By Shan O'Connor:
Spring has officially sprung. The chill in the air is beginning to be replaced by warm breezes, and our sweaters have moved to the back of the closet once again. The snow is scarce and starting to melt, making way for bright green grass. Dark and dreary skies are now turning blue. We see the sun shining brightly, encouraging budding blossoms and bringing a sense of awakening and rejuvenation.
While all the telltale signs of Springtime surround us, the cloud that is COVID-19 has appeared, casting an ominous shadow over the joyous celebrations synonymous with the season. The impact of this virus was just starting to be seen in the early part of March and threatened to prevent me from attending a long-anticipated event. After careful consideration of the risks at that time, however, the decision was made. I packed my sanitizer and bleach wipes and boarded the plane that would take me to my destination: a three-day-long convention involving a fandom near and dear to my heart, Davis-Panzer’s acclaimed Highlander franchise. This successful enterprise includes several movies and a syndicated television series produced by the talented David Abramowitz, a guest speaker at the convention. Joining the esteemed list of guests was actor and American blues musician Jim Byrnes, who played character Joe Dawson on the show. The guest of honor around whom this event was centered, however, was actor Peter Wingfield.
Though he sometimes went by the alias Adam Pierson, his fans typically prefer to refer to him as his true character, Methos, the oldest living immortal. We gathered to celebrate the character that captured the hearts of millions with his wit, charm, and wisdom. Each week, fans eagerly tuned in to watch the camaraderie and friendship forged between him and the main character, Duncan Macleod (portrayed by Adrian Paul) and their antics throughout their many adventures. We also convened to celebrate the man behind the character. A kind, compassionate, and still witty and charming individual, he has exchanged a successful career in acting, playing an occasional doctor on television, for a role in reality as Dr. Peter Wingfield, a practicing anesthesiologist.
The convention was titled “25 Years of Methos” by its organizers from the Peter Wingfield Fan Club (PWFC): Mary Lyon, Sandy Cohen, Mysti Kelly, Nancy Molyneaux, Bev Shihara, Sharon Gobioff, Shawn Dempsey, Vicky Saunderson, Vonda Huddleston, and led by Rene Averett. I spoke with Rene about how this con came to fruition, since the previous had been held in 2014.
"At times, the possibility of doing a small convention with Peter Wingfield seemed uncertain. His schedule at the hospital has been hectic for the past four-and-a-half years, but I felt the PWFC needed to do something to celebrate 25 years for both Methos and the fan club. When I suggested the idea to Peter, he immediately agreed and suggested we do it on the anniversary of Methos' appearance on Highlander, March 6th,” said Rene.
With Peter himself available and on board, the committee then discussed and agreed to inviting Jim Byrnes to join, as he had been a guest at the very first PWFC Convention held in 2002.
“It seemed a natural choice. Wanting to keep the convention small, we only opened it to 65 attendees. We were excited by the number of members who committed early and the new people who were attending a PWFC Con for the first time. We added David Abramowitz to the Saturday lineup in January,” stated Rene.
With the guest list, a location, and the dates secured, the convention was on.
The con began the afternoon of March 6th as planned and consisted of a meetup of friends old and new as we all arrived in Los Angeles at the Marriott hotel where the event was held. There were tears, laughs, and memories shared throughout the evening as more gathered. The committee held interactive events such as a scavenger hunt, fan-fiction discussions, and the necessities such as registration, where attendees were given badges and totes full of Peter Wingfield-themed gifts.
The second day was a busy one, packed with scheduled events, including an opening ceremony where the guest of honor was introduced. Having had the pleasure of seeing and meeting Peter at a previous Highlander Con, his entrance and welcome given to the attendees did not disappoint. He addressed his fans with warmth, sincerity, and gratitude for coming out to see him and remaining loyal for so many years. The introduction was followed by a reunion of sorts, with David, Peter, and Jim all together on stage. They spoke on a variety of topics, including their time and work on Highlander and the fond memories they shared of it. There was laughter at recalling jokes on set and behind-the-scenes blooper moments. Discussion of their lives presently and of current events followed. Jim then treated us all to a stellar musical performance, singing his hit “That River” and cover songs by Chuck Berry and Bob Dylan while regaling the audience with stories of his career.
Being in the presence of these great men and watching them interact with one another and their fans, the friendship, respect, and fondness they shared for one another was evident.
