Picture if you will March of 1989. The hype machine for June's release of Batman was in full swing. The Berlin Wall was 6 months from falling. We were a mere season away from Chuck D and Flava Flav's insistent urging for us to 'fight the power'. South Africa was fighting its own power as apartheid wound to a close. No one would have any Friends for another four years. It was a different time. A time of transition. But forget apartheid, and Communism. In the quiet month of March, change would come in like a meek lamb and go roaring out like a fierce lion. The agent of this massive change was '80s icon and comedienne, Shelly Long. That month she would drive the MAC Truck called Troop Beverly Hills right into the heart of America. 'Troop', as its loyal fans call it, is the story of Phyllis Hefler (Long), a bored, wealthy Hollywood wife. She finds her life empty and so fills it with shopping sprees along the exclusive Rodeo Drive, much to the consternation of her hapless husband Freddy (TV's Coach, Craig T. Nelson). Freddy believes Phyllis to be flighty, unable to finish even one thing she starts. Phyllis, fearing the truth of Freddy's accusation, vows to prove her husband wrong. She enlists as the leader of her daughter's misfit troop of girl scouts, and wackiness ensues. Phyllis must then deal with the twofold task of molding these young girls into young ladies, dressing them in the finest fashions and teaching them about life in the Hills, as well as prepare them for the annual inter-troop Jamboree, and the contest of skill that they have lost for untold years. It is herself, however, that is most changed and educated as Phyllis brings the girls on this journey. I won't spoil the surprise ending of this timeless, charming classic, except to say that it warms the heart even as it tickles the funny bone. It may seem incredible now, 12 years on, but the world was not at the time ready for Troop. It grossed a mere 8.5 million at the box office, a paltry sum even in the 80s. It also effectively ended the motion picture aspirations of the talented Ms Long. In fact, she would not appear on the big screen again until 2000's Dr. T and the Women, starring Richard Gere. She played one of the titular women. The failure of Troop is quite a mystery, given its eventual effect upon the world of entertainment. It is a clearly superior work to Ms Long's two previous post-Cheers efforts, Outrageous Fortune and Hello, Again!, both from 1987. Troop's journey from box office anthrax to cultural touchstone was long and it rests on the back of a grassroots movement, not unlike that which preserved Beauty and the Beast, or Star Trek: Voyager. Over the course of years, the outpouring of fan support in the form of letters, petitions, and eventually web sites, led to the founding of TroopCon in New York in 1992, and the even larger TroopCon West in 1993. In fact, TroopCon West 2001, held at the Hilton convention centre in - you guessed it - Beverly Hills, was the 17th largest movie related convention held in the state of California in the month of March 2001.Dozens and dozens of loyal fans browsed the displays and sale tables, searching for that vital piece of merchandise that would complete their collection of Troop memorabilia. Costume replicas, signed photographs, the limited edition action figures, and even a prop or two were all to be found there. Soon enough, all present were settled in their seats, excitedly awaiting the Retrospective Panel of special guests. The panel in 2001 was: Betty Thomas, who starred as the hilarious 'Velda Plendor', Edd Byrnes, who played the role of 'Ross Coleman', and may also be recognized as 'Vince Fontaine' from 1978's Grease. Ami Foster, former Star Search contestant who played the role of the precocious 'Claire Sprantz'. Alan Dean Foster, noted author and scribe of the novelization of the film. Kellie Martin, who went on to star in such TV hits as Life Goes On (the show with Corky) and ER (the acclaimed doctor show from NBC and Michael Crichton).Notably absent were Carla Gugino, the star of Spy Kids, and Tori Spelling, of Beverly Hills 90210 fame (a certain synchronicity about THAT, n'est pas?). Both were busy with prior commitments, though stories of Carla having to "wash her hair" are unfounded. A moment of silence was held for panel regular Audra Linley, AKA TV's Mrs. Roper from Three's Company. Since her death in 1997, a chair has been left empty on stage, in her honoured memory. The highlight of the convention was a special event held at the end of Day 2. Star Shelly Long, absent due to a pressing schedule, had recorded a special video message for her fans. All sat rapt through the full 75-minute recording, and by the end there was not a dry eye in the house. Long's touching recounting of the making of Troop was both evocative and touching. Troop Beverly Hills is a rare "important" motion picture. It fearlessly examined the role that a rich woman with questionable intelligence and too much time on her hands could have on the lives of a misfit group of girl scouts. Movies that do that, and do that well, are few and far between in the Hollywood. Shelly Long did it first and did it best. And how was she rewarded? With the cruel fate of near anonymity. But long after Shelly gives up pouncing at bit parts on TV's Frasier, or lobbying Warner Brothers for a sequel to Hello, Again! (working title Hello, Once More!), we as a people will still have her groundbreaking work in Troop. And no matter how bad things get, that's something worth having. Isn't it?
Bonus Trivia: Which alternative animator produced the brilliant opening credit sequence of Troop Beverly Hills? Send your answers along with a stamped, self-addressed envelope to: firstname.lastname@example.org. One randomly selected winner will be sent on a fabulous trip for two to Beverly Hills*, the location of the motion picture, Troop Beverly Hills! Good luck!
*Prize will not be honored