Above, check out a gallery of 20+ stars, then and now!
Twice a year, I get on a train to New Jersey in the early morning hours, spend a day hustling to get autographs and pic-withs from celebrities who sell those things at an event called Chiller Theatre, then attempt to make it home in one piece. I've had two disastrous experiences—a crippling snowstorm and the time I was overwhelmed by a virus. This time, the worst thing that happened to me was spending hours waiting for a signed picture with Honeymooners star Joyce Randolph, who most people I told the story to thought was long dead. (SPOILER ALERT: She's not.)
For the second time, I arm-twisted my friend John to be my starfucking wingman. How I got him to meet me at 7AM and carry my bag and take all my pic-withs, I'll never know. But I think he has a couple more in him before he refuses the job, which he will...eventually.
Our first roadblock was when we arrived and no shuttle from the Sheraton was there to greet us at the station. A serious-faced young nerd took it upon himself to call the place and, in an almost alarmingly professional tone, inquire as to the fucking whereabouts of our transporation, only to be told they weren't supposed to have shuttles until after 10AM (an hour after the early-bird tickets we held went into effect), but would send one ASAP. Long minutes passed until he called back, only to be told the hotel wouldn't send its first shuttle until 10:50AM! It was beyond stupid for them to leave people at the station like that, though they passively blamed Chiller.
We paid $20 for a town car (the driver was dozing near the train tracks), but the kid rode free since he'd been our mouthpiece.
Keep reading for my take on the stars I encountered...
Teri Garr (b. December 11, 1947 = 66)
This time, the show was busy but not packed to the point of discomfort. I barely broke a sweat! We walked straight in and decided to wait in line for one of the show's biggest coups, Teri Garr. Suffering from MS, she's never done an autograph show, and in spite of being on the West Coast, she'd been enticed to Parsippany, New Jersey, to lose her starfucking virginity to a bunch of guys obsessed with Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977).
I had chosen a bad strategy, because our early-bird access (and late-bird shuttle incident) evened out, leaving us in line for HOURS...no one at Chiller had seen fit to go down the line and let people know Teri had let them know she wouldn't be down until 11AM. The wheelchair-bound actress arrived more like 11:30AM and didn't start right away. I can't blame her for it, and considering her daily struggle we should be grateful we were able to stand at all, but it was a bit of a drag. Just wish we'd wandered the place and come back to her.
There was an absolute nut behind us, loudly and in a socially inept way telling us he'd come for Close Encounters and Young Frankenstein (1974)—fair enough—before going on to quiz us as to why Teri was taking so long, as if we were her personal assistants. At one point, John left to investigate snacks for us and this rando blurts out, “Where's your friend going?” I wasn't thrilled at this point, so I replied, “Over there.”
Once we approached her table, her handler saw that I'd brought both an original Young Frankenstein still and Don Bachardy's Hollywood book (containing several Teri Garr portraits) for her to sign. She told me it was $30 for Teri's autograph, but $35 for the book because it's big. I challenged that reasoning but she held firm. Total rip-off. Stars will sometimes (via their agents) refuse to sign collector's items, which shoot up in value upon being autographed, but that's usually stuff like vintage board games, movie posters and the like. An art book? Nonsense. I was about to be into Teri Garr for 90 bucks.
I'd been worried the nut behind us would wreck my precious moments with Teri (people do that a lot at the shows, start talking to the star while you're still with them), so John ran interference, having to firmly elbow him as he tried to push past and eyeball the photos Teri had laid out to sell. Teri and another of her handlers shot him a worried look, so I wished her luck with him as I handed her my items to sign. She smiled. A little. I don't think she was dying to journal her experience at an autograph show.
Teri received the Bachardy book with great interest (she appears in it more than just about anyone else), wincing at the nude sketch and vibing with a mournful one, calling it sad. She can still sign, albeit in a wobbly way. She seemed pleased when I told her a semi-recent interview she had given about her career was one of the best, most clear-headed pieces I'd read from a movie star and that it had really endeared her to me. She's worth $90.
I'd already gotten a Kristy McNichol pic-with as well as one with her brother Jimmy at previous shows, so instead of focusing on photos, I had Kristy sign a fabulous Little Darlings (1980) clipping from Japan (so I could later have Tatum O'Neal do the same) and got a photo of her with Jimmy—see the gallery above.
When I asked to take the shot, Jimmy gave me the soft hard-sell, attempting to get me to buy this special CD he's pressed with his and his sister's old hits and lots of new singles. He gave me the used-car salesman pitch, saying they were trying to get him to sell it for $25 but I could have it for $10, and even removed the inlay to mark the umpteen fresh singles to pay special attention to. (I promise I'll be listening to it soon.)
Bought it. Got the shot.
