My third autograph show (first here, second here) was my second Chiller Theatre (a confab that celebrates mostly horror and fantasy flicks) at the Parsippany Hilton. It was a day of familiar faces and unwelcome voices—of the latter, the first was this guy shouting into his cell on the train, a precursor to later conversations that would strike fear into my heart and make me feel capable of committing bloody murder. Or was it just the convention's blood-and-gore theme?
After the train ride, I hopped into the Hilton's shuttle, where I was immediately surrounded by goombah gorecentrics, saying things like, "I'm about to get the piss wiggles if we don't get to a head soon," (a lady) and, "If they don't get that guy in the wheelchair on in a hurry, I say we just hook him up and drag him behind us!" Then, when the guy in the chair made it on, the same guy who'd been mocking him offered to assist him and engaged him in conversation. Wearing studded leather gloves, covered in tattoos and being without the use of his legs didn't stop him from joining in on the crude fun. The new arrival brought up the royal wedding (everyone was talking about it all day, only to trash it—it's the opposite of a horror movie, after all) by saying the problem is all the pictures of Kate had William in them and he's "so bloody ugly and with no hair on his head." Yes, because being bald is definitely a disability.
We arrived in time for early-bird entry ($30 at the door) but I was taken aback by the blocks-long line. By the time I got in, I decided I should make a beeline for whomever I thought would have the most interest.
Frighteningly enough, the biggest draw wound up being Gary Busey, who would make an excellent Admiral Stockton to Donald Trump's Ross Perot. I guess mental illness and substance abuse used to be career-killers but are now just plain killer.
The fest was advertising Oscar-winning (okay, so it was over 50 years ago) Ernest Borgnine, unexploded blonde bombshell Loni Anderson (well, some of her movies have been pretty horrifying) and the 40th anniversary cast reunion of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (Augustus falling into the chocolate river definitely terrified me), so I had to figure out where they were. "Where's Loni Anderson?" I asked a young worker. His reply was, "Do you know what room he's in?" Yeah. So I went for Borgnine, who was in the main room (which is where Anderson wound up being, too, right next to him).
Borgnine's line was as long as his career, taking me almost an hour to get to the front. He was in great spirits and would don glasses to sign and then remove them to pose, which he did seated. He's going on 95 years old (and looks about 70), so why not? I congratulated him on his SAG Award, which he thanked me for. I later saw him being escorted from the Ruth's Chris Steak House bathroom (the stars were using that as opposed to the more public commodes...encountering someone peeing when you just paid them to sign your movie poster can be awkward) and overheard his escort saying, "Feel better now?"
I hopped into Anderson's line in the main room—a sunken pit that was swarming with kooky horror fans and that had a tightly controlled exit and entrance—only to find it was teeming with discontent over her failure to show up. Accompanied by a whoop, she finally arrived a bit after 11 a.m. and got right to signing. When I got up to her, I was shocked by how amazing she really does look at age 65. I told her I'd just seen and enjoyed her in the new Carol Channing documentary. She said, "Oh, I love her!" and admitted she hasn't seen the finished product. Then I mentioned that a fund-raising trip she and Robert Hays made to my hometown of Flushing, Michigan, in the late '80s had been a huge deal. She and Hays had attended a party at the most expensive home in town, a swank house on the golf course. She did some quick calculating then remembered the movie had been called Fast Eddie. (Which, I'm almost sure, never got made in any form.) I'm in love with our picture together. What I didn't tell her was I'd once had a pinup of her on my wall, similar to at right, because I was driven to distraction by her unique, wishbone-shaped cleavage.
Oddest observation about her table—one of the photos Loni was offering to sign and sell was a two-shot with her ex, Burt Reynolds.
Next up, I worked my way through the two Munsters representatives, "ugly" cousin Marilyn aka Pat Priest and Eddie Munster himself, Butch Patrick. Priest is 74 and still looks pretty. I joked that Marilyn was probably the first and last time she auditioned for and got the part of "the homely girl." Patrick is 57, which blows my mind. I always identified with him because I was constantly called Eddie Munster as a kid (don't ask). He was perfectly nice but probably one of the most overpriced, asking $30 for his autograph and a pic-with. Interestingly, the two surviving Munsters were separated by one table ("Tony Clifton"—who signed for charity but who had almost no action at his table)...maybe they find being together scarier than house-training Spot?