When I later spoke to Rene, she recalled, “Seeing Peter, Jim, and David again replenished my love for these guys and the club that has connected me with several of my best friends. For almost three days, I felt like we were in a cocoon of love, friendship, and a touch of sadness as we recalled those we've lost.” She continued, adding," 'Let friendship thrive' is more than a motto with our group. We believe it and want to keep the circle growing. I loved seeing all the groups of people that formed in the lounge area of the bar to simply sit and chat as well as welcoming some new people into the fold. This is what makes Highlander fandom so unique after all these years.”
As a part of that fandom, I concur and share her sentiment, and as Peter and the other guests confirmed during their discussions and panels, Highlander has made an impact on their lives, resonated deeply with them, and is still part of their lives today, just as it is with the fans. It is a welcoming and inclusive fandom to be a part of.
The final day of this event began with a special presentation by guest Marc Moody showcasing “The Art of Highlander Swordplay.” When I had the opportunity to ask Marc about the demonstration he gave, he said, “I wanted to talk on the subject of the sword styles used in the films and TV series. Each of the main characters has displayed unique habits and styles ranging from Japanese and European swordplay with mixtures of such martial arts as Aikido, Tae Kwon Do, Escrima, Kung Fu, Western Boxing, and Kendo. These can also be clues into the history of these Immortal characters and the styles of cultural combat they have dedicated their survival to. This was also a chance to celebrate three of the Cinema Sword Masters and stunt performers who have worked on the franchise. Analyzing the talents and character/actor direction from such experts as Bob Anderson, Peter Diamond, and F. Braun McAsh. It was an honor to speak at the PWFC Friendship Con, and I was thankful for the opportunity!”
Following Marc’s demonstration, autographed items and memorabilia were auctioned for charity, with the auctioneers being the guest of honor himself accompanied by Jim Byrnes. Laughter and fun times were had by all watching Peter comically sell off a pair of signed boxer shorts, teddy bears, photos, and more. All proceeds of the charity auction benefited Peter’s charity, Project Edan. Its mission is “to provide aid to vulnerable children who might otherwise not survive without proper medical care and living conditions. Project Edan has chosen to focus fundraising activities to support UNICEF's efforts of providing needed health care, clean water, nutrition, education and emergency relief to children around the globe.” More information can also be found on the charity and how to support it at Projectedan.org.
As the last day of the convention entered its final hours, a representative for Davis-Panzer productions, Kareem Dimashkie, addressed the attendees. He surprised fans by announcing the upcoming release of a remastered and upconverted version of Highlander: The Series on a blu-ray box set by Visual Entertainment. The new box set will feature cover art by Grant Kempster of Highlander Heart. Special features will include commentaries by David Abramowitz, F. Braun McAsh, and the Highlander Rewatched team. Discussion of the project brought mention of a beloved member of the Highlander fandom and community, John Bierly, who tragically passed away before seeing the project’s end. Bierly had advised on the set before his death, having seen the first episode worked on ("Band of Brothers") and gave his resounding approval.
Sadly, John was not the only loss within the Highlander community this past year. As the convention drew to a close, there was a touching tribute in memoriam made to cast member Stan Kirsch. Stan played character Richie Ryan on the series. His life ended abruptly just this past winter, and tears were shed as the fans remembered and mourned together. The void left by their absence was felt by all in attendance. It served as a reminder of the motto and theme of this convention and the importance of holding our friends near and dear. It reinforced the bonds of those friendships and served as a testament to how meaningful those human connections are, the significance of being there for one another, both during the good times as well as through moments of uncertainty.
When asked about the possibility of another convention, Rene stated, “Time will tell. For certain, there will be gatherings of some sort, whether it's to go to a play in New York (I have my eye on "The Music Man") or just to get a small group together in Chicago. Or maybe a trip to Vancouver to see Jim.”
While the hope is for another convention in the future, I can think of no better way to end than by stating that in the meantime, with the difficult times we now face with COVID-19 and its impact becoming more prevalent in our lives, it is more important than ever that we let our friendships thrive.
Shan O'Connor is an American freelance writer hailing from southern Louisiana and currently resides in Phoenix, Arizona. She is an environmental and political activist who enjoys sustainable cooking, H.E.M.A. combat and sword training, and all things literary with a passion for fantasy/horror fiction.