Quote of the con, overheard as a small child passed someone in a "Vincent" costume: "Is that the Beauty or the Beast?"
The first thing that struck us as we came in for a landing was how very artificial Las Vegas looks. Popping up in the middle of the Nevada desert, palm trees surrounded by staggeringly barren canyons and mountains, you have to wonder, why is this city?
The second thing that struck us was the heat - 108 when we arrived. This is not a place to wander around in!
The Sahara is like a grand old dame gone to seed. The rooms are older and adequate but this isn't sleek clean motel-land - more like peeling wallpaper and loud paintings on the wall. Our first sight of fans were two ladies walking from the registration area covered in buttons - serious commercial adventurers here! To get to B&B registration you had to pass by shops, the wonderful outdoor pool, restaurants, and most significantly the whole casino - a 24 hour affair. We must have been like pink elephants to some of these hard-bitten gamblers! The registration area was heralded by a "Beauty and the Beast Fan Convention" sign and a picture of Vincent. The escalator took you upstairs to the Grand Ballroom. On Thursday night this consisted of people in T-shirts of every size and description behind a long desk at which we collected our envelopes and signed up for the creative T-shirt contest, costume contest, and writers' workshop. After picking up the envelopes we could gather a decorated cloth bag containing our registration badges, a rose bookmark, the terrific Tunnel Con zine with the better authors and writers contributing, a Tunnel Con button, and the schedules.
The Tunnel Con I guests were Jay Acovone (Joe Maxwell), David Greenlee (Mouse), Armin Shimerman (Pascal), Irina Irvine (Jamie), Ritch Brinkley (William), Victor Lobl (director of many of the best episodes), and Robert John Guttke (writer of "When the Bluebird Sings"). The production team were noticeably absent. The biggest disappointment was that Roy Dotrice (Father), who was previously a confirmed guest, was not there - but he made his presence felt (more later).
Friday was a day of waiting while the conventioneers set up. We decided to take a trip down the infamous Strip to check out Caesar's Palace and the other casinos. In the afternoon we "vegged" by the pool, eagerly waiting for the opening ceremonies at 7:00.
It was immediately obvious that the convention was well organized and those responsible received an enthusiastic reception. Tunnel Con was the brainchild of two rather grandmotherly members of The Beast Connection, the Las Vegas fan club. Convenor Betty Neiswender outlined the background to the con, which started with a registration limit of 350 and grew to 690 with people coming from as far away as Germany. "We are," she said, "something that has never been before." She received a standing ovation.
MC Steve Black, resplendent in a black Elizabethan tunic and tights, was a comic delight. He drew a cheer by saying that Jay Acovone, who was late in arriving, was "on an airline that has merged with CBS" and pointed out that most B&B fans had started out as "Star Trek" fans.
Debbie Hensley (?), an editor from Illinois, lauded the fans who came on their own, adding that editors love them because if they are determined enough to come with no one to meet, they'll buy lots of stuff! She said the indication of whether you have a good time at a con is if you come back broke!
Stephanie Wiltse of "Pipeline" fame brought us up-to-date on the latest news. The bad news is that all the sets have been dismantled. The good news is that Ron Koslow says the emphasis is now on producing the feature film, and that the studios and major financiers are interested! His main worry is coming up with a script that will satisfy the interests of all fans (no kidding). Once a script is accepted, six months are required to set up, three to four months to shoot, and six months for post-production. When "My Life and Times", his other show, finishes in October, he will look at scripts. It was emphasized that we fans from outside the U.S. are responsible for financing the movie, since the studios look for something that has a demonstrated international interest!
Mark Hartman of the Helpers' Network then addressed the convention (his wife Kimberly was at home awaiting the birth of their child). He said that the show is now "in the hands of the fans". He mentioned the very positive reaction from psychologists who use the later episodes for helping patients deal with grief. He said that B&B is "a world-changing show" and "it tells us that people who are determined to do good cannot be stopped". Alluding to the current split in fandom, he urged understanding because "both sides of the argument are searching for truth". The Helpers' Network Literary Compendium for the third season is now available, and beginning in November they will publish a quarterly fanzine review. He finished by saying the Helpers' Network is "very optimistic" about the future, and received a standing ovation.
It was a rousing start!
