Saturday, August 4, 2012

The Day I Hugged Ares...

(Ares, Ludovisi)
It has been awhile since I have shared a personal story. As with some of the other things I have shared thus far, I saw a photo while looking up something else that put me in mind of this:

My father, Jerry Patrick Brown, is a writer with a number of television credits. He has also held the titles Story Editor, Creative Consultant, Producer, and Co-Executive Producer. Earlier in his writing career, his credits include episodes for “Hotel”, “Hillstreet Blues”, even “Poltergiest: The Legacy”. It was during the latter half of the 1980’s (around the time of the ’88 Writer’s Strike, which really did a number on the entertainment business at that time), through to the late 1990’s that he held staff positions for “Tour of Duty”, “Silk Stockings”, “Shannon’s Deal”, and the show that is the main focus of this post, “Hercules: The Legendary Journeys”.

As a bit of a Science Fiction and Fantasy geek, I was thrilled when he got the gig with “Hercules”. I had been a fan before he started working there, and having that connection to the show was great. I got a couple of nifty items from him that were exclusively given to staff and crew…a Hercules beer mug, and a really cool “Hercules” New Zealand production crew sweat shirt that I wear each winter (it’s real soft and toasty). On one occasion, around the time of Thanksgiving in America, he (as a producer) had to fly to the set in New Zealand to deal with some issues. No idea what they were, I just remembered being extremely jealous. Not only was he going to be in New Zealand (a country I have always wanted to visit), he was going to be hanging out on the “Hercules” set with actors from the show.

As Head Writer, my dad would get asked to appear on panels at some of the various “Hercules & Xena” convention weekends. I don’t think he ended up attending one. However, as the time of one convention was approaching, he asked me if I would be interested in going as he could get me VIP tickets. How quickly do you think I said, “YES!” He had the arrangements made for me to pick up a pair of tickets at the convention. Tickets that would get me into the Green Room where the talent and show staff would hang out. I immediately looked into who was scheduled to appear. One particular name was what I was looking for. Now for a little back-tracking before continuing…

Dad worked with some talented people during his time on “Hercules”. A couple were two young men whose names you might recognize:  Alex Kurtzman, and Roberto Orci. (They would go on to create TV shows like “Fringe”, and write movies like the Abrams directed “Star Trek” feature.) Don’t quote me, but I believe that their professional writing careers began at “Hercules”. If you have seen the show, you know there is no denying the ‘tongue-in-cheek’ flavor of many episodes. (That flavoring increased as the series went on.) Several of Alex and Robs episodes are among my favorites: “…and Fancy Free”; “Men In Pink”; “Porkulus”, to name a few. However, there is one episode that is my absolute favorite…you are about to see that it’s for extremely obvious reasons…

“Yes, Virginia, There Is A Hercules”, is a bit different than the other episodes up to that point. The basic story line is ‘Hercules’ (Kevin Sorbo) hasn’t shown up for filming, after a huge earthquake has hit Los Angeles. The staff then frantically search for him. The twist of this episode is that the characters are actual ‘Hercules’ staff members being portrayed by the actors from the series. (For example, Bruce Campbell who plays ‘Autolycus’ portrays show executive producer, Rob Tapert.)

(Kevin Smith as 'Ares')
Most people who are fans of a particular show have a stand-out as the actor they like most. That one person who holds a high percentage of the reasons why they keep going back for more. By far, my favorite actor on “Hercules: The Legendary Journeys”, was New Zealand native, Kevin Smith. As Ares, god of war, on both “Hercules” and “Xena”, Kevin was the epitome of tall (6’2 ½”), dark, and handsome. I think I speak for many other female fans of the show, as well, when I say that he was a major source of the show’s eye candy. He was also great as Ares. He had the calculated arrogance of the strong, manipulative deity down. Did I already mention that he was gorgeous? *grin*

(Kevin Smith as 'Jerry Patrick Brown')
When I heard about “Yes, Virginia…”, I was thrilled. Why? Because Kevin Smith was portraying my dad, Jerry Patrick Brown – Head Writer. The video below is of the first time we see Kevin as a very "exaggerated" version of my dad:

(To turn off the music, my page music player is at the bottom of the blog page. Just click the 'Pause' button.)

Born in Knoxville, TN, my dad is from the American south. As you can see from that video clip, Kurtzman and Orci wrote a pretty wacky version of him, pulling from his southern roots, and his time on “Tour of Duty”. After shooting had finished, Kevin was in Los Angeles for some reason or other, and he paid a visit to my dad’s office. His main question? Did he go too far? It seemed Kevin thought my dad might not be pleased with his drawly, tobacco chewing, gun toting, war fanatic of a portrayal. My dad has a massively great sense of humor, and he quickly eased Kevin’s mind by telling him how much he loved what Kevin did. Personally, when I finally got to view the episode, I thought he was brilliant.

