Monday, January 30, 2023

Hangin' with The Last Starfighter Cast - Lance Guest and Catherine Mary Stewart - at the Houston Arcade Expo

This past year was incredible for retro gaming conventions. After numerous covid cancelations the previous couple of years, gaming cons were back in full force, and I got to attend many of them as a guest author, gaming historian, and YouTuber.

None was more special than the Houston Arcade Expo (held November 11-13 at the Houston Marriott Westchase), where I got to hang out all weekend with actors Lance Guest and Catherine Mary Stewart, stars of the 1984 sci-fi classic, The Last Starfighter, one of my favorite films. The plot borrows from Star Wars—frustrated young man living in small town gets recruited to fight in an interplanetary war—but with a video game plot device.

Guest is also known for appearing in Jaws: The Revenge (1987) and Halloween II (1981), and he played Johnny Cash on Broadway in the musical, Million Dollar Quartet. He’s a fine, often-under-appreciated actor, and he’s a heck of a nice guy.

I’m certainly a fan of Guest, but I was even more excited to meet Stewart, star of such films as Night of the Comet (1984), one of my favorite B-movies, and Weekend at Bernie’s (1989), where she starred alongside Andrew McCarthy. I discovered Stewart when I was a teenager and saw her play Kayla Brady on Days of Our Lives, which my mom watched religiously. I was struck by Stewart’s beauty, found her to be incredibly likeable onscreen, and quickly developed a crush. At that point in my young life, it never would have occurred to me in a million years that I’d get to meet the gorgeous actress, much less hang out with her.

Since Guest, Stewart, and I were guests at the Houston Arcade Expo, along with such luminaries as Mortal Kombat artist Paul Niemeyer and NBA Jam voice actor Tim Kitzrow, the five of us spent a fair amount of time together throughout the weekend. Our tables, where we signed autographs, posed for photos, and talked with fans, were lined up in a row, and we spoke periodically during breaks in the action.

Among other fun facts, Stewart and Guest told me they weren’t gamers at all. Stewart said she recalls playing Pac-Man a little back in the day, but that’s about it—she joked that the other games were too complicated. In Night of the Comet, she was an expert at Atari’s arcade hit Tempest, but she told me she wasn’t actually playing the game. She was just going through the motions, and Hollywood magic did the rest. My son Ryan, who helped me at the show, joked around with Guest about the fact that Jaws: The Revenge is hardly a great movie, but that he loved it and watched it over and over when he was a little kid.

The Houston Arcade Expo is hardly a typical gaming con. It is more like a weekend-long party, with live music, confetti and glowsticks, long hours (vending, gaming, and more goes on late into the night), plenty of drinking and revelry, and in general a highly festive atmosphere. The Saturday night cover band was a big hit, with convention goers dancing to the music. Lance, Catherine, Paul, Tim, and I gathered near the front of the stage during the set, singing along and having an absolute blast.

And then something unexpected happened: Lance got up onstage and jammed with the band. He played guitar and took lead vocals on three tunes, including an inspired take on Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ “Last Dance with Mary Jane.” As he belted out the tune, I was wedged at the front of the stage between Cathy (as she told me to call her), who was dancing along, and Keith Christensen, who was rockin'
his head off. Keith runs the show, and I’m eternally grateful to him for inviting me to such an awesome event--what a fun and absolutely unforgettable time!

A man who loves to party, Keith got onstage and sang with the band. Cathy also joined in, playing guitar, and Paul and Tim took turns playing drums. Did I get up onstage? Heck no! The only instrument I know how to play is the stereo, and trust me when I say that no one wants to hear me sing.

While hanging with fellow guests was the highlight of the weekend, the 2022 Houston Arcade Expo was a great time all around. I got to play modern and vintage pinball machines, I did a panel on the 40th anniversary of the ColecoVision, I had some great conversations with attendees about retro gaming and other topics, and I sold a bunch of books. As they say, a good time was had by all!

At the 2021 Houston Arcade Expo, which narrowly missed being canceled because of covid, I had the pleasure of appearing with fellow guest Sam Jones, who played Flash Gordon in the 1980 camp classic. That was amazing, and he was super cool and friendly--we even worked out a trade: one of my books for a signed Flash Gordon movie poster! Since Flash Gordon is one of my favorite fictional characters, and since I love that film, I couldn’t imagine anything topping that, but the 2022 show was even more exciting.

Keith has yet to announce his special guests for 2023, but he has posted on social media that the show will be held the weekend of November 10. That’s obviously a ways off, but I’m already counting down the days. Will Keith top 2021? Is it even possible to top 2022? I can’t wait to find out!

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