Peter Mayhew, the 7’3” actor who played Chewbacca, has died at 74. He got his start in movies in "Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger," which when I saw as a kid, blew me away with the special effects (if you watch it now, it will feel very, very dated). For the first "Star Wars" (he did 5 of the Star Wars films), it was actually David Browse, a weight-lifter/body builder they wanted for Chewbacca. He wanted to play Darth Vader, so that's how the part ended up going to Mayhew.
Since CinemaCon takes place in my backyard in San Diego, I’ve seen him every year there signing autographs. He has always gotten a booth and charged $25. I regret not getting it, the time Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill were there. They were charging $35 a piece, and the idea of getting them on a Star Wars photo, and having Peter sign it, was tempting. But I thought -- spending almost $100 on the photo wasn’t worth it (turns out, it would’ve been worth it).
One year, I found out that the stars at ComicCon are told they HAVE TO SIGN autographs for free. Well, at least one autograph for free. The only stipulation is, they can refuse to sign memorabilia. ComicCon didn’t like the bad PR from people charging for signatures. That was the year I thought I’d get Mayhew to sign. And he turned me down!!! It turns out, that rule only applied to the actors and animators that were there to promote something else. Actors that paid for their own booth (the way Lou Ferrigno, aka The Hulk), can do what they want. So he refused to sign for me.
That night, I was at a steakhouse near the convention center. My two female friends both said, “Oh my god, look how tall that guy is?” I turned around, and saw it was Mayhew coming in for dinner, all by himself. I then wondered...if I approached him, would he sign for me. But the idea of bothering the guy during dinner, to have him sign a bar napkin, just wasn’t worth it.
Anyway, at least the guy got to make a living off of Chewbacca. I’m sure when he was filming that little sci-fi picture in the desert, he had no idea how big it would all become.