I hired my sweet pal Brad as my videographer and met him at the Westin Bonaventure just in time to check in and take our places. I kind of hate how the carpet was set up—the guests were allowed to congregate behind us to stargaze, which was distracting. But it was nothing compared to the women two spots down from me whose entire goal was to flash a huge "FREE GAY HUGS!" sign and video themselves receiving said hugs from roughly two-thirds of the celebrities who walked. (And I thought I was lame with my aggressive pic-with requests!) They were so damn loud! Luckily, they didn't ruin any of my interviews, but only by sheer luck.
Brad's mic needed batteries (he's blond; sorry, Brad) so I wound up videoing my own first chat, with Jennifer Tyrrell. She's the lesbian mom recently booted as a den mother by the virulently homophobic Boy Scouts of America. Smart woman and immediately likable. Unreal that they're getting away with that crap. I was a cub scout (I bailed on Webelos mainly because...what the fuck is a Webelo???) and fondly remember my Pinewood Derby racing days as well as the hillbilly band we assembled for a talent night. Not to mention the father/son cook-off, in which my father and I had a well-appreciated coconut cream pie. But still, fuck the Scouts.
My first stars were Angela Featherstone (STUH-nning, but my campadre confessed she had been an ice queen on a recent shoot) and Michelle Paradise of Exes & Ohs. No Megan Cavanagh, but they were delightful.
Next, I snagged Grant Gustin of Glee. I don't really follow the show, but no one that cute is getting past me without a third degree. He's adorable and quite articulate, even if he refers to gay people as "homosexuals," which totally didn't offend me because he was totally doing it to sound smart, not homophobic. I had a homosexual crush on various parts of him.
Max Adler from the same show was equally adorable and charming. He's passionate about his role, even though it came as a total shocker that his bullying character would be written as a late-blooming man-lover.
My new pal Matt helps me prepare a Mitzi Gaynor sandwich
Last weekend, I went on one of my now monthly work trips to L.A., but had some time for a few very memorable playdates.
I was staying at the Beverly Garland hotel. If you're not familiar with her, Beverly Garland was a profilic TV actress perhaps best known for a stint on My Three Sons, but who was also a regular on Scarecrow and Mrs. King and 7th Heaven, along with appearing in countless other movies and TV shows. Her husband opened the hotels decades ago, including tributes to wifey's brilliant career in the lobby. Sadly, Garland died in 2008, breaking news I had not heard when I arrived until I Googled her. (Thankfully, I didn't ask the front desk if she might pop in during my stay!)
Exterior, biographical video in each room, room-service menu, career gallery & lobby of the Beverly Garland
It's actually a lovely Holiday Inn, even if one can easily be mesmerized watching the badly dated video loop of all her most memorable appearances that plays on the default channel of every in-room TV. (My definition of badly dated is that it refers to Garland being in her second 50 years in the biz and very much alive.) The hotel used to host autograph shows of the ilk that I attend far too regularly.
Loved spending more time at the French Quarter in my buddy Roy's Baby Jane of Hollywood, the place for movie memorabilia and naked pictures of leading men. He hooked me up with some Jane Withers photos—the explanation for why I needed those comes later.
But first, I was honored to be invited to have dinner with the great Billie Hayes, 80 this year, a respected stage actress with many TV credits to her name—yes, I am obsessed with her as Witchypoo from H.R. Pufnstuf (1969-1970) with cute (and now dead from oral cancer!) Jack Wild and as Weenie the Genie from Lidsville (1970-1973). Billie told us wonderful stories about her friendship with Alice Ghostley (when Alice died, Billie took responsibility for her dog), her charity Pet Hope (she's lost count of how many times she's pulled over to save an animal in distress), getting to meet The Wizard of Oz's Margaret Hamilton (meeting Hamilton for The Paul Lynde Halloween Special, the ultimate witch told Billie she was her favorite witch!) and hanging with Kate Hepburn.
Meeting Witchypoo was a magical experience!
Her Hepburn story was unique in that Billie was coming from a place of not wanting to meet the legend—too intimidating—and then being impressed by how friendly Hepburn actually was. Imagine seeing Hepburn in Coco at the Dorothy Chandler and then being summoned to the small cottage she shared with Spencer Tracy for a late-night, informal gathering? I couldn't, but Billie described it so vividly I felt I'd been there.
She also talked about her fabulous friends Charles Nelson Reilly and Paul Lynde (with whom she debuted on Broadway in New Faces of 1956), describing them as polar opposites—Reilly gregarious and easy-going, Lynde rather tortured and serious.
