when he was in a studio class. Way back when, a single-student studio classroom was a tiny wooden shed on wheels with chairs and two desks, one for the teacher, one for the student. There were a couple of windows that opened if they had not been painted shut years before. Usually, in hot weather, the door was left open.
Studio teachers have to be very versatile, able to teach many subjects at many levels. This is California State law, and in those days having classes for underage actors was very strictly enforced, even on location. Teachers also have to be very patient, since their students get called away all the time, and even the best of those youngsters are not always concentrating on the given lesson.
When we wandered by on our way to the TNG set, Wil grabbed a chance to escape class for a moment, and hailed us. We looked at the teacher, who smiled resignedly, and greeted Wil. He was in costume, with a T-shirt to protect it, and looked just like any kid willing to talk to anyone to avoid lessons.
Bjo’s teen years were spent in Thousand Oaks, and movies filmed all over that area. Between that and her mother’s sewing at Warner Brothers, she met several child actors, some of whom were very full of themselves, often little martinets who kept sets lively with major temper tantrums. When we later discussed our meeting with Wil Wheaton, we agreed that he was one of the nicer young actors we’d met.
Wil came to Star Trek as a great fan of The Original Series. He let fandom know that he was collecting Original Series props and artifacts, real or fan-made. So, naturally, fans wanted to add to Wil’s collection, whether they liked his Wesley character or not. It should come as no surprise to learn that Bjo somehow got inadvertently involved in this.
We’d been invited to guest at a Trek convention in the Mid-west (and we feel sure that some fans will remind us of which one). John could not go because his job would not allow a long weekend away. So Bjo flew to the convention, enjoyed herself enormously, and prepared to go home again. While she was packing up, a fan appeared with a gift for Wil. We feel sure someone will remind us of who this fan was. Sorry for the memory lapse, but he will recognize himself in this story.
The fan explained that he’d read of Wil’s collection, and that an early TOS phaser pistol was high on the list of things as yet un-obtained. The fan made beautiful Trek props and wanted Bjo to take one of his phaser pistols to Wil, please. Of course, Bjo agreed, wrapped the prop in one of her T-shirts, and put it in her carry-on bag. Who knew the trouble this would cause?
This was before 9/11, but security in some airports was pretty tight. When Bjo’s carry-on went through the machine, everything came to a stop. The lady behind the counter hit a button, and several security police headed our way. So did a tall, serious-faced young man in a square-cut suit. Bjo realized that everyone was armed and gently placed both hands where they could be seen by all. Now, how did she know to do that? Turns out that one of her mom’s many jobs through the years was a deputy sheriff.
When the suit arrived at the counter, the lady reported that Bjo was carrying a gun in her luggage. She protested, until recalling the phaser pistol. The suit gingerly opened the carry-on and dumped out the contents, making Bjo very glad she had at least some nice Star Trek T-shirts for the interested line in back of her. The phaser pistol rolled onto the counter, and the suit grabbed it while the armed security folk moved in closer. There was a long silence as the suit tried to figure out what this short, freckled little person might plan to do with a pistol.
He informed Bjo that what he held was a Luger, which made her wince and think, “I’m going to check more closely on anything I’m handed by a fan after this!” Then the suit realized that the pistol barrel was blocked, and it had some very unusual added features, not the least of which was a Starfleet insignia on the sides. He turned the pistol over, and the phaser on top fell off; it had only Velcro holding it to the pistol.
Holding the phaser high, he said, “What the heck is this?” To which the highly amused line of patient flyers shouted, “It’s a PHASER!” This ruffled him so much that he was going to confiscate the prop, so Bjo had to cajole him into a better mood and make him understand that the pistol was going to a nice youngster in Los Angeles who would be devastated if he didn’t get his gift.
Finally, Bjo was released, with phaser pistol, but she had to hand it over to the flight attendant until the plane reached LA. That was supposed to prevent anyone from using the gun on the flight, but since the attendants were so amused and also Star Trek fans, they handed the phaser pistol around the airplane so everyone could appreciate the fine workmanship. For many people, this was as close as they’d ever get to a movie prop. The flight attendants even took the pistol into the flight cabin so they could see it, too.
When Bjo got home, we took the pistol over to Paramount to give it to Wil. He was told the story, which he thought was hilarious. Bjo pointed out that she could have spent time in jail. So he asked what he could do for us, and Bjo said we like his autograph for our own children. He was looking for a blank piece of paper when he was called to the set. So Wil left hurriedly, promising to give us an autograph when he got back.
