Sunday, September 23, 2018

hollywood swinging

Last week, as you may recall, I wrote a rambling, near incoherent piece (I know, I know...that describes most of my writing) about the Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention (MANC), the annual gathering of all things pop culture from the innocent days of my youth, as well as a contingency of representative celebrities from the same era.

This show marks the first time that I attended of these shows that I did not purchase a single autographed photo. Instead, I approached each celebrity (with a few exceptions), offered words of praise and presented them with color print of one of eight drawings I did especially for this show. It turns out that — believe it or not — celebrities are people just like you and me. Every one has his or her own unique personality. Some are nice. Some are not. Here are the reactions I got from some of this years' special guests:

Ricou Browning. Sure, the name may not sound familiar, but this guy has had quite a career. Starting out performing  in and producing entertainment at Florida's Weeki Wachee water park, Ricou was recruited to star as the terrifying "Gill Man" in Universal Pictures classic Creature from the Black Lagoon, as well as its two sequels. Ricou, who is now the only living actor to have portrayed one of the Universal Monsters, performed all of the underwater scenes while another actor played the dry-land version of the title character. Ricou was also a stuntman and stunt coordinator for films and television shows, including Gentle Ben, Sea Hunt, The Aquanauts and Flipper, a series he created. He was the second unit director for Thunderball, Caddyshack and one of the Police Academy franchises. He served as director for the family films Hello Down There, Salty and the cult favorite Mr. No Legs. Now 87, the once barrel-chested robust Ricou is a small, gentle man who accepted my rendering of his classic role with grace and heartfelt appreciation. Ricou's daughter, who accompanied her father at the show, expressed equal gratitude.

Diahann Carroll. The Tony Award-winning actress and singer can look back on her career with great pride. She was nominated for an Academy Award for the title role in the 1974 film Claudine. She starred in the groundbreaking television series Julia in the late 1960s, a role for which she earned a Golden Globe. Diahann has worked with Sammy Davis Jr., Paul Newman, James Earl Jones, Sidney Poitier and many others, She was married to singer Vic Damone for ten years. When I presented Ms. Carroll, now 83, with a drawing depicting her from an early time in her career, she seemed distracted, commenting that "short hair styles were nice." Otherwise, her reaction was fairly indifferent.

Ed Begley Jr. The lanky blond actor is familiar to most people for his portrayal of "Dr. Victor Ehrlich" in the NBC medical drama St. Elsewhere. Since then, Ed has appeared in dozens of TV series and films, bringing a touch of quirky humor to each role. I approached his table at MANC during a slow period and found the actor sitting alone with his hands folded like a schoolboy. When I handed him a glossy print of his deadpan visage as the aforementioned Dr. Ehrlich, he offered a quiet — nearly whispered — "thank you." Then, when I explained that I did the drawing, his fair eyebrows arched and his pale brow wrinkled. "You're very talented." he continued in a doleful monotone.

Kristy McNichol. Known for her Emmy-winning role as "Buddy" Lawrence on the ABC drama "Family," Kristy drew critical acclaim throughout her career. As one of the most popular teen stars of her era, she appeared in theatrical and television films, as well as a co-starring role on five seasons of the sitcom "Empty Nest," and guest appearances on other episodic television. In 2001, she abruptly announced her retirement from acting, much to the disappointment of her fans. Kristy devoted her new-found time to charity work and teaching acting. At the age of 50, she came out as a lesbian in hopes of showing support to younger people who are bullied because of their sexuality. Kristy was very receptive and warm as I handed her the drawing did. She smiled and laughed when I told her I saw Little Darlings in the theater when it was released in 1980.

Trina Parks. An accomplished singer, dancer and choreographer, statuesque beauty Trina Parks has the distinction of being the first African-American "Bond Girl." Her uncredited portrayal of "Thumper," one of the villainous "Blofeld's" cronies was brief but crucial in the plot of 1971's Diamonds Are Forever and forever tagged her as the answer to a pretty cool piece of pop culture trivia. She was also featured in a few "blaxploitation" movies in the 70s, as well as dancing on several variety shows and specials. I waited patiently while a gaggle of lumbering MANC employees gathered around Ms. Parks's table, arranging themselves and snapping pictures without regard for other convention attendees who were also waiting for the opportunity to speak with the actress. When they finally cleared away, I gave Trina a drawing and her face lit up. She complimented me over and over again. I mentioned to her that my wife and I caught her recent appearance of the revival of To Tell the Truth, where she was presented along with two impostors as the game's objective of choosing who was the "Bond Girl." She told me that she was originally contacted by the show's producers with the premise of having the panel guess who was the first African-American "Bond Girl." She further explained when she arrived for the taping, expecting to find two other black girls, she was told plans had changed and the ethnicity aspect was scrapped. Admittedly, I am not a big fan of the James Bond series. I don't think I ever saw Diamonds are Forever, so I was not familiar with Ms. Parks's role at all. However, she was so sweet and engaging that our little tête-à-tête was an unexpected and welcome high point of the afternoon.

