Over the Hallowe’en weekend of 2015, I had the chance to go up to the Chiller Theater Convention up in Parsippany, NJ. There were several people I wanted to see, and alas! due to circumstances, I wasn’t able to do all I had wanted to do. However, I did get to see one person I had very much wanted to see; Ms. Julie Newmar.
Of course, as a kid, I had first seen her on Batman as Catwoman. But, my family, being a theater family, also pointed me to her performances in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Li’l Abner, Damn Yankees, and Dames at Sea; not to mention her numerous appearances in film over the years.
She was, of course, as gracious as she was beautiful, and I will admit to being a bit flustered in her presence. I simply wanted to thank her for her work, and tell her how much I appreciated all her endeavours on stage over the years. I even got to shake her hand, and tell her how funny she’d been in so many of her roles. “Oh I like that!” she exclaimed when I noted her comedic achievements. I even went back later to try to chit-chat (“What was your favourite role on stage to perform?”), and she graciously consented to having her photo taken with me.
I have been in this position on occasion, getting to meet a performer whose work I admire, and who has entertained me over the years. But, to be honest, it’s really difficult for me to get much past the “Thank you so much for your work over the years” stage. Because I know that there really isn’t all that much between us.
Once in a while, I might be fortunate enough to make someone’s acquaintance in a more friendly way. For instance, that weekend, I also got to chat amicably with Lee Montgomery while he was outside for a smoke, not realizing who he was until afterwards. And I think he must have enjoyed talking to someone who wasn’t falling all over in the throes of “fan worship.” I had very good experiences at my first “real” convention, a Farscape con out in Burbank back in 2008. I got to be on friendly terms with Virginia Hey, whom I was even able to help with arrangements when she came out to Maryland on a visit the following year. And I even began Skyping regularly with Jonathan Hardy.
But in those cases in which I was able to get closer to people whom I admired, it was on their terms, and it was because there was a genuine connection, whether it was that I was at the right place and the right time to offer assistance (as with Ms. Hey), or whether a similar background and life experiences led into a comfortable (online) friendship (as with Mr. Hardy). This however, is not usually the rule.
I remember hearing some very uncomplimentary things coming from the mouths of fans that weekend. “He’s so aloof.” “She’s not very open.” “He’s so impatient!” “She barely acknowledged me!” And worse. But here’s what so many seem to forget in their enthusiasm for a favourite actor or actress:
We, the fans, are positively legion. The Favourite Performer (hereinafter “FP”) is but one. While we might be able to know all about our FP, s/he has no clue who any of us are. Even if they wish to be accommodating and gracious, there are just too many of us for them to know as we (think we) know them. And yet, there are some who will be hurt if an FP forgets his or her name, or some other detail about them that they tried to share.
Also, many of us act as if we know the FP. After all, we see them all the time on television, or in the movies. But of course, we really don’t. We know some of thecharacters they portray; we don’t know them. I don’t know Julie Newmar; I know Catwoman, and Dorcas, and Lola. I don’t know Claudia Black; I know Aeryn Sun, and Vala Mal Doran. I don’t know William Shatner; I know James T. Kirk, and Denny Crane, and Alexi Karamazov. And it’s deeply unfair to pretend that we know our FPs as if we were bosom companions. For every one of us who does, there are hundreds, or thousands, who also do. And when we become selfish in our admiration of our FPs, it can damage what little relationship we can have with them—since it’s usually little more than a sincere expression of thanks and admiration for their work.
And none of this is to say that our Favourite Performers are in any way arrogant, or above us, or anything other than hard-working folk who enjoy what they do, and have, through no fault of their own, come to be admired by the rest of us. Most FPs are deeply grateful for the warmth of affection directed toward them. And many wish that there was enough time to give each fan his/her due. But the logistics make that simply impossible. And we the fans really need to learn this, and be content with the contact we can be afforded.
As an ancillary point, I also have heard odd complaints from fans about getting things signed or not, or having pictures taken with their FP and how much it costs. This also bothers me. Many of our FPs might be glad to sign memorabilia for their fans. But many “fans” are not fans, but opportunists who will turn around and sell for a huge profit the bit of memorabilia they obtained from the FP. To me, this is profiting off the FP without their consent, and is unfair. And these types of “businessmen” aside, it does cost to bring the FPs out to a convention, to see to their room and board for the duration, and their travel in between gigs. Some have to leave their own family and friends for a while in order to entertain us. Some are not wealthy. Is it such a bad thing to pay them for their efforts? They don’t have to indulge us, after all. If they are taking time from their own lives to spend time with us, I would think that at the very least, we the fans could simply be grateful, and not begrudge them their fees. Would any of us go to work and, out of the “goodness of our hearts,” decide that our companies didn’t need to pay us for our services?
I have no idea where I am going with this, but I was very pleased to be able to meet the one and only Julie Newmar at this year’s Chiller theater. –And as to her favourite productions onstage, Ms. Newmar told me Damn Yankees, and Dames At Sea.
Thank you, Ms. Newmar!