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Xena generation. Fans from 6 to 60 adore the 'Warrior Princess'

Posted 01-12-99

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

   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

   "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

   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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