Friday, June 28, 2013

Flashback Friday: Gigi Edgley Gives Back

(Once upon a time I got to sit down with actress Gigi Edgley in a semi-quiet corner of the Bay Point Mariott (now Wyndham) conference center. The former star of Farscape was in town as part of a sci-fi convention. She was lovely and charming and sweet, and genuinely enjoyed being there and meeting fans. (Unlike a couple of others who were there to make money by autographing stuff.) I got photos of her chatting with my friends Jayson Kretzer and Mattie Jankowski in the artists' room. (Though I couldn't locate those shots for this post.) Anyway, this interview ran in the News Herald's weekly Entertainer tab on June 12, 2008, the weekend following the event.)

Gigi Edgley Gives Back

Photo by Andrew Wardlow/The News Herald
Gigi Edgley thinks she may be on the verge of creating her own multimedia entertainment empire -- if she doesn't lose track of herself in the process.

"It's just been stunning, the adventures of the last sort of two or three months," she said. "I woke up this morning like, 'Where am I now?'"

The Australian actress, best known for her role as "Chiana" on the long-running Sci Fi Channel series Farscape, was in Panama City Beach recently. She was a featured guest at the "Wrath of Con" science fiction convention held at Marriott's Bay Point Resort.

Fans have kept Farscape alive since it went off the air in 2002. Their support helped revive it for a mini-series in 2005, and it is now advertised to return to later this year in the form of 10 all-new webisodes produced by the Jim Henson Co. (2013 edit: This web series never came to be.)

"I wanted to give something back," Edgley said, explaining why she attends these "cons" all over the world.

Edgley as 'Chiana'
Throughout the three-day Wrath of Con, Edgley mingled with fans in the vendor room, talked with artists, signed autographs, traded friendly barbs with fellow guests, and hit the dance floor during after-hours parties. One afternoon, she sat still for an interview in the lobby of the convention center, laughed easily, and showed off samples of her work.

She's now based in Los Angeles, but in recent weeks she has opened a film (Newcastle) at the Tribeca festival in New York; visited Biloxi, Miss., and Seattle, Wash., for more sci-fi conventions; shot a new movie in Louisiana; and made a stopover to see her family Down Under.

In the meantime, she has also been working on an album (the EP So it Seems is now available), written a comic book (Blue Shift) and a graphic novel (Nobody Knows), and filmed vignettes based on the comic -- using her EP as background music for the short films.

This kind of frantic juggling is second nature to Edgley: Her list of skills includes dance, singing, martial arts, trapeze and fire twirling.

"It's been amazing," she said. "It's been really good to learn how to put my writer's cap on and following my passion into directing and producing and creating projects that, really, I'm very passionate about.  It's been very exciting."

(The rest of the interview is here, in this video:)

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The moon and the sleep of death
PANAMA CITY — A supermoon ruled the night on Sunday, the day Richard Matheson died, ensuring that I will always equate the two, bright and larger than life, a beacon passing through the darkness.

Matheson, who died at age 87, was one of the great fantasists of the 20th century. I had no idea he was gone until early Tuesday, and spent some time that day reflecting on his body of work and his approach to writing and living.

His novels and short stories became the films “The Incredible Shrinking Man,” “I am Legend” (also adapted as “The Last Man on Earth” and “The Omega Man”), “Duel,” “The Legend of Hell House,” “Somewhere In Time,” and “What Dreams May Come,” among many others. His work for television included scripting several classic episodes of “The Twilight Zone,” “Star Trek,” “The Outer Limits,” adapting Ray Bradbury’s “The Martian Chronicles” as a mini-series, and many more.
He created the character of Karl Kolchak in the original teleplay, “The Night Stalker,” and ensured a generation’s bad dreams.

In a 2004 interview (which you can link to in the online version of this column at, Matheson called his novel “What Dreams May Come” his most effective because it had relieved many readers of their fear of death — “the finest tribute any writer could receive.” I have not read his book, “Hunted Past Reason,” but in that same interview he twice references an opening quotation:

“To die is nothing. To live is everything.”