As we left the opening ceremonies, we found David Greenlee holding court in the reception area, as charming as ever for those of us who remember him from Tunnelfest in Toronto last year. Everyone then descended en masse on the huge Dealers' Room. This is, in fact, the hub of activity of a convention. It is where we meet the writers and other contacts and where, fulfilling Debbie Hensley's prophecy, we become happily broke. The energy level is high and the urge to participate obsessive ("I'm just going back in for one more zine!"). The merchandise consisted of zines galore, T-shirts, artwork, jewellery, and other souvenirs. It was frantic and it was fun and we won't tell you how much we spent.
In addition to the opening remarks and display and art rooms, a group from Northern Indiana did a skit which we missed as even fans have to eat. As well, the media room was open all day and the most-requested shows - "Bluebird" and "A Happy Life" - were running alternately with the "missing" episodes - "The Reckoning" and "Legacies". Fan clubs across the country had also prepared videos by splicing together scenes from shows to the tunes of "Somewhere" by Barbra Streisand, "Children of the Night" by Richard Marx, and "Diary" by Bread.
With arms and bags full of books, we joined a late night party thrown by the Linda Hamilton Underground, watching more show promos and the Bryant Gumbel and Florida interviews with Ron Perlman and Linda Hamilton. The group were not happy any time Ron Koslow's name was mentioned. We learned more about Linda's departure from the show, which was due primarily to a personality clash between her and Mr. Koslow. One member explained that Linda and the two female writers, Linda Campanelli and M.M. Shelly Moore, had met with him several times over the lack of romance in the second season (he was adamantly opposed to a kiss), the increasing violence, etc. Mr. Koslow apparently refused Linda's request for a reduced role in the third season to accommodate her pregnancy, and therefore she had no choice but to leave. It seemed obvious that he wanted to save the show at all costs, and one of them was Linda Hamilton. Needless to say, some strong lobbying regarding the feature film's main characters will be necessary to return Catherine to the storyline.
End of Day One!
We began Day Two by attending a writers' workshops at which Robert Guttke spoke. He was very entertaining and congenial, and full of interesting stories. He explained the background to "Bluebird", emphasizing that it was autobiographical and the first (and last) story he had ever sold. An interesting revelation - he had originally written the episode as a ghost story, but George R.R. Martin told him that there could be no ghosts in B&B because Vincent was supposed to be the only fantasy! Therefore the script was deliberately left ambiguous in order to get it past Ron Koslow, who did not approve of fantasy. Mr. Koslow's view was that Vincent was supposed to be content within himself and not suffer angst. Obviously, that attitude changed by the end of the second season!
Robert explained that in his original script, Kristopher Gentian's paintings were supposed to have been less modern. The painting of Catherine and Vincent had already been commissioned for a comic book, and so had to be used, but the script actually called for a sculpture. He hated the painting and said Linda's comments were unprintable. He also said that he later submitted other scripts, including one about Vincent and Catherine finding a beautiful woman trapped behind a mirror; and that George Martin had a third season idea for Vincent to go into the underworld to rescue Catherine and run into Kristopher! He confirmed that "Bluebird" was supposed to have aired following "The Outsiders", not "Arabesque", which explains the rather odd greeting between Catherine and Vincent. The "Idylls" scene had to be re-shot as Linda pronounced it IDELLS instead of EYEDELLS. Franc Luz (the actor who played Kristopher) and Robert had to fight for the Wilde voiceover at the end.
Robert was not happy with the third season. He related how Ron Koslow made an "Abraham Lincoln" speech about the "dream is still alive" at the invitational screening of "Though Lovers Be Lost". Robert and Jo Anderson watched from a dark corner. At the end there was absolute silence and Robert just left. Later George Martin called him and the conversation was: G: "What did you think?" R: "What did you think?" G: "I don't think there'll be a dry eye in America." R: "Uh, huh. Well, gotta go. Bye." Robert loved "Walk Slowly" and liked a lot of the action and the character Snow. He said the producers did feel that CBS gave them a good run.
We met with some of the Toronto Rogue Beasties group for lunch and then dashed off to see the afternoon panellists.
Jay Acovone and Victor Lobl came in to wild applause and proved to be a wonderful comedy team. Victor is a quiet, serious man who had never been to a con before; he listened attentively to everything and seemed genuinely impressed by the proceedings. His comments were insightful and he drew high praise for his work. He said that "Orphans" was particularly satisfying to direct and that anything George Martin wrote was a nightmare to direct. He called B&B an "unusual experience in serious television".
