When you’ve worked your whole adult life as an actor, you’re a member of all the unions, have a complicated personal life that doesn’t allow you to leave home for long stretches of time, live in Wisconsin — where there isn’t a lot of union work as an actor, making it hard to make a living — and if you have been fortunate enough to be associated with a few jobs that linger in the public consciousness, one of the things you do, or find yourself doing, is saying yes when invited to a convention, where people come and pay money for autographs and pictures of people deemed to be celebrities.
I was a Hirogen Medic in two episodes of Star Trek Voyager. I wore about 50 pounds of foam from head to foot, lost 15 pounds of water weight from sweating inside that foam for ten days, smelled like that sweat and the sweat from all the seven-foot-tall actors that had worn the foam before me but had perished in one conflict or another. The Star Trek people did not want to spend the money to make new costumes, so when they ran out of seven-foot-tall actors to play Hirogens, they just folded the foam over and pinned it up and slammed it on you. There are many people who are so well-versed in Star Trek-ia that they will pay a couple of sawbucks for the autograph and picture of even a lowly Hirogen Medic.
I also did a movie about college fraternities that was and still is quite popular.
I played an occasionally recurring role on Seinfeld. I dated Elaine, took her to my villa in Tuscany and played pool with Kramer and George’s Dad in their basement at a very small pool table. I wore boxer shorts in that one and conducted the Brooklyn Policeman’s Benevolent Society Orchestra with a bent baton.
And then there is the vampire.
Primarily because of these adventures, and a few less popular but still known performances, I am asked, occasionally, to go to these conventions, where I am treated like a celebrity. It’s nice. The attention is nice. The fantasy of being well known and liked by strangers is nice. The money is nice, especially lately. And the chance to get out of town, sometimes to very nice locations like London or Florida, is also nice. But you earn it sitting at a table for an average of six hours a day for three days, smiling and being nice, telling stories, answering questions, shaking hands, hugging for pictures, being nice and smiling. It is fun most of the time, but it is also confusing. And it’s work.
He had never seen the movie, didn’t know the line or the character. He was just a “fan,” a fan of anything, of anyone who happened to be on the other side of the table and who would take time to notice him. I wasn’t that busy, so I had taken the time and talked to him for a while. Then I told him, after getting him to trust me, that he was worthless and weak. I think he would have liked to have hurt me, badly. It took about 20 minutes more to walk him through the movie and the character and the reason for the line. For 20 dollars.
It was, and is, confusing. Many of the people who come to these conventions spend a lot of money. They deserve a memory for their money. It’s all I have to give them. Most of them want a personal memory to go along with their memory of the movie or television show. And some of them, like the gentleman in Florida, are just fans of celebrity, of anyone who might be something or someone that they are not. It doesn’t matter if they know them or know the work. It’s enough to just stand in the shadow for a moment. It took me a while to learn to respect that. I admit that I sometimes still think it is pathetic and sad, but most of the time I really have affection for and am grateful to the people who have taken joy and experience from my work in various projects.
In two weeks I go to Detroit for the Motor City Comic Con in Novi, Michigan. Not one of those “very nice” locations, but my old friend Princess Leia will be there, as will another old friend, Bruce Davidson from X-Men. Catherine Bach from the Dukes of Hazard television show will be there, and several Playboy centerfolds and cover girls. Gill Gerard and Erin Gray from the Buck Rogers television show will also be there, and so will a lot of people whom I have never heard of who have also done comic book related work.
I’ll write about it when I return. I’ll also write about one I did in Chicago a month ago, where I was the youngest person there. The headliner was Tony Curtis at 83 years old.