Old Cons: LA Convention ’80s

Cover of the Galactica 15 Year Reunion convention held in LA.Holiday FluCover of a Convention held in Burbank in '94 one of the last GOOD ones.

By Richard A. Coyle

This was rewritten for the Rebirth First Issue

Well, I guess I have a real bad case of fandom-itis. We are going through one of the big holidays and unlike a more normal person, I do not find myself pining away for the old family get-togethers. Instead, I found myself missing the big conventions of yester-year.

This is being written at home over the Thanksgiving weekend. I found that I was feeling a little down and blue. As I searched my soul for the cause, I could only find sadness that I was not away at a convention. Thoughts of family caused no longing, no sense of lost of anything missing, only sadness over the fact that there was a lack of a road trip and a convention brought tears to my eyes.

I think this sadness is because I, like maybe many of us, never really found that sense of home and belonging anywhere else but with other fans, with our *own* kind. I think that for many of us, even our own families put us off and made us feel a little out of it, a little like outsiders even at home.

After all, what are the highlights of this holiday? A big dinner, some stuffing (ourselves included), a grand family gathering (usually with fights and bickering) and football. All of this happens on one day, leaving three dead days to sit around and regret doing what we did that one day. No wonder so many flee into the crushing crowds and traffic to shop on the day after, anything to get out of the house. For me this always was/is a big waste of time. I have no family, we don’t do the dinner and I hate football. Like most holidays, this has always been a bore for me.

My second convention, 1979 Phoenix Az. And my first costume, I was doing the 50's German made "Glash Gordan" TV show. Raygun was a hit. Then I found fandom.

Now these holidays meant something special to me too, big three to four day conventions. And I went to some of the best I ever seen in the early 80’s. For those of you reading this and having only known the Creation Cons, pull up a chair for a tale of long ago and you will learn why I refuse to call them any thing but *cons*, like the kind con men use to fleece you out of your money. Early 1980's "Beldorn Blasters" on table, I am holding a "Istar hand blaster" Also converted Star Wars toys.

For I am talking about three to four day, twenty-four hour conventions, held in some of the nicer hotels like the Hyatt Regency, or the L.A. Bonaventure (where they filmed parts of “Buck Rogers”, and one like it in Atlanta for “Fantastic Journey”. Man, did it feel like coming home and felt that I were living in a part of the show.)

In these hotels, we would have so many function and activities to attend that you would have some difficult choices to make.

Let me list a few:

LA, 80's Merroit Hotel near LAX. Doug Wright Con.Film rooms running twenty-four hours a day of un-edited 16 mm copies of all the great movies, some times even they wide screen versions. We saw even classic “Star Trek” TV episodes on 16 mm film, at that time, many of us only saw these shows on the local television channels in reruns and, by then, with many unkind cuts to make room for more commercials, I even remember reading where they had sped up the show’s running time about 10 percent solely so that they could to sneak in a couple of extra commercials. You could spot the sped up versions often by playing an older version and then listening to the slight tonal changes of the sped up soundtrack, expressly in the music. In the conventions films room, we fans saw them on a big screen, not the home TV which was then limited to only 25 inches maximum size, and they were uncut and without commercials.

There were panel rooms where authors and actors would give lectures or rooms that had themes such as: The L5 Society who wanted/wants to build colonies in space, out by the moon, or the “Bring Star Trek Back From the Dead” effort (this was before the return of the Next Generation series, these efforts were kept alive, for Paramount kept saying that the last movie, was indeed could be, the last movie), or the mechanics of how a “real” Starship might actually be built, or how to write that screenplay you have been dreaming of, or how to make a model or do a make-up job.

Some presenters would be thereto give a promotional slide or clip show of work within the film industry, answer questions and show models. There would be art rooms with paintings and models and sculptures done by fellow fans, many of which were for sale.

80's...They are doing "John Carter of Mars" Of the Edgar Rice Burrough's stories. Film and TV producers would often show up to do promotions of upcoming shows and films.

There were display rooms where there might be Robby the Robot, the Knight Rider car, the Time Machine or the Deloraine from “Back to the Future” would be on display to look at. We had Darth Vader costumes, the “Man From Uncle” car, guns and other vintage pieces, the Wind-up Robot from “Return to Oz”, a Spinner car from “Blade Runner”, an endo-skeleton from “Terminator”, Gort and the spaceship from “Day the Earth Stood Still” all these things I have seen at various conventions during these years. They have brought in Cylons, the Imperial Leader, uniforms and costumes from “Buck Rogers” and “Battlestar Galactica”, costumes from “Forbidden Planet” and “Logan’s Run”, plus Flamer Guns and Followers have all been seen.

I could go on and on, so many wonders have we seen at these old conventions. If that was all, it would still be so much more than these pitiful C-cons running today . . . but there *was* more.

