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"Voyage to Darkness" & Arthur C. Clarke

Late '60s, I learned another delightful eccentricity of my dear friend John Waldrop: eclipse chasing.

Fascinated by Astronomy, despising Astrology, Waldrop was a pioneer IBM computer programmer and instructor -- who had danced professionally in college, from ballet to WEST SIDE STORY.

Waldrop insisted that David and I go with him to Norfolk, Virginia, a likely clear-skies location, to witness a 2 1/2-minute solar eclipse. It was an adventure I'd never had, and Waldrop was the best of all possible tour guides.

The three of us took cameras and shot the hell out of everything (one of our bonding ingredients being dramatic inclination). We assembled a slide show of our adventure, with thrilling music by several favorite movie composers.

One night, at a presentation of "Eclipse," we met a man who had chartered a ship to rendezvous with a solar eclipse mid-Atlantic next year. It would be a week at sea, during which 600 passengers could attend lectures on various subjects, from deep space photography to talks by outstanding scientists and astronauts.

Phil Sigler engaged David, John and me to shoot a documentary film of the first-ever eclipse cruise. He planned to send the film to planetariums and schools, to promote his eclipse cruise the following year, for which Phil had already chartered the world's largest ship: Cunard's QE-2.

Click the image to see the program

With three 16mm cameras cranking, we shot everything that moved -- every personal story we could see, every thrilling moment. We captured what the Hayden Planetarium in New York, said was the "best movie of an eclipse ever made." The cruise was an unlikely assemblage of like souls, and the uncertainty of weather that could obscure our goal, provided us with all the ingredients of good drama.

I directed VOYAGE TO DARKNESS, David wrote the script, and John did everything else. I cut a 50-minute film, scored by my old music collaborator, Aleksandr Glazunov, whose THE SEASONS ballet had the emotional variety I wanted for different sequences of our seafaring adventure.

We left New York harbor, moving through storm clouds, out into mid-Atlantic, navigating to rendezvous at precisely the right moment, the exact latitude and longitude, to witness the greatest dramatization humans can see of the functioning of the solar system – darkness in the middle of the day, stars and planets overhead at noon.

Thanks, Waldrop, for introducing me to a new passion.

(click here) for an except of VOYAGE TO DARKNESS

Our documentary-set-to-ballet was so successful in promoting next year's eclipse cruise that the QE-2 sold out months before sailing, and Phil chartered a second ship – the 550-passenger Cunard Adventurer. He asked me to take charge of the smaller ship – to be him. "I've never been a Program Director of a two-week scientific eclipse chase," I protested. Phil chuckled, "Kerry, no one has."

I asked Waldrop to assist me in planning a multitude of daily activities that would turn cocktail lounges and game rooms into lecture halls and classrooms. We had an impressive roster of scientific experts for lectures. We scheduled stops at several exotic islands with land tours, and we planned shipboard activities that ranged from Bird Watching at dawn to a cinema every night, Midnight Buffet and star sighting. I recorded a soundtrack of music to be played each day over the ship's loudspeaker system.

My other assistant was John Michael Risaliti, a bright educated young Italian I had fallen in love with. We did everything together. The Eclipse Cruise was the first of several trailblazing projects we worked as a team. John Michael was the first editor we hired at our publishing company, for our first magazine, DAILY TV SERIALS. He eventually became famous as an authority on soaps, appearing on Entertainment Tonight, Phil Donahue and many other TV shows. He wrote a 3-times-weekly syndicated newspaper column, TUNE IN TOMORROW, that became the second most popular syndicated feature in America.

John Michael, Waldrop and I were responsible for 550 passengers, and celebrity guests that ranged from NASA astronauts Wally Schirra and Rusty Schweikert, to author and scientist Arthur C. Clarke.

I was warned that of all the celebrities on board Clarke would be my biggest problem. He had become world famous as Stanley Kubrick's collaborator on the movie 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, the trailblazing MGM epic. Moreover, he had conceived the communications satellite system that virtually runs our world today, in a technical paper published in 1945 (before the space program made such concepts plausible). Clarke was author of dozens of books, both science fiction and science fact.

