It's been quite a while since I attended one of the Hollywood Show autograph fests — and I'm not sure how many more I will ever attend! It felt a little stale a few trips ago, and while I was in L.A. for a much more exciting reason TBA, I still felt I was having more fun with my friends than at the show itself.
Truth is, most of the people fans are dying to meet are dead or dying themselves, or will never do one of these shows for whatever reasons they may have, so each time I go, I'm mostly going after celebrities I could live without meeting. Luckily, most of them are lovely or interesting to interact with, but it's getting to the point where IMDb feels like a checklist.
I went on Saturday and Sunday (second day is always dead); I only returned Sunday because that was the only day George Hamilton was going, and he was the biggest star there.
If you've never been to one of these and are curious to go, you gotta try it at least once.
Following are my thoughts on the stars I encountered. Enjoy!
Christopher Riordan, 79
I met former chorus boy, onetime The Gay Deceivers (1969) star and current Superstore (2015—) clerk Christopher Riordan at a previous show. He's such a witty guy, and who else is able to say, “Oh, I knew her.” “I was at his party.” “I went to his gym,” every time you mention a '50s, '60s or '70s household name?
Christopher brought some of his Hollywood memorabilia to unload along with photos to autograph, so I wound up buying an oversized Jack Scalia (b. 1950) photograph, a pic of Mae West (1893-1980) that is said to have hung in her home and a nifty pair of Marilyn Monroe (1926-1962) candids, as well as a wealth of Charles Pierce (1926-1999) postcards.
Yes, he knew them all.
We had a blast catching up. His stories are delicious because they always end just before they get really, really good, leaving so much to the imagination.
Martha Smith, 63
She'll always be Babs from National Lampoon's Animal House (1978) to most or part of the Scarecrow and Mrs. King (1983-1987) reunion to some of this past weekend's attendees, but to me, Martha Smith is one of the best $25,000 Pyramid (1973-1992, with other versions later) celebrity players ever! I loved her on the show.
Hilariously, she told me she has spent decades trying to think up answers to a clue that cost a contestant $50,000 — THINGS THAT CONGEAL. She also backed up Adrienne Barbeau's (b. 1945) story that celebs who competed on the show still have get-togethers to play it in private.
I had her sign an original Playboy calendar after making sure it was okay. She didn't mind, and she liked when I told her she was in better shape than my used calendar. She said I'd made two funny jokes when I went on to say I loved her Playboy poses even though I was gay.
Super nice. A pro.
Bruce Boxleitner, 66
It didn't happen when I met him, but another fan told me he'd asked Bruce Boxleitner what he was working on, only to be told, “Nothing. This is where we come when we're not working.” Then, the nosy fan said he thought Bruce must have money from Scarecrow and Mrs. King, and Bruce reportedly just shook his head no, goodnaturedly.
When I got up to him, his team was interested in the unusual head shot I'd brought.
He incorrectly told me when he thought it was from, but it's for sure way earlier. He was in good spirits and humble
I told him I was more into Bring 'Em Back Alive (1982-1983), but did not tell him it was sexually triggering to me as an adolescent.
Robert Clary, 91
He survived the Holocaust and went on to star in the broadly funny Hogan's Heroes (1965-1971), which made light of Hitler's bumbling Nazis, and at 91, Robert Clary is as spunky as ever.
As we approached, Ian Ziering (b. 1964) was coming up to introduce himself (Ziering declined my offer of a shot of the men together). The diminutive Clary jumped up onto his chair to do a sight gag, pretending he was taller than Ziering, never fearing how disastrous it might be if he fell.
When my friend and I spoke with him, Clary went into a burlesque routine over my spelling my name for him (“M-A-T-T .. titty!”), then gave my friend the hard-sell to try to get him to buy one of Clary's albums of music. We said we'd be back and he said he'd heard that before. Pretty delightful.
Keep reading ...