Unlike Bradbury, whose name I immediately equated with the greatest in fantasy and sci-fi from an early age, Matheson was a slow burn toward recognition; I was late to connect his name to all the various thrills and chills the man’s work had elicited in me. I don’t recall how or when I realized he had created so many of the films, TV shows and stories I’ve enjoyed.

And I return to the moon, its light a reflection of the sun’s, a symbol of subtlety — as Matheson worked his influence.

Sunday, I followed my daughter out of the house to view the moonrise. It passed among clouds and loomed behind tall pines as the lonely call of a whippoorwill (in legend regarded as a harbinger of death) carried across the hill. For all its size, the orb was not as impressive in my mind as that of Saturday, which had the advantage of context both beautiful and surreal.

That evening, a low tide left an expanded shoreline along St. Andrew Bay. My friend David was on a paddle board on the calm water under the eyes of a small gathering of party guests. My wife held my hand on the shore, and we watched a brilliant sunset light cumulous clouds pink and orange, reflecting on the dark bay.

A couple passed along the tide line, walking their quiet dogs on leashes. Just a few minutes earlier, we’d all been serenaded by guests practicing their bagpipes under moss-draped trees — the night literally blessed by carols and hymns — and joked about the howling of dogs.

And then, the moon: Bright and cold, white as bone, rising slowly over the city to our east and easing out above the bay. It was a night for dogs to howl, for whippoorwills to call, for fish to look up and humans to wonder, like Matheson and like Shakespeare before him, in that sleep of death, what dreams may come?


(This is my Undercurrents column for and The News Herald for Friday's edition, June 25, 2013.)

Friday, June 21, 2013

Flashback Friday: Conversation with 'Tasha Yar'

(Once upon a time, I did a telephone interview with Denise Crosby, best known to geeks as Tasha Yar, the ill-fated security chief in the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation. She was coming to Panama City for one of the small conventions we had here in the 1990s, but she had a health issue and had to cancel. The following article, which ran with an info box with all the convention details, appeared on the Entertainment pages in the back of the B section of The News Herald on Saturday, Feb. 10, 1996.)

'Trek's' Tasha Yar to appear at Bay Point convention

In science fiction, dead is not dead. Just ask Denise Crosby, who originated the role of Security Chief Tasha Yar on Star Trek: The Next Generation.

When Crosby wanted out of the popular show, Executive Producer Gene Roddenberry decided to do something that had never been done to a Star Trek officer before.

(Sure, the guys in the red shirts always got zapped. Security has alweays been a dangerous job on Trek. But a headlining star?)

"It would be absolutely shocking and dramatic," Crosby said during a telephone interview from her California home last week. "And we agreed upon that."

Roddenberry assured her that "Dead is dead. There's no coming back." But the creator of the Star Trek franchise -- at that time still the master of his characters' fates -- was proven wrong.

"It's amazing. By doing that, I sort of rose to a cult status," Crosby said. "I was the great enigma of the show in that I chose to leave."

Crosby said she was fortunate to have known and worked with Roddenberry, whose imaginative creation has fallen into other hands since his death. And while she respects the people involved in recent Trek efforts, she feels the legacy has lost something without its creator's guidance.

"This was Gene's. It was more than just somebody sitting in an office and designing a TV show," she said. "This was a man's point of view, a philosophy. He has something to say, and that's what people are responding to. It's a very definitive philosophy about science fiction, about the future and mankind."

After leaving Trek, Crosby more than kept busy. She costarred in the Stephen King movie Pet Sematery, starred with Fisher Stevens in Fox TV's Key West as Mayor Chancy Caldwell, and began a continuing role on ABC's Lois and Clark.

She also appeared in several more movies and TV shows, including 48 Hours, Desert Hearts, The Red Shoes Diary, and The Flash. She recently returned to the stage in the award-winning Last Summer at Bluefish Cove, and reteamed with director Mary Lambert on a Fox TV pilot called Love is Strange, in which she plays a ghost.

But as busy as her post-Trek life became, the specter of Tasha Yar continued to haunt her.

Two years after Yar's "death," the new Trek producer, Rick Berman, called her with a proposition: a time travel episode would revive Yar only to send her to another dramatic and heroic death.

