Majel Barrett-Roddenberry

By MARK J. GROSS
Featured in Autograph April 2009

Majel signed this calendar after our lengthy interview in 1999 and now hangs on my wall.

The wife of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, Majel Barrett-Roddenberry, was the First Lady of Star Trek, having been involved in the franchise since its original pilot. As fans gear up for the May 8 release of Star Trek XI, we remember Majel, who died at 76 last December.

Majel’s career with Star Trek began with some resistance from NBC executives, who insisted that her then-boyfriend, producer Roddenberry, cast a man in her role as starship officer, Number One.

Majel went on to play Dr. McCoy’s assistant, Nurse Christine Chapel. And devoted Star Trek fans recognize her voice the first time they hear it, as Majel was the voice of the ship’s computer in the original series, all the spawned series, as well as the films.

Her performance as Deanna Troi’s famous mouthy mother Lwaxan Troi generated a huge fan following. This character appeared in Star Trek: The Next Generation often, and in Deep Space Nine as the love interest of security chief Odo.

Majel was a staple at various conventions throughout her career, promoting new projects. I had a chance to interview her at a convention in 1999. She was as down to Earth as ever, signing autographs and chatting about her memorabilia company, Lincoln Enterprises.

Mark Gross: What was it like being involved with Star Trek from the start?
Majel Barrett: Well, for all of us back then, it was a job, and unfortunately after that first pilot episode, I got fired from my job. I worked my way back in and got the role of Nurse Chapel. We all went to work every morning never thinking it was going to be any more than what it was that day or that week. Each year, we hoped we were going to be on another year, but that only happened for three years. We were actually a failed series then.

What did you do after the show was cancelled, until you came back as Nurse Chapel for Star Trek: The Motion Picture?
Gene and I did Spectre, The Questor Tapes, Planet Earth, Genesis II and I was also doing TV shows myself then too.

What was your time like with Gene, who was such a genius in creating science fiction shows?
We just led a normal life. I mean Gene was not really “spacey” and our house didn’t have Star Trek and sci-fi stuff all over. Actually, we were golfers and we went everywhere around the world to play golf.

How did you and Gene meet?

Gene was working on three pilots in L.A. and I was introduced to him as a possibility for a role. We began talking and one thing led to another. We lived together for one year and were married for 22 years.

How did the Nurse Chapel role come about?
I actually found the role as Nurse Chapel because I was so disappointed in not getting the role as Number One. I kept looking at the scripts and finally, about the fourth script in, I found the role of a doctor who was coming onboard the ship to look for her fiancé, and I said, “I can do this.” But once the network fires you—you know they don’t want you back. So I went out and bleached my hair, which fooled even Gene at first. I said, “If I can fool you, I can fool anyone.” Gene said, “Yes you can.” And I did.

What about your famous voice as the ship’s computer?
I was just simply there, they needed somebody to say all those words onto the tape, and so there I was.

Tell me a bit about your character Lwaxana Troi, Deanna’s mother from The Next Generation series.
Gene came home one day and said to me, “Majel, I have a great part for you, and guess what, you don’t have to act!” Well, I didn’t know what the role called for, and Gene just described it as the Auntie Mame of the Galaxy. Then the character kept coming back, and I got to be quite proud of it. I often heard women yelling to me from across a parking lot telling me that this role has done more for women over 40 than any movement in America. I love Lwaxana, she was a great role!

Another item the First Lady of Star Trek autographed for me in 1999.

On Sunday Jan. 4, 2009, Majel’s family, friends and fans came to Forest Lawn Memorial Parks in the Hollywood Hills to pay their final respects to the First Lady of Star Trek. A large crowd, including many Star Trek luminaries, gathered for the official memorial.

The Roddenberry family also held a public memorial for Majel at The Hall of Liberty at Forest Lawn. The crowd of approximately 300 was a mix of friends, family, colleagues and many Trek fans, some of whom showed up in costume. Present were Majel’s Original Series costars Nichelle Nichols, Walter Koenig and George Takei, as well as many of the lead actors from Star Trek: The Next Generation and subsequent series, including Brent Spiner, Marina Sirtis, Wil Wheaton, Anthony Montgomery, Robert Picardo, Ethan Phillips, Armin Shimerman and Garrett Wang.

