Linda Hamilton: Signs Like a Machine

By MARK J. GROSS

— Autograph February 2009

Signed photo of Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor in Terminator 2

One of the biggest sci-fi films of the ’80s was James Cameron’s blockbuster, The Terminator, in which an ordinary waitress, Sarah Connor, played by Linda Hamilton, becomes the assassination target of “The Terminator”—a robot sent from the future to kill Sarah to prevent her unborn son from leading the war against the machines.

Hamilton’s portrayal of Sarah Connor made her a sci-fi fan favorite. From the first film in 1984 to 1991’s sequel, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Hamilton embodied her character, becoming so fit that even an advanced robot could feel threatened—if it had feelings, that is.

Signed publicity still for Beauty and the Beast featuring Hamilton and Ron Perlman

When not fighting Terminators, Hamilton has been seen in countless other films such as King Kong Lives, Mr. Destiny, Dante’s Peak and Children of the Corn, and the TV series Beauty and the Beast with Ron Perlman (Sons of Anarchy).

A native of my home state of Maryland, Hamilton recently attended the Chiller Theatre convention in New Jersey, where she took time to chat with me before signing and chatting with a long line of fans.

Mark Gross: How did you start your acting career?

Hamilton is an accommodating signer

Linda Hamilton: I did children’s theater, and I remember my twin sister and I were both cast as the princess in Rumplestilskin, and that was fun. But the second year we did Wind in the Willows, and I got to play Badger, who was a mean scary character, who came out of a pile of leaves to scare the children, and that was when I fell in love. That gave me the bug.

What role has been your favorite so far?

One of the best pieces of work I’ve done, and something that was dear to me, was called A Mothers Prayer—an obscure piece for the USA Network long ago. It was a beautiful story about a Mom, whom I portrayed, who had AIDS, and she became her own adoption agency, finding a home for her son before she passes away.

Is there anything you can tell me about the Terminator films that’s not well known?

I almost didn’t get to play the role of Sarah Connor because three weeks before we began shooting, I broke my ankle, so I was barely walking. The first few weeks of the film I was really limping, and they had to do a medical wrap on my ankle every day of the shoot. In fact there is the scene in the film where I’m running down a hilly street with Michael Biehn, holding him up with the big truck rolling down the road toward us, and Jim Cameron said to us, “If you fall down, roll to the right, because that truck can’t stop in time.” And I really remember at one point during that shot this pain that went shooting through my leg—I would have gone down had I not been warned!

Signed Terminator 2 DVD cover

In the second Terminator film, you really worked out for the role of Sarah Connor.

Yes, I knew what this woman had gone through in the last seven years—because we were using it as a real timeline—so with that, she’s nuts knowing what’s coming over the world. I told Jim, “Make her crazy and get me a trainer!” So that’s what we did.

Tell me about your TV series Beauty and the Beast, and working with Ron Perlman.

Ron is the love of my life. He and I are still close, and really good friends. We had a ball doing that show. Even when the show was tedious for us, I always wound up on his shoulder at the end of those episodes. We had so much fun with it, and with each other. We just kept it very alive and loving the whole time.

How is it, meeting your fans and signing for them?

I think I have always been very fan accessible. It’s not about fans for me; it’s just person to person. I just don’t think of them as the fans, but as people. I want them to walk away thinking I am just another person too.

Hamilton is known to be very personable with her fans

Do you collect autographs?

I make it a point to collect nothing. I mean that—I was a collector for a short while, and fortunately that was in my youth, before I could really afford to keep going. But somehow I got cured of that.

What did you collect before?

I used to collect Santa Clauses—those wonderfully hand carved special things.

What new projects are you working on?

I did an English film that I think is coming out in March, called In Your Dreams, which is adorable. And, I just finished one called Waters Rising, which is another English comedy. I also have a TV series that I’m shooting in Canada that’s called The Line, but it’s called The Weight there. It’s wonderfully written and I play the most extremely whacked-out con artist.

What do you enjoy to do besides acting?

I’m with my children, and that’s great. I also read, garden, and I do a lot of charity work and love to be outdoors.

If you could have an autograph of anyone, whose would you want?

