It's taken me a week to write up my visit to The Hollywood Show, held April 2 and 3 at the Burbank Airport Marriott Hotel & Convention Center, but these things take time—and the stars attending this type of event take cash, which makes the experience a furtive festival of feel-good and good-fee moments.
This being my second such show (I also hit the frightfully fun Chiller Theatre not too long ago—see here), I'm ready to admit that while part of me approaches these things with an appropriate amount of irony and is there partly because the autograph subculture is so fascinating to spy on, another part of me is happy to take part in what's on offer—namely, trading some green to chat with, receive autographs from and take pictures of and/or with an array of people who are famous, were famous or boast a unique connection to a famous film, TV show or person.
I have to say I thought The Hollywood Show felt somewhat small compared to Chiller Theatre, maybe because it was all contained in one big room with very little overspill. Also, some fellow attendees did gripe that the stars weren't that great this time. But I had a lot of fun, adopting the attitude of one guy I chatted with who was Marilyn Monroe-blond up top, "It is what it is." And these stars are who they are and were who they were, and I am in the same room with them with a wad of money I don't spend on booze or drugs, so why not go all in?
Before I ever showed up, I had my hit list of must-gets. This was based on the long lines I experienced for some stars at Chiller, and the fact that some of the 75 stars scheduled to appear were only going to be there the first day. (It turned out not to be necessary, as Martin Landau was the only person with a line.)
I had met my blogger pal Chexy at the hotel, only to discover right off the bat that one of the most currently relevant stars, Joey Lawrence ("Whoa—Dancing with the Stars!") had canceled due to having to work. Good for him, if that's true. I wasn't sure what to believe later on, since he had a big sign up both days and one of the volunteers implied to me on Sunday—not realizing I'd been there Saturday—that he'd shown up the day before.
The first star I nabbed was Margaret Pellegrini, one of the last four surviving Munchkins from The Wizard of Oz (1939) and the second oldest person there at 87. There's barely anyone left alive from Bewitched let alone The Wizard of Fucking Oz, people! She was in a Munchkin outfit and seemed a little dazed as she was spun slowly around for each person to meet and greet, but she knew to flash teeth for the camera. Later on, she was sharp as a tack when Connie Stevens asked how many times people asked her to say, "We're off to see the Wizard!" and Pellegrini waved her hand and said, "I can't count!"
Next, we approached Joanna Cassidy. I'll always associate her with 1983's Buffalo Bill—for which she won a Golden Globe—but she probably gets more play from Blade Runner as anything fantasy/sci fi/horror has crazed fans. I told her of my appreciation for the TV series (talk about canceled too soon!) and she smiled and said, 'Wasn't that a fun show?" It was more than fun—I remember that abortion episode like it was only a trimester ago. Of course she was also memorable on Six Feet Under and has a better laugh than Julia Roberts. She looks pretty stunning at 65.
I did get the impression she was kind of unthrilled to be doing this, like it was beneath her station. Not in a snobbish way at all, but in a way with which I might agree considering she seems to work pretty steadily.
I wanted to grab Jeffersons and 227 star Marla Gibbs, but she was busy eating a chicken plate (there was a buffet on hand for the stars so they wouldn't have to leave for lunch if they didn't want to), so I waited her out. No, I didn't snap a picture of "Florence" chowing down on some chicken, but I was tempted. When she and her chompers were free, we met her and her tablemate Ned Wertimer, who played Ralph on The Jeffersons. By a matter of months, Ned was the youngest of the show's three 87-year-olds and his doorman's instincts were on full display when I forgot to cough up the bread ($10 for him, a mere $5 for Gibbs, who must've been doing this for the heck of it). "Are you gonna pay us?" he asked with mock impatience. I was mortified—and this happened to me over and over—I kept forgetting to pay. I was thinking I'd gain a rep as the autgraph-show grifter, flashing a smile and getting free photo ops.