Christina Hart, 67
Still as bubbly as she was on that “Roper's Niece” episode of Three's Company (1977-1984) 40 (!) years ago, Hart is now retired as a thespian, but teaches acting.
She was very personable, even though most of her fans are obsessed with her for having appeared in Helter Skelter (1976), which might cause lesser women to be a bit aloof.
While reminiscing about her infamous dress-drop in that Three's Company episode, Hart was distracted by a fan who came up and began talking with her during my moment. This is a huge problem at these events, which are filled with socially awkward loners who have no clue they're being rude.
Willie Tyler, 76, & Lester, ageless
One of the most famous ventriloquists on TV, Willie was sweet. He made you talk to his dummy, but didn't keep that up to the point of obnoxiousness, like some do.
The only time I saw him without Lester was in the john.
I would put Willie in the ageless category, as well.
Bonnie Bartlett, 87, & William Daniels, 90
One of the most exciting appeances at this show was by Hollywood couple Bonnie Bartlett and William Daniels, who won Emmys on the same night in 1986 for St. Elsewhere (1982-1988) and who will celebrate their 66th wedding anniversary next month.
Daniels is perhaps better known for playing Dustin Hoffman's (b. 1937) dad in The Graduate (1967) — he was only 11 years older — and for his stint on Knight Rider (1982-1986); in fact, the show was offering a $199 photo op with Daniels in the actual KITT car from the series. (For $199, I want the car.)
I was more excited to see Bartlett thanks to her pitch-perfect performance as baddie Barbara Thorndyke (she misremembered it as Barbara Cartwright) on The Golden Girls (1985-1992) in 1988.
She played a laughably pretentious local author who turned out to be anti-Semitic-friendly, which was the part that finally made Bea Arthur's (1922-2009) Dorothy see the light and kick her to the curb.
Bartlett remembered that the audience actually booed her! Watch:
Both were very nice, and Bartlett cutely teased Daniels by pointing out how young he'd been in a photo I had him sign.
Patrice Donnelly, 67, & Mariel Hemingway, 55
The next couple I encountered may have been my personal favorite — Patrice Donnelly and Mariel Hemingway from Personal Best (1982).
I'd met Hemingway at another show, but I went for her again in order to have both women sign a lovely lobby card from their lesbian-themed movie.
As I told Donnelly, a real-life jock who tried her hand at acting (must've been a brave move to take on a lesbian role in 1982, coming from the world of sports), I found out about Personal Best because of racy pics in Playboy, which really wasn't the right venue for the film. But just knowing it existed was a positive thing for me 35 years ago.
Donnelly was completely humble and enjoyed my comments, and Hemingway is a ball of energy. She gamely listened while my friend told her about visiting her grandfather's home in Cuba the week before and admitted she'd been the one who arm-twisted Patrice into coming to do her first show. Seduced into autograph signings...
Dennis Christopher, 61
Hot piece of the '70s Dennis Christopher, so good in Breaking Away (1979), was a sweetheart. I think he's a private person, so I won't tell the story of how he came to be fascinated with my shorts (which, to be fair, were more like longs — give me some credit), but he did bring his adorable dog and was quite engaging.
I thought it was cute that he asked his helper for a reminder of how to spell ciao before signing it on my photo.
He also did a little demonic decoration on one guy's movie poster from his 1980 thriller Fade to Black.
Kent McCord, 74
Kent was perfectly stunning in a sexless way when he was young, so he wasn't really one of my fantasy guys. But that face!
Still, when that's your chief reason for being interested in someone, it leads to pretty lame conversation when you finally meet. I had nothing to say! Nor did he. He was as pleasant as can be, signed my photo, smiled.
I realized later he'd run for SAG president (he was quite active in such things) but lost to Melissa Gilbert (b. 1964), whose husband at the time was Bruce Boxleitner — seated just a few spots down from him.
Guy is very well-preserved!
Brett Halsey, 83
I knew Brett Halsey as a handsome B-movie actor, but I think my main memories of him are from TV guest spots; possibly I also caught him on The Young and the Restless (1973-present), a soap I watched briefly 35 or more years ago before I realized I can't stand the form.