Morgan Fairchild. Born Patsy Ann McClenny in Dallas, Texas, aspiring actress Morgan Fairchild landed her first screen role as a double for Faye Dunaway in Bonnie and Clyde. Miss Dunaway could do a lot of things, but she shouldn't drive a stick shift. That's where young Morgan's talents first emerged. She went on to make numerous appearances in episodic television, usually handling the type-cast requirements of a conniving vixen. Morgan was a regular on the nighttime soap operas Flamingo Road, Falcon Crest and Paper Dolls. She made a number of made-for-television and theatrical films, including her poker-faced cameo on Pee-Wee's Big Adventure. She was the epitome of over-the-top 80s glamour. Unfortunately, that look does not bode well in 2018. Morgan was cordial when I greeted her with a drawing. Her hulky assistant, however, seemed a bit over-protective, but Morgan (who was surprisingly much shorter of stature than I expected) daintily shook my hand and demurely thanked me for my artistic efforts.

Robert Wagner and Stefanie Powers. The TV power "couple" from ultra-cool detective series Hart to Hart were sequestered in their own, guarded area of the convention floor, curiously treated like royalty. Robert Wagner, now approaching his ninetieth year, was seated behind his table, looking fittingly dashing in an open collar and ascot — begging the question "Does anyone besides fading movie stars wear those things?" I brazenly jockeyed my way past the preoccupied security to the edge of his table as an assistant extended a cautionary arm in my direction. "Mr Wagner is about to attend a Q & A session," he warned. I explained that I merely wanted to gush a little "fan appreciation" and give him a drawing that I had done. Despite graying temples and few crow's feet, Robert Wagner still displays the rugged good-looks that brought him modest notoriety for over fifty years and 148 IMDB credits. He examined my drawing and scowled. He poked an accusatory finger at his likeness and spat, "You made me look like Kirk Douglas!" I offered an embarrassed grin and replied, "Well, you do look like Kirk Douglas!" What I should have said was: "At least I didn't help Christopher Walken kill my wife."... but I didn't wish to cause a scene. As a turned my attention to Stefanie Power's direction, I saw Mr. Wagner drop my drawing on the floor behind his chair.

Wagner's co-star, the lovely Stefanie Powers certainly lacks the sex appeal she exuded in the single season of the spy series The Girl from U.N.C.L.E., but at 75 she looks pretty darn good — kind of like those ladies you see power-walking in the early morning hours around the blacktop track at one of those over-50 gated communities. When I gave Stefanie a duplicate drawing of my Hart to Hart piece, she responded with a polar opposite reaction from her co-star. She literally squealed with delight and showed it around to a group of her travelling companions. She shot me a big smile and thanked me. That made up for Robert Wagner's arrogance.

Tim Reid, Howard Hesseman and Jan Smithers. Three stars of the ensemble cast of the 70s sitcom WKRP in Cincinnati were in attendance. Previously-announced and confirmed Loni Anderson had to back out at the last minute. The trio was even further removed from the festivities, as a lengthy queue line was carefully metered for nearly the entire day. Access to their cordoned-off area was tough. However, just as Mrs. Pincus and I had decided to call it a day, I made one last attempt to gain access to the stars of the radio industry sitcom. At this late hour, the line had dissipated and Tim Reid was just sitting at his table fiddling with his phone. I walked up to him, introduced myself and told him I was a fan of all of his work. I quickly scanned his selection of photographs to remind myself of his post-WKRP projects. He chuckled when I told him I even liked his work in the TV mini series of Stephen King's It. I gave him a drawing and he seemed amused as he shook my hand. Tim returned to the pressing matter of his phone as I turned to my right and spotted an ancient-looking bedraggled Howard Hesseman and an frail-looking, gray-tressed Jan Smithers. I felt they didn't need to hear my praise and could do without my silly drawing. I decided I was finished for the day.

Two additional guests that cancelled in the eleventh hour were I Dream of Jeannie star Barbara Eden and Hollywood Squares host Peter Marshall. Mr. Marshall had an emergency family commitment to attend to. Ms. Eden, as we were told, was spooked by the on-coming Hurricane Florence. Signs posted around the convention expressed their regrets and pledged a make-up visit in 2019. I sure hope so because I did drawings of them too. I just hope they don't appear in my "Dead Celebrity Spotlight" before I get the opportunity.

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