Anyway, both were supersweet, and it was a special treat that Gibbs—who hasn't looked her age since infancy—laughed so easily at everything I said, joking that I'd brought L.A. its bad weather. Can you believe she is turning 80 in June? (Or that Isabel Sanford, long gone, would be 93 if she were still alive? Or that practically the entire rest of the cast is dead? Only the relatively young Sherman Hemsley, age 73, "Jenny" aka Berlinda Tolbert and one "Lionel"—Damon Evans—are still around.) Gibbs must be very religious; she signed her autograph "in faith" and wished me a "blessed" day.
The oldest star in attendance was the feisty Rose Marie, 87, "Sally Rogers" of The Dick Van Dyke Show fame. (She was also on The Doris Day Show, which reminds me that a friend who works with Day just got me her autograph.) She was seated next to 74-year-old former child star Margaret O'Brien and O'Brien's sidekick Randal Malone.
Baby, was Rose Marie ever surprised when I told the happy- and healthy-looking but wheelchair-bound cut-up that my first exposure to her had been in the 1933 film International House with W.C. Fields, Burns & Allen, Rudy Vallee, Bela Lugosi and others. I asked her if she remembered her time as Baby Rose Marie (Raven-Symoné has told me she remembers almost nothing about being on The Cosby Show) and she said, "Sure!"
She proceeded to push her CDs on me with alarming vigor. Though I was ecstatic to have her autograph—as with all the ladies, I asked her to pick which of the photos she was offering was her personal favorite before signing it to me—and get my picture taken with her, I wasn't too keen on adding CDs to my collection. I wasn't sure if one was music or comedy so I asked, "Is it comedy stuff?" and she zinged me with, "What am I gonna do? Dramatics?" which cracked everyone up. Later in the show, when a guy was wheeling her back in after a bathroom break, she threw up her hands and announced to everyone, "He raped me!" He reminded her you "can't rape the willing." I don't think anyone felt particularly assaulted by her wisecrack, which Michael Musto reported on in the days after the convention.
Randal Malone is someone I only know of from this show. With Goth-black hair and eyebrows, he has a Michael Jackson/Jane Russell/Gerard Way look and is apparently LIKETHIS with many old-time stars (IMDb tells me he was a key part of the funerals for Ann Miller and Ginger Rogers, who as legendary dancers probably kicked the bucket in style). He was pretty funny, joking about skipping out on tabs at restaurants because he's always eating with a movie star.
O'Brien is bird-like but far from an old fogey—look no further than her sparkly nose piercing to confirm that. She wore a brilliant orange suit the first day and returned in a sort of striped French sailor number for Day Two.
While Chexy took a blogging break, I grabbed Room 222's Karen Valentine (pushin' 64) just before she was about to break for lunch. "We can do it now!" she reassured me, and beamed appreciatively when I told her I'd loved her as a kid. She was kind of the first Sandra Bullock, or the second Sally Field, but people wouldn't let her break out of that cutesy image. She was lovely.
I skipped the other Room 222ers (Michael Constantine looks alarmingly unchanged at age 83) because the show itself was kind of lost on me—my dad was a teacher, so I didn't get too fixated on fantasy classroom situations having heard from him on a daily basis about the real deal.
Hard to believe it, but Sally Kirkland will turn 70 later this year! It seems like yesterday she was freaking out the Oscars in outfits others wouldn't be caught dead in yet that seemed to frame her zest for life. She couldn't have been warmer, telling us she was returning to her beloved teaching this year (she taught Sandra Bullock and Kathy Griffin to act, with mixed results if you ask me, hehe) after a spell of illness caused by her legendary implants. I always associate her with that famous picture of her, Lee Grant and some others seated in an auditorium, Kirkland's then-perfect left breast exposed. Surprisingly, even though the implants made her sick, she was offering a print of that shot among the many things she would sign. I told her, "When I first saw that, I didn't even like girls...but it made me think twice!" She laughed but did tell me, "You know, I don't have those implants anymore." I told her it made no difference and we did a really cute picture after she did a few lines from Anna upon hearing me cite it as my favorite of her performances.