Anyway, I found a terrific head shot of him on eBay, only to discover that an old flame of his — Irish McCalla (1928-2002) of Sheena, Queen of the Jungle (1955-1956) — had written on the back, “Dated him between Pat & Patrick marriages a couple of years — we remained friends for several years — he was under contract, lived in Laurel Canyon.”
Of course, Mr. Halsey read all of this and didn't comment.
What he did do was offer me a free code to read one of his e-books — a man of few words, he seemed very proud of them.
Priscilla Barnes, 61
The Three's Company (1977-1984; she appeared from 1981 on) actress — I told her she was one of the best-ever replacements, which she liked — is wired!
As we waited for our moment with her, it dragged on because she insisted on yakking with every fan, which is a compliment. She was happy to discuss any aspect of her career, whether it be her outrageous Rob Zombie (b. 1965) flick The Devil's Rejects (2005), her recent stint on Jane the Virgin (2014-present) or her most famous role, as Nurse Terri on 3C.
She signed a photo I picked out and remembered it had been by Harry Langdon (b. 1934) for Us Magazine (1982). Then she brought up how a lot of fans think they know her life better than she does, including those who continually tell her they loved her on Battle of the Network Stars (1976-1988; new version coming in June), to which she'd always say she wasn't on it. Finally, she asked them to show her a picture, and she realized it was a mud-wrestling picture from a 1982 Love Boat (1977-1987) appearance featuring Ted Knight (1923-1986) as her team captain for the Klondike Carnival Cruise Competition.
Can't wait for Ryan Murphy (b. 1965) to dramatize that episode.
Peter Paige, 47
The most current and busiest star at the convention was Peter Paige, a lovely guy to me on Facebook who you all know from Queer as Folk (2000-2005) and probably also as the creator of The Fosters (2013-present).
Peter had expressed reservations about doing the show, but arrived looking like a million bucks and I'm sure attracted a good number of fanboys and -girls.
After egging him on to do the show, I promptly forgot to pay him, leading to his helper running me down (I didn't get far). How mortified was I? I'm sure he thought it was like when you have great sex with a hooker and convince yourself they're going to comp you out of love. He was gracious about it. I sure hope he didn't think I was trying to get away with it on purpose. The truth is I prefer to pay after just because so many times the stars' helpers will shout out a price while you're meeting the star and attempting to have a civil interaction. His friend was the opposite and very nice, as was Peter, who is openly gay and openly talented and openly nice.
Barry Williams, 62
I have all of the Brady Bunch (1969-1974) kids except Marcia now!
I had met and gotten a pic with Barry Williams aka Greg at Florence Henderson's (1934-2016) NYC memorial, but meeting him at the Hollywood Show just made it official. He went all out, showing up in a Johnny Bravo vest and inviting me to wear a Tiki idol fashioned after the one from the 1972 Hawaiian episode of the show.
He also made sure to remove it from my neck as soon as the shots were taken.
Barry was super nice. He thanked me for saying I was impressed with his singing at the memorial (I was) and agreed that it had been a lovely affair.
I spotted him later showing up for lunch at the Daily Grill in the hotel — still in the vest!
Ronnie Schell, 85
Stand-up comic and TV veteran Ronnie Schell looked old-school dapper and was very charming to everyone who came up to him.
Most famous for appearing on Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. (1964-1969), he seemed anything but mired in the past, talking about an upcoming trip to NYC with his wife.
He was the only star who brought up the spectre of Donald Trump (b. 1946). When talking about Flint, Michigan, he wondered aloud if Trump would help the people there without making it clear if he was a Trump supporter or not; I guessed not. Anyway, he even managed to talk about that in a diplomatic way.
Dedee Pfeiffer, 53
I had a great time chatting with adorable Dedee Pfeiffer, who told us a long story about how Seinfeld (1989-1998) kept calling her in before finally casting her in the classic 1994 “The Opposite” episode. She felt like they were torturing her, but they were really just trying to use her in the right episode. Good call! Her delivery in that episode is so spot-on.