When her husband died in 1991, Majel had part of Roddenberry’s remains launched into space in 1997 through Celestis Inc., a memorial spaceflights company. After Majel’s death, Celestis Inc. announced it will launch the remains of both Gene Roddenberry and Majel in 2012. They will traverse the cosmos and galaxy together, which is exactly how it should be.

Sirens: Loni Anderson

By JEFF BENZIGER

Featured in Autograph March 2009

Anderson in one of her famous bikini pin-ups

The 1970s were not only smoking hot from the disco dance floors, but because blonde bombshell Loni Anderson graced American TV sets and theaters, leading up to her role in the 1980s TV sitcom WKRP in Cincinnati. She is Sirens’ first-ever look at a ’70s-’80s babe.

Now 62 and without Burt Reynolds (her third husband from 1988 to 1993), Anderson is a grandmother and a stunning one at that. She claims three failed marriages could have been avoided had she married folk singer Bob Flick earlier in life. Anderson and the founder of the band The Brothers Four dated for seven months when she was a 17-year-old model in Minnesota, but didn’t marry until May 17, 2008. She says she’s never been happier.

While Anderson was largely a TV product, she starred in a number of movies, including Vigilante Force (1976), Stroker Ace (1983), The Lonely Guy (1984), Coins in the Fountain (1990), 3 Ninjas: High Noon at Mega Mountain (1998) and A Night at the Roxbury (1998). She provided a voice in the 1989 animated feature, All Dogs Go to Heaven. Anderson also played blonde bombshell Jayne Mansfield in a 1980 made-for-TV movie.

She detailed in her 1994 autobiography, My Life in High Heels, that leading up to her August 5, 1946 birth, Loni’s father wanted to name her Leiloni. He began thinking of how teens might pervert the name as “Lay Loni” and decided to go with a much safer Loni Kaye. It was probably a wise move on the part of Carl K. Anderson, given how gorgeous his daughter was to become.

Born a brunette, as a young girl Anderson cried over the fact that she wasn’t a blonde because it seemed that all the heroines in storybooks were blonde. But when her father read Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs to her, it dawned on her that not all heroines had light-colored hair. No wonder Anderson became a huge collector of Snow White and animation art. Today a prized possession in Anderson’s collection is an original Charles Schulz drawing of Snoopy, twirling with glee and holding his chest, signed, “We love you, Loni. Charles Schulz.”

Loni originally wanted to become an animator and studied art at the University of Minnesota but dabbled in stage acting, modeling and winning beauty contests; in 1964 she was runner-up in the Miss Minnesota pageant. Loni left St. Paul, Minn., in 1975 to pursue TV acting as a career. She found that most of her roles were more serious as a brunette but fell into the comedic roles as a blonde.

Signed photograph of Anderson

For years, Anderson was tabloid magazine fodder, especially during her stormy marriage to Reynolds. She once complained that photographers “almost ran me off the road several times. There were so many chances that they took to get the right photo.”

Since WKRP, Anderson loaned her talents to sitcoms Nurses, The Mullets and as Tori Spelling’s materialistic mom in So noTORIous.

Although decades have passed, collectors and Anderson still have a mutual love affair. Loni is warm to collectors and still answers autograph requests by mail. Many autograph collectors have reported success in getting personal autographs signed by Anderson by writing her in care of Sandy Hook Productions, 20652 Lassen #98, Chatsworth, CA 91311.

Before writing, however, you may want to get your hands on one of Anderson’s famous bikini pin-up photos for her to sign. Loni not only starred as receptionist Jennifer Marlowe at the fictitious Cincinnati radio station from 1978 to 1982, but her bikini pin-ups were responsible for thousands of pinholes in the walls of boys’ bedrooms. Her pin-ups rivaled those of Farrah Fawcett.

Return to Forbidden Planet

By BOBBY REED

Featured in Autograph March 2009

Highly collectible title card

More than 50 years after its original release, Forbidden Planet continues to beckon fans from across the cosmos. The 1956 film has become a cornerstone of the science-fiction genre because of its top-notch production values, futuristic soundtrack and a screenplay partially inspired by Shakespeare’s The Tempest. The film’s plot involves the disappearance of a group of scientists on a faraway planet, and the surprising, dangerous powers of the human mind.

