Saturday, September 13, 2008

Joan Winston: One of Our "Founders" is Gone

And now we've lost Joan Winston—Thursday, Sept. 11.

If you don't know who she was, you should.

"Joanie" died Thursday after an extended stay in an assisted living center in New York State—she who thankfully got down on paper the insider's hilarious and poignant story of NYC's legendary original "The Committee," in 1977's The Making of the Trek Conventions (Or, How To Throw a Party for 12,000 of Your Most Intimate Friends). Before that tome, she was first known for her chapters in Star Trek Lives! (the first mass-market analysis of Trek's fandom and phenomenon) about her visit to the original sets during the last days of shooting in 1969, on "Turnabout Intruder." More than one wag has called her first-person writing style the "Erma Bombeck of Star Trek." (Below, at a 1976 Toronto con, she's at far right—past Bjo & John Trimble and Jacqueline Lichtenburg).

So, all the basic Trek histories had Joanie's name in print or on the cover or both—and she had a big hand in it all. But her being a non-traveling New Yorker, my Midwest and then Western base never let us meet up—that is, until we guested at Shore Leave in 2003, and I joined, finally, the lucky regulars there who had heard her tales for years. When we finally got some time and I soaked up story after story, I had her sign both her books for me—and seeing my rare hardback version of "Conventions," she quipped: "Yours is in better shape than mine is!" I would have liked many many more such catch-up times, but it was not to be.

Still, as the millenium turned I had already begun to worry that our Trek fandom pioneers were being neither recalled nor recorded; so, in Communicator magazine I had begun a series called "First Person Fandom"—a combo term from sci-fi's own "First Fandom" pioneers of the 1930s, but from Trekland and in their own "first person" words. Joan was only our second profile, although we had plans for many more—and her piece appeared in what became the last STC, #155 in May 2005. (Thankfully, Roger Nygard got Joanie on film as well in Trekkies 2). Rich Handley handled our STC interview and so I don't want to rob from him, but here's a Joanie gem of forgotten history from that piece:
When NBC cancelled Star Trek, Winston [a CBS contracts executive in New York] tried to convince CBS to pick it up. “We could have used a good show,” Winston says, “and I felt the way it had been handled had been poor. At that point, NBC was second or third to CBS in ratings. [CBS was] seriously thinking about it, but they found out Leonard had signed with Mission: Impossible and that was the end of that—but I tried.”

Several years later, when Star Wars hit theaters, Winston says she was called to an executive meeting of the ABC Presidential Board [after moving to that network]. The film was a phenomenon, she said, and though the execs wanted to find their own sci-fi franchise, they didn’t take Star Trek seriously enough to go that route. She suggested spin-offs of several Robert Heinlein novels, including The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and Starship Troopers, hoping they’d choose Star Trek since it’d be cheaper and more to her liking. “They wrote me a memo later on, saying, ‘Well, we think the ideas are wonderful, but it would be too expensive.’ ” Shaking her head at the irony, she muses: “I don’t think they would have done Star Trek as well as NBC anyway, unless Gene insisted on control.”
In case you missed them, here are some exclusive snaps from that article she shared with us--I think you may know those other guys hanging around Desilu in January 1969:

So, thanks, Joanie for your incredible life and loves... You may be gone, but with the record we have and the friends you had, you will surely not be fogotten, all to our enrichment.

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