A Copycat Article
"In The Beginning"Or "The Discovery of the Copycats"
By Tony Russo
It was 1977.
And being the free spirit that I was in those days at the tender age of 17, I took on a summer job traveling around the country state to state selling various products door to door.
I had come upon a trailer park in South Carolina. Being a City boy born & raised In New York city, this was a rather novel thing for me. Therefore I had a "stereotyped " idea of what these people would be like. "Oh boy" I said to myself, "this is not going to go so great. The whole park probably has about $2.00 Between all of them."(remember, I was only 17).
The very first door I knocked on changed my opinion. The young man who greeted me was very polite, neat, clean and invited me in. He was about my age, so that made my job easier. He told me he was studying acting and that he just spoke by phone to Ricardo Montobaln. "Big deal" I said to myself. To him I said "really? That's great...let me show you what my company has to offer...we've got great discounts on..."
Then I happened to glance at the tabletop next to where he was sitting. "Is that what I think that is?" I asked. And with a sheepish grin he looked down at it, then back at me and said "You're one of the few people I know of who recognized it. Yes, it is".
I was in deep shock! Because for the very first time in all my 17 years I was looking at what I thought was an absolutely perfect copy of a classic Star Trek Communicator. I was immediately taken in seconds back through in time when I was about 8 or 9 years old and had my brother cut very crude copies of phasers and communicators with his jigsaw. I would simply draw the design on the wood, and he would cut it out. Also in a flash I saw myself opening a classic ST Enterprise model kit and finding a flyer saying in bold print "phasers, communicators, Tricorders...Send $1.00 for information.
I remembered dreaming about owning prop copies and even at that young age I was quite obsessed. It all came back. I snapped myself back to reality."Where in God's name did you get this?" I didn't even bother to ask him if I could pick it up and look at it. I just did. "I ordered it from a catalogue. But I won't order from them again. It took them 6 months to fill my order which was only this communicator".
Once I got it in my hands I had a chance to really scrutinize it closely. I thought it was fabulous!! It had a real metal grid, real metal parts, I was so blown away I think I sat silent staring at this thing for about 10 minutes until my host broke the silence. "Here" he said "take the catalogue. Idon't need it anymore"..I was then further blown away!!!
Tricorders,phasers, both types,"working & non-working". For a brief second I thought of asking him if he wanted to sell it, after all the price according to the catalogue was only $14.95. But I knew he would say no. I thanked him and realized that I spent most of my time that day with him and his prop copy.
He walked me to the door, & I didn't ealize that I still had the piece in my hand. As I walked out the door and went down the last step I called out to him, handed it back & said "Sorry". He more than understood. (I may have been obsessed, but I was not a thief).
Throughout that summer job and some10 states my thoughts would always turn back to that communicator. Upon returning back to New York, I immediately ordered 1 of each prop copy. However I never recieved any of the items I had ordered, and I would not be recompensated until some15 years later when I had met the infamous person who put out the catalogue from back then. From that time on I was totally re-hooked on the prop replica phenomenon. Unfortunately "Fleet Command" (the catalogue name that he used) was the only "company" anyone knew of back then.
Conventions were going strong, but were few and far between and no one had any prop copies at the shows I attended. (exceptof course the legendary Starfleet Research Phaser which of course I bought, but that was later).
I then wrote to Starlog magazine requesting companies that would deal in such items and thanks to them, I finally acquired a communicator copy identical to the one in South Carolina, as well as a Tricorder.
I was happy. Then from approximately1981 to 1983 there were no prop copies what so ever to be seen. Then all hell broke loose! Advertisements, cheap copies do-it-yourself kits seemed to come out from no where and even my infamous friend with the Fleet Command fly by night company did an occasional show, but alas his quality sunk to a new low.
A few new copy cats came onto the scene around 1989 to 1994. Throughout that time my interest was re-fueled and I bought what ever I could to expand my collection and add variety as to different manufacturers. However throughout 1985-1994 even through the "dry" periods it was a wonderful time.
When a copycat did show up with a nice copy everyone admired it. It was not like a "drug deal" like today. Items were readily displayed. Fellow collectors would get together afterwards and show each other our new gems,and we even showed the stars themselves as well as the producers and even they would compliment an item that was well made.
Then of course what I call the "dark period" descended on copycats and once again, the swastika was raised by the studios who realized that a market that was created by the fans could easily be taken from them and they could mutate it into a gigantic cash cow to get them more money from the fans than thecopycats ever dreamed of (little did they realize,in thier corporate frenzyof greed that the most of the copycats were the fans...DUH!).
Now, for the most part those lofty days are over. Gone is the time when one could attend a ST convention and see copy cat items on a dealer table at a modest price. Now "licensed"companies put out product that in some cases, is vastly inferior to copycat made ones. With massproduction, quality usuallydrops. However the only constant is that thier prices almost always skyrocket!!
Ofcourse back then, we did not have "licensed companies" since the main aim of any copycats was the joy of making an accurate replica to wear with a costume, and some of them sold as well but never at the enormous profit the licensed companies do today. Another reason that there were no licensed companies was due to the fact that Star Trek was not yet resurrected by fandom to the enormous proportions that would justify in the companies minds the prices they now charge.
Therefore there was no major amounts of money to be made. Most of the time a replica was made for the love of the hobby. Al ot of TLC went into the many unique items that were sold in the past 20 years.
And I'm pleased to have been able to enjoy at least some of it...All from that little visit to a trailer park in 1977.....