Since these conventions were taking place at hotels and not in someone’s meeting hall or a 4-H barn, we, the fans, had full use of many of the activity rooms all day and all night. To make good use of them, the organizers would have special events after the main function rooms (dealers room’s) had closed. Yes, their actually were conventions where there were things to do after the sales room had closed.Conventions were there were many functions just for the pure joy of it.

They are coming to take all of us away...to the Village.  80's LA.Let me draw a picture of what I fell in love with. A three day Doug Wright convention would be held over Thanksgiving, Easter and the Fourth of July holiday weekends. On Friday, all the functions would open about 9 in the morning and there’d be six to eight things to do, among them a dealers’ room, a Doctor Who meeting and Dr. Who film festival, a function room where a “Star Trek” guest or two giving a lecture, another room where a tech guest might be promoting the latest film coming out. Throughout the hotel, film rooms would be running films, for VCRs were brand new and only a very few fortunate fans had them then.

Everything described and more would be churning happily away up until about six or seven in the evening and then most of the function and conference rooms would shut down. As this was only the first day, Friday night, we would still have many more things to look forward to, unlike the current cons that terminate promptly at seven o’clock and tell you to go home.

No sirree, these were the good ol’ days, we had the “Talent Show” to enjoy! These were scheduled to begin at seven and would often run to two to three hours of pure fan fun. As I remember it the promoters of this convention offered a cash prizes for the best skits, participants would pull out all the stops to earn them.

Here are a few of the best bits I remember :

A gentleman wearing a NASA jacket and cap walks up to the podium: “Ladies and Gentlemen, we will be lighting up the big screen in a minute.” He gestures to the stage. “But first, please let me update you as to the current events happening on the moon. Apollo 16 has nearly wrapped up their mission on the moon and… Wait,” he places his hand on his right ear. “I am told that transmissions are coming in from the moon right now, so we are activating the big screen.” Again he indicates the stage.

Remember "Salvage One"?? 80's LA As he does we observe two very good recreations of the NASA moon suits shuffle onto an them about the stage, recreating the “moon walk.”

The suits have their own speakers built into the chest pack, so we not only are able to hear the lines spoken by the actors, within the suits, but also get the feeling of hearing a radio conversation at the same time and, due to the lower volume, there was a feel of distance to it.

The two suited figures bound about the stage, picking up a few “moon rocks” with toy grabber hands on a stick and placing them in a box hung on their suits.

We hear authentic sounding dialog like: “Houston, I found a good sample of indigenous rock here, I’m placing it in the sample case now. Jim, how are you doing?”

Other suit responds, “Fine, I too have filled my case with samples.”

First suit, “We’re nearly finished, sample cases filled, golf balls all in orbit or lost down a crater. Right, we are done here, Houston and proceeding back to the LEM now.”

They shuffle/skip over to a stand-up rod with a rigid American flag attached to it and then the lead suit throws out both of his arms, stops rigidly both feet in a wide stance as if in shock and yells: “Houston, we have a problem here….the LEM is gone!”

Other suit, (slightly panicked sounding) “But, but we parked it right here…there’s the flag…and over there is the burn mark of our landing, and you can clearly see the marks of our landing feet, so where could it have gone, and*how* could it have gone, I have the keys right here.”

At this point a third space-suited person shuffles onto stage and stabs down a pole with a flag; on this flag is a picture of a vulture wearing a hard hat and holding a monkey wench, with the words in a ring around it saying, “Salvage One”.

This new and slightly different suited person said, “Boys, it had no title or plates, so we junked it. Sorry about that.” (Some of you might remember a little show called “Salvage One” starring Andy Griffith; who built a space ship and flew to the moon and salvage the left over space program parts there. The creators of this skit had recreated the flag from that show.)

That was when we learned the title of the skit: “Houston, Houston, just who has the pink slip?” (Pink slip is California slang for the automotive title paper, because California used to tint the title paper with red or pink colors for the emblem or seal; to “race for pinks” meant to race for each others’ cars.)

Then there was skit about a UFO sighting that turns out to be more about too many drinks or drugs.

First person in group said, “Wow, man, like it floated right down close to us, man, like it seemed to be looking for us man.”LA late 80's She said she was promoting an upcoming movie...

Second person said, “Yeah, I saw it too, dude.” First person again, “But, man, I tell yet it was trying to talk to us, it kept blinking lights and playing songs, just like “Close Encounters”, man, I tell you it wanted to talk to me.”

Third person in group, “You fool, I was there too, it was just an ad for Budweiser Beer…it was just the Good Year blimp, man.”

First Person, “Aha man, I was so sure it was a UFO, man.”

There was a two-part “Logan’s Run” sketch with about ten to twenty Sandmen chasing only one runner – and missing him. It started with a couple of Sandmen walking onto the stage, one is carrying a follower and about center-stage.

One of the Sandman says , ” Hey, I have a Runner here!”