Much later, in the middle of the night when I was ready to leave, Jimmy grabbed me and a cute Good Times fanboy who'd come dressed as “J.J.” and convinced us to split a car service with him, his daughter and a very nice woman who I divined was a Kristy McNichol pre-stalker (aren't we all?) and with whom he would be staying in the city. It was quite surreal, especially when he wound up politely haggling with the driver, who obviously didn't read Teen Beat in the '70s and felt the need to jack up the price of the right, claiming he charged by the person, and since there were five of us, the rate was $35, not the promised $25 after all.
I say all of this affectionately because Jimmy was actually a sweet and classy guy throughout, even if his teen daughter was mortified by his insistent efforts to use her cell to look up where in Manhattan he could find a Thai place that served bubble tea.
Which is actually Chinese.
Marion Ross (b. October 25, 1928 = 86)
There was a long line for Henry Winkler, who just turned 69 yesterday, and a steady flow for Cindy Williams, 67, but people were mostly keeping their distance from Marion Ross, taking her picture as she stood behind her table. I pushed past and shook her hand, telling her she was one of the main reasons I'd come to the show.
She looks great! Huge smile on her face and wearing a smart, seasonal suit, she told me it was her first such show and that she was having fun people-watching. She noted Henry's impressive line with pride.
I'd actually bought a rare image of her from God Is My Partner (1957) from a dealer in Argentina, who'd sent it to me via jet with a friend who was visiting NYC. She remembered working with gruff Walter Brennan (1894—1974) but was not overly blown away by the odd image (I'd get that reaction later from some others).
Charming lady. And I'll never forgive myself that I hadn't realized she was there working on her 86th birthday!
Diana Canova (b. June 1, 1953 = 61)
The star of Soap (1977—1980) was one of the nicest people I met all day, bubbly and friendly. She was sad to hear I'd recently met Katherine Helmond and that Helmond's rep said she was fading, but she liked hearing how into her short-lived I'm a Big Girl Now (1980—1981) series I was.
I'd had my eye on a terrific photo of Diana with her late mom, the actress Judy Canova (1913—1983) known for her hayseed character, but couldn't buy it in time.
Instead, I opted for a photo she was offering—with a pre-printed Danny Thomas (1912—1991) sig. I think Diana gets best-dressed honors for the day—that purple top was Project Runway-worthy.
Jeremy Jackson (b. October 16, 1980 = 34), David Chokachi (b. January 16, 1968 = 46) & Jaason Simmons (b. July 12, 1970 = 44)
I wasn't a Baywatch (1989—2001) fan, but I collect hunks, so I had to get the three dudes from that show.
Unfortunately, former kid star Jeremy Jackson was only offering cheapo photos (not real prints, more like at-home print-outs or Xeroxes), so I skipped an autograph and just did a photo op. Extremely energetic and attentive. The photo was great, but when I happened to swing by later, he'd stripped down to a wifebeater, so I had to get a retake. Those arms! John had left by then, so David Chokachi, whom I'd heard had once shown up to be someone's photo assistant years ago, volunteered.
Next, I got Chokachi himself. He is really adorable, looking very much the same at 46. He signed an early headshot I'd brought and we did a great pic-with, then he playfully photobombed my shot with Jaason Simmons. I saw Chokachi leaving the venue at the end of the show wearing his backpack. I hope he was planning to hitch, and I hope the truck driver who picked him up would only do it in exchange for some Baywatch cosplay.
Simmons is openly gay, but closed in other ways—he posed with me, but didn't seem overly thrilled to be there and didn't have much to say.
There was a ridiculously hot guy with the group who I figured might be with Simmons. He later stripped to the waist and wandered the venue, which is when I was able to snap him, Guydar-style (see top of this post)_.
Tatum O'Neal (b. November 5, 1963 = 50)
I was worried about Tatum O'Neal; her tempestuous past made me wonder if she'd be a horse pill to deal with. I couldn't have been more wrong!
We had a decent wait in line for her—she is, after all, an Oscar-winning actress—but as we got closer we could hear and see her interacting gaily with her fans. When I got to the table, she was telling a fan she'd been called a camp icon recently but had corrected the source because she preferred gay camp icon. I love the gays! she exclaimed, the perfect mix of modern sincerity and dated, accidental condescension—she is, after all, an Oscar-winning actress.
Kidding aside, she looks great, was dressed in a chic ensemble and engaged us in a lengthy conversation, primarily because she fell in love with John's high-end sneakers. She wound up taking a picture of us (!)...where is that going to end up?
Tatum, like Teri Garr, is in the Bachardy book, so I had her sign that. “I love Don Bachardy!” she said. “He drew my mother. And oh, look, my dad.” Her father, Ryan O'Neal, 73, was on the same page with her. (A friend of a friend had asked her the night before if she'd made up with her dad yet, to which she had allegedly replied, “No, he's an asshole.”)
She also signed the Japanese clipping Kristy had already signed. (I missed their photo op together the day before, and it wasn't until hours after meeting Tatum that I would regret not using her affection for John's shoes to beg her to make another Little Darlings reunion happen. Kristy had told me they weren't seated next to each other because, “It's a good thing that we have our own identities.”) The clipping caught her eye, too, as she'd never seen the image and could tell the luggage was her own. “That's my Louis V...”
