Back to Another Future

Mets and Cubs COMPBy James H. Burns: With all this talk of Christopher Lloyd and Back To The Future,  I’m reminded of a story.

And besides, today is the supremely talented actor’s seventy-seventh birthday.

Eight years ago, I met Lloyd, but it was a hardly a flux capacitor moment…

Or perhaps it was!

Some years prior, theatre veteran Jeff Gardner had the idea to turn the movie Grumpy Old Men into a musical. The producer enlisted composer Neil Berg, lyricist Nick Meglin, and book writer Dan Remmes to adapt Mark Steven Johnson’s original screenplay.

(Mad Magazine fans will find it fun to remember that Meglin had been on the humor publication’s editorial staff for forty-eight years!)

The musical had two early backers auditions in November of 2007, with something of an all star-cast:  legendary Broadway star George Hearn and Lloyd as the leads, with Adrienne Barbeau, Carol Kane, Conrad John Schuck and Garrett Morris. The cast performed a “reading” of the new musical, in what is essentially known as a concert setting, with no costumes or props, in a large room at the New 42nd Street Studios.

Grumpy Old Men Cast

I don’t think, under usual circumstances, I would have sought Lloyd out, after the performance.  I generally don’t visit actors backstage after a Broadway or Off Broadway play.  I think it’s an imposition upon their time, unless they’re a friend.

(There are theatre people who highly disagree with me about this policy, and actually believe it’s also a good career move to be seen backstage after a show.)

There is one caveat to all this:  IF you’re pretty sure an acquaintance has spotted you in the audience, from the stage, then you have to visit, even if you have the best of intentions of not wanting to otherwise bother them!  (After one rendition of Hamlet, at a nice, but small Off Broadway space, I had to wait for a while to say hi to the production’s Ophelia…  She had smiled, “Hello,” if I recall correctly, just before her mad scene….)

But something odd had happened, after The Grumpy Old Men reading finished. George Hearn, who I’d run into at the erstwhile, and wonderful, Barrymore’s Broadway restaurant bid welcome, and some folks I knew from the theatre scene  came over to chat, as well as one gentleman whom I’d be stunned if he actually  remembered me:

Suddenly, Garrett Morris had me in the greatest, and friendliest and happiest of embraces!

Now, I HAD interviewed Garrett, twenty-eight years earlier, when he was starring on Saturday Night Live, in his dressing room at NBC, on a Saturday evening, at around 5:30… We had a nice time, and even chatted about Star Trek which, he said, would usually be on his TV, in repeats…

(“Jim, there’s a planet where women are in charge?” he asked me, laughing.  “That doesn’t sound like a particularly good idea…”)

I don’t think there’s any way he actually knew me.  I thought it was just another one of those situations where my having a familiar face had prompted a nice response!

(Morris, by the way, has had the most remarkable of second careers, guest-starring on a number of series, and appearing as a regular on Two Broke Girls.)

But there was some interesting mojo and charisma going on in the New 42nd Street Studios, perhaps simply from an excitement over what many felt had been a terrific musical, and performance.

The door to the side room that was being used as an informal gathering spot for the cast opened, and I decided to compliment Christopher Lloyd.

I walked in, said, “Hello,” and Lloyd looked speechless, absolutely stunned.

I talked about the show, and Lloyd continued to look flabbergasted.  He may have mumbled a few words, but he was seemingly so uncomfortable that with as much cheer and good will as I could express, I wished him a great rest of the day.

He hadn’t been rude.

It was just an odd encounter!

About a year later, the musical had a developmental workshop in New York, with some cast changes, including F. Murray Abraham and Marilu Henner in the Lloyd and Barbeau roles. The musical, which still has its sights set on Broadway, got its world premiere at the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre in Winnipeg in 2011, starring John Rubinstein and Susan Anton, with Shuck now “promoted” to the other top part.)

But there was an interesting denouement to the Lloyd tale…..

About a year later, I finally read Walter Koenig’s autobiography. I had known Walter since 1976, but had been out of touch for a number of years.  I was about to discuss some business and film ideas with him, and figured I should refresh my memory.

Koenig, it turns out, went to acting school, with Christopher Lloyd, at the Neighborhood Playhouse, in Manhattan.   (Another of their classmates was James Caan…)

Koenig and Caan some years after the Neighborhood Playhouse, starring in Harlan Ellison's "A Memo From Purgatory," on The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, in 1964

Koenig and Caan some years after the Neighborhood Playhouse, starring in Harlan Ellison’s “A Memo From Purgatory,” on The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, in 1964

Lloyd and Koenig had been compadres, but hadn’t seen each other in ages.

