It was May 1982 and in Chicago, they were spitting on Sean Penn.
They had good reason. He was acting up and, between takes, actually urging the extras to deliver splashier shots of real liquid insult his way.
Clancy Brown was there among them as one of the quarrelsome inmates welcoming newbie Penn to a juvenile delinquent facility filled with Bad Boys. I was on that film’s set, reporting for Mediascene Prevue Magazine. I happened to be in Chicago to interview Dan Aykroyd for another Universal Pictures project then lensing there, Doctor Detroit. So, Universal arranged for me to dash over and spend a few hours visiting their Bad Boys (not to be confused with the later picture of the same name starring Will Smith).
It was intriguing to watch the spitty welcome scene shot several ways, front and back, even with a Steadicam (operated by a cameraman in a spit-proof raincoat) taking Penn’s P.O.V. (so that the inmates were spitting on the screen). I had a good time, interviewing the director (Rick Rosenthal of Halloween II) and the producer (Robert Solo of 1978’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers). Solo spent most of his afternoon on the set reading a then-new Hollywood expose, Indecent Exposure by David McClintick, which detailed MGM studio exec David Begelman’s exploits in check forging. In answer to my query, Solo told me he knew numerous people who appeared in its (non-fiction) narrative. It must be mind-blowing to read about friends and acquaintances being involved in such shenanigans.
I didn’t talk to the movie’s stars: Penn, Esai Morales (Penn’s nemesis, an inmate in the scene) and Ally Sheedy (who had wrapped her role and gone home). Truth to tell, I had never heard of any of them! This was before the release of Fast Times at Ridgemont High (which made Penn a star) and War Games (co-starring Sheedy). In fact, when the publicist mentioned Sheedy, I pictured her name spelled as Ali Shidi— and thought she was a guy. Really!
Anyhow, I watched Brown, Morales and Penn (son of TV director Leo Penn, who helmed Star Trek’s "The Enemy Within"), even though I didn’t know who they were. Cut ahead a few years and after Bad Boys (his first role, Viking Lofgren), Brown’s career went places (and I went to Starlog). I noticed him as the heroic Rawhide in The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai, a movie we loved at Starlog (and which Indecent Exposure exposee Begelman helped make).
We interviewed Brown on his role as the Creature in The Bride (a retelling of The Bride of Frankenstein) for both Starlog and Fangoria (pieces that appeared concurrently, one a shared interview with his co-star David Rappaport). After that, we covered Brown in London on Highlander (he was the villainous Kurgan), the Earth 2 TV saga (where my writer chatted with him on set in New Mexico) and later in Los Angeles for Starship Troopers (for which I was also editing an Official Movie Magazine). All of them—except The Bride—nabbed covers of Starlog, an endorsement of sorts.
An extremely busy actor, Brown also starred in The Shawshank Redemption, Cowboys and Aliens, the TV fantasy saga Carnivale, the animated SpongeBob SquarePants (voicing Mr. Krabs), the Nightmare on Elm Street reboot, Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H., Ultimate Spider-Man and, most recently, Sleepy Hollow and The Flash. And, of course, he made a trip to Star Trek, portraying Zobral in the Enterprise episode "Desert Crossing." If he hadn’t Trekked, I wouldn’t be mentioning him here.
Here we come to the crux of this entry: I met Brown backstage at a Trek convention while he was out promoting Starship Troopers in 1997. And, as I always did in these encounters, I thanked him for talking to my writers.
"How are Adam Pirani, Craig Chrissinger and Marc Shapiro?" he asked me.
I could have done a spit-take I was so floored! Here was someone we had interviewed multiple times over a decade-plus, yet he remembered all three of my writers by name: Pirani (Bride, Highlander), Chrissinger (Earth 2), Shapiro (Bride for Fangoria, Troopers).
Now, there have been many times when upon my meeting an interviewee, we’ve chatted about one single writer who had previously interviewed him for Starlog— like Tom Weaver, Will Murray, Bill Warren, Joe Nazzaro or the late Steve Swires (although anybody we did twice or more usually ended up, through circumstances, talking with a second journalist). Brown was a special case. He remembered everyone. This had never happened before!
So, I was impressed. That’s what I recall most about Brown and talking to him backstage 16 years ago. He didn’t have to remember those guys. But he did. And I was touched because, old softie that I am, I’m still intensely proud of the people who worked for—and with—me.
And Brown? With all apologies to Gene Hackman, John Shea, Michael Rosenbaum and Kevin Spacey, he’s now the definitive, if animated, Lex Luthor (bedeviling Superman in several different DC Comics-based cartoon TV series and direct-to-DVD movies), a prolific voiceover actor and a nice guy. You’re a good man, Clancy Brown.
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 2014 David McDonnell