I trekked out to Parsippany, New Jersey, via the train, arriving early, before even the early-bird entry. The guys on the shuttle to the Parsippany Hilton were hardcore horror buffs and unapologetic nerds, a pair of them guffawing the entire way about the "jiggaboo" line from Police Academy (1984). (They liked that the late Bubba Smith had overturned a car in response to the racist comment, and kept repeating the line and the events of that scene over and over until we arrived at the hotel. You had to be there—be glad you weren't.)
It was snowing when we arrived, but just barely. <---This is foreshadowing.
My guardian angel Simon helped usher me in and was an invaluable resource. He was celebrating his tenth year with Chiller, and I hope my pestering won't keep him from an eleventh. He told me Louise Fletcher, Elvira and Pam Grier had been in hot demand the night before by way of a heads-up. I wasn't too worried as I had only a dozen or so names to "get" this time; I arrived as usual armed with unique photos for them to sign.
After breakfast in the hotel's eatery (next to Martin Landau, who I'd met at The Hollywood Show and who I must say looked much fuller and healthier), I plunged right into the main room, which held most of the event's biggest attractions. Right off the bat, I went for the only heartthrob of the show (to me), still-sexy, 53-year-old Michael Paré.
He'd been so sultry in Eddie and the Cruisers (1983) and so tough, I was kinda worried he wouldn't take to the idea of signing a shirtless picture. Still, I'd come with a fabulous Japanese book devoted to him and asked him to do the honors. He was perfectly nice, all business. As for shirtlessness, he was also offering for sale a crappy print from the Internet showing a screen grab from Bad Moon (1996) that included part of his cock, so...so much for being uptight about his physical appeal!
A fellow fanboy took our picture, but it was too flashed out so I wound up returning for another round at show's end. "I remember you!" he said, smiling pleasantly as he endured a freebie second take.
I also asked him if he'd done much teen press back in the day, but he said, "I offered, but no—I think I was too old."
My next victim was 57-year-old Robert Carradine, whose appearance in Revenge of the Nerds (1984) is what has endeared him to fans more than any of his other work, or even his status as a member of a Hollywood acting dynasty.
Carradine was pleasant but very intense, seeming distracted. He liked my photo, which is definitely much sexier and more macho than his usual Nerds pose. Later on, he visited with a couple of the other stars from ROTN, including 52-year-old Brian Tochi (aka Toshiro).
Next, I grabbed 28-year-old Heather Matarazzo, who was a bit of a bundle of nerves. Maybe this was her first signing or it was early, but I think my picture of her confirms she wasn't totally comfy. She looks great and was supersweet, cooing, "Look how tiny I was!" at my Welcome to the Dollhouse (1996) still. Shockingly, she didn't have that near-iconic image on her table for sale, so I'm glad I brought it.
She nuzzled me with friendly abandon for our picture and thanked me back when I thanked her for being out.
"Agent 99" from Get Smart, Barbara Feldon, looks fantastic for 78, thin and fit. She seems a pro at this kind of thing. I asked her for her secret to looking good and she said, "Well, I'm a vegetarian. I do eat fish, though. And I think I need to go back to chicken because I'm not sure I'm getting enough protein." I was annoyed that the shot I'd brought along was common enough it was already for sale on her table.
Just by the way, this show was by far the most expensive I've attended so far. Almost nobody cost less than $30 for an autograph and everybody charged extra for a pic-with. Some of the prices were even higher. I heard one fan—granted, he was a lunatic—saying he'd once attended a show with Edward James Olmos and that when he'd plunked down his rare photo of Olmos the actor's rep had informed him it would be $100. "Fuck you!" the man claims he said before storming off. The rep chased him down and brought him back to Olmos, who had a question. "What the fuck do you want?" the man asked. Olmos wanted to know where he'd gotten the photo, then asked what he'd pay, max, for an autograph. "Thirty bucks," came the reply. And the deal was done. He stood, Olmos delivered.