The widespread influence of Forbidden Planet is seen throughout the sci-fi universe, from the Star Wars franchise and The Matrix films to several intergalactic TV series, such as Star Trek, Lost in Space and Babylon 5. The film also gave birth to one of the great icons of pop culture—Robby the Robot.

Forbidden Planet

fans were out in full force at the Hollywood Collectors Show, held in Chicago in September, to meet and acquire autographs from three of the film’s cast members: Leslie Nielsen (Commander Adams), Richard Anderson (Chief Quinn) and Bob Dix (Crewman Grey). Collectors got autographs on a variety of items, including Robby the Robot toy boxes and the cover of the film’s 50th anniversary DVD.

 

Leslie Nielsen

magazines featuring Richard Anderson (left) and Leslie Nielsen (right)

Although these collectors think of Nielsen as the commander of the United Planets C-57D space ship, the general public knows the Canadian-born actor because of his comedic work. Nielsen became a household name due to his roles in numerous spoofs, such as Airplane!, The Naked Gun, Scary Movie 4 and Superhero Movie.

As a young actor, Nielsen mainly had done stage and TV work when he was cast as the leading actor in Forbidden Planet. The film’s established star was Walter Pidgeon (Dr. Morbius), who had been nominated for an Oscar twice in the early 1940s.

Nielsen has fond memories of joking around with Pidgeon, who died in 1984. “He was a wonderful man,” Nielsen said. “He was known as the Golden Gentleman, and we had a running, barbed exchange going all the time. I remember playing checkers with him, and he said something, so I made a comment about his shoes being too big. While he was jumping one of my men, he was saying, ‘That was uncalled for, Leslie.’ I realized I had stepped over the bounds. I had gotten too personal with that comment. So I said, ‘You’re quite right, Walter. I apologize.’ He said, ‘Accepted,’ and then he jumped another one of my men. It was like an exchange that would take place between two Englishmen.”

In 1956, audiences marveled at the film’s groundbreaking visual effects, which are still impressive to contemporary viewers. “The incredible thing about those special effects is that they were totally manual,” Nielsen noted. “Today you can do everything by computer. But they had to manufacture all those things and make them work. It was astonishing what they did.”

The picture received an Oscar nomination in the Special Effects category, but it lost to The Ten Commandments, with its classic parting of the Red Sea sequence.

Robert Dix

Robert Dix signing a Forbidden Planet cast photo

In one of the most memorable scenes in Forbidden Planet, the gigantic, orange, glowing “Id Monster” grabs three men, including Crewman Grey, and fatally hurls each of them to the ground. Today, such a fantastic scene would incorporate computer-generated imagery. In the mid-’50s, however, this spectacle was created using animation, combined with some decidedly low-tech methods.

“When I got zapped by the Id, it was with the help of four prop guys pulling me on a rope,” Dix said with a laugh. “They had a harness with a hook in the back. Then they had a spring hooked up to that and a rope. On cue, these four guys gave me a humongous jerk, and I went flying back. I landed in all these gunnysacks full of rags and paper. It was fun.”

Dix was born in Beverly Hills and followed in the footsteps of his famous father. (Richard Dix was nominated for an Oscar for his performance in 1931’s Cimarron.) At the time Forbidden Planet was made, Dix was a studio player under contract to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. His film credits include the western Forty Guns and the James Bond picture Live and Let Die, and he acted in numerous TV series, including Gunsmoke, The Rifleman and Death Valley Days. Affable and generous with his time, Dix is a fan favorite at conventions.

Forbidden Planet was the grandpa of all those other sci-fi movies and TV series that came out after the middle ’50s,” Dix said. “It had a regular run in theaters, but the word-of-mouth on it was what caused it to become a classic. Audiences loved it. They would go back and see it two or three times.”

Richard Anderson

Richard Anderson and Robert Dix at the Hollywood Collectors & Celebrities Show in Chicago. Anderson is holding a box set edition of Forbidden Planet.

Seated at the convention table next to Dix was his colleague Anderson. The two actors met on MGM’s enormous Stage 27 while filming Forbidden Planet, and they remain friends to this day.

