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 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.”
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.