Making my way into a side room, I encountered the Livingston Brothers—Barry (age 57 and constantly employed) and Stanley (age 60) of My Three Sons (1960—1972) fame. I'd just read (and posted) about Barry's book, in which he says Raymond Burr played grab-ass with him during an episode of Ironside (1967—1975). No mean feat since Livingston was playing a wheelchair-bound kid so was always seated. He laughed when I reminded him of this, and he kept looking across at his brother sheepishly.
He reminisced that he was playing a kid suspected of being a psycho but who was really just a typical horny teenager fixated on one of the show's sexy regulars.
Across the hall was Lana Wood (born Svetlana Gurdin—two amazing names for the price of one!), 65, chiefly known as the sister of the late Natalie Wood (who would be 73 if she could swim) and as magnificent eye candy Plenty O'Toole in Diamonds Are Forever (1971).
Interestingly, the latter film also featured Jill St. John, now 71, who wound up marrying Natalie Wood's widower, Robert Wagner, now 81.
Wood was also on Peyton Place (1966—1968), which is the series she thought my image was from. She loved it, clutching it and showing it off to her tablemates. But it was really from The Long, Hot Summer (1965—1966), which she realized when turning it over and seeing the credits. "That's Paul Geary???" she exclaimed doubtfully.
She was very nice and wore big sunglasses in-between photo-ops. Great rack on her still. When I apologized for making her stand up for our pic-with, she said, "That's what I'm here for."
Next, it was time for one of my main targets, the great Pam Grier. She may be 62 years old and working less than in the past, but she's at the peak of her powers as a black female icon—the line to get into the room holding her and Louis Gossett Jr. (as well as a bunch of film babes) was the longest I saw all day until Elvira's. I came in behind a middle-aged black couple whose knees were practically knocking as they approached Pam. There was no need to worry—she was extremely soft and inviting and conversational with everyone.
One guy ahead of us had a bunch of posters and items for her to sign, so she apologized to the rest of us and thanked us for our patience. "I thank everyone for inviting me here," she said, smiling benevolently. She is the opposite of her kick-asses-take-names screen persona.
I chose to have her sign a classic headshot to me and to sign a fantastic vintage personality poster I'd hauled to Jersey with me. "I bet you haven't seen this poster yet," I teased her. "I bet I haven't she said," probably just wanting to tell me what she figured I wanted to hear. When she laid eyes on it, she said, "Oh, this, yes...Farrah Fawcett and I did these." (Fawcett did famous shots with the same, now-defunct company, as did Cheryl Ladd and every other hottie, male and female, of the '70s and '80s.)
Boy, was she nice. Our picture is kinda "eh" because it didn't flash—we look like hunchbacks. But still. It was Pam Grier! I told her I wished I was arriving to give her the Oscar for Jackie Brown (1997). Sickens me that Helen Hunt took the Oscar for As Good As It Gets, which wound up being as good as she ever got. Other nominees were Kate Winslet, Julie Christie, Helena Bonham Carter and Judi Dench. This was the year Kim Fucking Basinger won an Oscar, so whatever to you, Academy.
Grier touched her newish book Foxy: My Life in Three Acts (Springboard) and said she was getting the Oscar in a different way, saying she was grateful to Quentin Tarantino for giving her Jackie Brown as a gift.
Louis Gossett Jr., now 75, was the first black actor since Hattie McDaniel to take home an Oscar. Pity it was for the fluffy An Officer and a Gentleman (1981), but he'll take it! I don't mean this in an insulting way, but I didn't recognize him. He's filled out and it's changed his face a lot. He looks robust and was all there, saying immediately, "This is from Travels with My Aunt," upon seeing my photo for him, referencing the 1972 flick he did with Maggie Smith.
A man who was with him (his son?) and I bantered about his killer shirt in the photo, featuring a naked-lady pattern. "Have a blessed day," Louis told me. Not my favorite thing to hear, but he was just being kind.