One of the more intriguing attendees was international sex kitten Britt Ekland. She had a huge line, so much so that at one point she got up and walked past everyone asking, "Are you waiting for me? Are you? Are you? Please be patient and thank you so much for waiting!" She got behind (and has got quite a nice behind still at 68) because everyone wanted a pic-with, so she would sign then jump up and come around the table to pose.
She was right next to Maud Adams (who has aged in a very Debbie Harry way), and it appeared they were most in demand as former Bond Girls. I apologized for giving Ekland more exercise by asking her to pose with me, and she chirped, "It's okay! I like exercise." I found her delightful.
Now it was time for Bobby and Cindy Brady, Mike Lookinland (age 50) and Susan Olsen (age 49)—and just a week after I'd met my first-ever Brady, Eve Plumb! They had less of a crowd since they are somewhat ubiquitous at these shows, but they definitely did steady business. I thought they were really funny and sardonic. I mentioned having seen Plumb's show and Lookinland said, "You're the first person I've met who's actually seen it—was it good?" I told them it was a bridal-shower type event, yet I liked it a lot more than I'd expected to. "What's the word for a chick flick when it's a play?" Lookinland asked. "A vagina monologue?" Olsen was talking about how there are Jan Brady drag events (Geri Reischl's "Fake Jan" fest) and saying how she'd love to see that, which came up when a fan suggested the only time he's seen Cindy Brady-like curls is in the Village.
Once they had sold enough autographs, they'd get up and do several pictures in a row. Olsen's generous cleavage looked capable of feeding a family of six (Buddy Hinton would be eating his words) and Lookinland also offered a plunging neckline, though his was filled with man-fur.
Someone in line with me mistook a nearby, fuller-figured woman for Olsen and blurted out, "Is that Susan Olsen? Jeez, she's put on weight!" This was a common theme for the day—overheard remarks about who looked plastic, who looked old (Tommy Morrison was bluntly assessed in this regard over and over), who let themselves go. To sit at a card table and have a roomful of—let's be honest, guys—not conventionally pretty people look you up and down and give verdicts on your appearance has to be worth $20-$40 a pop. We all fall into this pattern, I think, of praising people for their appearance, something we can't always 100% control. "She looks good," we will say, and it sounds almost like, "She is good."
On a whim, I went for 46-year-old Vivica Fox, who can be rather annoying but was, after all, in Kill Bill and Curb Your Enthusiasm. She had a sexy muscleman (her son? I'm randomly guessing here) taking pictures and cash for her. Her official calendar was the same price as a photo, so I went for the calendar...not realizing it's four years old. Her right-hand man wanted to shoot us vertically but I said that while she could hold up to that kind of framing, I could not. "I just realized what you said," she commented a beat later. "That's funny!" I found the pic to be a bit overexposed but when I mentioned it she said, "I love it!" and that was that. She had an impressive line, and I would say that her presence as well as that of a few other actors of color made this the first of the three shows of this ilk that I've been to with any kind of diversity among the crowd.
Seventy-five-year-old Blue Velvet star and '40s kid actor Dean Stockwell was seated the entire time and seemed a bit fragile, but as I told him is someone who's never given a bad performance. "I try not to," he replied wryly. "But in truth, sometimes I'm just saving myself," referencing perhaps some bad movies in which he did his best to be good.
His neighbor Michael Gross wasn't there when I got done with Stockwell, so I nabbed Barney Miller's Hal Linden. Linden looks incredibly the same considering he's now 80 years old. I told him I was happy to see him on Hot in Cleveland recently, which he smiled at. Our photo side by side was one of the better shots although one of the more expensive ones at $30.