Linda Hamilton and Mark Gross at the Chiller Theater convention in Oct. 2008

I would say Bruce Springsteen. He just meant so much to me. He kept me alive for a couple of summers there with some of his songs—that’s what celebrities do for us. I met him actually, and I didn’t ask him for his autograph. The first time I saw him I was on a plane, and I could not get up the courage to ask him anything. When it’s a hero, it’s a hero!

After the interview, Linda graciously signed two items from her table for me. She thanked me, shook my hand and kissed my cheek before she returned to her patiently waiting fans. She was a true delight, chatting with them like she was at a party and knew them all. Everyone walked away happy from a real genuine, upbeat, friendly and sweet woman.

 

In the Trenches: Jamie Lee Curtis

By JOSH BOARD

— Autoghraph February 2009

Jamie Lee Curtis signing for a young fan in San Diego, Calif.

One of the best comedies ever is without a doubt A Fish Called Wanda. And getting the DVD signed by its stars slipped through my hands, not once, but twice!

Jamie Lee Curtis attended a fundraiser at a Balboa Park photography museum in San Diego, Calif., for which I could’ve gotten a free press pass. Instead, I gave the DVD sleeve and a copy of Autograph (December 2005) featuring Curtis on the cover to a staff member. But Curtis got into her car before the staff member could ask her to sign them.

I figured I’d eventually get the DVD signed since I had a friend teaching in Santa Barbara who told me he sees Curtis’ costar in the film, John Cleese, around town once in a while. But I never would have guessed the opportunity could come from two students selling magazine subscriptions. I usually say no to those sales pitches, but one of the students said that the newspaper had written a story about her going to school abroad, and she needed to raise money to go there. A nice sales pitch, indeed.

She then asked, “Do you know who John Cleese is?” I said, “Yeah, from Monty Python.” She got so excited, and then she asked if I knew the show Fawlty Towers. I said, “Yeah, it was great.” She explained that as part of her acting class, she would be reenacting a few episodes from the show with Cleese.

I said, “I’d love to help you out, but I already get a few magazines and two newspapers each day. I won’t have the time to read them.” She then said, “You can donate them to the troops.”

I figured I’d do my part for the troops and said, “I have a deal for you. I’ll order two different magazines, if you get my DVD signed by John Cleese.” She got so excited at the proposal. I paid $100, for the two, two-year subscriptions. She told me when she came back in May, she’d show me all the pictures, and get the DVD signed. I haven’t seen her since.

About 10 months later, I found out Jamie Lee Curtis was coming to nearby La Jolla for a book signing. There were 100 people in line to meet her. She showed up walking down the line, saying hello to people. Ironically, of all the book signings I’ve ever been to, the only other person who I saw do this was her dad, Tony Curtis, as he would shake every person’s hand. Jamie hugged the woman in front of me, who she had known from a children’s hospital in L.A.

Before she sat down to sign, Curtis said, “This line isn’t long, let’s start the signing.” Everyone was in a great mood.

This bookstore had been strict in the past about no other items for the author to sign. So, even if I had the Wanda DVD, I wouldn’t have had a chance. But I did bring two back issues of Autograph, with her on the cover. I was going to give her one, and possibly have her sign one for me. At the very least, take a photo of her holding it.

Curtis drew a fish and wrote "Wanda" in her children's book Big Words

She was great with all the kids that came to the table, asking them their favorite color and making conversation.

I remembered an interview I did with a DJ from a radio station in Chicago who told me that as a kid, he sent a letter to Curtis and got her autograph. When he interviewed her a few years ago, he showed the autograph to her and asked, “This is real, right?” She frowned and said, “No, I’m sorry to tell you, it’s not. We had people working for us that would sign those. I apologize.”

When I approached with the children’s book I had just bought for $20, I said, “I’ve read all nine of your previous books.” She had a weird smile as I continued, “And I like A Fish Called Wanda the best.” She laughed.

She opened the book and asked, “Who do I make it out to?” I said, “You can make it out to Josh.” I noticed her looking for the sticker with my name that the bookstore gives to autograph seekers, and then instead of personalizing it, she drew a fish and wrote, “Wanda” in the middle.

I then asked if she would take a picture with the copy of Autograph I brought, but I was interrupted by store security, telling me, “She’s not doing any other memorabilia today.” I said, “I’m not asking her to sign it, just hold it.” She said, “No, I won’t do that.” Security added, “Then everyone else in line will want one.”