"For me, Yesterday's Enterprise was so much fun to do," she said. "It was my first time to see everyone again. I could see where the tension was, where things had developed, people had grown into their parts. It also gave me a chance to work with Whoopie (Goldberg, who had taken the recurring part of the ageless bartender Guinan shortly after Yar's untimely departure)."

The show left Yar vanishing into a vortex, destined to die along with the crew of a time-lost Enterprise in battle with Romulans. But, as Crosby describes it, the ending created a new opening for her return:

"My idea was that, because of Yesterday's Enterprise, Tasha went back into history. What if she was pregnant? The Romulans captured her, kept her alive and raised the child to study it or have it as a hostage? What are the ramifications of a human child growing up with the enemy?"

So she boldly called the producers, asked for a story meeting and pitched the idea like any TV writer would.
"A couple of months later, they went with it, but they wanted the child to be half-Romulan. I thought I would get through the show without the makeup, the prosthetics," Crosby said.

Thus was born the Romulan Sela -- and the second action figure modeled after Crosby's likeness. All of which put a unique spin on her personal view of her career.

"When I was first in drama school, reading everything, watching every movie, like a sponge absorbing everything, I never thought I'd have an action figure (modeled after me)," she said. "I don't think Meryl Streep has an action figure."

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Signs of Summertime

PCB Sunset
PANAMA CITY BEACH — On assignment a few days ago, I was complaining to myself that the AC in the car I had borrowed for the day couldn’t keep up with the heat, and it was only the middle of June. Then, as I exited the car and the humidity slapped me in the face, my sunglasses fogged up.

“It must be summertime,” I thought, apologizing to the AC for underestimating its power.

Temps have already climbed into the 90s regularly this month, and seemingly so has the water in the community swimming pool in my neighborhood; it’s more like climbing into a hot tub rather than a blue hole spring like it felt a month ago.

Yes, Friday is the first official day of summer, but locals don’t really need a calendar to tell us the season has arrived. You know how you can tell it’s summer in Panama City and along Panama City Beach? Here are the clues some Facebook friends pointed out:

Traffic! — Melissa

Afternoon thunderstorms with lightning popping all over the place. — Julie

Fresh red, swollen tramp stamps on the little girls, stopping for gas on their way home to Alabama. — Denise

Local weather report the same every day: Hot, humid, chance of thunderstorms. — Helen

When I can put my babies to bed before dark. — Renee

Humidity! — Don

Fleas. — Ali

A sudden influx of abandoned children at Pier Park ordering “fraps.” — Jason

The winter sandals have been discarded, and nearly everyone is sporting NEW flip-flops or sandals. Yay. — Lynn

Dog flies. — Curtis

Crickets! — Pat

Young ladies dressing like Daisy Duke. — David

Not getting stuck behind a school bus on my morning or afternoon Walmart runs. — Donna

Out of town relatives start coming in waves. — Alisa

I’m heading to the farmers’ markets and making blueberry jam, banana bread, peach sangria and all sorts of goodies! — Marissa

All the school kids are out and about. — Aaron

Mosquitoes. — Kristin

The pier rats show up. These are mostly boys, as young as 8 or 9 years old. Their folks drop them off each morning with some serious fishing gear and, hopefully, a sandwich or two. By 12 these kids are some of the best fishermen on the gulf. I always bring a few extra sodas and sandwiches for the pier rats. If you share your cut-up watermelon, expect it to taste like bait. — Denise

How about you break a sweat walking out the door at 6 a.m.? — Tracy

Beach time. — Ray

All the little white lizards are gathering at night on the back porch! — Bonnie

Jameson is back in town. — Jameson

You take the pool cover off, and invite friends and family for a barbecue. — Michael

The preponderance of beach and sunset photos on Facebook. — Lou

The no-see-ums are out in force. — Wayne

Waiting for a table at any restaurant for dinner. — Randy

The out-of-state tags. — Brandon

Unfortunately, yellow flies. — Dolores

The June grass seaweed and bikinis. — Keith

(I guess the lesson here is that we have to take the bad with the good, eh, Keith?)


(This is my Undercurrents column for and The News Herald for this week.)