Fifty-three-year old Julian Sands is still looking fit. If anything, the meatier mid-life model is actually an improvement on the wispy Brit that once made teenage girls swoon. I informed him how much I loved Vibes when I saw it in the theater—first run! (Really, I think the first half of that movie is pretty great.) He agreed, saying he felt it was "much under-appreciated."
In researching the show, I'd stumbled across Georgina Spelvin's blog. She is 75 now, but was once an in-demand adult-film star best known for her hard(-inducing) work in 1973's The Devil in Miss Jones. Her blog was pretty funny so I sought her out and found her just as funny in real life. "You read my blog?" she asked in shock. But surely she has fans—after all, why else would she have completely run out of photos? When I got there, she'd just arrived back with freshly-printed shots taken of her at the show. She's said this was her last-ever signing, but we'll see—pornstars have a tendency to unretire all the time.
One of the stars I'd been most interested in seeing was nowhere to be found until I noticed him chatting with a fellow actor far from his designated table. Matt McCoy is probably best known to you as "Lloyd Braun" on Seinfeld, though his place in the show was secured by his appearance in the Police Academy movies. He was as friendly as a used-car salesman except without any lemons in his lot, generously answering my questions about the reason I wanted to meet him so much—the saucy '80s sex farce We Got It Made. I'd expected him to brush it off, but he said it was a good experience and twinkled when I told him how erotic it had seemed at the time. (Now, I have no doubt it would play about as sexy as an episode of Wizards of Waverly Place.)
I'd been curious to ask him about his co-star on the series, Tom Villard (pictured), an adorable, curly-haired actor so good at playing dumb he must've been a genius. You might remember Villard from two Golden Girls appearances (a former student of "Dorothy"'s and a guy stranded on what the ladies mistook for a deserted island). Anyway, he was one of those minor yet unforgettable TV actors who died of AIDS (in 1994)—along with Silver Spoons fussbudget Franklyn Seales, who passed away in 1990; Merritt Butrick of Square Pegs, who died in 1989; and Steve Tracy of Little House on the Prairie, 1986)—when no one was looking and whose lives somewhat fascinated me as a gay man 10 to 15 years younger than them and 10 to 15 times less likely to get sick thanks to when I was coming of age vs. when they were.
McCoy, 52, remembered Villard very fondly, saying he was a loving person and so brave. "It was a wild time and he'd just come out and nobody was doing that then," he recalled. He ended his reminiscence with a heartfelt, "I miss him." We didn't discuss born-again Christian Teri Copley, the breathy, chesty star of We Got It Made because, well, there was a girl on the show??? I only had eyes for the guys.
Keeping it in the '80s, I had to stop for 63-year-old Tracey Walter because he was "Frog" (said as "Frawwwg") on the short-lived period sitcom Best of the West, a to-my-memory underrated lost classic starring Joel Higgins, Carlene Watkins and Meeno Peluce. To my amazement, this veteran character actor, who's been in everything from Silence of the Lambs to Batman and back, said of Best of the West, "If I'd never done anything else after that, I still would have had the perfect experience in this industry."
He raved about working on that show, and recounted that he was recommended for it by a producer and got the part and began working on it within a day of his first audition. It was a nice relief not to be bringing up projects that actors were embarrassed to have done.
When Wesley Eure came out as gay, I chatted with him a bit on Facebook. Nice guy! He dished a bit about his co-star on Land of the Lost, Kathy Coleman (now 49), so I wasn't sure what to expect. She was pretty friendly and, like two other stars at the show, insisted she'd seen me before. She was the one who suggested we pose with the head of a Sleestak, the monsters that haunted the series (but whose name always sounded more like one of the show's lawyers). She kept imploring me to bend further down into the shot, but it was the next guy I met who I wish would have been as insistent.
