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.
This shot of Michael was on the light side
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.
This past weekend, I attended the New York Film Festival's world premiere of Vito, Jeffrey Schwarz's new documentary on film historian and LGBT activist Vito Russo. Russo died of AIDS complications a couple of decades ago, but his influence on gay activism and film criticism is still keenly felt. His The Celluloid Closet is one of my favorite books; it truly opened my eyes to the concept that everything matters in popular art forms.
Vito, which debuts in 2012 on HBO, is an effective, intimate portrait of Russo's life as a frustrated outsider in suburban New Jersey who took off at 18 for Manhattan in search of sexual abandon, love and people who knew as much about movies as he did. Making use of interviews with peers like Larry Kramer, Arnie Kantrowitz and Boy Culture commenter David Ehrenstein, friends like Lily Tomlin and family members (Russo's brother and his cousin give the film its heart), Vito argues for its subject's sincerity and his greatest accomplishment—a life lived on its own terms with no regrets.
The study of gay images on film was popularized by Russo
Make sure you check this out when it comes to HBO, and keep reading for some footage of the Q&A (all of my images come from that) that followed the screening—his cousin Phyllis comes up with a delighful story about which Schwarz can be heard mumbling good-naturedly, "Why didn't you tell us that one?"...
I can't O.D. on pop culture; I've built up immunity
My latest adventures at The Hollywood Show are fresh in my memory, so I have to be sure I memorialize them before they fade like stardom itself.
Grease wasn't the only word that came to mind
I’d flown into Burbank on Thursday and spent time with a new friend whose own connections to fame are diverse and diverting—as a business advisor, he was at the heart of the Miss USA scandal 30 years ago when Miss New York, favored to win, had been disqualified for padding her bra. I guess padding was against the rules unless it was done surgically? Back in the day, bra-gate (they got the cover of the New York Post: “BUSTED!”) competed with news of the Pope’s attempted assassination, if you can imagine.
Friday was what they call a preview night at The Hollywood Show, where VIPs are allowed access to all the non-celebrity vendors to snap up any rare memorabilia, movie-star 8”X10”s or other nostalgia droppings before the masses invade on Saturday and Sunday. To be honest, it was a bleak evening; many vendors hadn’t fully set up and I was cash-poor so had to conserve my bucks for my one-on-ones with the stars. I wondered if I was beginning to lose some of my interest in these shows. (Um, no.)
Worse, the show makes you wear your VIP wristband for three days. “That’s real gold on it, so it won’t wear off, not even in the shower!” clucked the highstrung lady at the desk, who would be an amazing character for a Mo Collins Web series.
On Saturday, I donned my Blondie T-shirt, thinking anything that makes me look reasonably un-fat and that might be a conversation-starter couldn’t be all bad. Sure enough, as soon as I entered the hotel’s gift shop to grab a power bar, the 29ish-year-old clerk looked at Debbie Harry’s face on my chest and said, “What was her biggest song…?”
I replied, “They had a few…’Call Me,’ ‘Rapture,’ ‘The Tide is High,’ ‘Heart of Glass’…?”
Blank expression. “Is she still alive?”
Yes. Wanna know who else is still alive? Carol Channing—and I walked right past her and her adorable husband Harry Kullijian on my way to the show. They were strolling arm-in-arm after breakfast, cute as could be.
I met up with my pal Chexy of Chexydecimal—he’s the tall one in the vest with a past as a silver-screen zombie—and we partook of the early-bird special, being allowed in at 9 a.m. instead of 10 a.m. I don’t actually love being so early because most of the stars have not yet arrived or are in the process of setting up, making the approach impossible or awkward at best. It’s a bit odd seeing stars situating themselves, and yet watching Carol Channing arrive (she moves around quite well for 90), sit down and promptly do her makeup in front of the world was pretty cool.