Unfortunately, the scene took a long time with many retakes, so we had to leave without the autograph. We figured it would be no problem meeting up with Wil again sometime soon.
In that, we were overly-optimistic. For the next several years, we missed contact with each other. At one point, a Westercon (West Coast Science Fantasy Conference) was being held in Pasadena, organized by the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society. Many members of LASFS were - and still are - very intelligent but mischievous people. We should know; we’ve been members of that group for over 40 years. At any rate, they thought it would be hilarious if they held a Wesley Crusher Roast, where fans could tear apart this annoying character.
This did not seem fair to us, unless Wil was on hand to protect himself and Wesley. So we told Wil about the Westercon schedule plans, and he decided to show up. Here was where we discovered that Wil the actor had superb timing. He stayed in the back of the auditorium while the Roast panel gathered and started in on Wesley. When the audience began to laugh and agree with the panel, Wil quietly walked up the aisle to the front tables.
One of the panelists saw Wil coming, and stopped talking to stare open-mouthed. This drew everyone’s attention, and a gasp went over the audience when they realized who was present. Wil walked to the front table with great aplomb, smiled at the panelists and reached for a microphone. Turning to the gaping audience, he smiled his friendliest, and introduced himself. There was a dead silence. It’s no bad thing to shut fans up every now and again.
After all these years, we have to paraphrase his words, since we don’t recall exactly what he said. But this is the gist: He said, “I understand that Wesley is a brilliant but annoying little twerp with no social skills. This is a pretty apt description of most very bright people who pay more attention to their areas of interest than to the people around them. Any genius suffers from people being too much in awe of them to correct their annoying habits. So Wesley is a super-intelligent kid who manages to solve some TNG problems. This is real life today. Get over it."
At which point, Wil handed the mic back with a big smile, and walked back down the aisle. He talked to a few people and left the convention site in a short time. We were so tickled over his short but cogent speech that we once again let him get away without that autograph.
We did not follow Wil’s acting career very closely after that, being mainly distracted by Real Life, which always seems to take up far too much time. So when Wil started to recur on The Big Bang Theory as himself, and nemesis to the annoyingly brilliant but socially inept Sheldon Cooper, we watched with delight. We understood Sheldon’s inability to distinguish between the hated Wesley and the equally disliked Wil. Many fans do not make that separation of fact and fiction.
Last year, Bjo attended Comic-Con with friends. John stayed home because he intensely dislikes huge, noisy crowds. He’s got a point there, but Bjo finds much to enjoy at this massive convention. She met many Trek fans at this event, though she wanted to meet more. She also appeared on the Roddenberry.com panel.
Bjo also met up with a longtime friend, David Gerrold, author of the fan favorite “The Trouble With Tribbles” TOS episode. He invited her and her friends to a very private Big Bang Theory party being held by Bill Prady and Chuck Lorre at the new Hilton Hotel. The password into the party was: “Plasticman sent me” and though Bjo felt like a complete idiot saying it, the security guards had a wonderful time making her do it.
Most of the Big Bang Theory cast was absent from the party, still signing autographs after their panel. But some of the guests included most of the Mythbusters crew, who were great to meet, Bill Nye the Science Guy in a lime green and apricot orange plaid jacket, and a bevy of leggy, enhanced young ladies hoping to be noticed by someone in the film business.
Then Chase Masterson arrived, and all eyes focused on her. She is by no means a tall, leggy female, but she has that special Betty Boop quality, especially with very high heels. The shoes gave her a cute jiggle factor that many of the other ladies did not have. When Chase saw Bjo, there was a round of enthusiastic hugs and kisses, making others wonder just who the rumpled freckled person was, and was she important? Chase was at Comic-Con for publicity purposes, of course, but also to talk about getting the comic industry behind a major push to deal with bullying. We love this actress; she uses her fame to get things done.
Also at the party was an affable Wil Wheaton, who surprised Bjo by recognizing her after all these years. They talked for awhile, before he was claimed by several young ladies. Bjo reminded him that she’d never gotten his autograph. He remembered promising one and pulled out a lined notepad, writing across one page, “Bjo -- The debt is paid! Wil Wheaton”
So that puts the Trimbles one up on Sheldon Cooper; we have Wil’s autograph!