After a performance, somewhere, Koenig went to say hello to his old “college friend.”

And got essentially the same reaction I had received, some years later

(Perhaps this was somewhere on the set of Star Trek III in which Lloyd played Klingon Commander Kruge, although the actors shared no scenes together.)

I told Walter what had happened, and suggested that perhaps the otherwise amenable Lloyd just possessed an odd quirk.

Koenig still didn’t seem happy. Not everyone, of course, has a sharp memory, or perceives in the way one would presume.

But it’s intriguing to ponder an overhead shot, of those acting school days on New York City’s Upper East Side, with the future Mr. Chekov and Doc Brown hobnobbing, and Rollerball’s Jonathan Eden (not to mention Alien Nation’s Detective Matthew Sykes)  somewhere on the block.

Happily, all the actors had many other roles of note, as well.

Pixel Scroll 10/10 A Filer on the Deep

(1) The Art of The Lord of the Rings by Wayne Hammond and Christina Scull was released in the UK on October 8. The American edition, from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, will be out on October 13.


Wayne and Christina say “The final product still has 240 pages, as we reported earlier, with 192 numbered figures (including 10 details), around 100 of which were not previously published. In the last stages of production, we located further small instances of art in the Lord of the Rings papers at Marquette and had to revise how the pictures were presented.”

Ethan Gilsdorf has an early review of the book on — “See the Sketches J.R.R. Tolkien Used To Build Middle-Earth”.

The many maps and sketches he made while drafting The Lord of the Rings informed his storytelling, allowing him to test narrative ideas and illustrate scenes he needed to capture in words. For Tolkien, the art of writing and the art of drawing were inextricably intertwined.

In the book The Art of The Lord of the Rings, we see how, and why….

Tolkien didn’t seem to care what he drew or painted on. His sketch of “Helm’s Deep and the Hornburg,” the fortress enclave of the Rohirrim people, is executed on a half-used page of an Oxford examination booklet. Drawn in perspective, the tableau nicely captures Tolkien’s final description of the castle from The Two Towers: “At Helm’s Gate, before the mouth of the Deep, there was a heel of rock thrust outward by the northern cliff. There upon its spur stood high walls of ancient stone, and within them was a lofty tower. … A wall, too, the men of old had made from the Hornburg to the southern cliff, barring the entrance to the gorge…” One can imagine Tolkien pausing in the middle of grading a student’s paper, pondering how the castle wall and mountain valley might have appeared from a distance, both in his mind’s eye and the eyes of his characters.

(2) Cinemablend has a piece about “How Star Trek’s Walter Koenig Found Out He Got the Job” based on an interview he gave to the Whine at 9 podcast. Said Koenig —

They told me it was a very serious character and that I needed to bring a lot of intensity to the role. All the while they had me dressed up in any number of different colored wigs… The most important thing was, after I finished reading this with all this great intensity, they asked me to make it funny and I had to totally reverse on the character, which in no way was part of what was written. It worked, they all laughed and as a consequence I became immediately one of the two people in the running for the role… Finally, the costumer came by, didn’t introduce himself, just asked me to follow him. I went to wardrobe and he dropped to his knees in front of me, put his hand on my crotch. I said, ‘What are you doing, please?’ He said, ‘Well, I have to measure you for a costume, don’t I?’ And that’s how I found out that I became a member of Star Trek.


Walter Koenig

Walter Koenig

(3) Walter Koenig’s own website features all kinds of funny confessions in his Tales From The Lunch Counter.

I phoned Mario at “Two Guys From Italy”.and ordered a turkey sausage pizza. Mario called me “Mr. Star Trek” . My order wasn’t ready when I arrived. In fact, they couldn’t find my name. Then they told me that they didn’t carry turkey sausage. I was getting upset. I asked to speak to Mario. “Mario died ten months ago” I was told. There was a movie called “Gaslight” where the husband tried to drive his wife insane. “God Damn it,” I said, let me talk to Mario!” “God, damn it”, came the reply “Mario is dead and we don’t have turkey sausage!” “Do you know who I am?!”, I shouted. “Some whacko short guy!” came the rejoiner. I grabbed the menu determined to find the turkey sausage. Before I could thumb the pages I saw the name of the restaurant on the cover “Little Tony’s” it said in bold script. I had phoned in my order at one place and had gone to another to pick it up. What an idiot! A waiter came by. “Hey, aren’t you the guy from that Star Trek show?” Not me”, I said lunging for the door.

