Star Trek Conventions in the Seventies

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Star Trek Conventions in the Seventies

Post  BoG on Thu Apr 15, 2010 8:38 pm

STAR TREK - THE SEVENTIES: THE CONVENTIONS, THE FANS

Science Fiction conventions were nothing new, of course; at the time that TOS was ending its initial run, such sci-fi organizing went back about 40 years. But, the Star Trek conventions added some extra energy into the whole mix. In the annals of fandom, Star Trek has a special place. The original series gradually became a pop-culture staple and the cornerstone of an immense commercial franchise largely because of the devotion and — crucially — the collective creativity of its fan base.
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Possibly the most famous fan was Bjo Trimble (pictured above in later years with husband John, also a fan), who organized a letter-writing campaign towards the end of the 2nd season, helping to get a 3rd season started. The original series went off the air in 1969, after three seasons. But fans continued to dream up their own Star Trek stories, distribute fanzines, make videos, write songs, publish newsletters and create visual art. And they gathered at conventions, some dressed in homemade Trek outfits, which is why, in the annals of Star Trek fandom, Joan Winston holds a special place: she was an organizer of the first Star Trek fan convention, in 1972.


The first-ever Star Trek fan event, organized by Sherna Burley, actually took place in March, 1969, at the Newark Public Library, as TOS was ending. It wasn't a convention, just a small (if still kind of formal) gathering, with no actors from the series, just a slide show. There's a story that a very small group, about a dozen, got together in a hotel room in 1970 and invited George Takei; he was surprised but showed up, getting served milk & cookies as payment.

In June, 1971, Elyse Pines and Devra Langsam with a few others discussed the possibilities of furthering Trek fandom. A few months later, "the committee" organizes a gathering at Brooklyn College's Gershwin Auditorium in New York, getting a surprise at the number of people who showed up. The convention is held at the Hilton Hotel in NYC from January 21-23, 1972, and is often recognized as the first true Star Trek convention.

The March 25, 1972 issue of TV Guide ran an article on it, beginning the piece with: "All over the country today, people are wearing 'Star Trek Lives' T-shirts, pasting Star Trek bumper stickers on their cars and maybe, for all we know, falling on their knees before graven images of Mr. Spock." Yes, the TV Guide writers were among those who sort of ridiculed the phenomenon. The article continued: "Why? Well, it's because, back at the end of January, Star Trek's fanatic band of fans held their first national convention - nearly 3 years after the series was shot out of orbit by NBC." It was also in this article that the earliest rumor of a revival of the series was mentioned; Shirley Gerstel of Paramount Television said that they might start making it again. However, this may have been reference to the animated series, which began about a year later.


The whole convention thing was started by a small group of Trek fans, commonly referred to as "The Committee", who combined their money and rented a hotel ballroom in the hope of getting a group of like-minded fans together. Committee member Joan Winston, whose main responsibility was that of the dealer's room, gave a detailed account of the first Trek convention in '72 in her book Star Trek Lives! (1976). Her take of the proceeds came to $92.46; they weren't in it for the money. Other members included Allen Asherman, Eileen Becker, Steve Rosenstein and Al Schuster.

Although the original estimate of attendees was only a few hundred - the high expectation was 600 - several thousand (over 3,000) had turned up before the end of the convention, which featured a program of events: an art show, a costume contest, a display provided by NASA and a dealers room. Episodes were also screened from 16mm prints, including the original pilot The Cage and a blooper reel. A number of Trek-connected guest speakers also attended, including Trek's creator, Gene Roddenberry, Majel Barrett, D.C. Fontana, as well as science fiction authors Isaac Asimov and Hal Clement.

