Mark Hamill and me, a few minutes after he helped evacuate the studio due to a fire.
Some celebrities are real creeps. Others are narcissistic divas while some are just plain miserable. I worked with all the different types during my 15 years on QVC.
But Mark Hamill was one of the nicest stars I’ve ever worked with. He was a guest on several Star Wars and science fiction collectible shows on QVC. He was personable and very willing to share some pretty funny behind-the-scenes stories. But, more important than that, he proved that he really “walks the walk.” His actions during a backstage fire helped to avoid a disaster with the people who took orders on the telephone, many of whom were senior women.
I hosted most of QVC’s science fiction and comic book collectible shows. Hey, I’m a geek, I’ve always been a geek and will die a geek, probably from a phaser set to kill. Science fiction books, movies and comic books saved me from a life of childhood boredom on the farm where I grew up. Little did I know that my eidetic memory of things I read and saw in my misspent youth would serve me well in my Televised Shopping career.
My folks subscribed to one of those “leather bound literary classic” collections and received a new book ever month for years. Those mail order book companies were a big deal in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Many of the works were Jules Verne classics. I rear and reread these books. I never missed an episode of Space Rangers or Rocky Jones Space Ranger on Saturday mornings. I arrived at QVC in 1986, ready to host any science fiction or comic book show. Back then, the company wasn’t afraid to take a chance on different, niche product lines. Today it’s all about dollars-per-minute and the limited product universe used to achieve results.
But back in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, TV Shopping was young and fresh. Hell, I even had a few less wrinkles back then. QVC and HSN were a bit like the Wild West, unruly, untamed and always looking to see what was over the next hill. Science Fiction and comic book shows brought a large array of celebrity guests. Everyone from William Shatner to Stan Lee appeared on our memorabilia shows. We even debuted many iconic products, including the Star Trek communicator pin (still have mine) and the first 1,000 copies of the Death of Superman comic, signed by the entire creative team.
For Star Wars, we had quite a diverse lineup of guests. Along with Mark Hamill, we had Anthony Daniels (C3PO), Star Wars author and collector Steve Sansweet and even R2D2. The shows were extremely successful and would always yield a great deal of first time customers, which are the lifeblood of any DRTV channel.
Mark Hamill’s razor-sharp sense of humor was evident as soon as I met him. He loved to laugh and was both impressed and relieved by my geek-like knowledge of the Star Wars Universe. We hit it off right away and were chatting about his work as the voice of the Joker on the Batman animated series when someone from the backstage team ran in and said “There’s a fire on the hard cyc!” which was a fixed set behind the main rotating stage.
Someone had overfilled a deep fryer for a cook show which was airing before the Star Wars program. The host of that show always said he wasn’t a real chef, he was only playing the role of a chef. I guess that was true since he hadn’t noticed how much oil was in the fryer and plunged a large amount of mozzarella sticks into the hot oil. The unit overflowed and caught fire. They were trying to put it out, but it was spreading pretty quickly.
I asked the backstage person to escort Mark out of the studio area. Mark immediately said he wanted to help. I tried to get him to go, but he was insistent on wanting to help. Since we had a large arena filled with people taking orders in front of the stage, I told him to go to the left side exit and help escort the customer representatives, mostly senior women as I’ve said earlier, to safety. The whole backstage area was filling with thick smoke and both Mark and I covered our mouths so we could breathe. The smoke wasn’t that bad in the customer arena yet, but many of the ladies were starting to cough.
I went to the other exit and helped the people get to safety. Mark was cool and collected and really helped to keep everyone on his side calm. I did the same and we quickly evacuated the room. The smoke hadn’t made it to the main lobby, but we made sure everyone got outside the building just in case.
The backstage folks extinguished the fire, but the smoke was still bad in the main studio and the customer service arena. One of the producers had made arrangements to use the old studio across the hall. It was dusty and a little shabby, but the set design crew, led by an extremely capable young man named Bill Fitzpatrick, hung a curtain behind two chairs and put a table between them. It looked pretty good after Mark and I sat down.
Mark was completely unshaken by the incident and was excellent during the show. He even gave up a secret about Return of the Jedi that became a Jeopardy question a few weeks later. Who knew they watched QVC? Of course, having the star of a major motion picture franchise really helped increase our viewership. Everything in the show sold out early. Mark and I had a lot of fun on-camera, which meant our viewers were having a lot of fun. He returned as a guest and was just as charming then.
All the Star Wars shows were very successful. We later had author and collector extraordinaire Steve Sansweet as a guest. He was also an excellent and fun co-host. I wrote about some other Star Wars shows with him in my blog “May the Force Be With Us All.” https://stevebryantblog.com/2015/12/17/may-the-force-be-with-us-all/ (We never managed to set the studio on fire when Steve S. was there.)
Today, QVC and all the other TV Shopping Networks have eschewed science fiction and comic book memorabilia in favor of products with greater profit margins, such as makeup, skin care, fashion and jewelry. But I will always remember those thrilling days of yesteryear when Luke Skywalker showed that he was more than just an actor playing the role of a Jedi. May the force be with him and his family!
© 2017 Steve Bryant – No portion of this or any blog can be reproduced or copied and posted on any online site or read aloud on any audio or video media without the express permission of the author.