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Gene Roddenberry's "Star Trek" is often admired for its
appeal to the fans. Who can blame them?
Looking back to the times when the show first aired, there
was a great deal of uncertainty in our lives. The USA was fighting an
increasingly unpopular conflict in Southeast Asia. Racial tensions were
unsettled at the least. The future did not look all that rosy.
The Star Trek cast. Image courtesy of Garfield Lane Productions
Yet, here was a television show that gave hope for future. A
future where the people of Earth lived together in peace and harmony, without
want. And that hope appealed to people of all generations. In those days before
the Internet, sharing this common interest was not as easy as it is in today's
world of social media. Perhaps you had some friends who enjoyed the show? From
time to time, you would share that by watching an episode in reruns on a local
television station. Maybe a local fan club would offer a place to share your
interest, possibly at school. But that was about as far as it went.
Here in the San Francisco Bay Area, that changed in 1975.
One fan group organized themselves and held what their first Star Trek event.
They called it "The Red Hour Festival", taking the name from an event in an
episode of the show. What they started that day is now recognized as the basis
for Star Trek fan events that have followed over the years.
This was an event produced by fans for fans. As Chuck Weiss,
one of the folks behind the event described it; "This was a time when you could
rent a high school for a day without having to worry about liability
insurance." San Francisco's Lincoln High School was the perfect place for such
an event. A large theater and good-sized cafeteria nearby just right for tables
full of Star Trek items to be sold by vendors. And only two blocks away from
In the early 1970's, television in the Bay Area was still an
expanding medium. UHF stations took advantage of all of the programming they
could find to attract viewers. Everything from old-time movies to big-time
wrestling and roller derby could be found on the airwaves. One station, KBHK
Channel 44, was showing the original Star Trek episodes in reruns, Monday
through Friday in late afternoons, beating some local news broadcasts in
Another unaffiliated television station was KTVU Channel 2
in Oakland. They found success in another timeslot, Saturday nights. By showing
odd science fiction and horror films with an odd host with a fondness for
cigars, "Creature Features" found a following with some of the same audiences
that Star Trek had in afternoon reruns. Today, these might be termed cult
That cigar-smoking host was Bob Wilkins. If you wanted to
know what was going on in sci-fi or horror, you watched "Creature Features" to
find out. And in the case of The Red Hour Festival, Bob was the first to get
the word out on television. He went a step further and was the emcee for the
event. Smart guy that he was, he also took along a camera man shooting 16
millimeter color sound film. Clips from that film later appeared on the show,
giving folks who missed out a chance to see what a Star Trek fan event was all
(L to R) Actors Bruce Hyde (Lt. Kevin Riley),
George Takei (Lt. Sulu) and James Doohan (Lt. Commander Montgomery Scott)
onstage answering fans questions at Space-Con 2 in Oakland, CA in August of
1976. Image courtesy of Garfield Lane Productions
A series of Star Trek conventions called "Space-Con"
followed "The Red Hour Festival" thanks to Terry Terman and his company, Space...
The Final Frontier. Bob Wilkins continued his role as emcee at events in
Oakland and San Francisco along with his trusty cameraman.
Fans checking out items for sale in the Dealers Room at
Space-Con 2 in Oakland, CA.Image courtesy of Garfield Lane Productions
Fast forward. In retirement, Bob lived in Reno. After he
passed away in 2009, that footage and more from other local Star Trek events
came to filmmaker Tom Wyrsch. All together, there was about 40 minutes of
footage with the cast of Star Trek, fans of the show and more from five events
in the Bay Area. Contacting some of the folks who were the force behind these
events provided interviews to tell the story of how these events began and
grew, eventually attracting over 10,000 people for a weekend.
