This is your Life, Richard A. Coyle! 1977 to Present
I grew up reading Robert Heinlein, Ray Bradbury and Isaac Asimov books and watching science fiction. I remember "Flash Gordon" (made in then West Germany), "Rocky Jones, Space Ranger," "Forbidden Planet," George Pal's "War of the Worlds," , "Twilight Zone," "My Living Doll," "My Favorite Martian," "Outer Limits," "Man into Space," "Lost in Space," then came "Star Trek," arguably the best of all TV sci-fi shows.
I discovered science fiction fandom when I attended the first screening on the first day of Star Wars. There was a poster for something called a Star Trek convention and the clincher was that Robert Heinlein was a guest. After a lifetime (I was an "old" 29 at the time) of not being one of the in-crowd, I found "heaven", a place where I was among my own species -- fans.
And lo and behold, there was a second convention that summer along with people dressing up as their favorite sci-fi characters in costume. By drawing from my own childhood favorites and aiming for an easy costume to make, I went to a second convention dressed as that West German TV show hero, Flash Gordon. It was a T-shirt with a lightening bolt, black pants, black boots, and a wide belt. All I needed was a raygun.
I had an old toy pistol, a
Johnny Magumba automatic and a
CB radio microphone. Briefly: I gutted the microphone for the shell,
automatic slide to the toy gun, glued the CB microphone in its place,
aluminum tuning knob from electronic equipment on the barrel for a
gutted a Mego Star Trek Communicator to use its sound effects for the
used the CB microphone clip to make a Holster ala Star Trek and went to
My first Hall Costume. (I'm the one on the right...)
My first Hall Costume. (I'm the one on the right...)
I was a hit. Everyone wanted to see and play with the gun (this was 1977). I even entered the masquerade and at first was laughed at, until I drew the raygun and blasted the audience, that got big applause... from those who survived.
The next Phoenix convention was coming right up a year later, something called Worldcon. As I discovered that conventions had been going on for years, I thought this could be a way to switch from a declining TV repair business to something fun that I loved. I started planning on a line of new, original rayguns to sell at these conventions. With a couple of friends, we whacked together a few machine gun type raygun models with sound and light effects and went off to conventions.
We were hits - again. It took over three days for me to work my way through the dealers' room. I could not move without drawing a crowd. Every time I was asked to shoot the blaster, it drew dozens to hundreds of onlookers.
I started working every convention I could get to, quickly running into the problem of not being able to make enough rayguns as well as work every convention. With a wife and two children I needed steadier income. I started buying models from other prop makers to sell and tried to wholesale my models to other dealers, in the hope of becoming busy enough to be able to hire a crew to make the models and let me work the cons.
I heard that the editor of Starlog was going to be a guest at a StarCon convention in Denver, so I set my sights on meeting him and seeing if I could work a deal to mass market my models. I made a deal with Kerry O’Quinn of Starlog magazine to make rayguns and for them to advertise and sell them. This deal fell through when they failed to run the first ad before Christmas, a crucial selling time. With no income coming in at that time and other problems, my wife of 13 years asked for a divorce
I went on making rayguns and working conventions where I met Jackie, now my wife.
Due to a campaign to stop mock weapon wars and games with peace bonding and rules to prevent those games, sales for original rayguns were fast disappearing. Instead, it seemed that the sought after thing was now reproductions of movie and TV props.
Having given up living in Los Angeles with its escalating costs, I returned to Mesa, Arizona. From there we did Worldcon in Denver, aka the "Mile Away Con," due to the dealers' room being about a mile away from almost all of the rest of the cons' main rooms.
This was around the time I received a call from Modern Props, a prop and set piece rental shop for TV shows and film. Their specialty was the futuristic look in furniture and props including tools and instruments and, of course, rayguns. They wanted to buy many of my original guns and inquired if I could make some changes to suit their needs, and I was happy to comply. I sold them three to four styles, all without sound, and a newer, more selectable light driver system. They placed a few orders:
They then asked if I could create a wrist communicator for the small film, "Angel of Heat," a soft semi-porn film staring Marilyn Chambers as a secret agent of a special unit of super spies. It was never worn on the wrist but carried on their belts.
Please note, due to the number of pictures and details to talk about, what I would like to do is to point you to other articles on each film and prop job, as there is so much to cover on almost each film, it would make this article about 10 times longer.
Then came the big one: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. (See the separate article on Wrath of Khan for more)
Modern Props called to say they were working on "Star Trek II" and could really use my help. Could I relocate back to Los Angeles? I said I will need a place to work and to live, and they said they would set both up for us, just get here ASAP!
They found a place that was a sub-rental of a woodworkers' shop in the same building they were renting which would allow me to get right to work. They said that they would help us get a place to live once we got there.
This didn't happen. We loaded everything up, left Mesa and drove back to Los Angeles, but while they had the shop, they could not get us a place to stay, as they were not paying me enough to get a place. (once we finished Star Trek II there really was not much work)
They said I needed to have Jackie find a job and find a place to live. So we parked the van in front of the shop and lived out of it for about four months, running electrical cords into the building.
I didn't mind too much. I was so excited to be working on Star Trek II.
I subcontracted to Modern Props on that film and had a great time, but afterward found work too spotty with them. I was still living out of my van...in front of the same work shop I had sub-rented to build props and started hunting for full time employment and found it in another prop rental shop called The Hand Prop Room. With a steady paycheck I was at last able to rent a place to live.
And the props left behind at Modern Props, well...like mummies and zombies my stuff kept being resurrected in films and TV shows, such as:
Android (rayguns) see the Android gallery for more.
"Airwolf" (Flight helmet).
"Slapstick of Another Kind" Jerry Lewis (Rayguns)
"Condor" (Rayguns, Scanners) see the Condor gallery for more.
"Murder in Space" (Rayguns)
"Murder by Moonlight" (yes, that is my gun)
"Powers of Matthew Star" (Rayguns and props)
"Re-Animator" (A medical Probe)
"The Last Starfighter" (Scanner and consoles)
The job interview at The Hand Prop Room was fun. I took a box of my props with me, my résumé as it were. While I was being interviewed by Mr. John Ramsey in waled the owner, Mr. Allen Levine. He looked at the props spread out over the tables and asked, "Where did these all come from?" John said, "This guy made them. I'm interviewing him for a job." Allen replied, "Right, I want him in here by Monday!" And I was hired.