Whoosh! Online Edition Whoosh! On The Road

Lucy Lawless at Burbank, 1998 (ME) [356-370]

THE DIFFERENCES IN 1998 [358-359]

Photo courtesy of Debbie Cassetta

The 1997 Roller Coaster Ride

[356] February 1997: I felt like I had ended up inside Space Mountain when I had thought I had gotten on the Peoplemover; lights, shadows, great speed, and abrupt changes of direction instead of a flat, placid roll through Tomorrowland. I found putting on my seatbelt as I prepared to go home after last year's convention strangely reassuring; the physical pressure of the straps helping to steady emotions that were careening all over the place. Experiencing Lucy Lawless in-person at the first XENA Convention had turned out unexpectedly to be one of the more emotionally charged events of my life, generating many highs and some rather profound lows. That striking woman in blue skintight spandex had turned what I thought would be merely a pleasant jaunt into a disorienting roller coaster ride.

[357] Okay, It wasn't like getting married 22 years ago, being present at the birth of my adopted son, watching the birth of my daughter after 13 years of infertility, getting my Ph.D., or being a reporter at the launch of Apollo 11...but the intensity of being a part of Lucy's first convention wasn't as far-removed from those other experiences as one might suppose, either, and it all caught me a little flat-footed. While a few other TV shows have commanded my interest and loyalty to the degree that XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS has (Star Trek: The Next Generation and the public TV series of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries both come to mind as previous "must sees"), no other actress or celebrity, bar none, has captured and held my attention like Lucy Lawless. That much, at least, has remained constant over the last year, but a lot has changed, too.

The Differences in 1998

Photo courtesy of Amy J. Putnam

[358] So my Burbank experience was different this year... but the differences were positive. While there was no novelty to the general hubbub this time, I still had a lot of fun and laughed frequently. Prior to last year I had never been to a fan convention of any sort, but this year as a "seasoned veteran" of Lucy fandom, I knew how to find my way to the convention center without a map and, perhaps more tellingly, where to find the restrooms once there. I had also had the pleasure of seeing Lucy perform in GREASE! So, like, I'd been around. This familiarity made it easier for me to relax and enjoy the convention in ways that got lost in the buzz last year, and, thankfully, I also avoided the fairly disturbing introspective lows that had made my seatbelt unusually reassuring. In all, then, my internal emotional environment was pretty tranquil, a pleasant surprise since I thought I might again encounter "turbulence" on a par with the 1997 convention.

[359] But the differences were not just internal. Lucy had changed as well. The first evidence of this was, like last year, immediate and visual: her clothes. Last year I found her blue sleeveless spandex number "startlingly svelte and sexy." This year she dressed more modestly...well, maybe not modest, exactly, since her skirt was mighty short. She wore a long sleeved, not-real-tight sweater with wide horizontal stripes of green, black, yellow, and purple, a white blouse that peeked out from her collar and cuffs, that short skirt, which was blue, and black over-the-calf high-heeled boots. It was not an electrifying outfit, but not conservative, either. Eccentric? No, that's too strong. It was, well, idiosyncratic, something I might expect to see her in on the streets of Auckland rather than on stage at a convention. The tone she set with her apparel thus wasn't charged with as much glamour and sexuality as last year, and I felt less distant from her and less awe of her.

(A quick footnote to this paragraph: Just last week I noticed that she appears in the same sweater in some of the pictures from signing autographs at Grease! that are in the latest edition of the Xena fanclub newsletter. I appreciate the fact that she's not so into her "celebrityness" and appearances that she dotes on clothes or feels compelled always to appear in something new.)

Lucy's Appearance

Photo courtesy of Amy J. Putnam

[360] She got right to the questions, which, I think, surprised many who had attended last year and expected her to work the crowd a bit more. Some have remarked that they perceived her as tired, perhaps even a bit pensive. That's not how I saw her. She seemed at ease to me, neither particularly overwhelmed by the crowd nor drawing much energy from it. In my mind, I accounted for this by noting that this was her third convention appearance and that she'd spent seven weeks on-stage in GREASE! Thus, it made sense to me that she would feel more at home up there -- maybe even a little blasČ about it, but not disinterested or disengaged. She responded with warmth, thoughtfulness, and silliness to the questions and comments of those in line.

[361] What follows are my impressionistic and non-chronological recollections about her interactions; like last year, I didn't take notes because I wanted to let myself get caught up in the experience. Unlike last year, however, I didn't find afterwards that almost every question and response was burned into my memory.

[362] In response to shouts from the crowd she showed off her ring from Rob Tapert and remarked that a craftsman in New Zealand had made it. Someone asked her how Rob had proposed and she blushed and got a little tongue-tied about it. It had obviously been a major, very personal event to her and she didn't go into detail. Frank and ribald responses to Howard Stern's libidinous questions and comments notwithstanding, she continues to maintain her core of privacy, and I continue to think, "More power to her!" And it's partly because of her public commitment to protecting her core that I've become more protective of my own. I look back on the number of times I've revealed some really intimate things to others, even to my bosses for crying out loud, only to find that the information I had shared diminished me in their eyes and undermined my own self confidence, and I cringe. I've concluded that Lucy's unapologetic reticence about revealing too much of herself is not only healthy but essential, and, thankfully, I've learned from her example.

[363] A woman remarked that Lucy was "Drop-dead gorgeous!" To which she responded, with exaggerated exasperation, "She's lying! Look, she's not dead!" I imagine that people with Lucy's depth and smarts can get tired of being told, first and foremost, that they're beautiful. I was glad Lucy didn't just say a polite, "Thank you" and move on to the next question. I mean, she certainly is beautiful, but there's so much more to her than that (brains, integrity, talent, hard work, motherhood, to name a few). It was fun and refreshing to see someone in her position poke fun at the primary importance apparently being ascribed to just one of her facets. Having said that, I've also got to admit that that very phrase -- "Drop-dead gorgeous" -- has run through my mind more than once, and I haven't keeled over, either... yet.

