Christmas came early for me this year.
Way back in March, Amanda and I were visiting my in-laws in Pasadena, California. My brother-in-law Russ McGregor took me to Burbank to have lunch with Bret and Bart Mixon and Greg Jein.Greg Jein is one of the greatest movie miniature builders ever. His CLOSE ENCOUNTERS “Mothership” is in one of the Smithsonian facilities now, and he’s done amazing precision work in many, many films, most recently INTERSTELLAR. He’s been called a “Miniature Giant” and has earned an Oscar nomination.
Another facet of Greg is that he is a serious collector who began amassing movie props in the 70s. This was before eBay, before Planet Hollywood, before prop-collecting was widespread. Back then, props were considered by the movie studios to be stuff that took up space and cost money to store. Some props Greg acquired at auctions, some things he was given by friends, other things he rescued from dumpsters. He had the “stunt double” of the LOST IN SPACE Robot, along with the plaster molds for making all its rubber parts. He owns Phasers and Communicators from the original STAR TREK TV series. He has literally tons of cool stuff in several mini-warehouses.
The Mixon brothers and I have been friends with Greg Jein since the late 1970s, when he came to Houston as a convention guest. The Mixons and I have visited him several times since then. Greg once snuck us into a miniature shoot on the movie 1941, and Steven Spielberg had us thrown out. Another time he allowed us to help his crew cutting and lensing fiber optic strands for the “V’Ger” ship for STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE. Bart and Bret eventually moved to Hollywood and got into the movie business, and I kept my day job In Houston with Gulf/Chevron.
Back to March: We were having lunch at an Italian place near Creature Features in Burbank. For a number of reasons, Greg was clearing out about 80% of his collection. He asked me if there was anything I’d like to have. Restraining myself, I said I’d love to have the little FIREFOX airplane mockups he’d made for Clint Eastwood, or anything from SILENT RUNNING, which Greg knows to be my favorite film. I told him we’d negotiate a price depending on what he found. He grinned slightly, and asked “Do you still live at the same address?”
Months and months go by. At one point, Bret called me and said he’d bumped into Greg, who’d said “I think I’ve found something Tom will really like.” Bret reminded me that Greg works at his own pace, but that something will eventually show up.
Two weeks before Christmas, the doorbell rings, announcing packages on the front porch. We’ve been ordering Christmas gifts and were expecting stuff from Target and Amazon. But one box was different. It had Greg Jein’s return address on it!
I open the box and I see… objects wrapped in bubble wrap. At first I thought they were two fighter ships from the “V” TV series, which Greg made. Removing the bubble wrap, I immediately knew what they in fact were: A PAIR OF DRONE FEET FROM SILENT RUNNING. Not the external foot shells from the robots, but the internal aluminum frames that enabled the actors to walk on their hands wearing a 20-pound robot suit!
Designed to keep the fingers relaxed and to put all the performers’ weight on their palms, these frames are wonders of engineering and ergonomics. Heavily padded for the palm, they include a sort of fingerless rubber glove to keep them on the performer’s hand.Unwrapping these items was a very emotional experience, and I’m still in a daze that I have these things. There were three pairs of these made for SILENT RUNNING and now I have one of those pairs!
And thanks to the encouragement of my wife Amanda, I am now in touch with Paul Kraus and Jim Dow, who built the Drone robots for the film, and Cheryl Sparks, who actually WORE a Drone suit and performed as “Huey” in the movie with Bruce Dern. I’m sure to learn a lot more about these feet from them.
When I told him about this, Paul Kraus joked “It’s good to know the feet are in good hands.” Bret Mixon quipped “The best SILENT RUNNING collectibles, hands-down.”
Life is crazy, life is good.