Beyond Star Trek: LeVar Burton

*nostalgia mood music*

You guys remember Reading Rainbow, right?

Like any respectable ’90s kid, I have a huge soft spot for that show.  I idolized LeVar Burton, or–excuse me–“the Reading Rainbow man,” as he was known in our household.  So when Rachel @Hamlette’s Soliloquy and Quiggy @The Midnite Drive-In announced the Beyond Star Trek Blogathon, I knew right away I had to be a part of it.

How does this blogathon work?  Simple: Write about an actor who had a recurring role on Star Trek, but write about them in a different role in another TV show or movie.  LeVar Burton played Geordi La Forge on Star Trek: The Next Generation during roughly the same years he hosted Reading Rainbow.  Thus, he’s a perfect candidate.

~~~

Now, I had parents who showed me Star Trek at a very young age–I couldn’t have been more than four or five when we started watching.  We went through both the Kirk years and the Picard ones.  I was fascinated by Spock, thoroughly unimpressed by Kirk (SORRY), had a distant, awe-filled relationship with Picard, and considered Data and Scotty to be Fairly Good Eggs™, deserving of Encouragement™.

And then . . . there was Geordi.

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The “Reading Rainbow man.”

Sure, my parents started me on Star Trek early, but they’d started me on Reading Rainbow even earlier.  I was so familiar with LeVar Burton’s face and voice and manner, Geordi never seemed like an actual character to me–he was just “the Reading Rainbow man,” dressed in a funny uniform.  Oh, and with a visor.  The visor never made sense to me, though, because I knew there was nothing wrong with the Reading Rainbow man’s eyes.  I saw him read books every week!  I SAW him!  You can’t fool me, Star Trek!

(I was a skeptical child, I’m afraid.)

~~~

I wish I had more specific memories of watching Reading Rainbow as a small child–of curling up in front of the TV and enjoying the spectacle.  But . . . I don’t.  Guess I was too young.  I mostly remember how I felt about the show.  Happy and warm.  It was a quiet place, and it was full of books.  Heaven.

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exhibit A:  Reading Rainbow man with book

I remember LeVar Burton’s voice more than anything else.  I remember how he’d always start giving book recommendations, then his tone would take on this teasing echo and he’d say,

“But, you don’t have to take MY word for it.”

And they’d cut to actual kids telling you all about their favorite books.