Friday, June 14, 2013

Flashback Friday: An early review of 'Starman' comic

(On May 21, 1996, the News Herald printed the following review of James Robinson's revival of the Starman character at DC Comics. It was as much a love letter to that series as a statement in reaction to what comics had become in the 1990s. I remain a fan. (Please ignore the use of the 'x' in 'comix,' which was how we spelled things in the 'Generation NeXt' section back then.))

Jack Knight, From Wikipedia
The heroes of old are, with a few notable exceptions, gone from the pages of four-color comix. That bright world has lost its innocence — and much of its creative energy — to teams of muscle-bound vigilantes toting semi-automatic plasma bazookas, and to impossibly endowed females flirting with loss of circulation if their rubber corsets were any tighter.

 Then came Starman.

As created by writer James Robinson and artist Tony Harris, Starman is Jack Knight — a small figure of a man, a tattooed late-20-something, obsessed with all things rare and antique. He'd rather scour rural flea markets for View Master reels and Depression glass than dress in Spandex and duke it out with the villains.

His idea of a costume is night-vision goggles and a leather jacket.

But as the younger son of a 1940s superhero, Jack has become the epitome of the chicken-or-egg question that haunts history: Do great events conspire to create heroes, or do great men and women arise to make history?

In Jack's case, events sought him out and he rose to the challenge. His big brother, David, was first to don Dad's mantle, only to be killed by a sniper's bullet in the first pages of the first issue.

(Jack has since had two surreal visits with his deceased brother — the first as they fought in a grave yard over the right to the Starman name, and the second as David sought to warn Jack of future events.)

With his father injured, his brother dead and his own antique shop razed by the children of an old foe, Jack uses his dad's "star rod" to rout the bad guys and restore order to Opal City.

Through Jack and his supporting cast, Robinson has crafted a book with the multiple layers of history, personality, foreshadowing and drama usually found only in works print-only fiction. His characters are distinct and react with realism — as seen in the frustration and distance between father and son that slowly dissolves into a growing respect and admiration for their individual strengths.

The periodic "Times Past" stories allow guest artists to explore events in the history of Opal and its citizens, giving us a glimpse of the Golden Age of heroes; or a tale of the nigh-immortal. sometimes-villainous Shade and his friendship with Oscar Wilde.

Meanwhile, artist Harris has crafted a vision of retro-deco cities, of characters delineated by quirky swirls and outlines, of shadows and black bordered pages.  No larger-than-life people dominate his panels — save for the lumbering Solomon Grundy. Though stylistically rendered, these are anatomically realistic human beings with an expressive range far removed from the grimacing brain-bashers in other comix.

Like our own shared version of reality, this can be a dark world. People die. Bad guys revel in the pain of others. Some cops are less-than-true to their code. Evil is powerful.

But now there's a beacon in the night.

"Starman has always been around," Robinson said in his introduction to the series, "a light in the darkness, in his own little corner of the DC universe."

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Things My Kids Have Taught Me

On Father's Day, Sunday, June 20, 2004, my weekly "Undercurrents" column on the Lifestyle page was the following:

Things my kids have taught me

Jessi and Nate 2006
Educators and child development experts are fond of pointing out that the greatest influences on a child are his or her parents.

I’d go as far as saying that this rule holds true no matter the person who raises a child or what sort of traditional or nontraditional family that child has. The greatest influences are the mother and father — their presence, their absence, their attention or neglect — whether or not the child ever knew them.

A grandmother raising a grandchild as her own may do a wonderful job, but the absence of a mother/father duo will affect that child for the rest of his or her life.

That’s a long introduction to the idea that, as quantum theory suggests, the reverse is also true — the absence or presence of children makes a huge difference in an adult’s life. The child really is father to the man.

Or, in bumper sticker terms: Insanity is genetic — You get it from your kids.

Apropos of the day, listed hereafter are some of the things my children have taught me. Put simply, they made me the man I am today.

