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Scott Larson

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Name droppings IV

Okay, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking: Oh no, not another one of those inane name dropping columns that he keeps doing. The only thing worse than those is that Babylon 5 kick he got on recently. Well, if that’s what you’re really thinking, then this week’s commentary is your worst nightmare. That’s right, this one is about dropping the names of actors from Babylon 5!

How does one go about meeting actors from one’s favorite science fiction TV serious? Well, in my case, it was because The Missus-to-be, in order to entice me on a visit to Dublin a few years ago, bought me a ticket for a science fiction convention at the Royal Dublin Society in Ballsbridge. In fact, she got me the high-price ticket so that I could sit in the very front row for the Q&A with the special guests. These included Jerry Doyle (security chief Michael Garibaldi) and his then-wife Andrea Thompson (telepath Talia Winters) as well as Dean Stockwell (of the recently ended Quantum Leap) and Denise Crosby (oil slick victim Tasha Yar of Star Trek: The Next Generation fame).

As a speaker, Doyle was a real kick, something that may or may not bode well for his recent aspirations for a seat (from California) in the U.S. Congress. Asked if anyone had mentioned that he looked a lot like Bruce Willis, he sighed heavily and told an amusing story about being accosted by an autograph seeker at the Dublin airport who insisted that sign the autograph Bruce Willis—no matter how much he protested that he wasn’t Bruce Willis. He also talked about his years on Wall Street and his transition to seeking work as an actor. When one studio exec asked, in a job interview, “So, what did you do at Drexel Burnham?", he replied condescendingly, “I used to buy companies like this and fire guys like you.”

Thompson had an intimidating effect on me. Maybe it was her blonde hair and her sultry voice. Or maybe her TV acting résumé that has ranged from Falcon Crest to NYPD Blue. Anyway, she broke the ice by asking someone in the audience what his favorite B5 episode was. Unfortunately, the person she asked was me. (Maybe it was because I was sitting in the very front row and had on a gaudy Babylon 5 T-shirt.) Anyway, the stress was too much and my normally steel-trap efficient mind just melted, and I stammered something like, “You know, uh, the episode where all the people got that disease, you know, uh…” She listened in puzzlement for a few seconds and then more or less started her talk over. She went on to explain that she had left the series because she thought creator J. Michael Straczynski had underwritten her character because he had really preferred Patricia Tallman for the role. (The executives had asked for a recasting after the pilot.)

When it came time for queuing for autographs, I was right there. In a fit of schoolboy giddiness, I took the opportunity to tell Thompson that her character had been my favorite, to which she demurely said, thank you. Her hubby, sitting next to her, rolled his eyes and said with classic Garibaldi-style world-weariness, “I think I’m going to be sick.” (I trust that this had nothing to do with the subsequent breakup of their marriage.)

Stockwell turned out to be a warm personality. Chomping on a cigar, he gruffly asked for my name so he could do the autograph, and I said (cleverly), “Scott. Like Bakula.” “Likely story,” he grumbled, as he scrawled out the signature and turned his attention to the next customer. Crosby was quite pleasant, and we both agreed that Miracle Mile was one of the best films she had been in.

But my most satisfying fan encounter with a B5 actor, however, actually came a couple of weeks later at Dublin City University, where I wandered into a lower-key confab organized by the campus science fiction club. One guest was Ed Wasser, who played the sinister Mr. Morden. He turned out to be much more ebullient and chatty than his dark, restrained on-screen character.

The main guest that day was none other than Michael O’Hare, who had played the lead role of Commander Sinclair during the series’ first season. As I mentioned previously, I had initially found O’Hare rather stiff in the role. But his character and his portrayal gradually grew on me. So much so that, when he was replaced by TV veteran Bruce Boxleitner in the second season, I sorely missed him. Indeed, two of the best hours in the whole Babylon 5 saga were the two-part episode in the third season, where his character was brought back and given the most monumental of destinies.

O’Hare the man turned out to be totally different from Sinclair the character. He was warm, effusive, and totally delighted to be in Ireland and among fans. In a strange way, he reminded me very much of the man who gave me my “big break” in the software industry, who like O’Hare was an Irish-American from Chicago. Sadly, that fellow had died way too young. When my turn came for an autograph, I took the opportunity to tell him sincerely how much I had enjoyed his work. He seemed genuinely thrilled to hear it. I almost thought I could detect a tear in his eye. I don’t know whether or not he thought it at all strange that a Yank close to his own age should suddenly appear in a queue of young Irish students. But I do know that he warmly gazed straight into my eyes as if he had found some beloved, long-lost friend, and he shook my hand so long and so hard that I thought I was never going to get it back.

-S.L., 26 October 2000

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