Rae Dawn Chong, who just turned 50, was a bundle of energy and fun, graciously exclaiming over a man's endless supply of movie posters for her to sign just so. She misspelled my name, but was in The Color Purple so it's okay. Her sister Robbi, age 45, was someone with whom I wasn't familiar, but I did feel bad she was shunned compared to her more famous sibling. That's how it goes at these things—one person might have a massive line while his or her neighbor is praying for death in solitude.
Off the main floor, I encountered Happy Days and now The Office star Linda Purl, still pretty at 55 and rocking a Pucci-esque number. She was this convention's Joanna Cassidy—a legit actress probably looking down her famously pert nose at this kind of gig. But she was very nice to me and immediately familiar, asking me how much time to estimate she'd need to get from there to Manhattan the following day. I think she noted that I was not the usual attendee, asking slyly, "Matthew...are you from around here?" The truest answer is I am a train ride away from there, the perfect metaphor for my relationship with utterly insane fandom as well.
Geri Reischl, the most famous scab in entertainment history (even Dick Sargent won more people over during his run as Darren #2), was in fetish-wear—a net top with lacy bra, black mini, fishnets and Leg Show-worthy heels—all black. At 51, she's definitely recognizable, and considering her embrace of "Fake Jan" mania—she's much more popular among fans of the Brady Bunch now than she was back in the day when stepping into Eve Plumb's hastily vacated shoes—she seems to have a healthy appreciation for what's up at these events. I told her she should crash Plumb's play and she laughed and said, "Wouldn't that be something?" (Actually, Barry Williams is doing a cameo soon and a talkback with Plumb. Geri, would you be my date?)
When signing my picture, she asked if she should add "Fake Jan" to it and I said, "No—because whenever you were playing Jan, you were the real Jan." This earned me those "XOXO"s.
One of the main reasons I trekked out to Joisey was to see Jane Wiedlin and have her sign my three 45 sleeves. Speaking of fetish-wear, Wiedlin was selling photos of herself losing her panties and tied up and worse—she's a noted enthusiast of such things. She looks good with her platinum hair and was highly animated and engaging. She gave her e-mail address to a photographer in line in front of me in case he wanted to arrange a shoot.
When I presented her with my "Blue Kiss" picture sleeve, she had a good laugh at the ballpoint notation its former owner had made under her name, "Former Go-Go." She signed it "Current Go-Go," for me as well as my Sparks "Cool Places" ("They always had such amazing art direction," she noted) and "Rush Hour" sleeves. Loved my picture with her—she buried herself in me.
She may be making change at autograph shows, but she's also about to legit tour with the Go-Go's and has accomplished more 25 to 30 years ago than most 52-year-olds (or 42-year-olds, gulp) have overall.
Right next door, I grabbed Ellen Foley who somehow is 59 years old. Though I would say her photos were the worst on offer (they were flimsy color Xeroxes), she was lovely and I love how she's aged—she looks great and like herself and when posing with me offered the exact facial expression I associate with her, an ironic little grin. It was a good move to put her next to Wiedlin; she may be best known for Night Court, but she was also an accomplished rocker chick—she sang on "Paradise by the Dashboard Light" and had several solo records as well.
I got in line for the Willy Wonka cast but quickly realized I was running low on bread. The line was said to be taking an hour, so I had a sexy guy hold my place. (Later, just like sexy guys always do, he had bailed when I returned.) The cash machine line was at least 20 minutes long, and I spent it with this INDESCRIBABLY shrill man directly behind me babbling to a friend (whose hearing aid was blown) about how they'd discovered a possible blockage behind his heart and all the various things they'd done to him to test him, only to find out there was nothing wrong with him. "I WAS SO MADDD!" he wailed, and I'm pretty sure even a dolphin would have been cringing and glaring.