“I did 24 movies at MGM over a period of six years,” Anderson reminisced. “I was under contract, and Forbidden Planet started out as a B-movie. It was just another job. The film came out, and it made money, but no one had any idea about the legends that would come out of this movie. It was unique, and it became something that is eternal.”

Many Generation X fans know Anderson for his role as Oscar Goldman, a character who appeared in two ’70s TV series—The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman. Younger fans also know this character, thanks to 2005’s hit comedy The 40-Year-Old Virgin, in which Steve Carell portrays a collector of vintage toys who cherishes his Oscar Goldman action figure. The gregarious Anderson adorned his convention table with a couple of Oscar Goldman action figures and other memorabilia from the ’70s.

Anderson also played General George Meade in the 1993 film Gettysburg. One fan at the convention, a Civil War buff from Georgia, engaged Anderson in a detailed conversation about military strategy during the war. The fan, who had corresponded with Anderson through the mail, was thrilled to meet the actor in person and add to his collection of items signed by Gettysburg cast members. The entertaining discussion clearly illustrated that Anderson had done extensive research for his role as Meade.

Current and Future Pricing

Toy version of Robby the Robot.

Among the dozens of memorabilia dealers at the convention was Sean Linkenback of the Atlanta-based company Platinum Posters. He offered a Forbidden Planet title card priced at $1,480, and a lobby card for $440. “Demand for that title is always strong, not just from sci-fi collectors, but from movie collectors in general because it’s considered such an important film,” Linkenback said. “The Forbidden Planet one-sheet poster has sold for as high as $10,000, but it usually sells in the $6,000 to $7,000 range.”

Some dealers and collectors are stocking up on memorabilia in anticipation of a new version of the film. A proposed project to remake Forbidden Planet has been bouncing around Hollywood for years. According to an article in The Hollywood Reporter, J. Michael Straczynski (Changeling) will write the screenplay. One director reportedly interested in the project is James Cameron (Aliens, Titanic). In the 2005 TV documentary Watch the Skies!: Science Fiction, the 1950s and Us, Cameron lauded Forbidden Planet, saying, “It was amazing as a technical accomplishment in its day, just for its scope, just for the scale of its imagination.”

Forbidden Planet signed cast photo.

When the remake finally does arrive in theaters, a new generation of cinema buffs will discover the wonders and horrors of the planet called Altair IV. Increased interest in the original film could result in higher prices for vintage memorabilia and, of course, for signatures from the trailblazing cast members.

Stella Stevens

By JEFF BENZIGER

—Autograph February 2009

Even the most devout Jerry Lewis fan watching the 1963 film The Nutty Professor may be distracted from his antics in a major way because of that beautiful blonde with him. Stella Stevens, Lewis’ love object in the comedy, is without a doubt one of the prettiest women to work in Hollywood.

A signed 8×10 of Stevens

Born Estelle Caro Eggleston on Oct. 1, 1938 in Yazoo City, Miss., Stevens was a divorced mother by the age of 17. She became interested in acting while studying at Memphis State in Tennessee, and while modeling at Goldsmith’s department store in Memphis, she met actress Tina Louise, who dazzled Stevens into taking the plunge. Tina’s press agent from United Artists suggested that Stevens fly to New York to meet executives of 20th Century Fox. She was contracted in 1959 for a small role in Say One for Me with Bing Crosby.

Shortly after, in 1960, she was dumped by the studio and decided to pose nude for Playboy to get another studio’s attention. Playboy paid her only half of the promised amount, saying if she posed as a “hussie,” she’d get the other half. “I told them to shove it,” Stevens said.

She soon went to work for Paramount Studios and became one of the most photographed women in the world. In 1999, Playboy voted Stevens No. 27. on its list of the 100 sexiest stars of the 20th century.

Playing a night club singer in Elvis’ 1962 film, Girls! Girls! Girls! Stevens recalled that Elvis didn’t like her during their six days of working together since she had a negative view of Memphis men due to her bad marriage.

Four years later, she played Dean Martin’s inept partner in the Matt Helm spy spoof, The Silencers.

