Thursday, September 11, 2008

GREATEST AMERICAN HERO 25TH ANNIVERSARY TRIBUTE HELD AT SAG FOUNDATION

On Sunday, September 7th, I attended the 25th Anniversary Tribute for the television program THE GREATEST AMERICAN HERO at the SAG Foundation’s brand spanking new Actor’s Center Theater and Screening Room. This was the first event to be held in the beautiful new room and the full house promised it would not be the last. The night’s program brought together cast and crew from the cult TV series for three hours of reminisces, stories, clips, interviews and major announcements.

The event was only supposed to be open to friends and family of the guests and SAG members. I am no actor and I am not a member of SAG but through the kindness of SAG member Sally Schaub, I was allowed to come as her guest with the provision that I help in some sort of volunteer capacity such as guiding guests to seats—which is what I did. Everyone who knows me knows that my two obsessions, my two greatest loves, are the programs THE INCREDIBLE HULK and THE GREATEST AMERICAN HERO. When it comes to HERO, I have seen every episode multiple times and have read everything I can find about the show. Every Halloween, I dress as Ralph Hinkley with red suit and tights, cape and even a blond curly hair wig (for many years, I wore a home made version of the suit until a few years ago when my mother—God bless her soul—gave me the official suit as a present). So, many friends from SAG alerted me to the event when the announcement was made and I found myself lucky to be present for the awesome evening.

I had met the show’s star William Katt before. As manager of Rocket Video in Hollywood, I host our monthly guest speaker series and we were lucky to have Katt as a guest when GREATEST AMERICAN HERO season one came out on DVD. I actually wore my suit when I interviewed him and he remembered me because of this when we were re-introduced at the tribute. I had never met any of the other stars before so I was anxious to see Connie Selleca and Michael Pare but most importantly I wanted to meet Robert Culp.

Culp is up there with Bill Bixby as one of my all-time favorite actors. A friend from grad school who was like a brother to me opened my eyes to how cool Culp was. We shared an interest in and many marathon sessions watching episodes of HERO. While I talked about how I wanted to be a superhero when I was a kid watching the show for the first time, my friend told me that when he watched the show as a kid he wanted to be Culp. The more I saw of Culp’s work after that, the more I came over to his side of thinking. Culp was just too damn cool. He had a unique delivery of dialogue, a hip style ahead of its time and a great walk that he used perfectly in every role he played. I began to seek out movies and TV shows that featured Culp and I became just as big a fan as my friend. So I found myself waiting to see him with the nervousness that one feels when they are about to meet one of their heroes.

Since Sally and I were volunteering, we got there early as cameras were being set up and sound was being checked. Five different cameras recorded the event and there was talk of a DVD later being made available. William Katt was already there; this was his show and he was obviously in charge. Michael Pare was also there laughing as he watched some of the clips they were going to show. Then Culp walked in. He was very, very thin but as Sally said he was still drop dead handsome. And he was sharp as a tack; friendly enough as well, but a little peeved because the new theater was difficult to find.

The event was great. John Tesh was the host for the evening, appropriate enough since he is married to Connie Selleca. He introduced series creator Stephen J. Cannell, another extremely handsome fellow who was smartly dressed and very personable. They talked a little about the creation of the show. Then the cast came out accompanied by applause. Michael Pare, Connie Selleca, Robert Culp and William Katt all took their seats. Selleca, by the way, still looked just as beautiful as she did on the show and I felt the crush that I had on her when I watched the show at age 12 come back full force. Lucky Tesh. The four stars shared delightful stories about the series and clips from the show were screened.

After an intermission, Cannell was joined by producers, writers and behind the scenes personnel and they shared even more stories about the show. Culp stayed on stage since he had written and directed two episodes of the series, “Lilacs, Mr. Maxwell” and “Vanity the Preacher Says.” Clips showing how Katt was made to fly were screened. Then stuntman Dennis “Danger” Madalone was introduced and a montage of his spectacular jumps, crashes and falls was shown to the crowd. Finally, composer Mike Post (a very funny and entertaining gentleman) and Cannell talked about the music in the show as well as the famous theme song “Believe it or Not” which had reached number 2 on the Billboard charts at the height of the show’s popularity.