Then, brilliantly, he looks at me and the lady in front of me and tries to cut in front of us, murmuring that he hadn't see us there. I put my hand on his shoulder and said, "You're definitely behind me. Believe me—I've been listening to your entire conversation." More brilliantly, an old battle-axe friend of his came up and started talking to him and said, "Mind if I just cut in line here with you? You know about my bad back." He hemmed and hawed but seemed to let her even as some folks behind them kvetched. The lady was openly talking about how people were so rude so I just turned to her and told her point-blank, "You're the one who's rude. These people have been in line forever and you just walk up and cut in?" She replied, "Where I come from, people with disabilities are allowed to go first." I snorted and told her, "People in wheelchairs, not people with bad backs. Everyone's got a bad back, who are you kidding? You shouldn't be at a show like this if you can't stand in line." I let it go and the people behind me didn't press it despite being irate.
She was the show's Veruca Salt—she wanted it now!
"Now" was exactly when I was not getting the Wonka people. The line promised an hour-long wait because the tiny room they were all in had to be kept to a certain number of bodies to please the fire marshal. Then we were told that Denise Nickerson (Violet) had been gone for an hour and a half to two hours earlier in the day, so everyone waiting at that point had been given yellow pieces of paper—yes, like golden tickets, you simply can't make this shit up—and were in an also-long line that we would have to join after getting the others. I felt as testy as Willy Wonka with that cane before he lightens up.
Getting into the room, I got an autograph from 51-year-old Paris Themmen (Mike Teevee) for my buddy (I've met Themmen before) and got an autograph and pic-with from 52-year-old Michael Bollner, Augustus Gloop himself. Now an accountant with a small biz in Germany, he speaks English and was game enough to wear lederhosen. My photographer for him was the octogenarian husband of Diana Sowle, Charlie Bucket's mom from the movie, yet even with his shaky hand he managed to take one of the best shots of the show for me.
Sowle, a spry 80 (she still does local theater along the Eastern Seaboard), was sweet and quiet and patiently spoke with every fan, whether being pitched an opportunity to come visit a house museum or having her ear twisted about Wonka minutiae. She was curious about how I got to the show from NYC and seemed very happy to have been a part of something so valuable to so many people.
Charlie himself, 53-year-old Peter Ostrum, was shy but hard to recognize as the towhead who gave one of the silver screen's most indelible—and most emo!—performances ever. He has a handlebar mustache that could easily read as Castro, but he apparently is a vet in rural Upstate New York. He doesn't talk much about his experiences in the movie, so this was a rare occasion. He dutifully signed for me, making sure the photo was absolutely perfect.
I adored Julie Dawn Cole (also 53), who so memorably played ultimate spoiled brat Veruca Salt. She looks smashing, maybe because she's stayed in front of the camera as part of a lengthy TV career in the U.K. I hadn't expected her to age well—she had such a particularly '70s kind of beauty in the film—but she is now a sweet-faced blonde as well as the author of the juicy-sounding memoir I Want It Now!: Life on the Set of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. She was game for anything and had no problem joking about being Veruca.
I was supposed to go wait for Nickerson, but I guess having been accused of cutting, I felt I should live down to my reputation...the room was chaotic and Nickerson was right there so what the hell, I paid and nobody stopped me. (I was like that kid in the movie with the fake golden ticket.) Nickerson was being lectured about needing to speed things up as I approached. The fest lady was saying, "If you could just speed things up..." and Nickerson looked at her, prompting an awkward, "...or if you can't, we'll just do the best we can." Getting the answer she wanted, Nickerson nodded. "Okay, let's do that." Then she was mumbling that, "I can't seem to do anything right! Next time, I should just say home, eh?" We did a knock-out picture together and she shooed me away, "Go on, go on, there's no time!" She wasn't rude, she was kinda just acting out for the benefit of the situation. And I felt bad that she had obviously been in so much pain.
Next up was the real pain. In order to get into the room containing a few stars I was kinda interested in seeing, I had to stand in the line that all the Busey nuts were in. (Thank God Charlie Sheen wasn't there or I'd still be in line.) Busey's line was all down the hotel hall because he kept leaving his table, surprise-surprise. His line/his lines, nudge-nudge. I met a pair of really nice horror fanatics who were all made up like corpses. The boyfriend had his shirt torn open, which fairly encouraged me to stick my finger into his belly-button...except I was afraid it would sink all the way in from the looks of all his corn syrup blood spatter. They were interested in Jake Busey but were rolling their eyes at Gary.