During the 1970s Stevens landed one of her finest roles: a kind-hearted prostitute in Sam Peckinpah’s The Ballad of Cable Hogue (1970) starring Jason Robards. Her biggest role, however, was as a prostitute in Irwin Allen’s star-studded film, The Poseidon Adventure, in 1971. It was a box office smash but was the last huge movie for Stevens.

A signed 8×10 photo of Stevens

Her TV appearances have been extensive, among them being General Hospital, Flamingo Road, Love Boat, Newhart, Fantasy Island, Hart to Hart, Murder She Wrote and Magnum P.I.

Spending less time making movies today means the 70-year-old beauty has more time to sign autographs. Collectors now have access to Stevens through her website, www.stellastevens.biz, where she offers signed photos from various decades of her career. The website also mentions that she’ll sign photos and other items sent to her at $20 a pop (or three items for $50). She will plant a lip print on an item, as well as sign it for $25. That same price goes for signing topless or Playboy poses sent to her, but you won’t find her selling them herself.

Collectors may want to start with Stevens’ offering of 17 poses (both B&W and color) from the 1960s, many of them bikini and lingerie shots. A number of attractive photos are available from the 1970s, including from The Ballad of Cable Hogue, as well shots from The Poseidon Adventure. The 1980s section contains the popular “blue corset” poses. Recent “At Home with Stella” portraits of the beautiful actress are also offered in 8×10 format, as well as a boxed set of greeting cards, with one signed per box.

Stevens will personalize the signature with the collector’s name and a special message, if requested. The website doesn’t offer nude photos but Stevens promises to be adding “new photos of special interest to every decade.”

Items may be sent to her at Stella Stevens, Universal Mail Center, 12400 Ventura Blvd. #502, Studio City, CA 91604. Checks and money orders must be made out to StellaStar Corporation.

Who Is Lee Correy?

By PATRICK DOUGLAS

— Autograph February 2009

The cover picture of Correy's book Starship through Space

In his memoir the formative years of Model Rocketry 1957-1962, G. Harry Stine wrote the self observation, “It is not often that an aerospace historian has the opportunity to participate in the making of history,” that became quite prophetic to me after receiving a gift.

My interest in Stine’s life took shape about a year ago when my father-in-law gave me an old novel called Starship through Space, written by one Lee Correy.

Because it was printed in the early 1950s, the only thing I initially knew of the book was that it was old and appeared no different than any other used book that you could buy for a buck at a local used bookstore. But then I discovered that it was signed by the author, and the inscription had a personal and possibly historical message written inside:

“1 October 1954—White Sands Proving Ground, New Mexico, USA, Terra. To Margaret and the rest of the people of White Sands—who are doing the basic groundwork which may make this story come true—Cordially, Lee Correy (G. Harry Stine)”

The message in itself was intriguing, especially after I started researching the author. It turns out the book is an early glimpse at the life of a man who contributed greatly to the fledgling ideals of space exploration, as well as the hobby of model rocketry.

Fresh out of college, Stine, who oftentimes used Lee Correy as his pen name, went to work at White Sands Proving Ground, where he became Chief of the Controls and Instruments section of the Propulsion Branch; he tested liquid and solid propellant rockets for the Army and honed his knowledge of rockets.

According to his memoirs, Stine wrote science fiction in the evenings, which culminated into his first published “boys book,” Starship through Space, the very book I had sitting in my lap. He would go on to write 63 books, including the Star Trek story The Abode of Life.

The price being asked for unsigned copies of Starship through Space online led to more curiosity. On Amazon, a third edition was being sold for $164, while first editions, like the one I have, were going for around $250 or more. One website in particular had a price tag of $400, stating that the book was in “lovely” condition.

With such a high demand, and knowing that my signed copy with its enigmatic message must have a story behind it, I began sending out emails to find out just who Margaret was and if the book belonged in a museum rather than in my autograph collection.

Most of my emails came back with even more unanswered questions, but I did receive an interesting response from Terrie Cornell, curator of the White Sands Missile Range Museum.

A page from Starship through Space signed by the author "Lee Correy" (G. Harry Stine)" and inscribed "To Margaret and the rest of the people of White Sands--"

“I think Margaret was in the White Sands Proving Ground Personnel Office,” said Cornell, adding that she was just giving me an educated guess. “I’ve heard many old-timers say they were hired by Margaret. She must have been quite a person, since everyone remembered her fondly.

