The Fort Worth Star-Telegram
By "Life & Arts", page 1
More Burbank I (01/97) convention coverage. Four fans (including WHOOSH's KNerys and Betsy Book), one business man, Ru Emerson (XENA novelist), and Lucy Lawless are quoted. KNerys (Assistant to Graphics Editor) is called Kyra Neese, and Betsy Book (WHOOSH Webmaster extraordinaire) gets extensively quoted on her take on XWP including that "sex thing".
It is a miracle of a January day, just a cool breeze shy of perfect. But there may as well be a blizzard here in Southern California for all the difference it would make to Sarah Nowell. The curly haired, round-faced 7-year-old sits cross-legged in her seat, absorbed by the swordmanship in front of her. She's been here for six hours and her mother is amazed that she hasn't gotten restless. "She's got her mind set on one thing, and one thing only," says her mother, Michel. "She wants to see this Xena Warrior woman. " Sarah isn't alone. When the Nowells made the hourlong drive from their home in Long Beach to the Burbank Hilton, they were surprised to see a line of fans that started at the door, snaked around the corner and spilled out into the parking lot. Michel Nowell knew her daughter had a powerful fascination with Xena, a cartoonish, cheesy, live-action character who carries a large sword, possesses a vicious kung-fu kick and spits out one-liners while protecting women, children and poor villagers. But she never realized the infatuation was shared by the rest of the free world. Xena: Warrior Princess, a spinoff from the popular show Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, is the most successful new action series in syndication, the 11th most-watched syndicated program on the air, beating out Baywatch and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Such success is astonishing for a number of reasons: It's syndicated, it's an action series with a female protagonist and it's been on the air for only 14 months. Organizers of this first "Xena Convention" started turning away patrons by 2 p.m., three hours before Lucy Lawless, who portrays Xena, was to appear and address the raucous crowd of about 2,500 who filled the place with a chorus of bloodcurdling battle cries. Everything is here for the most die-hard Xenite, as these rabid fans refer to themselves: Xena T-shirts and mugs, CD-ROMs and CDs, calendars and caps, photos and table settings, newsletters, pens, pencils, bracelets, whips, leashes, furs and hides, leather-covered drinking tankards, even actual scripts supplied by MCA, the production company. Attendees show up in 16th century regalia complete with swords and moccasins. Most of them are Xena wannabes, from a woman who claims to be 68 to a 5-year-old wearing a tiny Xena outfit, complete with a leather breastplate. "It's popular because there are a lot of kids who watch the show and the parents watch with them," says Samuel Liebowitz. He is a businessman, not a Xenite. A director of marketing for Software Sculptors, a New York-based multimedia company, he peddles Xena interactive computer games. "Many of our customers are high school and junior high school and college kids, but her popularity is across the board," he says. "I mean, look around. Look at that little girl there. " He's pointing to 9-year-old Becky Riley, who is wearing a Xena outfit. She yanks out a plastic sword and starts to poke an interviewer. "In a time of ancient gods, warlords and kings, a land in turmoil cried out for a hero. She was Xena! " she cries. Her father is sporting a Xena T-shirt and cap. "Every show begins with that," he explains. "Xena was a warlord in the Hercules show. She was evil. Then they put her through this thing where she could become good. Now she fights her past and fights for good. But she's still fighting inner demons. " The dark side: These "inner demons" are part of the Xena lure, it appears. "I'm interested in her dark side and the way she constantly struggles with herself," says Betsy Book, a free-lance Web page designer who volunteers for the site known as The Journal of the International Association of Xena Studies. Called Whoosh!, this Web site makes available articles on, well, "Xenaology: The Interpretation of the Xena and Hercules Trilogy"; "Xena and Motherhood"; "The Evolution of the Sidekick"; "Xena: Queen or Pawn? "; "Xena and China Beach "; "Visual Metaphors of Xena: Warrior Princess. " "She has a lot of angst," Book continues. "She's constantly threatening to go to the dark side. Her ethical struggles are never resolved. And she's got this deep desire to exploit and intimidate others, especially men, who aren't a priority at all. And then there's the whole sex thing. Oh, don't get me started. " The "sex thing" is Xena's perceived sexual relationship with sidekick Gabrielle, whom Xena rescued from a forced marriage in the opening episode. It's a hot topic here. Apparently, the two have forged a skintight bond and vow never to leave the other's side, "even for men. " It's hardly surprising that many Xena fans are lesbians who find her union with Gabrielle and her attitude toward the other gender liberating. Producers of the show have remained mum on that issue. On a monitor set up outside the ballroom showing behind-the-scenes interviews with cast and crew, executive producer Rob Tapert tells conventioneers that Xena has "had a string of lovers in her life and is trying to get control of her emotions. " But he never elaborates. Peeping out from behind a pile of books is Ru Emerson, who has written more than 14 fantasy adventure books but has found a gold mine with Xena. She penned two books on the fictional hero and has already taken orders on another that has been contracted for delivery next month. "They're selling faster than I can write them," she boasts. Emerson, who is in her late 40s, is such a stickler for writing action scenes, she often re-enacts fight scenarios "to get a feel for the choreography, to write about it, to make it more authentic. " Hardly a television watcher at first, Emerson says she fell for Xena when asked to write the book. She watched one episode and claims to have not missed one since. "I was astonished to see a woman who was not a girl," she says. "She's the first woman of this type we've had since Emma Peel of the old Avengers. She just goes out and does what she has to do. People often mention Wonder Woman, but Wonder Woman was afraid she'd crack a nail if she hit somebody. Xena doesn't have this problem. " Xena wannabe: A few feet from Emerson is Kyra Neese, who is readying herself for the costume contest (she is attired in full Xena regalia, including a sword, which she yanks out repeatedly). She is standing near the back entrance, which she is certain will be used to escort Loveless back stage. A buyer for an Ann Taylor clothing store, Neese, 29, says she finds Xena "an inspiration. There's nothing apologetic about being in a world where things are not nice and somebody's got to be out there beating up the bad guys so villagers don't get taken advantage of. "She just happens to be a woman. But she's strong-willed, she's on her own, she doesn't need a man to open a car door for her (if, of course, car doors were part of that century). I just see so many parallels with my own life it's scary. " Neese isn't aware that Loveless is already in the building. Backstage, even. Loveless is dressed in a sky blue skintight two-piece pants outfit and very high heels. Petite she's not. And she shares her character's sense of humor. "Last time I was here," she tells a reporter, "I was in a walker. " She's referring to the fall she took from a horse while preparing for a stunt on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno. She spent time in the hospital, where she received hundreds of get-well cards. Loveless, who lives in Auckland, New Zealand, where the series is shot, appears nervous about facing the crowd inside. "For some reason people think I'm 6-7 and 400 pounds," she says. "They can't help but be a bit disappointed. " When she emerges, the crowd leaps to their feet. She simulates a kung-fu kick and sends them into louder battle cries. She grabs the microphone and zips into playful banter, thanking them for watching her series. She announces her appearance on an upcoming sitcom Something So Right though she can't recall the date. "February 11th," someone yells from the crowd. Loveless takes questions (yes, she has a daughter; yes, she sings, but acting is her first love; no, she's not a martial artist; no, "I can't marry you. Long distance love never works! "). She tries to to get to as many people as possible. After leaving the stage, she learns that her chakram, the circular disc she uses in the show as a weapon, has sold in the charity auction for nearly $ 9,000. Loveless can't believe what she has heard. Or seen on this day. Xena: Warrior Princess Sunday: 11:30 p.m., KDFW/Channel 4
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