I guess the best excuse for being an early bird is picking what you think will be the craziest line and getting into it early on. Even though I am a casual Batman fan (the show had many alumni of that illustrious put-on of a ‘60s series), I’d already made up my mind that I’d get both Adam West and Burt Ward, so we got into West’s growing line and waited. And waited. And waited. West, enjoying a resurgence thanks to his Family Guy voice and a veteran of autograph shows, didn’t show up until nearly 11, after all the non-VIPs had poured in. He walked up to us and did an impossibly Hollywood kind of ironic wave/air kiss and sat down to begin his duties.
Everybody goes to (The) Hollywood (Show)
While waiting to get him, Chexy and I talked with an attendee about his various ups and downs in the world of autograph-hunting, including stalking Lauren Bacall at an event in Portland (she had loved the beautiful magazine photo he presented her with), waiting in line for two hours for an ailing Jackie Cooper and getting to meet his idol Kevin McCarthy. McCarthy, famous for Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) and many others, had been about 95 and was so far gone he began writing his name and stalled on the “v” until his helper had nudged his arm, leading to the completion of an extremely shaky autograph.
The Dark Knight (referring to the scan, that is)
As we got closer, we found out West was asking and getting $40 per signature and would not do photos at his table, neither photos of or with him, but that he would be participating in the scheduled $75 photo ops later in the day done by Craig Damon, a pro shooter whose gallery was set up in the lobby. We also heard West asked more than $40 to sign certain pricy Batman memorabilia on the reasoning that his signature made it more valuable and he deserved a cut. I don’t agree with that policy. I think it’s perfectly legit to charge people for autographs at conventions (never on the street!), but your autograph should cost a set amount and you should not be concerned with whether the receiver intends to cherish it or flip it for a profit.
Detail from a poster in the window (even Michele Bachmann would shiver)
When I was about to meet West, his manager, in-between scolding everyone about trying to take any pictures, mentioned there were certain things “we” won’t sign. I was worried the well-preserved 83-year-old would turn his nose up at the tastefully sexy shirtless shot I’d unearthed (from this eBay seller), but West happily signed it. Unfortunately, an actor came up to West while he was signing for me and stole all of his attention. Luckily, all of my emotional eggs were not in Adam’s bat-basket, so I wasn’t crushed. But it wasn’t a warm welcome to the show.
Shockingly, my #1 target of the show, Channing, had no line to speak of, though she had a group of fans hovering about and her buff-ish, cute gay handler. We made our way over as her handler was telling everyone “All of the money goes to charity.” I told him she was likely the only star there donating 100% and he said, “It’s the only reason she’s doing this—she doesn’t need to.” Then Carol brightly greeted me. What a thrill to interact with a living legend.
When I showed her the vintage '50s How to Marry a Millionaire program I’d secured for her to sign, she said it had been from the National Theater, the greatest theatre in the world. “You don’t even need microphones the acoustics are so wonderful there!”
I complimented her on the documentary she participated in—Carol Channing: Larger Than Life—telling her I’d been to see it at TriBeCa. “We’re glad we did it,” she told me. Because of the documentary, I asked to have her hubby Harry Kullijian in my photo, which he liked. The first shot was the better pose, but had no flash. They patiently allowed a second shot. Pure class and so warm to me as I stooped next to her, which really is the position anyone should take in the presence of such a singular sensation.
Holy leather fetish, Batman!
Next, I decided I’d get the 66-year-old Boy Wonder out of the way. Ward’s line was smaller than West’s had been, but filing up with recent West veterans. As we waited for him, Julie Newmar was escorted in. She is already a towering presence with a wasp waist and cheekbones above the clouds. Add to that a black outfit and big Catwoman ears and the debilitating effects of the neuro-muscular disease CMT and Newmar definitely cut the most imposing figure of the day. I was reminded of Lisa Marie’s character in Mars Attacks! while watching Newmar haltingly make her way toward us. She said hello right to me as her goofy handler all but knocked me over, so I missed getting that moment recorded. Like many actresses of a certain age, Newmar has indulged in more than a few knife tricks, some of which haven’t worked out so hot. But for 78, she’s very recognizable as the statuesque woman who was, hands-down, the best Catwoman.
