I’ve had the opportunity to work with two starship commanders. One was the hero of Apollo 13. The other the hero of TV’s original Star Trek series.
During my years at IBM, ROLM, Siemens and Executive Media, my work as a speechwriter expanded to encompass writing and producing live corporate events. These were also known as Industrial Theater – recognition meetings, sales rallies, management conferences – for audiences ranging from a few hundred to more than 10,000.
One of the benefits of being a producer is that the job enabled me to indulge my boyhood fantasies.
In creating program content that would excite and motivate audiences, I was influenced by my boyhood passion for science fiction.
I had watched Captain Video on my family’s black-and-white Dumont and deported myself as one of his “Video Rangers.”
I was there in the theater for the premieres of the 1950s sci-fi movies that are now classic: “The Thing” … “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” … “The Day the Earth Stood Still.”
So it was a natural for me to hire Jim Lovell – whose heroic performance brought the crippled Apollo 13 and its crew safely home. He served as on-camera narrator of an identity video for the high-tech ROLM Corporation, which pioneered voicemail among other telecommunications innovations.
The heroic crew of Apollo 13
I got to pick him up at SFO, noticing how he put on his seat belt first thing. And as we drove down Route 101 past Moffett Field, I listened to him reminisce about testing planes tethered to an anchor post inside one of Moffett’s vast hangars.
In the car that day, I asked Captain Lovell the question that had burned since my days as a Video Ranger: “Just how strong is the thrust you feel when you lift off?”
His disappointing answer: “About the same as accelerating a car.”
Heck, Captain Video had led me to believe the acceleration of lift-off practically flattened your eyeballs.
Captain Lovell was a delight to work with – affable, patient and a natural on camera. I hired him a second time to speak to a ROLM recognition event about his Apollo 13 experience.
Then there was Captain Kirk … William Shatner. You remember: “to boldly go … ”
The handsome crew of the starship enterprise
On stage in front of 600 or so top performers at a different ROLM recognition event, the CEO – a German – talked with a video-projected Captain Kirk who was supposedly orbiting Earth in the Starship Enterprise.
Then, using what’s known as a “laser cone” effect, we beamed Shatner down to the stage to join the CEO and help him conduct the awards ceremony.
Shatner turned out to be a not-so-good choice.
For one thing, he toyed with the CEO and kept going off prompter. Shatner enjoyed tripping up and showing up the CEO, who was trying to follow a carefully crafted script to help him with what was his second language.
I came away thinking that Shatner seriously thinks he’s a starship commander.
The difference between the two? And the lesson for me?
One of these starship commanders was a real hero. The other only played one on TV.
In my next blog: Corporate Hara-Kiri