To be honest, I'd never heard of William deVry before Saturday, but I knew all I needed to know as soon as I saw him—the 42-year-old soap and sci fi actor was among the youngest people there (I think Dominique Swain, 31, took top honors with 32-year-old Taryn Manning a close second) and was about the fittest individual I've ever seen. The body on this guy was incredible, and he was wearing these undone suspenders that rested right between the buns. (On Day Two, he returned in tight jeans, seemingly commando based on his numerous trips across the aisle to lean forward and talk with his girlfriend Rebecca Staab.) We were impressed, so we got the picture, though Chexy salaciously asked for one from the front and one from behind. Even I blushed at this.
Anyway, deVry was very accommodating and friendly. The second day, he told me he wasn't even sure what the convention was all about but did it for fun and certainly wasn't making a lot of cash. He apparently has done paid ones for his sci fi work in Stargate, and has been mobbed at soap signings. (I don't doubt it. I might have to start watching my stories if the likes of him are running around on TV during the day.) Another clue as to how huggable he is—when I told him he'd been the nicest of all the people we'd met, he said, "Aw, that sucks." He thought that must mean everyone else had been crabby, not that he was so great.
One of the tables had former child stars Gigi Perreau and Cora Sue Collins seated next to each other, and while I wasn't familiar with either, seeing they'd worked with Greta Garbo and Barbara Stanwyck, to name just two, was incitement enough. Collins, about to turn 84, was radiant in green and I was green with envy that she not only worked with Garbo (in Anna Karenina and Queen Christina) but stayed friends with her for the rest of the reclusive legend's life. "Oh, yes, we lived on the same street in Paris!" Collins announced. Posing with her was fun; she brought her Maltese in on the act. When I remarked on the dog's docility, she turned to me and said, "I used to breed, raise and train Rottweilers—I can handle a Maltese."
Perreau, 70, worked with everyone you can think of, but recalled for us shooting a big scene in There's Always Tomorrow (1956) with Barbara Stanwyck that came out perfectly—but that was re-shot, at Miss Stanwyck's direction, to favor Miss Stanwyck. Still, she remembered the tough broad very favorably, noting she'd received an 11"X 14" signed portrait of the star at shoot's end. Perreau, surely one of the most beautiful child stars ever, is planning a memoir entitled Everybody's Little Girl—and I would love to read what she has to say about Farley Granger, Lana Turner, Ann Sothern, Fred MacMurray and the list goes on and on.
We later spotted Perreau driving Collins away at day's end. Kid stars who play well together!
I threw former adult film star Traci Lords for a loop when I announced I am a "Control" freak. She heard it as control freak, not as a freak for her excellent 1995 single. Then she got it and laughed, saying, "That would have been interesting." And then she agreed with me that her 1,000 Fires album was awesome. It was! I made sure she knew I was a fan of her music and of Cry-Baby. At 42 (she hits 43 next month), she's still a bombshell and just did a great shoot with Mike Ruiz.
Our experience with Angelyne—the billboard star I first glimpsed in the opening credits of Moonlighting in the '80s and a candidate for California governor in 2003—
was quite memorable. If you're unfamiliar with her, get familiar with her—she is a living piece of pop art, an ageless (by choice) tribute to Hollywood goddesses who is a streak of pink and black and blonde. Her enormous bazooms (these are not breasts, men) are milky white with the faintest hint of blue veins that just might rise to the surface like earthworms if her peaks were covered in midnight dew. She drives a hard bargain, loathes being photographed under uncontrolled circumstances and was asking $100 to pose with her ($20 if she were to hold up her fanzine over most of her face).
Like I said, I was all in, so I popped for the hundred. Don't judge me. After they took my cash, she and one of her "men-ions" disappeared into the bathroom for an unnecessary touch-up, returning to inform us that Chexy had to take the shot at the exact angle she demanded. As he began framing the shot, she would cover her face and turn away, shrieking, "No!" just in case he was shooting. He wasn't! But the final shot met with her approval...only after asking me to zoom in until her eyes filled the screen. "Oooh, beautiful!" she cooed. "Nice, nice...YOU'RE CUTE!...you could PhotoShop this just a little bit to make it even more perfect, but that's really beautiful..." She then presented me with a tableful of her kitschy art ($100 a pop if you'd like to buy some) and offered to split the proceeds with me. I wouldn't take half, but feel free to hit her up. I loved meeting her, obvi.