Mattman & Robin
As it came time to nab Ward, he was talking with his handler about photos; I’d asked and been told no photos. Ward openly said right in front of everyone, “We’re here to make fucking money, so I don’t care what the agreement was, if we can make money with pictures we’re going to make money with pictures.” Then he excused himself to go pee. When he returned, I was told he was doing pic-withs for $20, so I got mine. I make a habit of seeking out interesting photos or items for people to sign at these things, and Ward paused to marvel at my sexy shot of him in leather. His handler pointed out that that episode had just run. “Will you look at that?” Ward said, admiring himself. It’s hard not to—as much of a Holy Terror, Batman! as he’s said to have been on the set back in the day, he was nothing if not fuckable. I wonder what the round old guy was thinking about as he gazed upon his once-fine form.
State of Ward
I was able to hear two hilariously bitchy stories about Ward at the convention, but I won’t reveal who told them to me. One was that he allegedly wound up with one of the women characters’ costumes from the series and had his girlfriend wear it to supermarket openings. Confronted at the time, he’d claimed to have bought it from Paramount. Wherever that suit is today, it would be worth about $20,000.
The other story was that Ward was such a dick on the show that some of his many injuries were the result of people behind-the-scenes willfully putting him into dangerous situations out of revenge. Maybe being young, dumb and full of cum (did you read his book?) and having lucked into a major role without paying his dues gave Ward a license to act out; he was just a kid, after all.
As I left, I asked him if he’d left anything out of his scandalous memoirs. “Oh, yeah, there was lots I wanted to put in, but people said, ‘You can’t say that!’” He agreed with me when I said a tell-all sequel was in order. Despite his bad karma, he was more interesting than Adam West, who had come off like a signing robot.
We’d been eyeing Terry Moore from a distance, absolutely shocked at how diminutive she is in person. She can’t be close to five feet tall! My memories of her are from the 1953 film Man on a Tightrope (I had found the most AMAZING press shot from that movie, showing her suggestively biting her finger), as Howard Hughes’s ex and from posing naked in Playboy in her fifties. A fellow attendee claimed her handler had said to him, “Playboy wants her again at 83!” This seemed a stretch, but she looks good for her age even if I don’t think she needs as much makeup as she thinks she does. Somehow, she apparently considers herself a devout Mormon.
The merrier Moore
When I got up to Moore (who reminds me a lot of Dyan Cannon), she smiled and told me the photo I was giving her was from her personal favorite of all her films. She wanted to know where I’d gotten it, as did so many others at the convention when I would hand them something unique. The unsexy answer: eBay. But I like that they appreciate my eye.
I guess I'm now a devout Moore man
I had to hike behind Julie Newmar to get to Moore, going the long way around their long table. I love our picture, though. I should send it to Playboy as a test shot.
We got in line for Julie Newmar, who I would say was my second biggest target. When we got up to the front, Newmar took note of her line, glancing around the corner with surprise. A dealer before us was asking her to sign a bunch of items, ludicrously claiming he wanted some signed without personalizations because he wasn’t sure if he’d give them to her wife or his wife’s sister. Why lie? But she wouldn’t sign anything without personalizing it, having been coached by her handler, in order to discourage profiting from it. She did eventually, I think, cave to his demands, because he left happy. Anther fan asked for her to sign it to him, "thanks for everything, Julie Newmar." She processed this with a subtle eye roll, then nodded and acquiesced.
Pick of the litter
Face to face, Newmar has a fairly hypnotic spacy quality. When I told her which color I’d like her to use to sign my bitchin’ photo of her in a bath towel, she fanned her long fingers in the most mesmerizing way as she made her selection before carefully signing her name. I took a great shot of her seated at her table, and then came around to sit beside her for our photo op. I turned to her and told her she was lovely, has a great attitude and is glamour personified. She nodded in agreement and thanked me.
The cat's meow
It was a bit sad if not exactly crushing (good gossip makes up for itself when it contains disillusioning news) when I was later told she had not been highly regarded as an actress on the Batman set. Apparently, one director had been “trying to get something, anything, out of Julie, some kind of reaction” and had then confided in a co-worker, “The lights are on but no one is home.”