Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Starlog Project: Starlog #63, October 1983: Spielberg tells Starlog, "Talk to the Hand"

Starlog #63 contains one of the most extraordinary editorials in its nearly 400-issue history. Publisher Kerry O'Quinn explains at length why Starlog -- at that time, the leading science-fiction magazine on the planet -- is only now (well, "now" being the October 1983 issue) getting around to covering Steven Spielberg's E.T., several months after most people have seen the movie and mainstream publications have all had their coverage. O'Quinn writes that the magazine struggled for a long time to get pretty much anything from Spielberg's offices, but the editors were all told that Spielberg himself approves all distribution of photos, etc., to the press, and he wasn't budging on this. The editorial was very unusual, because O'Quinn is famous for being Mr. Positive; Starlog itself was well known throughout its life for having a very good working relationship with Hollywood studies; yet here is Kerry O'Quinn not even hiding his bitterness at having his magazine get the cold shoulder while magazines such as People get E.T. interviews and photos.

He notes that one of his staffers makes the point that it's not just Starlog that's getting the brush-off; its competitors in the science-fiction media are also coming up empty. The reasoning, as far as O'Quinn and his team could guess, was that the studio was giving short shrift to the genre press on the assumption that their readers were going to show up for the movie no matter what, while the mainstream press needed to be courted to ensure a blockbuster.

I think -- and this is really my guess; I don't have any insider knowledge on this -- O'Quinn's frustration was particularly acute because a magazine like Starlog thrives or shrivels on the basis of how many big genre films there are. That's what drives tens of thousands of extra newsstand sales of an issue; the previous year was a relatively weak one for SF films, and Starlog's circulation fell by about a third. It rebounds a bit this year, as we'll see soon, but then again this is also the year of Blade Runner, anticipation for Star Trek, etc. ... The inability to climb aboard the E.T. bandwagon wasn't just about being dissed by a major industry player; it was about a lot of lost money that is very dear to small publishers. Now that Starlog finally had some E.T. press material, it is therefore not that surprising that it put the friendly space alien on its cover for two consecutive issues -- in its early years, Starlog almost never put the same film or TV program on its cover for two consecutive issues.

Starlog #63
68 pages (including covers)
Cover price: $2.50

Sure, the E.T. controversy is reason enough to remember this issue, but it is also the issue that contains a letter to the editor from yours truly -- my first. Okay, it's not exactly a Shakespearean text. I'm still not sure how I'd make a letter of praise about their good subscription service sound like poetry (write it in haiku?), but it's there nonetheless.

The rundown: In his From the Bridge column, "The Pix Are in the Mail," Kerry O'Quinn gets uncharacteristically angry at a movie studio and a film legend: Steven Spielberg; in the Communications pages, letters include some readers who are upset at perceived attacks on fandom by the magazine's columnists, writer Michael A. Banks responds to O'Quinn's editorial from the recent anniversary issue, an incredibly wise and talented teenage me writes a heartbreaking letter of staggering genius about a replacement copy he received for a damaged subscription issue of Starlog, and more; short news items in Log Entries include the impending marriage on The Greatest American Hero, first word on the fiasco that was the Ultimate Fantasy convention, James Van Hise produces a parody of Starlog, and more.

Ed Naha goes "Inside E.T." for the magazine's first feature on the film, speaking with Steven Spielberg and SFX creator Carlo Rambaldi; Tom Sciacca chats with composer James Horner about the score for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (and addresses why bagpipes were used for Spock's funeral scene); David Gerrold gives his reactions to the Trek movie, which he viewed with his pal Harlan Ellison and a few others ("We all agreed that Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is the very best Star Trek movie ever made. In fact, Harlan Ellison and I are even willing to go beyond that. We're agreed that this movie is also the third-best Star Trek episode ever made."); Jeff Szalay interviews Leonard Nimoy; the centerfold is given over to a big announcement of the magazine's "Science Fiction Celebrity Treasure Hunt" contest; Ed Naha describes the making of the Klaus Kinski film Android; Bjo Trimble answers letters in her Fan Scene column; James Van Hise interviews Blade Runner's Rutger Hauer; Quest features a page-and-a-half of illustrations by P.J. Murray and a humorous short-short story by James Reese; Ed Naha interviews the star of The Thing and Escape from New York ("Kurt Russell Has SomeTHING on His Mind"); Karen E. Willson interviews Sylvio Tabet, executive producer of The Beastmaster (illustrated with photos that make one assume that star Marc Singer must have gotten very cold in what passes for his costume); and Howard Zimmerman contrasts E.T. and Tron in his Lastword column.
"It's disillusioning to me. One of the people I admired has fallen in my eyes, just when he reached the top in the eyes of the critics. In his business dealings he seems to have forgotten his roots, his youth, his days as a fan, and learned how to play games in Hollywood (the place Lucas called 'an abomination'). I think it's a dirty, rotten, lousy, crass way for him to treat his most sincere and impressionable admirers -- you!"
--Kerry O'Quinn, publisher, From the Bridge: "The Pix Are in the Mail"
To view previous Starlog issue descriptions, click on "Starlog Internet Archive Project" in the keywords below.
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