(Robert Trebor as
So, back to the day of the “Hercules” convention. I had asked my friend, Kathi, to go with me. The convention was either in Burbank, or Pasadena…can’t remember which (it WAS roughly 15 years ago). It was scheduled so “Hercules” day was Saturday, and “Xena” day was Sunday. As I mentioned earlier, I had done some investigating to see who exactly was going to make an appearance at the “Hercules” day. Now, I think it’s pretty obvious that the specific name I was looking for on the appearance list was, Kevin Smith. It was on there…but he was scheduled for the following “Xena” day…the one I wouldn’t be attending. Major bummer, but I was still excited about who else I might meet. I was going to be able to spend the whole convention day in the Green Room, if I wanted to. I would end up meeting executive producer, Rob Tapert, Alex Kurtzman and Rob Orci, and several other staff members whose names I don’t recall (sorry). The first of the actors to appear was Robert Trebor, who you may know as playing 'Salmoneus'. He was very nice, but he came on kind of strong. How do I articulate this…he was offering his autograph, as opposed to people asking him for it. It was a bit odd…almost like he was begging for notice. It wasn’t too terribly long before something I knew was going to happen, happened.  Kathi and I arrived in separate cars, which told me she was most likely going to leave early…and she did. I stayed, as I wanted to meet Hudson Lieck, who played the deliciously evil, ‘Callisto’. That meeting was a must as a friend of mine at my job was a watcher of the show, and he loved her. I knew he would flip out if I showed up with a signed picture for him. Hudson was very gracious, and quite chatty. Nice chick. She signed two pics, signing the one for my friend with, “Hugs & Hisses ~ Hudson Lieck”. (Philip loved it!)

(Hudson Lieck as 'Callisto)
I had finished my exchange with Hudson, and was pondering whether I should head home. I turned my head a little, and saw Karl Urban leaning against a cabinet chatting with a couple of people. At that time I think he had just started portraying 'Caesar' on “Xena”. Before that he had portrayed ‘Cupid’. I was thrilled to see him, and was trying to decide if I should go in search of a ‘Cupid’ head shot for him to sign. While my brain worked this over, it happened.  I looked towards the door of the Green Room, and there he was…Kevin Smith.

(Karl Urban as 'Cupid')
I was so jazzed…I didn’t know what to do at first.  He was talking to someone, and I was determined to talk to him before he had a chance to disappear. At that time, I was in a rough physical space. Having a heated battle with my Graves Thyroid…I was a bit pudgier than I would have liked. You know how you dream of meeting someone, and then when the chance arrives you start feeling your self-confidence needle you? I had one of those moments. But determination won out, and I slowly edged closer to where he was standing talking to...uhm, whoever he was talking to. I was hoping that by the time they finished, I would know what the hell to say.

I’m standing there waiting. Then I notice that I don’t hear them talking anymore. I look over to where Kevin is and he’s looking right at me with a friendly ‘can I help you’ look on his face. The time had arrived. It was my opportunity to talk to Kevin Smith. I was standing maybe six feet from him, looking up at that head of dark wavy hair, and that handsome face. It was time to say something.

“You played my dad on TV.” That’s the first thing I just said to Kevin Smith?  Really?! He looked a bit puzzled, and I didn’t blame him.  I quickly added, “My dad is Jerry Patrick Brown.” A huge smile hit his features, “Oooooohhhh! Yeah?” I proceeded to tell him how much I dug his hysterical play on my dad. He was genuinely pleased.  We proceeded to chat, him asking me what my dad really thought, and if he had truly been cool with it. Kevin was more pleased when I confirmed what my dad had told him. (After all, some people can mask feelings at times…I think hearing it from me helped allay any residual discomforts he might have had. He signed an 'Ares' photo for me, and another autograph seeker snapped this picture for me. (It took every ounce of courage I have to post that…it's great of him, but me…*shudder*.)

After some convention staff swept him away for one reason or another, I left the convention center feeling like I was floating a foot above the ground. I had feelings of happiness at having gotten to meet ‘Ares’ in the flesh, and at finding him to be one of the nicest people I have ever met.

One night in February of 2002, I was at my dad’s for dinner. He, my step-mom, and I were sitting around the table (I think it was ‘Local Pub’ time). The phone rang. It was someone my dad knew from “Hercules”. (I’m starting to well up a little…) I could tell when he walked back into the room that he had some news that he knew would sadden me. He knew what a fan I was of Kevin, and his work. That first call was about Kevin being severely injured and in a coma. My dad would get a second call that evening that said he had passed. I found it a little overwhelming. Kevin and I were by no means close friends, but we did have a connection of sorts. 

Kevin was in Beijing, China, where he had just finished working on the film, “Warriors of Virtue 2”. Apparently, after attending the wrap party, he was walking around the studio grounds waiting for his ride back to the hotel. He wandered onto a movie set, and decided to climb one of the prop towers. He slipped and fell several stories, sustaining a severe head injury. Kevin lapsed into a coma, and after 10 days on life support, he passed away. He was 38 years old. It’s all so incredibly sad in a number of ways. One was the fact that he was taken away from his wife and kids. Another was that it happened just before he was to act in “Tears of The Sun”, with Bruce Willis. It was supposed to be Kevin’s big Hollywood break.

Kevin Smith was a great talent, and an even greater person. Not just beautiful on the outside, but inside, too. I am so glad that I got to meet him, and tell him how much I enjoyed the work that he did. I’m sure that his talent would have taken him far. He is greatly missed.

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