  • A quiet house means someone is up to no good.
  • I’m luckier to have the two of them than they are to have me. At least twice as lucky.
  • Child-proofing a house only succeeds in frustrating adults.
  • Somebody else started it. It’s my job to finish it.
  • I’m sure there are more painful things than a child’s tears. I just can’t think of one.
  • Respect has to work both ways or it won’t work at all.
  • Cleaning up is not nearly as much fun as making a mess, and takes much longer.
  • The hardest thing to explain is "why."
  • Being a kid is tougher than you recall.
  • If the rest of their generation is anything like them, then the future will be more complex, irritating, exhilarating and imaginative than you expect.
  • Noisy bodily functions are funny. Are too. Are too.
  • I am not my father, though I sometimes sound like him — and they are not me, though I often see myself in them.
  • That doesn’t mean I’m letting them get away with anything, though.
  • Kisses really do make booboos better.
  • Hard work never hurt anybody. Neither did an afternoon of cartoons and popcorn.
  • My folks were wrong when they said, "You’ll understand when you get to be my age."
  • There are more questions than there are answers.
  • Sometimes the best answer is still, "Because I said so."


(And happy Father’s Day.)


My Undercurrents column for Friday, June 14, is as follows:

Things my kids have taught me

Jessi and Nate 2013
PANAMA CITY BEACH — Several years ago, I made a mix CD that I titled, “Songs My Kids Taught Me.” It had tracks by Iron & Wine, the Killers, Postal Service and many others who were, at the time, fresh on the scene.

I always have prided myself on keeping up with new music — though not the plastic, manufactured pop dreck. I try to introduce my kids to new music (such as OK GO, Anna Ternheim and Airborne Toxic Event when they first broke out) thanks to sources like NPR and Paste magazine.

So, looking back, it was a big step to admit they were teaching me. I still enjoy answering them with “Yes I have,” when they ask if I’ve seen a certain new video or heard a certain new song — but it doesn’t happen as often these days.

With Father’s Day approaching, and these thoughts on my mind, I started wondering what else I used to teach them that they now teach me. The fact is, I can’t really say that I’ve taught them anything — though I’d like to take some credit for them being intelligent, curious, creative and compassionate souls.

But they have pretty clearly taught me a thing or two over the years. I even wrote a column based on that idea about a decade ago, featuring nuggets like: A quiet house means someone is up to no good; respect has to work both ways or it won’t work at all; and the hardest thing to explain is “why.”

There are many things they have tried to teach me, but that I refuse to learn. I still won’t eat sushi, for instance, no matter how they flavor it, and I still don’t ride amusement park rides.

But a couple of other items have become clear in recent years. They certainly have taught me:

  • Patience. I was impatient as a young man, easily frustrated, often angry. Now I’m patient almost to the point of oblivion. So patient, I make others impatient with me.
  • Never say “never again.” I mean it at the time, but when a similar challenge presents itself again, I’ll probably cave. It’s one thing to draw a hard line and another thing entirely to watch a child struggle when you can help.
  • Loosen up. I know it may seem unlikely, but I can be uptight when it comes to being “proper” in public. They’ve taught me it can be okay to laugh inappropriately, among other things.
  • Sometimes, peace is more important than justice. Sometimes, getting a job completed is more important than an even distribution of labor. And sometimes, if you wait long enough, even a patient Dad will get tired of asking.

But I maintain, as I wrote before, that I’m luckier to have the two of them than they are to have me. At least twice as lucky, though it’s more likely that I’m lucky-squared.


Friday, June 07, 2013

Flashback Friday: 'Hitchhiker' journeys to syndication

From Wikipedia
(Once upon a time, I did a telephone interview with Lewis Chesler, creator of "The Hitchhiker," as the show moved from HBO to syndication (and got edited to a PG version in the process). This story was published in The News Herald on Dec. 6, 1995.)

The darkness is within us all, waiting for the right temptation — the particular provocation — that will allow us to damn ourselves.

The idea that evil is internal — not an external force — is the driving concept behind The Hitchhiker, a cable anthology series that is now available to local channels through the magic of syndication.

According to series creator/executive producer Lewis Chesler, the true nature of evil is best revealed through "conflicts within ourselves."

"With The Hitchhiker, we wanted to bring a level of psychological suspense that had not been present in mainstream television to that point," Chesler said. "The projection of that anxiety, psycho-erotic in a way, made for real engaging stories."

A dramatic, half-hour suspense series reminiscent of Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone, The Hitchhiker thumbed his way to 85 episodes, becoming the longest-running original dramatic series in cable TV history.