Abruptly about ten more Sandmen jump up on stage from out of the audience, all excited and asking, “Where is he?

Set on long range. Get a lock on, hurry!” Meanwhile a lone Runner in red walks down the aisle towards to the stage, stops and waits.

None of the Sandmen see him, all are concerned with the Sandman with the tracker, “Man, if you don’t know how to use that tracker, give it here, I’ll find that Runner. No, no, it’s my follower and my Runner.”

During all this excitement the Runner starts to work his way into the group of Sandmen, asking things like, ” Say what is all the excitement about? What are you guys doing?”

Suddenly the Sandmen all go quiet in shock. The Runner now realizes that they have noticed him and starts to slowly retreat from the group, saying, “Aha good work, great work you Sandmen do, aha, yes, keep up the work, support your local Sandmen, I always say.” He managed to just reach the aisle when the whole group of Sandmen finally break out of their paralysis and all simultaneously jump up into the air and yell, “Runner!”

The Runner then bolts out of the room with all of the Sandmen in hot pursuit and disappear out the back doors of the auditorium.

This Runner then shows up a couple of skits later, which seems to be a guy telling a story – very ineptly. As he’s telling his story of the runner just lopes in casually, kind of like the Fox who has out run the dogs, for he has eluded his pursuers. He sees that the storyteller is distracted by his presence on stage so he tries to help the story teller.

He even starts to read the story for him when suddenly we hear an offstage bellow of “Runner!” as the missing Sandmen reappear. The Runner’s panicked reactions jostle the storyteller about as he attempts another escape and flees the stage, leaving the story teller behind. The storyteller is bubbling about the stage, bumping into and impeding the various running Sandmen who are have resumed their hot pursuit. The storyteller is in bumped around by several of the Sam and with the final pair of running Sandmen grabbing the poor fellow by his arms and cart him offstage facing backwards the audience.

There were a great many more skits, entertaining and original and they happened at these conventions each holiday weekend, excepting Christmas.

IgronaCon Phoenix AZ, David Gerald gets blasted! Our first production model of the "Beldorn Blaster"I had great luck meeting Drill Thralls, first this look-a-like...(Later)After the talent show, we were free to roam the hotel all night if we wished to. There would be many parties to attend so that many of us would wander in and out, sampling parties the way wine connoisseur sample wine. These would go on throughout the night.

Parties might be about filking; filks are popular songs that are rewritten to make them sci-fi songs, as in, “What do you do with a drunken Cpt. Kirk?”

Other rooms might have a guest talking about his latest movie, TV show or book. We tended to get more writers than stars.

All hand made Brass!!! Another room might be a talk festival, the next, a joke room. I regret to report I never did find any orgy rooms, darn, darn, darn.

Saturday night, after another full day of function rooms much like Friday, we would have the costume contest where there are no skits, sketches or acting allowed, it’s just about costumes, again with something like a $200.00 cash prize and so on, to encourage all participants into their very best efforts. One group recreated the “Star Wars” cast, with a great home-made brass C3P0, a radio-controlled R2D2 which was so real if I didn’t know the builder I would’ve assumed Lucas had loaned them one of the film models, a seven foot tall Chewbacca, a full dress Han Solo, Luke in the tan costume, Princess Lea in her Dantooine winter costume. These costume parties themselves could last up to three or four hours. And again, after the show, we had the run of the hotel all night, parties again all night.

Sunday was the only short day. All function rooms were used until closing with the show technically ending about 5:00. Even then, we could find a “Dead Dog Party”, which is the winding down last day, final party of the convention. The whole rebel gang was here, all home made.

We delighted in three days of real convention fun, being anyone you wanted to be, three days not even leaving the hotel, we would rent rooms to keep our costume in, to sleep (what little of it we got) three days of heaven where you could spend every minute immersed in science fiction fun.

A very good look-a-like Myer from Space 1999.

Almost a world of make believe, were we could do things like wearing your favorite costume all day long, this was called Hall costumeing. Talking, walking, seeing and buying our own special products made by us, for us, not the store-bought crap, special items like the real trim used to make a Galactica costume, a special raygun, specialty jewelry, also fan-written, fan-printed fanzines filled with stories from your favorite show. The dealers’ room was a special haven then with fan made products, not a overpriced K-Mart in miniature.

Yes this is the real "Drill Thrall" Angelique PettyjohnGreat Being, Great Bird of the Galaxy, how I do miss those days and conventions.

Next time, I’ll tell the “Legend of the ’85 WorldCon”.


One Response to “Old Cons: LA Convention ’80s”

  1. I want to thank all of the people that are posting commits on the articles here…

    IF you watch old sci-fi TV shows…I am reminded of a Old Twilight Zone story in where a old teacher is considering suicide as he feels he has done nothing..and a class of ghosts appear and tell him how his teaching helped them to become heroes…

    Reading all these posts are kind of like that..for me…thanks..

    Rich AKA racprops