By James H. Burns: Howard Smith — New York journalist, filmmaker (including 1977’s Gizmo, displaying a fascination with unlikely inventions), and a radio host – passed away Thursday, May 1. (See “Howard Smith, Trend Spotting Columnist, Dies at 77” by Paul Vitello in the New York Times.)
Friday morning, I wrote the following at the New York Radio Message Board. But it didn’t occur to me until this afternoon that if Smith was visiting a few comic book — and perhaps other — conventions in the late 1970s, he may have been contemplating making a film about the convention scene. Such a documentary might seriously have altered the history of fandom, or at least made more folk aware of conventions and the like, years earlier… Of course, Smith might simply have been checking out a new, possibly fun event he had just heard about, as so many of us once did!
“Many of Smith’s interviews are available as CDs, and some times podcasts, at www.thesmithtapes.com/ (These include conversations with John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Mick Jagger, James Taylor…)
“But also of interest:
“Smith could be modest.
“I met him in the late 1970s, at one of Phil Seuling’s comic book shows (variably at the Statler Hilton, the Commodore, the Americana Hotel — but at that point in time, the Taft, over at 50th Street and 7th Avenue).
“For a while, the fantasy convention scene went well beyond an interest in the four color arts, or science fiction, or Star Trek…
“In that pre-internet era, there was no telling whom you might meet walking the dealers room or, at the multi-day events, the hotel corridors.
“It was almost as though the vibes of a different kind of jungle drum had echoed throughout the Tri-State area, and many with an interest in the fantastic (or unusual) appeared to check things out.
“One could turn from a conversation with a leading nuclear physicist, to musician Ruben Blades saying Hello from across a pile of comic books (years before, of course, he ran for president of Panama), bump into an actor one had just seen Off Broadway, and then be surprised by the appearance of a Show World stripper, in her civvies, as she perused a pile of paperbacks.
“I think Smith was a little stunned that I recognized him from a Tomorrow Show guest shot with Tom Snyder, promoting his documentary film, Gizmo (about unusual inventions).
“But then he was perfectly pleasant.
“We spoke a few times, perhaps also by phone, and never, ever did he mention the groundbreaking work he had done as a columnist a decade earlier (as I just learned about in the Times obit).
“Nor did he mention his far more famous movie, which he co-directed, Marjoe, one of the only documentaries then or now, to receive major theatrical distribution (and which also won an Oscar).”