Dedee also recalled working on 1985's Toughlove, reacting to the pic I showed her by calling herself a baby. She listed all the great stars in the movie, reserving her highest praise for Piper Laurie (b. 1932).
Our meeting was marred by my camera malfunctioning, leading me to use my backup. Sorry, Dedee!
Eric Roberts, 61
And then there was Eric Roberts.
Arguably the most acclaimed actor at the event, Roberts made a big show of coming late, a note on his sign informing us he was filming. In other words: “I'm at least working, bitches.”
He arrived and was filled with energy, but I wouldn't say he was happy to oblige his fans so much as he seemed to be pushing himself through it.
He was very controlling of the cameras, insisting he be shot slightly from above, and he would drape himself on each fan in exactly the same pose, clearly the one he felt showed him off to his best advantage.
I told him how I would always remember him indulging two female fans outside his Broadway show Burn This (1988 was when I was there, seeing Speed-the-Plow, which I believe was next door). He smiled warmly and thanked me. But when I asked if I could take a picture of him solo, he told me sharply to ask his helper. Then he reversed course when the helper said yes, saying he didn't want to do that and never looking back up at me.
Then, a fellow actor with a table at the show came over for a quick pic — this is common and is a professional courtesy — and he gestured to the fans in his line, saying they all took priority because they'd been waiting. This was pretty embarrassing for the actor, and felt more like Roberts asserting control in yet another way more so than Robert sticking up for his fans, who would've lost all of 10 seconds.
Tommy Kirk, 75
The onetime Disney and surf-movie star — most famous as the kid from Old Yeller (1957) — is someone I've met before, so I didn't buy an autograph, but my friend and I did chat with him, which proved interesting.
Tommy, prodded about doing his memoirs, was adamant — he doesn't care for stars who talk about every bruise and every lost love on TV talk shows, and he feels he has no business doing a book about his career since he never, for example, traded Shakespearean roles with Richard Burton (1925-1984) onstage.
A very un-Hollywood man, he admitted he'd bought his first-ever picture of a star and said it was of the best actor who ever lived. After I guessed incorrectly, he revealed it was Marlon Brando (1924-2004). It was refreshing to hear an actor rave about a fellow actor so unselfishly.
George Hamilton, 77
One of the last MGM stars, albeit a man probably more famous for being suave and for that suntan, George Hamilton did boffo business at the show, in spite of only appearing on the second, slow day.
Though he was probably the most overall famous figure around, he was by far the nicest I met, surprisingly. His reputation for being debonair is not all PR!
He spent lots of time with each fan, and when I told him I had loved Love at First Bite (1979) and Zorro, the Gay Blade (1981 — God, I wonder how I'd react to this one today?) as a kid, he proudly informed me he'd commissioned and produced both, so was especially grateful to hear that.
I had a hot pic of him, shirtless, with Mercedes McCambridge (1916-2004) from the campy Angel Baby (1961), so I had to ask him about her. He said the was as tough as an army boot, and told me, on video, about how she'd demanded he slug her as hard as he could in the movie — so hard he hurt his arm. Watch:
George also said he'd recently received a picture from Burt Reynolds (b. 1936) taken from Angel Baby, a scene in which Hamilton kicked Reynolds's ass, and that Burt had written, “This won't ever happen again.”
George was a peach, and I'm sure many fans must've asked him about hanging out with Elizabeth Taylor (1932-2011), among other items on his résumé.
The other thing that was cool about George was that he said I looked like I knew what I was doing with my professional camera. Such a smoothie — always be nice to the person taking your picture!
P.S. My fave autograph from my trip had come the day before all of this when I met '80s gay porn actor (briefly) and model (much longer) Shawn Mayotte (b. circa 1963). Here is what I can show you from that one:
Thanks for coming along on the ride!