Carol Channing's 95th birthday was celebrated last night at the McCallun Theatre in Palm Desert, California, where showbiz luminaries Kristin Chenoweth, Alan Cumming, Florence Henderson, Cloris Leachman, Gavin MacLeod, Lily Tomlin and others gathered to celebrate the life and career of the ultimate trouper.
Keep reading to see and hear the last 45 seconds of the show, including a snippet of Channing (seated with Tommy Tune) belting out some of her signature tune ...
Here, the Chanel-clad icon poses for Michael Freeby on behalf of Kids Beating Cancer, which covers costs for kids who need life-saving, money-costing surgeries. The bear is Bunky, who is sent to kids in hospitals all over the world to cheer them up.
I nicked this shot with Denise Nickerson—Willy Wonka's Violet
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).
In case you've ever wondered, wondered, whatever became of me...
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.
Cousin Marilyn's finally gotten past her awkward stage...
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?
A tale of two Eddies
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.
Britt's Way-baby-got-back Machine
I was Swede on Britt
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.
I used the phrase "tighter than Bobby Brady's asshole" in Boy Culture...looks like he knew
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."
Vivica kicked my concerns to the Curb
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.
Taking a Quantum seat with Dean Stockwell
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.
Gross was never at his table
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.
Abe Vigoda is smiling down from heaven (except he's 90 and alive)
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.
The Quest for Rae Dawn Chong
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.
She called me handsome...thanks, Beautiful!
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?)
Real smiles with "Fake Jan"
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.