Jay is an extremely effervescent, energetic man with a ready grin and quip, and there was continuous good-natured bantering between him and Victor. He was asked for a funny story about Linda and told how she ran into Ron Perlman's arms at the mouth of the drainage tunnel (in "A Happy Life"), knocking both of them down. He named that episode, the pilot, and "Bluebird" as some of his favourites. His only comment about the third season - "what the hell were those rings all about?" - was greeted with laughter. When asked if it was his eye we saw at the peephole in "The Watcher", he cried "NO! I'm not a pervert!" When asked if Joe would ever meet Vincent, Jay explained, "Unfortunately, there was a rule. You meet Vincent, you die!" The threat of being introduced to Vincent was held over him whenever he misbehaved. If a feature is ever made, he said, "I would perhaps like to get a woman, I would like to be the D.A. - and I still don't want to meet Vincent!" He kept the delighted crowd in stitches with his charm and good looks; without a doubt, he was the star of the con.
On the possibility of a blooper reel, they explained that this was unlikely because the producers felt it would be outside what they were trying to do. Jay then asked Victor about the "unmasked" hand in "Masques", but this episode was directed by someone else.
At last the question was asked: where was the consummation scene? Mr. Lobl frankly admitted that this was a real embarrassment to him. Apparently he fought to shoot the scene properly (i.e. with some physical contact) but the final decision was not his. He left us with the definite impression that what we saw was Ron Koslow's choice, based in part on a fear of the possible negative reaction from the moral majority to something more specific. Jay admitted that he was stunned when he learned that Linda was unhappy in the show, and that he didn't think the show would work without her.
Victor addressed the issue of continuity problems in filming B&B, particularly the famous "costume changes" as Vincent tears around the tunnels. He explained that because Ron Perlman's makeup was too difficult to do for just one brief scene, they were often forced to use stock footage instead. It was, therefore, a conscious decision. Another confession - he admitted that Ron was sometimes used as an extra in crowd scenes!
Finally, Jay was asked about Joe's feelings for Catherine. He said, "I think he loved her as a friend" but he was not in love with her. The "Jay and Victor show" lasted an hour; it was not long enough!
Armin Shimerman, Ritch Brinkley, Irina Irvine, and finally David Greenlee then came out. Armin affirmed that Pascal is genuinely his all-time favourite character because at times the writers gave him some wonderful scenes. Irina told an amusing anecdote about her use of the cross-bow and said that Jamie and Mouse were good friends - "but he can be very strange!" The writers, she said, attempted a relationship between the two but never took it very far because the policy was that secondary relationships were not to be pursued.
Ritch, a gallant man with a Texas drawl, was clearly knocked out by this, his first convention. He said he was cast in the role of William when someone was needed to fill the clothes worn by Winslow, and talked about creating a "personal bio" for his character in "Labyrinths". He said that Ron Perlman is a big kidder just before filming heavy scenes and told a funny story of how Ron and several others broke into an impromptu can-can line just before filming the good-bye scene in "Brothers". When asked by Ritch if he did this to help deal with the emotions, Ron said, "No, I just like to have fun!" Irina told another hilarious story of a food fight during the filming of Winterfest. They pelted Roy Dotrice with grapes, she said - "it pissed him right off!" (Later, David Greenlee said that it was Roy who actually started the fight, but "the kids" got blamed!) Armin joked about "the volcano episode, which they repeat every half-hour at Caesar's Palace".
Ritch told how he went to a Hollywood party dressed as his favourite SF character - "me" - and was congratulated on what a great Friar Tuck he made! He offered a very touching tribute to the emotionalism of the last scene he filmed with Ron Perlman, which was Vincent's good-bye to the tunnel dwellers in "The Rest is Silence ...". Tears were streaming down his and David's faces, he said, but unfortunately this was edited out. Ritch and David were so moved by these memories that they embraced on the podium.
Saturday evening featured the big Summerfest banquet. The cocktail hour and costume judging coincided and this is where the little procession through the casino on the way to the main hall raised the most eyebrows. Costumes were judged on Catherine, Vincent, juvenile Vincent, couple, tunnel dwellers, and best of show. Most people went as tunnel dwellers or in very beautiful costumes from "Masques", but some of the more original were the costumes from Germany (best Catherine and Vincent), a woman with a lantern, a Catherine from "Temptation", and best of show - a couple dressed as the original Beauty and the Beast. We were treated to a Las Vegas high school group called The Madrigals in medieval costume who did a Tunnel Con tape, including music set to Sonnet 29 and to Shelley's poem "She Walks in Beauty".
