The Thunder Child

Science Fiction and Fantasy
Web Magazine and Sourcebooks

Vol #1, Issue #4
"Stand By For Mars!"
April 2006

Con-tact: Science Fiction Convention Previews and Reports

Cadet's Log: 2006 Williamsburg Film Festival - THURSDAY
by Caroline Miniscule

Page 1 coverage
1) Dealer's Room acqisitions
2) Jan Merlin in The Peacemaker
3) Panel: Ben Cooper, Jimmy Lydon, Dickie Jones
Page 2 coverage
3) Cooper, Lydon, Jones panel continued
4) 1950s Science Fiction TV episodes

I returned to the Festival around 10:30 on Thursday, and wandered around the Dealer's Room for a half hour - the room also contained the tables at which the guest stars were seated for their autograph sessions.

The Dealer's Room was in the Ballroom of the hotel, which consisted of a stage running along the left side wall, and a lower floor making up the majority of the room. James Best, Beverly Garland, and Ben Cooper were placed in the far corner of this stage; the rest of the stars had tables interspersed with the dealers on the main floor.

I spent the first half-hour taking close up photos of the guest stars.

I spent much more time over the course of the three days attempting to compose and take 'artistic' and 'atmospheric' shots of the guest stars during these autograph sessions. Unfortunately I'm a writer, not a photographer, and these shots never turned out the way I envisioned. I blame the camera.

James Best in the black hat on the left, Beverly Garland hidden by fans, Ben Cooper in the white hat, far right.
The lines seeking autographs were always long to begin each session...but thinned out as the session progressed, which allowed fans to spend several minutes speaking with their star(s) of choice. Even if there were other people waiting for autographs they were all interested in what was being said and so there was no rush to move along.

Jan Merlin and The Peacemaker (1956)
At 11:00 a.m. I went to one of the two film rooms to watch The Peacemaker. Afterwards Jan Merlin spoke about the movie for a few minutes and then answered questions. (Link to the transcription of his talk in the blue box below.)

Jan Merlin as gunslinger Viggo Tomlin
The Peacemaker (1956)
The Peacemaker (1956)
Terrall Butler, an ex-gun-slinger and ex-convict turned priest, takes up his first appointment in a town in which the farmers and ranchers are engaged in a feud over land rights. It is railroad agent Gray Arnett who is really to blame—secretly fermenting trouble in order to force the farmers out of town so he can buy their land cheaply and then make a fortune by selling that land to the railroad. To this end, he has employed Viggo Tomlin (played by Jan Merlin), a ruthless gunman, ostensibly to protect the farmers but really to destroy them.

Jan Merlin got out of the Navy after WWII and decided to try acting for a while. After working in Major Roberts on Broadway for two years, he broke into television playing Roger Manning in the TV series Tom Corbett, Space Cadet. Fearing that he would be typecast he left the show and relocated to Hollywood, where he would go on to guest-star, usually as the villain, in dozens of television programs from Perry Mason to Combat to The A Team and and a few movies, including a few umbilled cameos in the classic The List of Adrian Messenger (1963). After retiring from film work he began a new career as a writer (winning an Emmy for his work on soap opera Another World, and has had many books published. Click here for the transcript of Jan Merlin's comments on The Peacemaker, his acting career, and his writing.

Guest Star Panel: Ben Cooper, Jimmy Lydon and Dick Jones
At 3 p.m. there was a choice between watching Nancy Drew - Reporter, which starred Frankie Thomas and Bonita Granville. This was to be followed by episodes of Tom Corbett, Space Cadet. Alternately, there was a "Panel of Stars" consisting of Ben Cooper, Dick Jones, and Jimmy Lydon.

I decided I'd go to the panel for an hour, then return to the Guest Star Theatre to watch the Tom Corbett. Frankie Thomas was scheduled to speak and I assumed that he would not come in until after the Tom Corbett episodes were over.

Ben Cooper, Jimmy Lydon, Dick Jones. Moderator Mitch Weisberg not shown.
Ben Cooper acted with such movie greats as Joan Crawford (in Johnny Guitar), and guest-starred on dozens of TV programs over the years. Jimmy Lydon, best known as Henry Aldrich, acted in many movies and TV shows, and directed such shows as The Six Million Dollar Man. Before becoming a Western star Dickie Jones was the voice of Walt Disney's Pinocchio.

The panel was not scheduled to start until 3 p.m., but Jimmy Lydon took his seat a few minutes early and started warming up the audience, speaking of his time directing the TV show Six Million Dollar Man. (Jimmy Lydon, throughout the course of the Festival was, frankly, a fan's dream. He started panels early, he showed up early for autograph sessions, he was an unscheduled attendee during one of the Solar Guard's showings of an episode of Rocky Jones, Space Ranger and spoke a few words (confessing that he'd made that particular episode over 50 years ago and had no remembrance of it!))

Then the panel began, with moderator Mitch Weisberg driving the discussion. Among other comments, Jimmy Lydon spoke of his years as a child actor in sole support of his parents and 10 siblings, Dick Jones told how he got the job as the voice of Pinnochio, and Ben Cooper told a very touching story about what happened to him on location in a remote village in Greece on the day that Walt Disney died.

For a transcription of Mr. Cooper's story as well as the other comments, please continue to page 2 of this day's coverage.

Please continue to page 2 of this Thursday coverage.

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The Thunder Child Conventions Index

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Radiation Theater: 1950s Sci Fi Movies Discussion Boards
The Sand Rock Sentinel: Ripped From the Headlines of 1950s Sci Fi Films

James Best

Beverly Garland

Ben Cooper

Dick Jones

Jimmy Lydon

Mala Powers

Peggy Webster

William Smith

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