The end of Day One was a two-hour stint on line for 82-year-old Oscar-winning actor Martin Landau. Though Landau appeared frail, he also stood or leaned against a stool signing autographs and engaging fans for at least six hours that day. The line was interminable because people kept asking him questions and getting him to sign multiple items. One kook had him do at least 20 while no minders were looking. Landau definitely has the most diverse and appealing résumé for cinephiles and autograph junkies when you consider he is a surviving participant of Alfred Hitchcock's North By Northwest, Cleopatra, Woody Allen's Crimes and Misdemeanors, Tim Burton's Ed Wood and cult-classic TV series Space: 1999 and Mission: Impossible.
The line was cut off just a few people after me, so I was fortunate my time wasn't wasted. As they announced the show was closing, I was having Mr. Landau sign my Ed Wood still and posing for a pic with him. Wouldn't you know that even after such a long haul that old pro was grinning ear-to-ear for us? He also had a smile for Lisa Marie, Burton's ex-wife, who had been one table over but now snuck over to snap his pic.
The next day, I only went back because I'd stayed at the hotel and had time to kill before heading to the airport. By way of stars, I snagged Return to the Blue Lagoon (and oh, yeah—Charmed) star Brian Krause, 42, who was being razzed by an associate for not being worth the money...
...as well as still-gorgeous Emmy winner Barbara Bain. Bain, who turns 80 this year, was married to Mission: Impossible and Space: 1999 co-star Landau for over 35 years and apparently had had enough, only appearing on Sunday while he only appeared Saturday. She told me the image I had signed was from an M:I episode in which she played a Marlene Dietrich type. "Chica, girlfriend, you had it goin' on there!" her girl Friday observed. Bain laughed and didn't even look at the pic we took together. She was supercool.
My final star encounter was receiving a lovely watercolor created especially for me by 77-year-old Carroll Spinney, the living-legend voice of Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch. Great guy! He and his helper (probably his wife) had kept my name from the day before and made sure I got mine first—it took him forever to fulfill all the orders he had.
The other dish I picked up at the show (if only it had been William deVry) was from some professional autograph-seekers, the ones who haunt stars at airports and elsewhere in order to re-sell what they get. I asked which teen stars are easy and which are hard to get and was told Justin Bieber is "an ass," Selena Gomez and Demi Lovato are "easy," Lady Gaga "will never say no," Emma Roberts "is horrible," Jamie Chung "acts like she's the fucking Queen of England" and Vanessa Hudgens "is a retarded whore." They also had a good story about Madonna, who was staring off into space when one of them approached, refusing the request by saying, "I'm doing something right now."
The only thing I bought at the show that wasn't from a star was a gorgeous home snapshot of the late Hedy Lamarr inscribed to the late Reginald Gardiner from a large lot one vendor was selling from the actor's estate (he's been dead 30 years). I just found it beguiling and liked that it was personal but wasn't personalized:
So that's who I met and what I did.
I also observed Connie Stevens, 72, posing graciously with a steady stream of admirers and even taking her own pictures of their memorabilia. She looked alarmingly surgical in the face and had draped her busty body in a huge poncho (unlike nearby 47-year-old horror star Betsey Russell, whose girls were all but exposed to the elements).
I actually avoided Stevens because I unfortunately knew her to have been a big supporter of teabagger Allen West of Florida. I'm sure more than one of the stars I patronized voted for McCain or aren't wild about marriage equality or wonder about President Obama's birthplace, but knowing for sure she (and Erik Estrada, pictured) are so right-wing kinda stole any kick I'd have gotten out of meeting them. Sure, it's silly to place importance in someone's politics under these circumstances, but the concept of admiring famous people is in and of itself silly. It's kind of like sex; you might find someone impossibly attractive until they say that one stupid thing that sticks in your craw and that kills your boner or dries up your riverbed and there's no sense in trying to overlook it because there's another one around the corner.
Or in the case of The Hollywood Show, perhaps sitting at the next table.