Roddenberry was dazed and overwhelmed by the reception; when asked on whether STAR TREK might return, he replied "I didn't think it was possible 6 months ago, but..." After this gathering, a series of annual events were organized, which soon included regular cast members, of which DeForest Kelley, Nichelle Nichols, Leonard Nimoy, George Takei, and James Doohan give their own account in the film Trekkies. Asimov attended the 2nd one in '73, the 3rd one in '74 and 2 conventions each in 1975 & 1976.
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Star Trek Conventions - mid-seventies

Post  BoG on Thu Apr 15, 2010 8:49 pm


Some personal reminiscences by a fan on the web a couple of years ago:
As it turns out, I did not go to the first Star Trek Convention ever held. But I went to the second, in 1973.

I know this because last week's New York Times Sunday Magazine ran a piece on Joan Winston, who organized the first fan convention in 1972 and who died during 2008. That prompted me to climb up in the attic and pull out my bag of Star Trek memorabilia to see what I had. I offer it here as a glimpse of the writer as a GeekKid. I was 16, and I took a bus -- by myself -- from the suburbs into New York City, where I shared a hotel room for the weekend...

Note that there are no references to "The Original Series" (TOS) in these artifacts because there were no other series. In fact, in 1973, Star Trek (TOS) itself was only available in reruns. And yet, tens of thousands of us gathered to ... I don't know, find support for our budding geekiness.
------------------------ At least 7,000 fans were expected to show at this one.




The Committee planned better in 1973, picking a larger hotel, The Commodore, and this 2nd one was the first one that Doohan and Takei attended. Mr. Spock, aka Nimoy, made a surprise appearance - he happened to be in town - and was almost mobbed. In 1974, they moved the convention to the even larger Americana Hotel. The ballroom was bigger, but the hotel staff did not impress the show organizers. The '74 con was too crowded - 10,000 to 14,000 attendees - the exact number is unknown as the Committee split off its Chairman after this one and the one who ran registration took the records with him. But, the crowding was so bad that Fire Marshalls became involved. The Committee was soon nicknamed The Coping Committee - they coped.
1975 saw a return to The Commodore and new chairperson Devra Langsam, with a guest roster that included William Shatner; he had to leave early to get back to filming The Devil's Rain. This one was also crowded, more so because some sneaky kids teamed with a dishonest printer to sell counterfeit tickets. Chicago also hosted its first convention in August of 1975, at the Conrad Hilton Hotel; 15,000 fans were estimated to show up.

By 1976, for the Bi-Centennial-10 Star Trek Convention at the Hilton Hotel in NYC, besides all the regulars of the series appearing, even those who made just one guest appearance on the show were getting into the act: Stanley Adams (The Trouble With Troubles), Kathryn Hays (The Empath) and Susan Oliver (The Cage) showed up, as well as Grace Lee Whitney (Yeoman Rand), who left the series in the 1st season. Here's William Shatner arriving at a convention in 1974 and footage from the '75 Chicago con:









At times, all this effort by the organizers must have seemed thankless. Media accounts regularly portrayed the extreme fans as a bunch of kooks. A famous 1980s “Saturday Night Live” skit included William Shatner himself telling Trekkies to “get a life.” A Trek-specific gathering came about in part because even at science fiction fan conventions (which had gone on for decades), fans of the show were “merely tolerated,” as an entry on TrekCore.com puts it. But there’s another way of looking at such fans: as extremely active media consumers. And there’s another way of looking at the Trek convention culture Winston helped create: as like-minded individuals gathering to connect over a shared taste.

Kinship with a same taste community is just a Google search away these days, but in 1972 that wasn’t the case. Which is exactly why the first Star Trek convention was so important in sustaining fandom. Winston, who grew up in Brooklyn and held jobs on the business side of ABC and CBS, also wrote fan fiction, sent story ideas to Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry and visited the set of the show — all impressive manifestations of non-passive media fandom.

But her role in making the first Star Trek convention happen — in New York, with an estimated 3,000+ attendees — was a lasting achievement. She even wrote a book about it, “The Making of the Trek Conventions” (1979). Aside from making shared fandom apparent to outsiders (journalists, for instance, who chronicled the first Trek convention), the convention made fans apparent to one another. It’s a common theme among some media fans that the fan community ends up meaning more than the object of their enthusiasm.

WINSTON:NOT GETTING...
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