Billie was a doll, very attentive to all her dinner companions—a group of gay dudes fixated on a kiddie show she'd done 40 years earlier. She graciously signed my Li'l Abner cast album, ticking off what had happened (as far as she knew) to the entire cast. [Did you know Valerie Harper was in that? Her face is even (barely) discernible on the LP sleeve!]
If you click to enlarge, Val's the gal next to the boy in horizontal stripes
Are people who play witches always so the opposite?
On the red carpet and, for once, not wearing black
The next day, a group of us—myself, Don, Brian, another Matt and Julie—headed to The 25th Annual Gypsy Awards, a function of The Professional Dancers Society. This year, they were honoring Dame Julie Andrews and had attracted a lot of big names (and even more not-so-big names) to show up and in some cases participate. It was held at the Beverly Hilton and had a small red carpet but a medium-sized contingent of attendees who were strictly there to get autographs from and pictures of the old-time idols.
Some of the hardcore fanboys had items for people to sign. When I spotted one with an "Ann-Margrock" illustration, I figured Ann-Margret had to be coming.
But they had items for everyone from honoree Andrews to rumored participants who never even showed, like Debbie Reynolds. There were also multiple, still rather doable former-dancer gay menz in the house, many paired off like silver candlesticks. Any number of them could've been good candidates for work on IWouldntSayNoGramps.com. I was dying to pull them aside and ask them for all their stories from being sexy dancers in the Golden Age of Hollywood, but that will have to wait for an encounter I have set up for next trip.
With Miriam Nelson
The first luminary we pounced on was Miriam Nelson, a famed choreographer and Paramount actress who at 89 looks and acts a good deal younger. She was charming, and was later feted from the stage by Mitzi Gaynor as one of the most good-hearted human beings of all time. I see she has a memoir out called My Life Dancing with the Stars with a foreword by Andrews and the late Blake Edwards—bet that's a lively read considering the list of stars she worked with (Ingrid Bergman, Bette Davis, Bing Crosby, Gene Kelly) and the fact that she choreographed the opening day at Disneyland.
Let's hope we all live to 92 and look like this
When 92-year-old Marge Champion (the original model for Snow White, pictured) entered with her strapping, 55-year-old director son Gregg, half the lobby descended upon her. Once the wife of famed choreographer Gower, Marge is no slouch herself in that department, apparently still teaching after having worked as an actress and choreographer throughout the '30s, '40s and '50s. She looks amazing and was happy to sign and only slightly less happy to pose for pictures, asking my pal Matt if he'd been a dancer himself. Actually, I owe him for helping me to "get" Marge, as her dreamy son seemed keenly interested in making blond Matt's dreams of an autograph with Mama come true.
Marge and in charge!
I missed a wheelchair-bound Teri Garr, 64, who suffers from MS, because I had been in a mad dash to replenish my batteries (time for a new camera). Jane Withers, 85, and nightclub singer Barbara Van Orden (around 70?) were milling about, as was Honeymooner Jane Kean, 87 (whom I've met).
Last weekend in L.A., a group of us did—in the immortal words of my pal Chexy—the gayest thing since rimming...we attended a show by a Judy Garland impersonator. But as one must do when one rims, one has to go all out if one is going to see a Judy impersonator, so we didn't see just any old Judy stand-in, we saw Peter Mac's Judy Garland LIVE! In Concert at the French Market Place.
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.”
My first night in L.A., I was taken out for what promised to be a relaxing dinner at The Coterie at Twist, an upscale eateryin the Hollywood Renaissance that was launching its first cabaret night. One of the performers was Broadway’s David Burnham (Wicked), who came over to our table to say hi before the show. He’s cute as a button in person and nice to boot.
The show got off to a weird start when the two women who’d curated the eclectic group of performers took to the stage in street clothes and gave rambling, self-referential speeches that sounded completely unrehearsed. Worse, there was a bizarrely inappropriate snarkiness to what they were saying, as if the entire affair were some kind of joke as opposed to an amazing opportunity for them and all involved.
We were not reminded that the show’s theme was to take familiar songs and perform them in a slightly different way (a new “twist,” a clever idea) until a performer mentioned it well into the evening.
Via here: Queer filmmaker Gus Van Sant and...Taylor Lautner took in the 8PM performance of IRIS: A Journey Through the World of Cinema at the Kodak in L.A. on the 13th, then kindly posed with the troupe backstage. Nothing counts as "out" until you say it, but this is one more discreet than sucking a dick in Times Square.
Photographer Brandon Herman's show looks right up my alley—just wish it were around the corner instead of in faraway (for me) L.A. But if you're around the area, you might be as intrigued as I am by these samples and can let me know what you think of the show.