Jim Jenkins

Live long and really prosper

Some would say it was what we in the column-writing game call a softball. A gift. Oh, yes, a perfect setup for one of those columns where you can stand back and poke so much fun at obsessed fans and older celebrities that your arm gets tired and you giggle at your own cleverness.

I was attending the Wizard World Comic Con event in Raleigh last weekend. The star attendee was William Shatner, 83, whose best role in television was as Denny Crane on “Boston Legal” and whose second best role was as “T.J. Hooker.” But he now makes a handsome living going to these sorts of conventions because from 1966 to 1969, he was Captain James T. Kirk on the Starship Enterprise in the “Star Trek” television show.

I’ve no idea what Shatner makes for one such appearance, but some sort of “VIP Experience” was in the three-figure range and sold out. Another “VIP Experience” with David Tennant of “Doctor Who” was similarly priced. He’s Elvis, apparently.

Yes, happly for our Capital City, thousands and thousands of fans of various comic characters and television shows descended upon us last weekend. (Or they were “beamed down,” to use the Star Trek lingo. See? I get it.) And on Saturday, Comic Con coincided with the rainy Raleigh St. Patrick’s Day Parade, so for a while there Raleigh was the curious center of a rather damp universe.

I never saw Shatner or Tennant. Ol’ Pops was beaten to the limited-access autograph session punch by more savvy parents and grandparents who hunkered down online when tickets went up. But my sweet grandchild (who swore me to secrecy regarding her identity) was thrilled just to enter the premises.

Shatner’s following the admonition of his old mate Spock to “live long and prosper.” (Spock was played by Leonard Nimoy, who died recently. Met him once. Great guy.)

People came dressed as all sorts of comic characters and cartoon characters and TV characters unknown to me. Grown people. Little people. Some in strollers. Carrying swords and light sabers, in full and sometimes scary makeup.

As one whose TV heroes were Sheriff Andy Taylor and Deputy Barney Fife and, during heated adolescence, Barbara Eden, I felt like I’d gotten to a party late after everyone else has had a few. Or maybe I just felt 100 years old.

Shatner said to one of these groups at a convention some time back, “Get a life!” He was just kidding. Nobody minds adoration.

Inside the merchandise area, which was a spectacular tribute to American commerce by the way, we managed to acquire some Doctor Who gloves and a beanie and a stretching unicorn head and a lifesize cutout of a previous Doctor Who (Tennant was number 10, I think) and a bear head and some claws.

I told my grandchild, boastfully, “You know, I went to a wedding once, and met Carrie Fisher, who played Princess Leia.”

To which the young one, after looking around, said, “Pops, that’s ‘Star Wars.’ Please.”

Properly chastised, I did not tell her that I used to own a tea kettle that once belonged to Frances Bavier, Aunt Bee of “The Andy Griffith Show.” I feared she might say, “Who is Andy Griffith?” And I would have had to leave her with one of the aliens.

Nerds? Don’t say it. These good people in the strange suits who are perennial among Comic Con faithful are just true believers. And yes, some chuckle upon seeing two young women exit an autograph session with Tennant saying, “Oh my ... he was so wonderful!”

Once, I’d have been among the chucklers. But watching them all, I remembered long ago waiting hours to see the “Lone Ranger” appear in Dorton Arena in Raleigh. (My mother later cornered the Ranger and angrily inquired as to why it had been hours, and let’s just say Tonto would have left him on his own.) Or standing in awe at a Raleigh birthday party for a friend whose dad owned a movie theater as we were greeted by the real Tarzan (actor Jock Mahoney was on a promotional tour).

And yes, standing in line for six hours to meet Don Knotts and other members of the cast of “The Andy Griffith Show” at a reunion in Winston-Salem. I was no child then, but a star-struck middle-ager.

Some called us nerds, I guess. But we weren’t. We were admirers of good guys of one kind or another, and we weren’t afraid to have heroes and it didn’t bother us that even some of our acquaintances laughed at our idols. Well, except for the ones who laughed at Andy and Barney.

Let’s just say we don’t know what happened to them. And we don’t talk about it.

Deputy editorial page editor Jim Jenkins can be reached at 919-829-4513 or at jjenkins@newsobserver.com

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