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Remembering VOLTRON Executive Producer Peter Keefe (1953-2010) May 29, 2010

Posted by shannonmuir in animation, Memoir, Mentorship.
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As word spreads over the Internet of the passing of Peter Keefe, the former Executive Producer at World Events Productions who in the 1980s took two Japanese anime robot properties and created VOLTRON: DEFENDER OF THE UNIVERSE, I’m finally working my way past the shock-like state I’ve been in over it for the past twelve hours.  I thought it would be at least another twenty years before I heard news like this.  You always hope people get to live a long full life, not pass away of throat cancer at 57 as Peter Keefe did.

Peter Keefe is – was – more to me than just the Executive Producer of one of my favorite shows of the past 25 years.  Without him, I very likely might not be in the career I’m in, or at least not gotten there quite the same way. For not only am I Shannon Muir, book author; Shannon Muir, animation writer; Shannon Muir, production person…

… I’m Shannon Muir, one of the best known Internet fans and repositories information of the VOLTRON universe – a resident “loremaster” if you will – whose Denubian Galaxy starmap was considered well researched enough that World Events paid me as a consultant to use it on their (now defunct) voltronforce.com site promoting VOLTRON: THE THIRD DIMENSION.

The thing is, if I hadn’t been that VOLTRON fan first, the rest very likely would never have followed.

Over the years, a lot of people have heard my story of how I wrote what would be considered “premises” and sent them off to the VOLTRON offices, to finally get a response from the Head Writer that changed my life.  However, the part of the story that most often went untold is that the Head Writer received those items on the West Coast care of a single executive’s desk in St. Louis.

Peter Keefe.

The fact of the matter is, everything hinged on what Mr. Keefe could have done.  He could have treated my material like they had with a number of the fan kids writing in – such as my first letter sent via my local television station – and just received back yet another letter supposedly signed by the Voltron Force and some promo materials. Mr. Keefe could have just written me back a tiny personal note saying thanks but we’re doing no more episodes; that would have sufficed.

Yet, somehow, for some reason, he did more than that.  Mr. Keefe bothered to send them to his West Coast writer for his review and feedback, which resulted in encouragement that kept me pursuing wanting to be an “animation writer” at the age of 13.  I never found out why he chose to go that route, and I now never will know. Maybe he just didn’t have the time to respond, but if that was the case, where would he have found time to send it?  Maybe he felt that amount of effort deserved extra attention? Like I said, the answers shall forever be a mystery.

The impact, however, is undeniable.  I found out about Mr. Keefe’s passing Friday afternoon (May 28th, 2010) at work, while waiting for some other folks to get their stuff done so we could leave for the long weekend. My fiance’ brought an article in the Hollywood Reporter to my attention, and I opened it up to read the sad news. That moment, my world really felt like it went all out of alignment. Realizing that the desk I sat out, the friends I had outside that door, the fact I had enough credentials to have a second book on animation to just be released in trade paperback, my entire professional career, revolved around the choice of one man who was no longer among the living – it overwhelmed me. I couldn’t hold the tears in.  I just wound up closing my office door, crying a bit, then calling my sister in Washington State who hadn’t heard the news. No one would understand quite like her, or my parents. Though my schoolmates and teachers knew parts of my story after the fact, my family saw me create and struggle and hope before it all became real.

After talking to her, I wiped my eyes, opened the door, and tried to focus that life goes on… and it does for sure. Yet it feels a different place knowing Peter Keefe isn’t in it, although we never met.

I’m going to close with a story I’ve never told before publicly, though it kind of helps make sense to how I feel I think.

Peter Keefe and my paths crossed indirectly in a sense one time years later, about 2005.  The company Peter Keefe later worked at (one of several) called Earthworks Entertainment struck a licensing agreement with Big Dogs Sportswear of Santa Barbara for property development.  I don’t know what exactly became of that.  What I do know is that a reporter from Santa Barbara somehow pieced together that the professional Shannon Muir in Los Angeles and VOLTRON fan Shannon Muir were one in the same and called my Los Angeles apartment. The reporter somehow had the impression that Peter Keefe remained more of a mentor than he in actuality was, and wanted to better profile the person who licensed one of the best loved brands of the Santa Barbara area.  This conversation proved very awkward, not only because I had to correct the reporter’s misconceptions, but I couldn’t figure out how they got them in the first place. I pieced together enough information from the reporter to figure out how to contact Peter Keefe and wrote him a long email, both a thank you but to also let him know about the conversation I’d had with the reporter and the misconceptions tied to it. Unfortunately for Mr. Keefe, I also have a pet peeve that dates back to middle school about other people trying to take all the credit for my successes, which was the impression the reporter left me with – that Peter Keefe was responsible for everything and I for nothing. Also, back then, I saw the Head Writer of VOLTRON as the one who really made a difference, though I recognized Peter Keefe’s role and thanked him for that.  I never heard back.

What I realize, too little too late, it that it’s time to set the record straight.  While ultimately I got where I am based on my own drive and determination, people helping me and encouraging me played a big role… and for years I have portrayed it with the Head Writer as a major role and Peter Keefe as a minor player, because that’s how I felt all those years.  I wanted to be a writer, so I counted the writer’s vocal opinion over the producer’s action. He may never have said a word, but his action of sending my material to the Head Writer spoke volumes.  I didn’t understand that then, but I do now.

Fact of the matter is, both of them played equal parts in that story.  I’m very sorry it took his death to make that clear.

So thank you, Peter Keefe, for everything.

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