I tried to buy a little more time with Jamie Lee by telling her I saw her on The Tonight Show asking the other celebrity guests for their autographs to sell for a charity and was wondering if she was still involved with it.

Now, she looked bothered. She paused and said, “Sometimes.”

I was just about to ask her another question about the celebrities she has encountered when she looked at the kid behind me and started talking to him. Security gently grabbed my arm and escorted me out.

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.

Virginia Davis: Disney’s First Star

By MARGARET KERRY

— Autograph February 2009

Signed photo of Davis as “Alice” in Disney’s Alice Comedies (1923-25)

Many disney fans are unaware that before the mouse, there was 4-year-old Alice. Virginia Davis is the Disney legend who starred as Alice in the young director’s first live-action animated short film, Alice’s Wonderland, which led to a series of 14 Alice Comedies. As two of Walt Disney’s earliest actors, Virginia and I always have much to talk about. I attended her interview with a biographer for an upcoming book and we got to catch up on old times.

Sitting in the small library in her retirement home, Virginia was stylishly dressed as always, this time in beige slacks with an elegant fitted jacket. Her signature cap was perched over her blonde curls.

“Virginia, you’re as bright as a new penny and as lively as the day Walt Disney spotted you in 1923,” I said.

“That was before there was any thought of a mouse,” Virginia replied emphatically.

It’s hard to believe that this beguiling little lady celebrated her 90th birthday on December 31.

Margaret Kerry: So, tell me, how did Walt Disney find you?

Davis holding the poster for Alice’s Day at Sea

Virginia Davis: He found me on the screen when he went to see a silent movie in Kansas City, Mo. When I was 4 years old, I was picked to be the model for a Warneke Bread advertisement that popped up on the screen between films. I was posed reaching for a slice of the bread and my mouth seemed to say ‘Yum Yum’. Walt was barely out of his teens and he was really struggling to make a go of his Laugh-O-Gram cartoon company. He got an idea for a series of six- or seven-minute live-action animated movie theater shorts titled Alice Comedies and starring a 4-year-old girl.

When he cast you as Alice, you became the little girl who started the Disney dynasty, right?

Davis-signed photo of an Alice the Peacemaker poster

Yes, Alice’s Wonderland, the first Alice Comedies short I did was actually filmed in our family’s house with Walt directing and [his brother] Roy Disney behind the camera. One scene called for my movie mother to tuck me in my bed. Walt asked my own mother, Margaret, to do the scene but she was shy, so my Aunt Louise tucked me in instead.

Did you film all 14 Alice Comedies you starred in while you were living in the Los Angeles?

Alice’s Wonderland was really the pilot, the one filmed in my house. Walt relocated to L.A. and finally got a distributor for the shorts. The contract called for me to be the star. My folks thought the world of Walt so we moved to Los Angeles. During the time I was being filmed playing Alice, I went to school and dancing classes. Good thing, too. You can’t stay a 4-year-old forever.

Signed photo of Davis as one of the 12 “Harvey Girls.” Davis is behind Judy Garland (front center) to the left

As an adult, I danced in many films in the glory days of musicals. I quit the business after making The Harvey Girls with Judy Garland at MGM. I married a wonderful man, Bob McGhee, and settled down to raise two daughters, Laurieanne and Margaret.

And now, I’m back and appearing at autograph shows around the country. Fans are so surprised when they learn of Walt’s earliest days and see the photos that I sign. It’s a great experience.

What are the top three memories of your career?

I loved working with so many top choreographers, dancers, famous directors and actors. I’m particularly pleased at having quite a large part in a movie called Three on a Match, in which I played Joan Blondell as a 12-year-old.

Davis signing a photo with her poodle, Buster

And I know just how special it is that I am one of the very few people who was actually directed by Walt Disney and filmed by Roy. You know, when Walt was directing me he’d say “Let’s pretend,” then he’d tell me the story of the scene. We had to get it right on the first take because Walt and Roy couldn’t afford to buy film for “take two.”

I guess the third highlight would be the time I was given a Disney Legend Award at the Disney Studio. That represented many things to me. But in particular I like to think that those who said over and over ‘It all started with a mouse…’ became aware that Walt Disney’s career really started with a little 4-year-old girl—Me!