[364] Someone asked her for a "Callisto scream" and Lucy commented that she didn't know if she could do it as well as Hudson, noting as well that Hudson seemed able to tap into some deep rage that she lacked. But, she gave it whirl anyway and...it wasn't as bone-chilling as what Hudson is able to blast into the void. There was applause, but I recall just a shrug of the shoulders from Lucy. It was an odd sort of "competition," if you want to call it that, to lose, but Lucy didn't show any poutiness about granting the field in this area to a colleague. Just a small example of Lucy not being threatened by someone else's ability or skill, but a telling one nonetheless.

[365] Lucy gamely smiled and leaned forward in response to a fan's request for a picture of her blue eyes, and then, when it took a bit too long, started walking to the other end of the stage to answer the next question while still keeping her face turned over her shoulder waiting to see the flash. She ended up looking pretty funny. A good example of Lucy's willingness to accommodate our desires... but only up to a point.

[366] A guy pointed out that Lucy had talked about her "go for your dreams" philosophy of life in New York and thought she might want to expound on it a bit more. He seemed to want her to do some preaching, and Lucy was noticeably reluctant to get behind the pulpit, even going so far as to comment that she wasn't "a guru." But then she did talk a little about the fact that the real meaning of life isn't to be found in fame and fortune. She has both now, she offered, and can therefore provide firsthand testimony that there's much more to life. Her prompter then jumped in with a comment, rather pompously put I thought, about money not being important, to which Lucy said something like, "Hey, I didn't mean to suggest that money was bad, it's good for a lot of things. " This little exchange was about as heavy and serious as it got. Despite the evident desire of the fan to do some vicarious sermonizing through Lucy, I appreciated her perspective. Last year I felt acutely the relative dimness and financial limitations of my life compared to hers. Although the intensity of that negative comparison waned quickly -- enthusiastic hugs from my wife and kids when I got home helped A LOT in that regard -- I did appreciate hearing directly from someone I respect who has more fame and fortune than I, probably by several orders of magnitude, that life's heart truly does beat elsewhere. Lucy's words didn't prompt a religious experience, but they did help me listen more attentively and, sure enough, I did hear that pulse in my own life.

[367] Lucy didn't sing for us at all this year (although she did her Xena war cry), and I think folks were hoping for a little dab of Rizzo or a verse or two from Xena's song on the Mount Olympus video. I wish she had; I'm still sorry there isn't a Broadway cast CD of GREASE! with Lucy on it. She wasn't as good a singer as some others in the cast, but her voice was clear and the emotion compelling. In response to a question about Broadway, she made it clear that she'd had enough time on stage to satisfy her for quite a while. Regarding other projects, she mentioned that she'd almost been cast in a movie with a director she really wanted to work with; another example that things don't always work out even when your show's ratings are enviably high.

[368] In response to a compliment she remarked that the acting she'd done in THE DEBT (#52-#53), MATERNAL INSTINCTS (#57), and THE BITTER SUITE (#58) had, "almost killed" her. Having seen all those episodes now, I believe it. Her face after Gabrielle slaps her in THE DEBT, her mourning over Solon's body, and her song to Gabrielle and Solon at the end of BITTER SUITE pleading for forgiveness all had me in tears and reminded forcefully why I became a devotee of the show, and especially of her, in the first place. She has said elsewhere that she's still aspiring to be a "great actress," and I would say the evidence is conclusive that she's well on her way.

Photo courtesy of Amy J. Putnam

[369] An aspiring actress, "from a family of actors," asked for some tips from someone who had obviously made it into the big time. Not really too much that Lucy could say to that except to say that hard work, looks, and luck all played key parts. Clearly, she made the most of the opportunities she was given in HERCULES, but who would have predicted that Vanessa Angel, and then five other actresses, would have turned down the role? It certainly caught Lucy by surprise.

Final Thoughts

[370] Her remarks reminded me of the role that luck has played in my life, as well as some occasionally-great judgment (if I do say so myself) and the application of skills honed by a h*lluva lot of hard work. In short, much of what Lucy said about herself this year left me feeling better about myself and looking forward to the future with a sense of hope. Now, lest you think I'm ready to start the First Church of the Lawless (hmmm...I wonder what commandments would look like for such a church), I'm not giving Lucy some sort of mystical cosmic credit for turning my life around in the course of an hour's give-and-take with fans. But the time with fellow fans, and with her, did leave me upbeat and relaxed; I don't know that I could ask for more from an afternoon spent at the Burbank Hilton. And I wasn't even aware that I had put on my seatbelt this time until I was well on my way home.


[370a] A young-man fan asked Lucy how she came by the small scar that's visible on her upper right breast. She blushed and hemmed and hawed a little and initially said she couldn't say. She instantly reconsidered, though, and related that a physician's attempt to close a small wound hadn't worked out very well and the small, raised scar was the result. I appreciated the fact that she hesitated a bit in answering a question about her body, although I have to admit to curiosity about the scar myself since the first time I noticed it (which was probably CHARIOTS OF WAR (02/102) in the first season). On the other hand, given her frank-yet-cagy responses to Howard Stern's questions about about anal sex, among other things, I confess to being a little surprised by her reticence. In the end, I concluded that her hesitation and very general response stemmed from the fact that she plain wasn't expecting such a question from the convention floor, whereas she was prepared to hear practically anything from Stern. So, Lucy can still surprise us -- as we can evidently surprise her.

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