The banquet began with a moving candle lighting ceremony from "Dead of Winter" ("Each year, we begin this feast in darkness ...") and we linked hands for grace. Armin Shimerman and Ritch Brinkley read prepared blessings and after an excellent buffet meal we heard more from The Madrigals, who were enjoyed especially by the guests at the head table. The guests were presented with leis from a Hawaiian fan and the costume awards were then given out.
Jay Acovone and Victor Lobl spoke first. Jay said he had done about seven cons, mostly Creation, and that this was the "classiest". Victor said he had no idea what to expect and had a lot of fun. He was amazed at the enthusiasm and was happy that "Jay and I got to try out our act together!"
The guests were then presented with individual pillows similar to a beautiful hand-made quilt which formed the backdrop to the head table. Irina Irvine's pillow was embroidered with "I'm Catherine's friend, too"; Armin's with "You give of yourself"; Victor's with a list of the shows he directed; and David Greenlee's, of course, with "Okay good, Okay fine". The quilt was organized by Sally Newman (see your Helpers' Network directory). It was composed of patches sent in by the international fan community and was to be presented to the creators of B&B later as a token of appreciation. Sally spoke of the show as helping to create a more literate nation and of Vincent as the most sensitive man since Cyrano. This presentation was very emotional as some of the pieces came from wedding dresses, christening gowns, and a dress of a friend who had died.
The quality zine awards followed. Best novel went to A. Wilde for "The Promise"; best novella, Cynthia Hatch for "The Bridge"; best short story, Kathy Cox for "Visions of the Heart"; best vignette, Kay Simon for "Vina's Story"; best poetry, Cynthia Hatch for "The Word"; best crossover zine, "Shadows of Light"; best art, Beth Blighton; best letterzine, Jeanne Cloud for "Once Upon a Time ... is Now"; best newsletter, Stephanie Wiltse for "Pipeline"; and best zine, Kathy Cox for "Destiny".
Armin thanked us for what we have done to keep the memory of the show alive. The art awards were then given. Ritch, who came in costume, then read a wonderful poem of his own creation, "A Leonine Libation" and left us with a thought from Cyrano - "How many things have died, and are re-born?" He gave us the impression of being absolutely delighted and delightful. David said this con had been more fun and easier than any he had seen before and that everyone "keeps doing things, making things, and communicating, bridging gaps and that's very satisfying". Writer Robert Guttke gave us our title when he came up with the line about having been "pillowed and leid in Las Vegas".
Special awards were presented to Mark Hartman and Stephanie Wiltse. We then heard an audio tape of the very sincere message that Roy Dotrice sent the con. He was very sad that "your dear old Dad" couldn't be with us as he was filming a special in England. From what seemed to be a poolside filled with children, he teased his friend Ritch about eating all the food - to which Ritch later replied, "He's remarkably intact for an old guy!" On a more serious note, Roy addressed the differences of opinion over the third season and said he hoped that we could win over dissenters back into our fold. He hoped to be at Tunnel Con 20 by which time, he said, his wife may allow him to play at the roulette tables! A former New York Opera singer then sang "The First Time I Loved Forever".
Perhaps the most moving part of the evening came when we stood and joined hands around the table and raised them high as we listened to Vincent's words from "Orphans": "We are something that has never been, and our journey is one that none have ever taken. We are just now setting out. We must go with courage, and we must go with care". This was followed by Father's speech from Winterfest when the circle was formed ("The darkness almost engulfed us this year ..."). At that point everyone in the room was in tears. We felt as if we had entered into the show and were in that circle; we were the tunnel people sharing the warmth and love in a special community, fighting for something we needed to save and holding on to a very important feeling as we held the hand next to us. The candles were blown out and a very lucky person at each table took home the centrepiece Summerfest candle and yellow roses.
Last day of Tunnel Con I - hard to believe! As we lined up to get autographs a reporter from a local CBS affiliate interviewed some people in line. We saw this later on the 6:00 news; unfortunately, the story was typically condescending and disappointing.
The art auction began shortly after poetry reading by zine writers, with 41 items going for prices ranging from $12.00 to $260.00. This was followed by door prizes including zines, unicorns, T-shirts, artwork, videos, and mugs.