When I finally got up to the door, they started letting people behind me in first because they were going by which stars you were most interested in. I finally had to get irate and exclaim, "I don't give a fuck about Heather Langencamp. I just want Chris Sarandon, Alex Winter, Mark Patton and P.J. Soles." The lady said sexy-as-hell Sarandon had canceled and everyone knew it, they'd been announcing it all day, to which I replied, "No, you haven't. I've been here all day and I've been in this line for an hour and nobody said a thing." Anyway, I did get into the room, which was borderline empty. I was ready to go all Jason Voorhees on the staff!
Inside, I grabbed Winter, 45, who is the Andrew Ridgley of Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure. He looks good. If you were invited to crawl into bed with him, you wouldn't be ashamed the next morning.
Continuing my stud-hunt, I finally got to meet my Facebook buddy Mark Patton of A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy's Revenge fame. He just turned 47 and seemed pleased when I said, "I'm not much of a horror buff, I'm more of a good-looking guy buff." He smiled and joked, "Well, here's your autograph free, then." As far as I can tell, he's out and runs a business in Mexico with his partner. His cute sidekick took our cuddly picture and then Patton asked for a picture with his own camera for his Facebook. I apologized for looking so uncolorful compared to most of the attendees and he said, "You look just about right to me." If you've never seen him in the movie, he's the sexy blond who shrieks, "He's inside me!" which is exactly how he signed his photo to me and which I've used as this post's title because I think there is a maniacal fan inside me considering I'd spend an entire day doing this and actually enjoy it. I wish I could've spent a couple of hours asking about Patton's other few acting credits, such as what it was like on the Hotel set in 1986 or even better, what he has to say about 1982's Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean. I'm sure it was Cher madness!
Back to back, I encountered two vintage babes, starting with the criminally underrated P.J. Soles. Soles, 60, has been in as many good movies as Ernest Borgnine has—Carrie, Halloween, Breaking Away, Rock 'n' Roll High School, Private Benjamin, Stripes—and was highly infectious in The Boy in the Plastic Bubble, yet never broke through as a mainstream star. I don't know why. I told her she epitomizes the sexy, carefree girl of the late '70s/early '80s and she beamed, "I like to hear that." She playfully signed her photo with some of her famous quotes from Halloween—she's known as "the 'Totally!' girl" and is also known for her saucy, "See anything you like?" from that classic film. Somewhere, I read that she's hoping a Quentin Tarantino will John Travolta her. I wish that for her, too—she's totally good.
Busty (which is like calling Betty White mature) Kelly Maroney is 10 years younger than Soles, but also has a very specific '80s sexiness. Many who don't know her name would recognize her face from Fast Times at Ridgemont High or Night of the Comet. I told her a pal of mine was in the latter with her and she remembered him instantly and said people come up to her quoting his famous line from the film.
Finally, I circled back and nabbed very married Family Ties dad Michael Gross. I found him skinny and sexless on the show, but in person I think he's surprisingly hot at 63. He was extremely warm, recognizing me from my earlier encounter with Stockwell a table over and gushing thanks when I congratulated him on the TV Land honor. Great guy! A shame that Meredith Baxter had canceled her scheduled appearance—it would've been great to see them, er, out together.
All done, I was famished—I'd only had time to grab a cinnamon bun and it was already almost 5 p.m.! I ate (ordering off the special Chiller menu) and then dashed into a painfully short Wonka talkback in which the cast demurely trashed the Tim Burton remake. I missed recording part of it, but Cole playfully admonished Burton for not wanting any of them in his version before admitting she'd seen it with her kids. "That was better than yours, Mom," she was told, but nobody else seems to think that.
The rest of the talk I captured on video for you here:
As it ended, I had to run to catch the shuttle to the train. I finally made it home by 8 pm.
Not sure how many of these things you get to go to ironically before you're actually attending in all seriousness, but I think I'm getting close to that limit. I actually had a lot of fun even though I don't cherish autographs so much as the experience in getting them. It's kind of like interactive voyeurism.
Will I go again? Totally!