"Back To Space-Con" is the documentary project that resulted
from that film footage and interviews. It tells the story of a time when fans
of science fiction and horror films could gather together and share their
interests with other like-minded people. One has to remember that for the most
part, here in the Bay Area, there were no comic book or specialty stores where
you could go. Maybe a local cut-rate movie theater might show a science fiction
or horror classic now and then. Until these conventions came along, you just
did not have a place to share your interest.
Before Star Wars was a hit, Star Trek was just another
television show, out of production. Even Paramount didn't have much interest in
it, other than rentals from syndication markets. It made a small amount but
nothing to get excited about. So when events like Space-con were held, they
didn't get excited about them. But fans? They had always hoped for a Star Trek
movie. They knew that the Final Frontier, as Roddenberry called it, had
infinite potential waiting to be explored. Once box office returns for the
summer of 1977 came in, studios looked for their own sci-fi bonanzas.
Of course, it didn't hurt that events like Space-Con were
drawing big crowds. Over 10,000 fans attended the Space-Cons 2, 3, 4 and 6 - in
Oakland, San Francisco and Los Angeles. And Paramount? Thanks to budget woes at
Desilu (who first produced Star Trek), the series was not copyrighted in its
first two seasons. It wasn't until the third season when Paramount stepped in
that it took place. The result? Fans could have all of the Star Trek events
they wanted, without worrying about licensing.
Star Wars? Well, it was copyrighted from the word go. 20th Century Fox and
Lucasfilm had licensing underway from the start. At Space-Con 4 in LA, they
came prepared and told dealers that they could not sell unlicensed Star Wars
That didn't stop fans of the film from making their own.
They just couldn't sell it to each other. You name it, they had it. Homemade
Wookie costumes and more. A Bay Area high school shop class even got into the
act as students made their own Stormtrooper armor out of plastic just as the
film crews had done.
A homemade Tusken Raider costume worn by a Star Wars Fan at
Space-Con 6 in Oakland, CA in 1978. Image courtesy of Garfield Lane Productions
Events like Space-Con were fun for both guests and fans
alike. As Scott Bakula later described his Quantum Leap
fans, "It's nice to
meet the people who paid for your house." I can attest that it was not at all
out of the ordinary to find the cast mingling with crowds. Fans were polite and
respectful, getting their photos and autographs. And the cast was happy to see
them. Many went on to long friendships with fans, always glad to catch up on
the latest news.
Did these conventions help get Paramount to make the first Star Trek film
? Certainly a debatable question. Let us say that it did not
hurt. Big attendance only went to prove that the market for a revived Star Trek
was out there. And after the success of Star Wars
and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, folks such as Michael Eisner at Paramount wanted to get their own
piece of the science-fiction market. Even Disney's Black Hole
was a direct
response to that success, although not as successfully imitated at the box
Star Trek would go from a television project (Star Trek: Phase II) to a major motion picture. That spawned a series of film sequels and
a television network with four long running series. Fandom? Oh, the Trekkers
are still out there. With JJ Abrams re-imagining of the Trek universe
sequel in production to hit the screens in 2012, "the adventure continues."
"Back to Space-Con" is a wonderful look back at those early
days when Star Trek conventions were produced by fans and for fans. And those
events certainly inspired other similar conventions for other genre fandoms
around the world. If you were among people who took in a Star Trek convention,
you will find the documentary a welcome look back.
Image courtesy of Garfield Lane Productions
The film is available on DVD for only $15 from November Fire
plus shipping and sales tax, if you're in California.
And if you're in the San Francisco Bay Area, Thursday, April
14th, you can enjoy a special screening of the film at the Balboa Theatre in
San Francisco, not far from where it all began at Lincoln High School with "The
Red Hour Festival". The program starts at 7 pm and includes the Star Trek blooper reel, Ernie Fosselius classic "Hardware Wars" and a Q&A session
with director Tom Wyrsch - all for only $10.
You can check out this trailer for a glimpse of the film:
Be sure to check out Roger Colton's blog, "The Blue Parrot"
for more tales of his own "Space-Con" adventures.