Tatum wound up being the most exciting encounter of the day—she is, after all, an Oscar-winning actress.
Tracy Reiner (b. July 7, 1964 = 50) & Ann Cusack (b. May 22, 1961 = 53)
John left to get back to NYC for an event, so I was on my own. Therefore, the rest of my photo ops are too far away (people never do closeups unless you demand it).
My dual A League of Their Own (1992) meet-ups couldn't have been more different!
Tracy Reiner, who was “Betty Spaghetti” in the film, is of course the daughter of Penny Marshall, 71, and was raised by Marshall and Rob Reiner, 67. Marshall is notoriously rude at events like this, and I have to say Tracy—while not exactly rude—wasn't Miss Congeniality.
At her table, lots of people were examining her many ALOTO photos and chit-chatting, until her handler loudly asked, “Is anyone interested in buying an autograph?” That cleared the way for me. I introduced myself and asked her a little about the film, but she wasn't into long-winded answers. She did say she kept in touch with the ladies the movie was based on, but she remained reserved and I think her expression in our pic-with shows it. [The crowd boos.] She looks really pretty, though, and might've been annoyed by her handler's hard-sell.
Ann, on the other hand, was a doll. She looks the same as she looked over 15 years ago on the short-lived series Maggie (1998—1999). Also in possession of showbiz relations—she's the sis of Joan, 52, and John, 48—Ann was excited to tell me a bit about acting with Madonna, 56 (they have a charming scene in the film), and about the experience of making the movie in general.
After we did our pic-with, she interrupted a line-jumping fan to make sure to thank me for coming. [And the crowd roars.]
Debby Boone (b. September 22, 1956 = 58)
I tend to avoid any stars I think might be overly conservative—I'm sure right-wing fans would have a hard time paying Rosie O'Donnell, 52, for her autograph, too—but I thought I'd read Debby, whose faith is well documented, was nonetheless not supportive of her ogre of a father's anti-gay views (Pat Boone, 80, is still alive), and I have fond '70s memories of memorizing “You Light Up My Life”, so I went for it.
Debby looks fantastic (I should look into that facelift thingie she hawks) and was rocking some daring cleavage. We engaged in almost no small talk (it's true that you wind down as you go along at these events), but she was beaming and friendly.
Joyce Randolph (October 21, 1924 = 90)
The day ended rather nightmarishly, as was appropriate for a horror-themed event.
See, Joyce Randolph, the original “Trixie” from The Honeymooners (1955—1956 and on later specials), had been advertised to pose for pic-withs. I couldn't resist since she isn't exactly out and about all the time, but it was only after I paid (a lot of money!) that I realized her photo op was happening at 4PM. That was an hour and a half after I was done with the rest of the show. Plus, as I should have learned from my Abe Vigoda experience, it takes a lot of time to get 100+ people to pose for a photo and print them out. Double-plus, Randolph—just like Vigoda, 93, before her—was originally not signing anything, but last-minute agreed to sign our pic-withs.
I found myself in a long line with people I couldn't believe had ever watched The Honeymooners (one young woman was braying about posing with Joyce Randall) outside. Outside! It was chilly, and downright cold after being there so long. When I casually mentioned to the guy next to me how surprised I was that she had so many fans, he was aghast. “She's an icon,” he informed me, and we talked about watching the show as kids with our dads. Very nice guy, and very Honeymooners-fluent.
When we finally got to the photo op area, I plopped down next to Joyce and thanked her for taking the time to do this. I had to get out of my sickbed, but...I knew I had to do it, she said, referring to the fact that she'd been battling a cold and to the fact that she'd obviously signed a contract.
Then we were sent back outside.
Hours went by before the photos were printed out—one by one! They eventually let us back inside, where we clustered around a long table, behind which Joyce sat, ready to sign each photo as it was painstakingly printed on one old machine. This led to a prolonged, awkward period of fans barking out questions at the poor lady, who—what a trouper!—was a picture of grace under pressure. She answered everything amiably, though did laugh knowingly when fans joked about her never doing this kind of thing again.
She said Art Carney (1918—2003) was a genius who could do anything, in spite of being hard to get to know and an obvious alcoholic; she confirmed Jackie Gleason (1916—1987) would leave the tapings immediately and very little cast socializing occurred; she said 67-year-old David Letterman's theater is where the show was shot, so the audience was pretty small; and she told us her favorite TV shows now are Downton Abbey (2010—) and Modern Family (2009). She was also pretty geeked about having just seen the Lady Gaga (28)/Tony Bennett (88) special. Big PBS fan.
Finally got my photo and asked her if I could take a photo of her. She was reluctant, telling me, “Well, you're not supposed to...” but she did pose.
Then, at 7:30 (!) I was out of there faster than Jackie Gleason after a taping, another Chiller in the can.
See ya next time. Please share with anyone interested in what I affectionately call starfucking!