Moving Pictures: The Motor City Comic Con
I am just back from three and a half days in Detroit at the Motor City Comic Con with Julie Newmar, who, at 76, still looks astonishingly great — even though I have never trusted her hair. She once came to the opening night party at Sardis’s for play I did on Broadway. She stood next to me, eyeball to eyeball for a short time. She purred at me and even pressed against me in the crowded room. At least that’s how I remember it. She was smart, funny, hip and more stunning to look at than I ever even imagined anyone could be. I was probably 26 or 27 and I am sure I just drooled and was unable to speak. I’ve always wished I hadn’t been such a geek at that moment, and seeing her again brought that geekiness back. She has a little trouble getting around, but in person, up close — WOW!
Kristy Swanson, the original Buffy in the movie Buffy the Vampire Slayer, was there, making me feel like the cheap imitation. The cast from Three’s Company was also there — Priscilla Barnes, Joyce DeWitt and Richard Kline. Catherine Hicks from Seventh Heaven was there, along with Yancy Butler from Witchblade, Gil Gerard and Erin Gray from Buck Rodgers and the 25th Century — even Richard LeParmentier, who played General Motti in Star Wars, and Erick Avari from just about everything. All of these people have done so much more than what they’re known for, and it is always seems unfair and kind of ironic how much focus can be pulled by one character in one film or TV show when every actor carries around a lifetime of work and experience.
But nobody was too interested in us, because Carrie Fisher was over on the other side of the Rock Financial Center in Novi, Michigan, and they all came to see her, buy her autograph and share a few moments and a memory with her. I was told that more people paid to come to this year’s convention than ever before — and it was Carrie they came for. She worked her fanny off. Eight hours on Saturday and five or six on Sunday. Signing almost constantly. Taking pictures with fans when she wasn’t signing. Talking all the time.
Carrie and I spent a lot of time together back just after the first Star Wars came out, when she was just twenty. Obviously there are a lot of years and a lot of experiences between then and now but I like to cultivate memories since they turn into stories and stories are what I do. Disappointingly, there wasn’t much time or space to sit and reminisce, but it was still a good, albeit brief, reunion.
Carrie has chronicled her own life in a series of nearly autobiographical novels and memoirs. Try to imagine being the child of one of the great Princesses of Hollywood and her Prince, Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher. They weren’t the Brad and Angelina of the 1950s, but they were close. Cuter and more wholesome. Friendly and tremendously sweet.
Debbie Reynolds was Tammy and the Unsinkable Molly Brown. She was a star at 19 dancing with Gene Kelly. She was Mrs. Show Business. In many ways Debbie was still a girl from Texas, but she had also been everything to almost everyone in America for many years and was still fighting for a foothold.
And then along came Elizabeth Taylor. The most beautiful woman in the world. How could Eddie resist? Would you? The marriage shattered — right in front of the public eye — when Carrie was three.
I once was driving Carrie’s car with her in it down the Pacific Coast Highway in California. We were just north of San Luis Obispo doing about 130 miles per hour on that beautiful road in a great car with the top down. When a police officer finally caught up with us and pulled us over, we were polite. It was a beautiful day. Why ruin it? The policeman, and he was an older version of Steve Garvey like all California State Troopers seemed to be in those days, checked the registration and noticed that Debbie Reynolds owned the car. He leaned in through my window to see if he recognized anyone in the car. He had already begun writing out the ticket, so he had to finish, but knowing the name and now recognizing Princess Leia, he deliberately made a mistake. I got a note from him a week later saying that there would be no fine, and there was essentially no ticket. That’s the kind of star Debbie was — how do you grow up behind that? Of course, that’s the kind of star Carrie is now. When I knew her, Carrie was the smartest, funniest, most cynical 68-year-old Buddhist monk in the body of a 20-year-old girl that I had ever met, or ever would. The air is different around her. I miss her and I didn’t know it until I spent a few minutes in the midst of thousands of fans in Detroit and filled my lungs with that air again.
The main topic of conversation in Detroit was the tax incentives that the State of Michigan has established for film, television and video gaming production in that state. They went Wisconsin 15% better and offer a 40% tax rebate for companies that produce there. Michigan is also helping to finance the building of a sound stage in an old, empty automobile factory in Birmingham. They are helping schools set up programs to teach the crafts involved in filmmaking. The state is embracing and celebrating the entertainment industry as the manufacturing of the 21st century. And it works. George Clooney, Drew Barrymore, Clint Eastwood and nearly a dozen more film stars have made movies there in the past year. I don’t know how much money has been spent in the state, or how many jobs have been created, or how many people feel there is a wonderful future for people who work in the film crafts and the creative class at large because the government has had the foresight and has taken the initiative to promote this industry — I don’t know those numbers, but the enthusiasm and the sense of brightness I heard from professionals and amateurs alike at the Motor City Comic Con made me happy for them and concerned for us. We have a man with a lack of vision, ambition only for himself and not a sympathetic notion in his soul for the creative process or, seemingly, for the working man, in the governor’s chair in Madison. There is still a chance for the State of Wisconsin to build some kind of industry here but it will be an uphill slog through thick mud until we elect an enlightened government to help.