I spent a bit of time hunting for a photo for tonight’s Owl. Not a photo that someone else had taken – which is what I eventually utilized – but a specific photo. The one Peter Mayhew autographed for me.
Despite the dozens (okay, hundreds) (okay, thousands) of signed books and magazines I own, I am not much of a collector of actors’ autographs. For the most part, the half-dozen or so autographed “glossies” I own result from the same sequence of events: I’m at a convention with a number of media figures, and I see one of the people who was in a movie or television series that I enjoyed. That person is sitting by themselves at their table, looking vaguely uncomfortable as people queue for autographs at the tables beside theirs. Inevitably, I walk over and start a conversation. If the person is amiable, I’ll drop the cash for a signed glossy. My photo collection is an array of “the other actors” from shows.
And then there’s Peter Mayhew. It started off the same way… he was sitting at a table at a small local convention. He’d agreed to come because he lived nearby. At first, I wondered who the very tall person was sitting behind the table, then I noticed the Star Wars t-shirt he was wearing and the various glossies in front of him.
Star Wars fans, feel free to deride me now: I never liked Chewbacca. I just didn’t, and I still don’t. I never hated the character, but without any dialogue available, he never added much to the story for me.
So I started talking to him. The first thing I noticed was that he was quick to engage the woman sitting beside him into the conversation. I learned that the woman was his wife, and she was quick to help him with specific dates and events; the pair had obviously been to a great many of these shows together, as well as many other places. They were visibly affectionate toward each other.
Another thing I noticed was that as people would come up for autographs, he made it a point to shake the hand of every one of them. His large fingers would clasp theirs and he would give them a very genuine smile.
These are the traits that I enjoy seeing in any “movie star”. Before you discount him as such, let me make clear: I’ve been to far more conventions than most, including media conventions. I have watched people who had a non-speaking part in a movie or television show expect the attention due to any Oscar, Emmy or Tony winner. Peter Mayhew was absolutely a movie star, even if he was primarily known for the single role of Chewbacca.
He displayed grace, a trait all too rarely encountered among famous media personalities. Then he stepped up his game.
He pulled out a camera and began to show a handful of us some of the photos he’d had taken recently. They were from an event he’d done for the 9/11 recovery workers, flying up to New York to sign autographs for them and their families.
He had other pictures, too, all from various charity events he’d attended. He was extremely proud to have been asked to attend them; the notion that they were trading off of his fame was secondary. He was delighted that he had fame which they could use, to promote good causes.
Then he stepped up again. He pointed out the names of some of the charities he’d been asked to help, and suggested that if any of us liked the charity, they could still use donations. He’d been to the events, he’d worked for them… and he was still soliciting aid as if he were a spokesman.
I purchased a signed glossy. Not one of the ones with him in costume, although he had more of them; one of the ones of himself. Chewbacca aside, I’d become a fan of Peter Mayhew.
He died about a week ago. There have been tributes to the man from those who knew him, and I have no doubt they were all deserved. I knew him only in passing, from that first experience and a few more during the intervening years, and even I felt his loss. The world is a lesser place without him.
Question of the night: With what television or movie star would you most like to have a short conversation?