Hitchhiker first debuted in 1984 as Home Box Office's first dramatic series. Since then, it has won eight ACE Awards, delivered record-setting ratings for a cable series and paved the way for numerous imitators.

"In the '50s, science fiction was very popular, and people used it as an allegory of fears about communism and so on, manifesting `The Other' as people from outer space," Chesler said.

"I think today we also have anxieties and fears about what is within us, that subverts us," he said. "And as we approach the millennium, more people are realizing that we are more complex than we knew — that life is more ambiguous and paradoxical than we knew."

Using an anthology format to present "morality plays," each episode is introduced by the enigmatic Hitchhiker, played by Page Fletcher. When he appears, strange things follow: tales of greed, jealousy and the supernatural, that end in ironic twists of fate.

"He's a witness, not an avenging angel. He never interacts and he has an omniscience," Chesler said. "We chose the figure of a hitchhiker for two reasons: He represents the allure of freedom, the ability to transgress and break the boundaries, but he also represents danger and the unknown. He has that duality within him in that his behavior is not clear-cut — it's elusive."

The use of top movie and television talents is one of the reasons Hitchhiker has endured while hundreds of other cable-made series have faded to black. A number of major film directors, actors and writers were involved in the series.

Chesler is now working on Strangers, an HBO series he calls "the sequel" to The Hitchhiker. The pilot, shot two years ago in Paris, was directed by Wayne Wang (The Joy Luck Club), and features Linda Fiorentino, Tim Hutton and Joan Chen. The series will debut in January of 1996.

"The stories are about the American encounter with the mysterious `other.' They're like half-hour Last Tangoes in Paris, about Americans who go abroad and are on uncertain ground," Chesler said. "They're kind of dark, erotic, psychologically dense, very European."

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Artists monkeying around downtown

PANAMA CITY — More than 200 handcut and handpainted apes will dangle from trees, poles, awnings — and anywhere else they can find to hang from — Saturday in downtown Panama City.

It’s a “public art” project spearheaded by Heather Parker from CityArts Cooperative. Like their tiny toy counterparts, the foam apes are shaped with hooked arms and tails.

“We chose this shape, from Hasbro’s ‘Barrel of Monkeys’ for several reasons,” Heather said. “A childhood connection (many adults had them or saw them as a child), their arms link together to form a chain (great alone as one monkey, but can connect with each other and have a big impact, kind’a like people, huh?), and well, they’re monkeys!”

Heather was joined by many people intrigued or amused by the project. Adults, children, school groups, professional artists, Friday Fest visitors, business owners and bunches of “regular people” helped make monkeys, she said.

“We’ve had at least 100 hands in the barrel helping to make this happen, from purchasing foam, donating paints, meticulously hand-cutting monkeys, or just dropping by to quickly add a splash of paint,” she said. 
“Some of the monkeys are impressive one-of-a-kind works of art.”

Heather pointed out that Wikipedia defines “public art” as works of art in any media that have been planned and executed with the specific intention of being sited or staged in the physical public domain, usually outside and accessible to all. Such cultural interventions have often been realized in response to creatively engaging a community’s sense of “place” or “well-being” in society.

“Imagine a downtown that is a place you want to be,” she said. “Would it be lively, colorful, lighthearted, joyful, playful, entertaining, filled with talent, self-expression and creativity? Mine would. So for one day, I’m filling it with colorful monkeys.”

Heather hopes this and other public art events will bring more people downtown and expose them to the possibilities of art. She would like downtown Panama City (along with St. Andrews) to become a regional art hub, and to make art a “living, breathing way of life” for everyone.

The day promises to be a full one in the downtown district, with Vintage Market 7:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., an artist meet-and-greet at Main Street Gallery 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., a paper-cutting workshop at CityArts 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and the Art-Tique “tour” 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Monkey installation is from 6 to 9 a.m., if anyone wants to help Heather hang the monkeys. Display will be 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., after which the monkeys will be removed.

“We expect some to fall throughout the day, which is why they are all handcut from lightweight Styrofoam,” she said. “If a monkey falls on your head, you’ve got a great story, but no injury: ‘One time, I was downtown, you’ll never believe this, but a ...’ ”

Art is about more than murals and painting, Heather told me once. It’s about exploring, laughter and joy.