If It's Good Enough for Shatner...

By Benj Edwards

When personal computers entered the mainstream in the 1980s, the American public was understandably uneasy. Most people didn't know much about using a PC, or how to choose a good one. Where could they turn for advice? Marketers hoped they would turn to on-screen role models, heroes such as Alan Alda, Roger Moore, and William Shatner. Understandable, perhaps. But really, would you buy a computer on the advice of Dom DeLuise or wrestler "King Kong" Bundy?

Some celebrities (such as John Cleese for Compaq) pitched solely to television audiences, while others graced the printed page. In this slide show, we take a lighthearted look at eleven examples of the latter, most taken straight from vintage computer magazines of the 1980s.

Dom DeLuise and the NCR PC4 (1984)

The NCR PC4 is a computer that's "compatible with people," according to the ad. That is, it's compatible with doctors, accountants, and construction workers who look exactly like Dom DeLuise (and presumably are cashing a big check from NCR). Most people who didn't look like Dom DeLuise found that they weren't so compatible with this PC, which saw a quick death.

Roger Moore and the Spectravideo SV-318 (1983)

Normally, James Bond would settle for nothing less than a diamond-encrusted, gold-plated, missile-launching personal computation device--high class and higher body count. But we all know that Roger Moore's rendition of Bond didn't quite match the character in Ian Fleming's novels. And the SV-318--an obscure, rubber-Chiclet-keyed footnote to computer history--will never be confused with something from Q's lab.

Instead, this computer's biggest claim to fame comes from supposedly being the accidental progenitor of the MSX computing standard that made a big splash in Japan.

William Shatner and the Commodore VIC-20 (1982)

Am I only the one who thinks of William Shatner sitting in front of a Commodore VIC-20 saying, "MUST ... HAVE ... MORE ... RAM!!!"?

Shatner's TV ads for the "Wonder Computer of the 1980s" were about as cheesy as the Commodore's graphics--and I'm not talking hip, self-referential cheesy, just cheesy.

I wonder if Shatner's Commodore gig had anything to do with that Commodore PET in Star Trek II. If they still use those in 2285, the future isn't as bright as I'd hoped.

Isaac Asimov and the Radio Shack TRS-80 Color Computer (1982)

Though you can never be sure whether celebrities actually use the things they endorse, that wasn't an issue with Isaac Asimov's ads for the TRS-80. The science fiction master bought one of Radio Shack's classic PCs in 1981 and was delighted with it, according to "Isaac Asimov: A Life of the Grand Master of Science Fiction" by Michael White.

"He had always complained that electric typewriters moved too slowly for his brain. With this new computer he decided that it was just fast enough to keep up with him," White writes.

"King Kong" Bundy and the Vendex HeadStart (1987)

Have you ever wondered, "What kind of computer is good enough for 'King Kong' Bundy?" Neither have I. But this was perhaps the perfect computer for the Atlantic City Annihilator to endorse, since its name sounds a lot like the handles given to some wrestling moves. Would you rather be hit with a Vendex HeadStart or an Avalanche Suplex? Tough call.

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