I was told that he was a genius with a colossal ego – and my personal responsibility for 14 days at sea.

I slipped quietly into his first shipboard lecture, "Life in the Year 2001." We had not met, so I stood at the back of the room (packed with eager souls, enjoying Clarke's crisp British accent), and I assessed my biggest problem.

His manner was casual, but his words were carefully selected. He was not trying to overwhelm us with dramatic ideas or emotional descriptions – he was just talking about changes that science would bring to our planet, how people in the future would be healthier, happier, and less afraid of each other because communications would bring the world together and smarten us. It was simple. It was inspiring.

By the time he finished, I was wiping tears of joyous optimism from my eyes. The man who was going to be my "biggest problem" had become my "greatest excitement." I introduced myself, told him how profoundly he had moved me, and from that moment on, he was Arthur – my friend.

During the remainder of my second voyage to darkness I enjoyed watching him hold court in the ship's theater as he introduced screenings of 2001. I chuckled at each meal, hearing Arthur's table (which included Wally Schirra) explode with loud groans, followed by raucous laughter, as a parade of bad intellectual puns were exchanged.

Day of totality, Arthur and I watched the spectacular celestial event together on the Captain's bridge. An event that used to terrify people in ancient times now unites total strangers. Arthur always called me his "shipmate" – a title I accepted proudly.

Over the years, we've seen each other in New York City – at the STARLOG offices, at my Manhattan apartment, at the premiere of STAR TREK III: The Search for Spock, and at the Chelsea Hotel (where he wrote the screenplay for 2001). We spent time together in LA when he was working with Peter Hyams on 2010: ODYSSEY TWO, and he gave me a tour of the incredible sets. We kept in touch by postal letters, FAX, telephone and email.

In 2004 my friend Jon and I visited Arthur on his chosen turf – Sri Lanka. When I arrived at his home, his secretary ushered me into the office, and there – sitting behind his desk, surrounded by photos of presidents and celebrities -- Arthur greeted me wearing an ape mask.

"Good grief!" I exclaimed, "I came half-way round the world to see a great visionary mind. Arthur, will you ever grow up?" Eyes twinkled behind rubber: "Kerry, I'm not planning on it."

To welcome me, he had written a naughty limerick. It started "There once was a chap named O'Quinn, Ceaselessly searching for new kinds of sin..." Arthur knew me too well.

Yes, Arthur was gay – although in his era that wasn't the term. As Isaac Asimov once told me, "I think he simply found he preferred men." Arthur didn't publicize his sexuality – that wasn't the focus of his life – but if asked, he was open and honest.

One day on board the ship, a total stranger approached him, apparently having heard a homosexual rumor, and offered Arthur a silver Lambda lapel pin. "Will you wear this?" the fellow asked. "Delighted."

A few years ago I sent Arthur my presentation for SPACE STATION, a TV series I created – asking him to be Space Sciences Advisor. He replied, "Yes, of course I am interested. Your outline's certainly promising and has already given me several ideas." He urged me to visit and discuss "story ideas" in person. Arthur died in 2008. Sadly, we will not work together on SPACE STATION.

I launched STARLOG in 1976 and wrote my "From The Bridge" column for more than 275 issues. Over the years I wrote about Arthur more than any other human, but, as Mister Spock would say "That's only logical." Arthur was so rich with activities and accomplishments that he was perpetually newsworthy, and his wit and brilliance constantly challenged me, surprised me, and delighted me. For more than 40 years he added excitement to my life.

In a 2007 "Egogram" (his email newsletter) Arthur wrote "...completing 90 orbits around the sun was a suitable occasion to reflect on how I would like to be remembered. I've had a diverse career as a writer, underwater explorer, space promoter and science populariser. Of all these, I want to be remembered most as a writer – one who entertained readers, and, hopefully, stretched their imagination as well."

He definitely stretched my imagination. Sir Arthur C. Clarke was one of a kind, a dear friend, a planetary treasure and a prime example of a carbon-based biped.

I am so fortunate to have accepted that strange job as Program Director on an Eclipse Cruise. My rendezvous with Arthur was more dazzling than seeing stars and planets overhead in the middle of the day.

CLICK HERE: Me and Norman