Utah Gathering 1998
Photographs contributed by JMDG members at the Gathering
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On September 25, 26 and 27, 1998, the JMDG (James Morrison Discussion Group) met in Salt Lake City for a get-together. This meeting was referred to as the Utah Gathering of 1998. James Morrison planned to attend on Saturday the 26th, if his schedule allowed. It did.

Here’s a little history of the JMDG. Louise Penberthy created the JMDG on November 15th, 1995. She had noticed James Morrison’s work in the TV series, SPACE: ABOVE AND BEYOND, and wanted to discuss Morrison’s work with other people. But no one she knew watched the show. So she started conversations on newsgroups and the S:AAB email list, but these had only a few participants or went nowhere. With the help of a sympathetic Sysadmin at Georgia Tech (the Georgia Institute of Technology), Louise started a new mailing list. She invited people she had had conversations with on the newsgroups. They started with serious, analytical discussions about all sorts of issues related to the McQueen character. Eventually, the list grew to over 180 people and has stayed active to this day.

If you are interested in joining the JMDG, please go to:


(Please note that’s a "dash l" at the end, not a "dash one).

welcome.jpg (14596 bytes)Early in 1998 the list members who were making the trip voted to have the meeting in SLC where a close friend and publisher of Morrison’s, Jack Vetterli, lived. As there was a chance that James would not be able to make it, they at least wanted to meet Jack.

Carol Stoneberger, a list member, volunteered to do some scouting in the SLC area for a reasonable place to stay and places to eat. Jack pitched in and created a personal website that could be used to list all of the information in one place. Carol did a great job finding out the things that some of the members wanted to know before committing to the trip. After a date was set, Carol arranged to book a block of rooms at the Holiday Inn.

In the months that followed, suggestions were made on what to do for the weekend. Some wanted to visit Park City, others wanted to just browse around. One of the suggestions was to hold an auction and donate the money to a hospice in the name of Paula "Spanky" Morris, a JMDG member who passed away in early 1998. Once that was decided, a list was made of auction donations.

Finally, the big date for the Utah Gathering arrived. Over 25 members flew into Salt Lake City from as far away as Alaska, Vancouver and from both American coasts. Some of the articles below will give you an idea of the fun time that was had by all.

Friday, September 25 -- Jack Vetterli

fridayjack.jpg (11741 bytes)By Friday evening most of the Gathering attendees had arrived in SLC. There were over 20 people by late afternoon gathered in the Holiday Inn suite. Someone mentioned that a few would be arriving the next day.

I did most of my "Show and Tell" tonight. Much of that was showing examples of various scripts and publication projects in progress. I showed examples of NAKED SAMARITAN scripts along the development process of becoming a short film NUDE DESCENDING. I also showed a couple of drafts of the poetry book we’re working on currently. Many of the people had a chance to look at the drafts and read some of the poetry. One reason in my mind for doing most of the "Show and Tell" tonight was so that the group would have all that information before James arrived at the Gathering.

Saturday, September 26

This morning many of the people planned various smaller group meetings and some trips around SLC for sight seeing. In the afternoon, I was back at the hotel to move our video playback gear to a meeting room the hotel has given us. We set up tables for the auction and got ready for the NUDE DESCENDING screening with James. In addition, one of the group brought a video of the recent street performance of PARKING in Philadelphia.

Got a call from James later in the afternoon and found out he was in the Park City area. He was planning to play some golf and then join the Gathering in the late afternoon or early evening. The charity auction and film screenings should happen as planned while James is present.

Friday, September 25 -- Kellie Matthews-Simmons

As usual with this kind of gathering, it was a complete blast getting to meet people and putting names with faces. Jack is a wonder. So much energy, and he’s not named Jack for nothing! Definitely a "jack of all trades." He brought editing copies of some of James’ work, and it was intriguing to see the evolution from an idea to a finished product. Almost a glimpse into a way his mind works… or should I say "their" minds work since it’s a collaborative project in many ways.

It was fascinating to read some James’ poetry in the proofs for FOG SLOW TO CLEAR. I only read a few of the poems, but, from what I saw, James’ verse tends to be freeform and very visual, sometimes scattered across the page like a hand full of leaves, other times tight and almost "wadded" in effect. The visual augments the words very well. I can tell you he’s not a shy
writer, and he uses words in a strong, aggressive style. As with his films, I suspect some people used to a lighter, or romantic style of poetry might be a little surprised by his work.

Saturday, September 26

JackJames.jpg (16433 bytes)On Saturday evening James arrived with Jack after their dinner meeting. He was very self-effacing. Kind of sidled into the room with that "pay no attention to me" attitude and it worked. Half of us didn’t know he was there. We were a little embarrassed to realize that we gave the maintenance guy who showed up with a fan to cool down the room a better greeting than we
gave James.

He looked like he had been outdoors a little lately, slightly tanned and sporting a short beard.

He’s very good with people… especially the shy ones. He’s soft-spoken and charming and gives his entire focus to whomever he’s speaking, which can be a little overwhelming at times, as evidenced by the reactions we all saw and had. He was extremely generous, making certain everyone felt included. I think that focus must be difficult to maintain, because he was clearly
exhausted by the end of the evening, yet he maintained a completely congenial demeanor the whole time. I’m not sure I could have managed to be so nice if I was that tired!

group.jpg (72163 bytes)Something I thought was indicative of that was taking pix of the entire group (including James) on the stairs in the hotel lobby with about eight different cameras, someone complained about not being able to see any more because of all the camera flashes. I laughed and said, "If you think we have it bad think about poor James, who’s had to put up with that all night!" I turned and asked him if he could still see and he shook his head and said "Nope," but he was smiling as he said it. All the flashes had clearly bothered him but he wasn’t about to ask people not to do it because he wanted to make sure we all got what we wanted or needed from the evening.