As the program came to a close, I jumped up with my disposable camera and approached some of the stars. Sally took my picture with Cannell, Madalone, John Tesh and Connie Selleca. Then I approached the one and only Culp. This was to be my moment, my chance to meet my hero and let him know how I felt.

As I mentioned, I host Rocket Video’s guest speaker program and over the years, we’ve welcomed some major names from the entertainment world—everyone from Faye Dunaway to Ray Bradbury. But I have always had four dream events that I wanted to have at the store, all four of which would revolve around specific heroes of mine. Three of them have come true and each one had a magic moment that I will cherish for the rest of my life. I wanted to have an evening devoted to THE INCREDIBLE HULK. When season two came out on DVD, we hosted a signing party with series creator Kenneth Johnson, director Chuck Bowman (who also attended THE GREATEST AMERICAN HERO tribute), actress Mariette Hartley and, of course, the green guy himself Lou Ferrigno. This was one of the greatest nights of my life and I got a chance to express my thank you to all of them for contributing to something that shaped my entire being. My words were so heartfelt that the audience applauded me and both Johnson and Hartley later called to express how beautiful my speech was. I also wanted to interview Peter Falk and when his book came out we were lucky enough to get him. He was an absolute joy and the magic moment came afterwards when an audience member said our interview was like watching THE TONIGHT SHOW. Falk put his arm around me and said, “We did good, didn’t we kid?” Finally, I love the show MONK and I wanted to have Tony Shalhoub as a speaker. I wrote him a letter and to everyone’s surprise he agreed to be a Rocket guest for an evening. The magic moment here came BEFORE the event when we spent some quiet time in my office talking about the show and then having a wonderful discussion about our mutual interest in Sherlock Holmes. Shalhoub is a charming, bright, immensely nice man.

The only dream guest I never got a chance to interview was Culp. I’ve written to him quite a few times extending an invitation, I even tried reaching him through his grandson. But I never heard back. Some have said he doesn’t like to do “those kinds of things” but here he was at the Hero Tribute. Anyway, this was going to be my chance, my magical moment.

I had it all planned out. I was going to tell him how Bill Maxwell on THE GREATEST AMERICAN HERO was one of the greatest television characters of all time. I was going to tell him how great he was on I SPY and as Ray’s father-in-law on EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND. I was going to tell him how much I enjoyed BOB AND CAROL AND TED AND ALICE and HICKEY AND BOGGS (which he directed). I was going to tell him how I had even searched out two really cool made-for-television films he starred in—A COLD NIGHT’S DEATH and OUTRAGE (how many of you out there have seen those two?). I was going to finally, face to face, invite him to be a guest at Rocket or at least offer to take him to lunch so I could hear him talk about his life and career.

And what happened? I blew it. I asked him for a picture and then all I could think of to say was: “You know what the best line from THE GREATEST AMERICAN HERO was? When you said, ‘Yamma yamma yamma, whoop-de-doo, scooby-doo and gobbledy-gook’ in the motorcycle gang episode.” He smiled and said he remembered and he was gone. I got my picture but I felt stupid. I had blown it. I got near one of my heroes and I fumbled the ball. I must have sounded like an idiot.

But now that I write these words and I think about the evening, I realize that it counts as a magic moment. For those few, brief seconds, our lives connected and I got to meet one of my greatest heroes. And when you combine that with the fact that I got to meet and hear from the entire cast and crew of one of my all time favorite shows—well, it was one hell of a night and one I will always remember. Besides, Culp doesn’t need me to tell him he’s cool; a guy like that doesn’t need to be told. He’s a pro all the way and one of the greats no matter what. Though I’d still like to take him to lunch…

Also, there were two big announcements that evening. William Katt’s new comic book company Catastrophic Comics will be publishing the continuing adventures of Ralph, Pam and Bill in a new series debuting this November. And Cannell announced that there will be a GREATEST AMERICAN HERO movie. The script has been written (Katt said it was charming and funny), a director has been chosen and he hopes the original cast will all take roles in the film. Good news all around for the fans.

Believe it or not, I’m still walking on air…

2 comments:

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msboku said...

That is so sweet. I am glad you had a great time! Believe me, you weren't stupid. We all have our moments when we meet our heroes. You should've seen me when I first met William Katt. (The poor guy. lol)
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