Yesterday was the 49th anniversary of the first Star Trek convention, held at New York’s Statler-Hilton hotel. It ran the weekend and today marks my 50th anniversary of being there.
I had been commuting into Manhattan for conventions for at least a year by then. Hard as it is to imagine today, my parents were fine with my 13 year old self taking the LIRR from Hicksville into Penn Station and crossing the street to the hotel. I was accompanied, as memory serves, by my partner in crime, Jeff Strell. We’d been to a few of Phil Seuling’s legendary New York Comic Conventions and I had even volunteered months before at the very first Creation con.
But this was different. This was a con dedicated to just one subject, a cancelled television series. I have no recollection how I knew of its existence. If I were to bet on it, I would say my father saw a report on the local news and asked if I wanted to spend the following day there.
As legend has it, the committee that planned the show had expected a mere 500 people and were overwhelmed with 3000 attendees. All I remember was a crush of people everywhere I turned. But that did not diminish my enjoyment.
Gene Roddenberry was there, speaking several times and showing episodes along with the Blooper Reel, which gained infamy in the coming years. He was kind and avuncular, as surprised at the size of the crowds as were the organizers. I have memories of the long, rectangular room, Gene in a corner next to the large screen, the 16mm projector at the ready. I was way in the back and didn’t mind.
I got to have the first of a decade’s worth of inconsequential chats with Isaac Asimov, who was present and more than available to chat up fans, especially the pretty ones. And even though we would speak with regularity, he never knew my name and that was fine. Back then, it was just so cool to speak with someone whose work I had been reading.
I must have gotten on a mailing list because I was apprised of the second such con a year later. By then, the lessons had been learned and they scaled up the infrastructure. In fact, I volunteered for that show and the next several. I was happy to help out in any way that I could, marveling at the growth and opportunity to meet more writers and then performers. I admired the committee as people, sad to see them split as Al Schuster broke off to run a rival show that was the first serious divide in fandom.
I have tremendous memories of those five Original Committee cons. Looking back, I see they were also foundational for my eventual career as a writer and editor, establishing my early network. I am still in touch with a few of the committee, thrilled to see several still active in other cons.
But you never forget your first. And this was indeed memorable.