When speaking on PARKING (the version he did, not the one from the Fringe Festival) James said that after he finished it, he felt disappointed in it. He was definitely amused by the spontaneous gestures by the actors in the Philly Fringe Festival version and said it was "pretty good."

In regard to the auditions for NUDE DESCENDING and the women having to "dance" a little… when asked if the guys had been asked to audition in a similar manner, he hemmed and hawed a little, and finally confessed that they had not.

NUDE DESCENDING was quite thought provoking. It’s a funny and fascinating look at the concept of male nudity in our society, and the vulnerability and fear it provokes. I thought the imagery was wonderful.

For those of you interested in the minutia, Riad used a great, driving Techno piece by Orbital for the soundtrack, but my eyesight wasn’t good enough to see the title.

Saturday, September 26 -- Tere Matthews

James showed NUDE DESCENDING, then talked about it and answered questions. He talked about the casting process, saying that he and Riad did the casting together. He said on call backs for the women, he and Riad asked them to show up in bathing suits just so they could see their bodies, then asked the women to dance so they could see how they moved. He said it was the
strangest dynamic because several of the women started to practically do a table dance for him. He got this sort of amused/surprised look on his face and said "and my wife was sitting right here" gesturing beside him.

After showing PARKING he talked about how he wasn’t satisfied with the final product. He said that when he saw it the first time, he started walking around the living room, literally weeping, and telling Riad "I let the writer down."

When he read KS Eaton’s calendar that she created of different roles he’d played (a caricature of hers is in the Art Gallery entitled "Scared."), he read each caption out loud at our request. Some anecdotes:

calendar1.jpg (17403 bytes)kiltpic6.jpg (17930 bytes)WALKER, TEXAS RANGER
He laughed and said that whenever he and his wife discuss the worst things he’s ever done, she always says "No man can ride Santana!" Then, he talked about how Santana attacks him at the end and he got up and did a cowering in fear thing. And said he was cowering away from absolutely nothing, because, of course, the horse was nowhere near him.

He said that when they were filming the dancing scenes, no one was allowed to make noise; they put that in later. So during the filming, he was dancing in front of all these women who were acting like they were clapping and yelling, but they really weren’t. He then proceeded to mime this action with a huge grin and big hand gestures. It was hysterical.

FRASIER It’s a pic of Lilith, glued to James and James saying, "the scene is over. Really, they said cut. Really, you can stop now." James kind of laughed and looked closer and said (in this very amused but confused voice) "Look, she’s got her hand up my shirt." Like he couldn’t understand why she’d do that.

For NUDE DESCENDING and PARKING, he sat in the back during the screening. When Bink showed her video of the live performance of PARKING from the Philly Fringe Festival, he ran up to the front and sat down on the floor with his legs spread out in front of him and his water bottle plopped on the floor like a little kid. Afterwards, he clapped enthusiastically and muttered,
"That was really good," a couple of times. He tends to mutter to himself a bit. It’s cute.

jugglesit.jpg (20777 bytes)juggle4.jpg (22301 bytes)During the auction, we had some small beanie type bears that someone had made. James was asked to juggle them, which he did, sitting down. One of the JMDGers asked him to stand up and juggle them standing on one foot. And he did! One foot tucked up, then behind him, then stuck out to the side. The man has balance.

He was really good with everyone. One person was extremely nervous about meeting him and was literally trembling when she went up to speak to him. He was so sweet with her that when she stood up to leave she stopped and sat back down and explained why she was so emotional. You could see this instant focus snap on and he gave her his complete and undivided attention, leaning in and really showing her how much he cared about what she was sharing with him. They spoke for about a minute, then he gave her a huge hug. He really is a nice, genuine, exceptionally sweet person who cares about other people.

By the end of the evening, you could see that he was totally exhausted. He kept trying for as long as he could, giving us his absolute best (which was pretty damn good).

Saturday, September 26 – Beth Martin

auction4.jpg (18284 bytes)After the auction, which was great fun and very successful, I brought some of the auction items to James to sign. One of the things I learned about James is that he picks up and responds to people’s emotions, particularly if they are nervous around him. That of course is very draining and us (and a couple of days of golf) really zapped him. I could feel that he had a low energy
level when I sat down beside him so I resisted the temptation to make a fool of myself and the conversation was limited to "Sign this," to "Where?" to "Here."

abiline_hat.jpg (28128 bytes)The last item was the hat from Vickie’s McQueen bear, to be signed on the back. First he tried to hold it in one hand and sign it with the other, it didn’t work. Next, he tried to slip it on the edge of his note pad, he was using for support, and it didn’t work. I’m sitting there thinking it was like
watching my boys pack the dishwasher, they haven’t got a clue and there are just so many ways to do it. Finally I couldn’t stand it any longer and slipped my fist into the hat so he could sign it.

I was trying to think of something that would give a visual picture of Jack and what it was like to be around him. This is the best I could come up with: Being with Jack is like catching fireflies at twilight. You run like mad to follow the bright lights that go in twenty different directions at once. When you finally manage to capture some you see a real creature and not just lights. You also know that there’s more out there that you missed and even though you can’t get every one, it’s a laughing, magical time trying to keep up

Saturday, September 26 -- Jessica Fry

After James left we went up to the suite and continued on. Jack was there and we watched a video, which a couple in the group had made, of a collage of McQueen clips with music added.

Jack came back on Sunday and we all got to talk with him again. We had to be out of the suite by 2:00 PM so we moved the party down to a member’s room.

We all had a wonderful time. Someone made the comment that it was like a huge slumber party, and it was true.


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