(4) It’s not explicitly said, but I think Rachel Swirsky may have in mind Ruth A. Johnston’s comments on Superversive SF:

(5) All of the videos Kjell Lindgren recorded for Sasquan are now on the Worldcon website —

Unfortunately, when I tried one, it buffered so slowly I abandoned the attempt.

(6) I hope John Scalzi shares a bit more about the con that led to these acrobatics —

(7) I was unable to figure out what anyone is supposed to learn by looking at Christophe Cariou’s Hugo statistics graphs.

(8) Today’s Birthday Boy

October 10, 1924 — Director Ed Wood, Jr. is born in Poughkeepsie, NY.

(9) FUD or a real concern. YOU decide!

There are claims that Gravatar is a privacy risk.

Your email generates a unique Gravatar hash, and allegedly you can be identified by the email you registered with across multiple websites that have Gravatar enabled, even though only the hash, not the email, is displayed.

Thus, people allegedly can learn the hash ID of someone’s email and find out what the person has been saying anonymously on the internet when they register with that address on Gravatar enabled sites.

Plus there is a handy site where you can “check if someone used the email you think they did in a blog comment.” —

Gravatar says there is provision made for profile privacy.

(10) “You Can Now Download Stephen Hawking’s Voice Software for Free”

The software that Stephen Hawking uses to speak via a synthesized voice on his computer has been released freely on the internet. Its creators, Intel, hope that it can now be used in research to create interfaces that similar sufferers of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) can use.

The Assistive Context-Aware Toolkit (ACAT) system has been released on Github, complete with a user guide. It allows researchers to develop communication systems where minimal input is needed. Hawking’s system, for example, relies solely on him moving a muscle in his cheek to type and use his computer. Hawking’s latest system was installed last year, which doubled his typing rate and improved his use of other computer functions by ten times.

(11) The Maryland Historical Society will revive the tradition of the “Poe Toaster”.

The Toaster appeared by Poe’s gravesite every year until 2009. Some speculate that in more recent years the original Toaster’s son took over; others think there have been several Toasters.

Since the last sighting, there had been hope that the Toaster would return, but the Edgar Allan Poe House and Museum finally declared that the tradition was no more in 2011.

“We’ve been without one of our interesting characters for four years now, so we thought it would be fun to put a new twist on it and reinvent the tradition,” Caljean said.

The Maryland Historical Society is encouraging artists to submit proposals via email to describe how they would perform the toast. Submissions are due by Oct. 23, and a handful of finalists will be announced on Halloween.

(12) Elsewhere in Maryland today….

(13) Number one on Jalopnik’s list of “The Ten Strangest Space Weapons Ever Developed” is the USAF’s 1956 proposal for a home-grown UFO:

The Lenticular Reentry Vehicle was another U.S. government “black budget” item that never had its time to shine. It was a flying saucer-like spacecraft with the power to start a nuclear World War III. Supposedly, the LRV would be carried atop an Apollo rocket 300 miles into space, then deployed on a six-week voyage of hell-raising doom, armed with four nuclear missiles.

After completing its mission, the LRV would rocket back down to Earth, deploy a multi-stage parachute and touch down on a strategically determined lakebed.

(14) Cartoon Brew has posted a six-minute short, “Giant Robots From Outer Space”–a 2014 graduation film made at Supinfocom Valenciennes by Elsa Lamy, François Guéry, Aurélien Fernandez, Valentin Watrigant, and Louis Ventre.

“In the 1950s, earth is invaded by a mechanical menace. Love emerges between a man, a woman, and a giant robot from outer space. A tribute to classic science fiction and ’50s cinema.”

James H. Burns warns, “There seems to be an odd misogynistic tone, and some other strange stuff, perhaps, but otherwise (!), there is some spectacular stuff here!”

[Thanks to James H. Burns, Will R., Mark, and John King Tarpinian for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Brian Z.]