Anybody else remember that?  “You don’t have to take my word for it.”  It was cute, but looking back, I understand there was a deeper meaning behind it.  He was trying to model curiosity; curiosity, plus a healthy dose of skepticism.  To teach us not to take anything for granted.  Just because somebody says it, doesn’t mean it’s true.  You’ve got to check for yourself.  Check everything.  Even the small stuff.

~~~

There’s one episode of Reading Rainbow I recall better than any other.  My mom recorded it on VHS, you see, so I’ve watched it maybe twenty times over the years, even after the show itself went off the air.  This episode was special, because it was all about the beach.  LeVar Burton visited the Florida Keys, walked up and down the beach, fished for tiny critters in the water, and talked about books.

A pure delight.

For the final scene, the camera cut to LeVar basking in the white sand, beaming happily, as late afternoon sun slid beneath the waves.  He gave his signature sign-off, “I’ll see you next time,” and turned back to the sunset.  Orange light on silver water.  It was beautiful.

And that’s how I’ll always remember the Reading Rainbow man . . . sitting on a beach, gazing off at the horizon.

In my mind, he’s still sitting there.

Larson-LeVar-Burton-Reads-To-Adults

How about you?

Any other Reading Rainbow fans out there?

28 thoughts on “Beyond Star Trek: LeVar Burton

Add yours

  1. LeVar was always the “Reading Rainbow” man to me, too. (I once mentioned to a colleague that I’d liked Levar Burton as a kid and they’re like “oh, you were a Star Trek fan?” And I’m just like, “No, Reading Rainbow”.) The end of Reading Rainbow left a hole in children’s programming that’s never quite been filled since–something for slightly older kids, live action, letting them explore the wonders of the world around them. It was a pretty special show.

    And you just reminded me of a peak ’90s-kid thing I did–put a banana clip over your eyes and pretend to be the blind guy from Star Trek. I knew nothing about the show then, but Geordi’s visor was iconic.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yep, he’ll always be the Reading Rainbow man to me. ❤ Such a special show.

      I almost feel like my brother and I did something like that!! Maybe we tied a handkerchief over our eyes? I can't remember . . . but it sounds like something we would've tried . . .

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Reading Rainbow was a huge, extremely beloved and special part of my childhood. 😍 LeVar’s laugh has always made me so happy. He and the show are generally just bright and wonderful.

    I think we had a couple episodes recorded on VHS, and our library had others. So some of them I watched many, many times, and I still remember them vividly. I’ve never seen the beach one, or many others, I’m sure. But there are others that do the same thing for me. And I actually do have memories of watching it with my siblings. Plus memories of the episodes themselves. Down to the sound of the book narrators, and of course LeVar himself.

    It’s so funny, I guess the crazy cars episode (with the book The Tooth-Gnasher Superflash) was my first exposure to one of my lifelong favorite picture book authors, Daniel Pinkwater. 🙂 His books are very strange, but they fit my family’s sense of humor.

    Also, the Robert Frost poem about snowy woods will forever call up vivid images of that segment in Reading Rainbow, and nothing else. The poem was in first person, so I thought the thoughtful, white-bearded man with the nice face WAS Robert Frost. I almost think that still… It was a beautiful clip, for sure.

    I actually didn’t know / remember that he was in Star Trek! I remember my mom saying he was famous for some popular show, but I didn’t remember what it was, because I was too young to care. Back then, I didn’t even know what Star Wars and Lord of the Rings were, besides DVD or book covers with strange-looking characters. It meant nothing to me.

    The end of your post made it sound like he died, and that would have made me sad! But I looked him up, and nope! It’s weird to see him with gray hair, but his expressions are the same.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes!!! *heart eyes* Such a happy, warm, welcoming show. I love how you and I both watched this show and shared this experience, I didn’t know that!

      #real90skids ❤

      I love how each episode had its own special flavor–the ocean episode I remember, and that Robert Frost bit you remember, couldn't be more different!! But they are both such beautiful images. Gosh, I wish I had seen the Robert Frost one . . . I adore that poem and its imagery.

      Haha!! And the funniest part is, I DON'T REMEMBER much about Geordi on a character on Star Trek, even though I have decently vivid memories of the show. Because I always just associated LeVar with Reading Rainbow. Nothing else.

      NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO I'm sorry!!! I didn't mean it to come across like that!! *crying laughing* That was probably a bit unnecessarily dramatic of me . . .

      But LeVar Burton is alive and well, don't worry ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I grew up watching Reading Rainbow! Lots of good stuff on PBS. I only vaguely remember parts (the part featuring the book at the end?) but after you mentioned “You don’t have to take my word for it.” I can recall that in his voice. I never watched Star Trek, but I remember coming into the living room when my parents watching it multiple times and being fascinated by his eyeband thing.

    Between this and Mr. Rogers movie, I think I need to rewatch some of my favorite kids shows growing up. I feel like so many things are slipping out of my memory and it’s kinda scary.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Right?? “You don’t have to take MY word for it.” He always had this fun twinkle in his eye when he said that. So good.

      I know exactly how you feel–I was sad when I realized I couldn’t remember watching the show itself beyond that one episode on VHS. Like I feel I “should” have memories of it being a weekly thing . . . but, I don’t.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Reading Rainbow was my kids’ era of television and I was so happy that such a quality show was there for them. We would watch together and sing the theme song. I’d sing it right now, but I’m kinda choked up from your lovely tribute.

    – Caftan Woman

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Have loved LeVar ever since Roots—I remember when his character of Kunta Kinte grew older and was played by John Amos, I was disappointed because young Burton was such a great actor and did not appear again. Of course, I adored his character of Geordi on Next Generation, but children of the 1980s and 90s remember him best as the beloved host of Reading Rainbow. Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Well, since even watching ants crawl across the wall can be entertaining when you’re stoned, I guess it was OK… 🙂

        Like

  6. I think I must have been a decade too old for Reading Rainbow, since I have never heard of it before this post, but your passion and enthusiasm for it is delightful. 🙂

    (All I really remember from childhood shows are Zoobilee Zoo and Mr. Rogers, the latter having run several years in the mid-80s when I was about the right age to be obsessed with them. 😉

    Like

      1. It must have been. I saw a fair amount of PBS stuff in the 80s but by the 90s we no longer had a television and I was “old enough to do school.” 😛 (I much preferred reading. 😉

        Like

  7. I loved Reading Rainbow. SO much. Seasons 1-4 are available on Amazon Prime right now, and I’m tempted to make my kids watch it even though they’re a little old for it. Haha!

    My fave eps were the “Mama Don’t Allow” ep and the two-part one with the shop called Hats to Where? where he got to visit a renaissance festival and stuff. And the wild west one where they read “Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch.” And and and and and…

    Like

  8. Reading Rainbow was my absolute FAVORITE show as a kid. I watched it EVERY afternoon without fail. In fact, it was the episode about mummies that gave me an interest in history in the first place…so I guess you can blame my history degree directly on the show!

    (also, there was one episode, I think, where he went behind the scenes on the Star Trek set. I remember being absolutely fascinated by it!)

    Like

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