David then took charge of the celebrity auction and he was an instant hit. He started with a Q&A period. He said that he started in the middle of the first season and left before the third, in effect "abandoning a sinking ship". He did not care for the third season, where he was essentially a background character. He has a very calm cat and said that when he was rehearsing the trilogy scripts, he started to howl and his cat bit him!
David said that B&B and "Fame" were the best shows he's worked on and that he'd learned to dance from Debbie Allen who was a good teacher, as David's character had to dance badly and Debbie insisted that "bad" dancers had to dance twice as well as "good" dancers. He also played a fundamentalist Christian in an episode of "Jump Street" and revealed that this was his real background. He left B&B's third season to do this role, which did not sit well with the writers and producers. He also revealed that Roy Dotrice was the main prankster on the set, but he was quite in awe of Roy when he first started as Mouse and kept getting in his way. He would have loved to have done a funny scene with Catherine, and his fantasy was to have Catherine teach Mouse to dance.
Auction items included (comments in quotations are from David and will give you some idea just how charismatic and persuasive he can be): Robert Guttke's cap ("the last cap he'll ever wear") for $300.00; David's B&B sweatshirt "worn but not washed" (proceeds from this item would go to David's charity to help bail out people who had chained themselves to church pews to protest the lack of funding for AIDS research) for $180.00; a quilt project pillow with "We are something that has never been and our journey is one that has never been taken" for $210.00 (after David told the "casino losers in the back" to "go have a cup of coffee, then come back and bid"); Shakespeare's "Sonnets of Love" signed by all Tunnel Con guests for $125.00 (with a picture of Vincent, whom David described as "some weird guy who needs a haircut - someone should tell him the 60's are over"); Armin's working first draft of "Labyrinths", with "blues" and "pinks", for $180.00; several zines and promotional posters for the third season video, all of which David signed, for $40.00 to $70.00; Victor Lobl's final draft of "Though Lovers Be Lost" for $235.00; a piece of the tunnel blown out by Snow ("bastard") for $70.00; an illustrated B&B fairytale which David bought himself for $35.00; Vincent's christening picture according to Father, inscribed "This is the first photo of my dear son taken at this christening by his loving Father" (it was a picture of a baby gorilla which Roy's wife and daughters had once given him), for $70.00; and Ritch's copy of "Sticks and Stones" with a shooting schedule and stained with cooking oil for $165.00. These items were followed by many of Roy Dotrice's donated and signed zines and scripts. There was a picture of Vincent "looking pretty woofy", and David coined a new phrase - "fuzzy zines" - to describe the kind we hide in brown paper wrappers. The final item was Roy's own inscribed copy of "Ashes, Ashes", which went to an Ottawa Tunnel Dweller for an undisclosed price.
As David left, he stopped to talk briefly with us and we recalled Tunnelfest. He was thanked for his contribution to that event which was fondly remembered and appreciated. His face lit up and he said he'd had "a blast" there, one of the best times he'd had!
After the auction we all scrambled for one last run through the Dealers' Room. Unfortunately, Tunnel Con ended on a very sad note as word spread that one of the major writers, Kathy Cox of "Destiny", received a call that her mother had died.
All in all, Tunnel Con I was very successful and lots of fun. Some of the organizers whom we got to know told us privately that Ritch Brinkley impressed them as their favourite guest; Irina Irvine was a "trooper"; and David was, alas, "temperamental" (he threw a tantrum in the Dealers' Room when he discovered someone selling unauthorized photos of him). There were a few behind-the-scenes problems - the art show set-up, the Dealers' Room, some personal conflicts, etc. - but these did not detract from a generally positive and surprisingly non-confrontational atmosphere. The only major problem was the organizing of the autograph sessions, since not all the guests were present at the scheduled times, which caused tempers to flare.
This con was trying to tell us something. The third season was rarely brought up and when it was, it was commonly referred to as the "absurd season". Diana's name was almost never mentioned, and there was no reaction at all to the "missing" episodes which were shown. The only person heard to express a preference for Diana over Catherine was Stephanie Wiltse. Ironically, Ron Koslow often emerged as the "bad guy" as it became increasingly clear that he had kept the show under tight control, rather than let it grow (especially romantically) in response to fan reaction. The message clearly given by this con was that the majority of B&B fans wish to ignore the third season and bring back Catherine.
Tunnel Con II is already being talked about, again in Las Vegas - but this time, it will be held in October and not in the summer heat!