My very favorite encounter came next, when I circled back to the main room and found that 68-year-old Valerie Perrine had finally arrived. She looks basically unchanged! She had a vivacious redheaded assistant who was my photographer and was tickled that I brought a Can't Stop the Music (1980) still. That was a relief as I wasn't sure she'd have made peace with that movie; it undoubtedly was a lowpoint in her career at the time.
On the contrary, she thinks of it as "the first gay movie" (maybe the first commercial gay movie?) and said she's proud of it. Wait till you hear what she told me about Nancy Walker, the film's director...it was so juicy. Click here if you haven't watched that first video up at the top of this post.
I told her how my dad had one of her Playboys under his bed forever and I memorized every page. "I couldn't figure out why he had it," I joked. "But as sexy as it was, it didn't take with me..." She got my joke immediately and hooted. We got on like a house afire. "You're wonderful!" she told me, and I felt I'd been knighted. Have you seen her in Lenny? (1974) Okay, that's why.
As I knelt next to her, I told her the seated photo op was the best kind. "Is there any other kind?" she asked. When I said some of the stars spend the show standing up and sitting down, she turned to me and said, "I'm too old for that shit."
What I also loved about her is that every time a photo was snapped, she would raise her hand and wiggle her fingers, waving even for still photos. Cute as a button, salty and happy to dish, she had just the right amount of humor and gravitas. "I'm not working," she told one fan, and it sounded as if it were by choice, even though she has a recent TV credit on IMDb.
As I was leaving, she also said, "I hope your father's proud of you." I told her he had been a surprisingly easy sell.
Going from sexy, sassy Perrine to 73-year-old Dolores Hart, the '60s actress who left Hollywood not to marry royalty but to marry God—she became a cloistered nun—felt right. I was ambivalent about getting her because God only knows her feelings about the gays. But the fact that she has never, ever done this before and probably never will again (they made her wear a laminate with a scantily-clad woman on it and she had to sit across from a huge sign bursting with Elvira's titties) was too alluring.
I had her sign a gorgeous still from The Plunderers (1960) in which she's a dead ringer for Grace Kelly, made the same year in which she filmed Where the Boys Are. When I told her my name was Matthew and referenced the apostle, she laughed and surprised me with a hilarious inscription:
She still had to ask me how to spell my name, which is kinda unforgivable for a nun! Her assistant said it was "unbelievable" that she'd agreed to do the show. Fun fact: Hart is a voting member of the Academy despite her decades-long estrangement from Hollywood.
I wanted a full-on What's Happening!! (1976—1979) reunion, but Haywood Nelson, 51, was not there yet due to the snowfall. Hmmm...it was apparently snowing a lot. I checked and sure enough, there was a lot of accumulation. Weird!
I went back and grabbed 46-year-old Danielle Spencer and 61-year-old (he played younger) Ernest Thomas, aka Dee and Raj. Both were lovely to me, and both coveted the photos I'd brought, Danielle in particular. I took photos of them before the signed them, and I did wind up getting Danielle's (I think?) husband's e-mail address and sending him hi-res scans of the photos.
I told them that lots of kids at my school were racist but were drawn into watching What's Happening!! and were surprised to see that black people were...normal!! They liked this and Ernest said he'd heard a similar story from a woman whose family was hardcore-racist but who'd questioned that outlook thanks in part to that show.
I also told Danielle what a great brat she was, which she said she savored. She's now a veterinarian, and played a vet in the aforementioned As Good As It Gets.
Aside from Haywood, I was now all done already—and it was only like 12:30! I dutifully got in line for Elvira, who had not yet emerged to greet her fans and who was set to do so at 1:30. I'll never know if Elvira's lateness caused me to be stranded by the snow or saved me from being on the train and getting stranded along the way to NYC, but one or the other happened.
I was kinda annoyed because we found out that even though she'd done photos at her table the night before, she was now only doing $40 photo ops at 6PM. I decided I'd lie and say I had a flight to catch, blissfully unaware that this would've been impossible anyway. I mean, really; who wanted to stay until 6PM for that?