“Harry Stine did indeed work out here and is considered the father of model rocketry,” she continued. “Like so many early folks here, he must have been a genius renaissance man. You have a wonderful book there. Treasure it!”

While her message was affirming of its importance, it still left me a bit confused as to the history of my book and the man people referred to as “The Old Rocketeer.”

I visited the website, questaerospace.com, and found documents written by Stine and his wife, Barbara, that painted the man’s legacy as not only a scientist and innovator, but also a humanitarian who wanted to help children have fun and be safe at the same time.

This led to trying to locate Barbara and I set about it nearly a year after receiving the book. After a bit of sleuthing, I found a number and with my fingers crossed, I called her at home.

“The book that he was most proud of was the Handbook of Model Rocketry,” she explained during our conversation. “That really started the whole model rocketry deal. I was secretary treasure for the first seven years and spent at least 40 hours a week running the organization out of our basement.”

Barbara shared stories of Stine, including why he originally went with a pseudonym in his early books. “The pen name was not a secret,” she said. “Everybody knew that when Harry was writing non-fiction, it was G. Harry Stine and when he couldn’t get a point across through the non-fiction area, he would write it as Lee Correy.”

The pseudonym was nixed later when Stine wrote his series of Warbots and Starsea Invaders books.

“His last 15 fiction books were published under the name of G. Harry Stine because the publisher thought that the name was better known than Lee Correy, which is kind of a goofy twist,” said a laughing Barbara.

Harry Stine turned down requests from Star Trek creator Gene Rodenberry to write scripts for the show, according to Barbara.

“[Rodenberry] wanted him to write screenplays and he said, ‘No, I write books. That’s what I do. I don’t want to belong to the Screen Writers Guild anyway,’” she recalled. “He wanted the freedom to do what he wanted to do. He was good at writing books.”

As for the book I was researching, Barbara offered up some stories about its creation.

“There was a formula,” she said. “They don’t have that category anymore. This was like something that a young man who read the Boy Scouts’ Boys’ Life would read. There was a definite formula that he had to follow which doesn’t exist anymore. His hero had to be adventurous; sort of the rules don’t apply to him. He couldn’t smoke, he couldn’t drink and he didn’t have a girlfriend. That formula had to be adhered to for those first three books.”

Stine had a mentor in another great science fiction author, Robert Heinlein, whose most popular stories include Stranger in a Strange Land and Starship Troopers. Heinlein’s book, The Door into Summer, was based on a cat that the Stines gave him.

G. Harry Stine, aka Lee Correy, pictured on the back of his book, Starship through Space

“The cat would sit by the door and complain because it was snowing and he didn’t want to go out in the snow,” she said, adding that the Heinlein book Have Spacesuit—Will Travel was dedicated to her and her husband.

“Bob Heinlein encouraged [Harry] and mentored him when he was in college,” Barbara said.

Stine’s contributions to the world of model rocketry brought it from an idea to a hobby that has spread internationally. His son, Bill Stine, has kept the tradition alive, coaching the United States team in the International Junior Model Rocket competitions, recently traveling to Spain for the event.

“He’s done it for a couple of years,” said Barbara of her son. “They didn’t used to have any competition internationally for the young people.”

As if all of this wasn’t enough for one man’s life accomplishments, Harry Stine is often given credit for coming up with the giving term “pay it forward,” which was made popular in the film of the same name starring Haley Joel Osment, Helen Hunt and Kevin Spacey.

What started out as an old book being passed from one person to another, turned into an education into a man’s existence and a revelation of value that makes it much more than a common used hardcover novel.

As for the Margaret who was referenced in the signature, her identity was made clearer after talking with Barbara Stine.

“He’s referring to the lady who was head of the physical science lab, where they had a program in which the students worked six months at White Sands and then six months at the lab and had hands on experience,” she said.

I now know that the book might not be something meant for a museum, but it’s certainly worthy of being a huge part of both my book and autograph collections, and I’m proud to have it. Stine died of a stroke on November 2, 1997, at 69 years old.

*The opening Stine memoir excerpt was used with permission from Barbara Stine.