A Very Trek Day in Glendale 7/12

JulyPosterThere will be an open meeting of the Alameda Writers Group today, Saturday, July 12th, from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Glendale Central Library featuring a panel moderated by Access Hollywood’s Scott Mantz and joined by –

  • Mark Altman, Castle (2009, co-producer), Necessary Roughness (2011, producer), Femme Fatal (2012, as executive producer) Free Enterprise (writer/producer), for which he won the AFI award as Best New Writer.
  • Walter Koenig, Star Trek’s “Chekov,” also a screenwriter and author.
  • Marc Cushman, author, TV writer, teacher, and Saturn Special Award Winner for his series of books  “These Are The Voyages: TOS”.
  • John D.F. Black, writer, WGA winner, Edgar Allen Poe Award Winner, Emmy nominee, Hugo nominee; wrote and produced for first Star Trek, plus Next Generation, also wrote screenplay for the first Shaft movie.

Then at 2:00 p.m. Glendale’s Mystery & Imagination Bookshop will celebrate George Clayton Johnson’s 85th birthday.

Johnson wrote the first aired Star Trek episode, had multiple Twilight Zone credits, co-authored the novel Logan’s Run, and the script for the original Ocean’s 11.

(Mystery and Imagination, 238 N. Brand Blvd., Glendale, CA 91204.)

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Leviathan 99

Cast of Leviathan 99 Ray Bradbury and Norman Corwin chat at Leviathan 99  Ray Bradbury and William Shatner at Leviathan 99  Ray Bradbury and Sean Astin at Leviathan 99  Ray Bradbury and Leonard Maltin at Leviathan 99 Ray Watches Samantha Eggar at Leviathan 99  Ray Bradbury Speaks at Leviathan 99  Walter Koenig Performs in Leviathan 99  Ray Bradbury, Norman Lloyd, Norman Corwin at Leviathan 99

By John King Tarpinian: California Artists Radio Theatre presented Ray Bradbury’s Leviathan ’99 on May 3 in honor of his friend’s 99th birthday, Norman Corwin.  Leviathan ‘99 is Ray Bradbury’s version of Moby Dick — only in outer space — inspired by his having written the screenplay of Moby Dick for John Huston, in 1953.

Norman Corwin wanted to produce this in 1961 but CBS Radio wished to do it in 3-minute segments. It did not get produced as a radio play until 1968 and that was by the BBC.

John Harlan did the announcing. He has over 50 years experience as a TV announcer: a voice you immediately recognize. The lead character of Ishmael Jones was played by Sean Astin. William Shatner played the 8-foot-tall eight-eyed spider alien, Quell. Norman Lloyd was the crazed captain of the doomed Cetus 7. Walter Koenig was Father Colworth. H.M. Wynant was Elijah. Richard Herd was first mate John Redleigh. Samantha Eggar was Captain Rachel of the Pius One.

Sean Astin is best known for his role in The Goonies and as Samwise in Lord of the Rings, Bill Shatner for Star Trek, T.J. Hooker and Boston Legal. Norman Lloyd formed the Mercury Theatre with Orson Welles and John Houseman, not to mention starred in two Hitchcock films, directed most of the Alfred Hitchcock Presents (including Ray Bradbury’s “The Jar”), The Twilight Zone, Saint Elsewhere…the list goes on.  Walter Koenig is best known for Star Trek and Babylon 5.  Samantha Eggar played opposite Yul Brynner in Anna and the King, in Dr. Doolittle, etc.  Richard Herd’s TV roles are voluminous, including All the President’s Men and The China Syndrome.  H.M. Wynant is probably best known for the Twilight Zone’s “The Howling Man.”

Top photo: Leviathan 99 cast members: Robert Legionaire, H.M. Wynant, Samantha Eggar, Sean Astin, William Shatner, Norman Lloyd, John Harlan.

Update 05/08/2009: Listed Robert Legionaire in the cast photo, following the correction in his comment.

Leviathan 99

California Artists Radio Theatre (CART) will present a live performance of Ray Bradbury’s space tale Leviathan 99 on May 3 in tribute to Ray Bradbury and Norman Corwin. The occasion is Corwin’s 99th birthday, and both Bradbury and Corwin will attend.

Scheduled to appear are: William Shatner, Sean Astin, Norman Lloyd, Samantha Eggar, Richard Herd, Walter Koenig and H.M. Wynant.  Also John Harlan, Robert Legionaire and Sky McDougall.

This brings back memories. Leviathan 99 is the spacefaring version of Moby Dick. When I saw it performed in the 1970s the lead was played by William Marshall of Blacula fame.

Reservations are required. The event will take place Sunday, May 3 at 2:30 p.m. at the Writers Guild of America Theater, 135 South Doheny Drive, Beverly Hills. A limited number of tickets are available for purchase through the CART site.

[Thanks to John King Tarpinian for the story.]