She finally came down at about 1:45PM looking exactly the same as she's looked for 30 years! It's hard to believe she's 60-year-old Cassandra Petersen under there. Ageless. Anyway, she came out to a burst of flashes and a fun meet-and-greet with Zacherley the Cool Ghoul that happened right in front of me.
As she furiously signed for awestruck fans, her helper asked me to allow a staffer to cut me in line to get a ton of shit signed. "Sure, no problem," I agreed, "but I have a flight to catch...can I do the photo op now, please?" She agreed, but made me pay the full $40 for it. Yes, I lied but damn, this lady stole! Forty bucks for a pic-with...the only saving grace is that this is allegedly Petersen's last East Coast appearance as Elvira.
I had an old promo card for her to sign and told her I loved her Christine O'Donnell ad. She thanked me and jumped right up to do the photo op at the instruction of her trusted helper. It's a great shot.
I side-stepped over to Haywood Nelson and snagged him, making him my last get of the day. He's still a cutie even bald and said, "I love the fan shows."
He had a sweet little tribute to the late Fred Berry and Shirley Hemphill at his spot, telling me, "I sure wish they could be here, too." Danielle Spencer said, "Oh, it's Matt with the great photos!" and I got a (free) group shot with all three.
The front desk told me the shuttle to the train station would leave at 3PM, so I ate fast and returned by 2:45PM, only to be informed the shuttles were down for the day due to weather. Also, cab companies were letting them know that the trains were down until further notice. Also, there were no vacancies in the Hilton or the adjoining Hampton Court. This was...disconcerting. I wandered around with fellow travelers in disbelief, trying to figure out a plan.
Finally, I called the local Marriott, which sold me a room for about $150 total with taxes. They arranged for a cab to come get me...but it never came. An hour later, I asked the Hilton to call me another and a man behind the desk bluntly told me they weren't sending cabs, wouldn't provide drivers and that I'd be stuck there all night.
Bottom line: Don't ever lie to Elvira.
A woman behind the desk came over to me to say she'd overheard and called me a car anyway, and that it'd be there soon.
Instead, I wound up begging a New York City taxi to take me—he'd just dropped off some crazy nuts who had paid him to drive them there from Manhattan—only to be turned down (why not take me if he was going back to the city anyway?) and then trying to ask fellow conventioneers to drop me off. I saw a lot of weirdos arriving and gingerly walking through the slush to get to the show, but none I would not have happily allowed to drive me across the highway to the Marriott.
Eventually, I saw a limo service dropping someone off and leaned in, asking to go to the Marriott. "Oh, the one right over here? Okay." I was so fucking relieved. I wound up spending $23 to get to the $150 Marriott room, but it was money well spent considering the alternative would've been squatting in the frickin' Hilton, which by the way had lost power twice.
The Marriott was nice enough with a studly desk clerk who told me his girlfriend worked at the Hilton, a source of lots of ribbing. "That's the kind of girl you date but don't marry," I sniffed. He thought this was hilarious. Even funnier, the electricity went out at the Marriott, leaving me with no TV and stranding me at the bar of their Irish-pub restaurant, unable to order for an hour. The food service was painfully slow even after the electricity flickered back on. One annoying woman who ordered a burger kept whining to the massively overworked barman: "Miiike, is it coming?" "Miiike, this isn't well-done." "Miiike, do you have catsup?" while other patrons talked about the historic snowstorm and all the downed trees, the reason why my NJ transit stop was incapacitated.
I ate a turkey burger and peach cobbler, walked around the tiny hotel (they were hosting rehearsals for a Russian ballroom dancing troupe! very Fellini) and then went to sleep by 8:30PM.
The next day, I awoke to discover my NJ transit stops were still shut down. Grudgingly, I ordered an $80 car service to get me to Newark Penn Station, then rode back into the city at long last.
I'm not sure if the stars I met were really worth the high prices I paid plus all the weather-related extras, but I won't soon forget this ice-cold fright night. Shockingly, another of these events is already coming up the third week of November...Joan Collins and Tippi Hedren, among others.
How can I say no?