I apologize for being off the grid somewhat these last couple of weeks, but I have the best reason! I’ve been enjoying a week-long vacation (mostly) at home for my 22nd birthday, which was just a few days ago on the 13th of September. While nothing classic film related occurred on my birthday, I did attend the Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention in Hunt Valley, Maryland the following day, and I couldn’t wait to give my readers all of the wonderful details! I found out about this convention almost as soon as I moved up north to my current abode in West Chester, Pennsylvania. Considering the fact that it started on my birthday and promised the appearance of classic film and television stars like Robert Wagner, Stefanie Powers, Diahann Carroll, Barbara Eden, Ricou Browning, and many more, I knew that it would be just the thing for me to check out! The admission was $20 per person per day, which I found to be very reasonable as it included not only access to the multitude of vendors and celebrities but also free screenings and events throughout the weekend. Luckily for me, Friday was the only day that I was really interested in as it was a day that every actor would be at the convention and all of the events, screenings, and interviews that I was interested in would be on that day as well. My boyfriend and I made our way down from Pennsylvania, which took about an hour and a half by car, and we made it to the Hunt Valley Delta Hotel at 11:30am, which gave us a bit of time to scope out our surroundings and take a first look at the vendors and both floors of the convention space.
The first booth that caught my eye was filled with incredible looking vintage movie posters in all sorts of different sizes for sale, from full sheets to half sheets and even inserts and lobby cards. I’m a wannabe classic film poster collector (I only have two at the moment), and as I’ve only moved into my apartment recently I have many bare white walls that need a bit of decorating, and what better way to do that than adorn them with vintage posters that feature my favorite stars? Many of this seller’s merchandise were in stacks which I had to stand and sift through in order to find what I was looking for, though he did have many posters featuring the stars that were attending the convention on display.
The first of these that caught my eye was a gorgeous full sheet of A Kiss Before Dying (1956), which stars Robert Wagner as a murderous psychopath. In preparation for RJ’s appearance at the convention I watched the film for the first time earlier in the week, and I adored it! He couldn’t have been better as the handsome yet sinister leading man, and it’s easily topped the rest as my favorite film of his. I had to know how much this poster was! The seller told me that it was $65, and he had a much smaller insert version for the same price. For me, that price would have been much more reasonable if it were framed, but knowing that it would likely cost just as much to frame the piece, I kept looking through his selection. Quite a few other pieces caught my eye, like a half sheet of Beneath the 12-Mile Reef (1953), which again starred Wagner and was filmed near my hometown in Florida, as well as a half sheet of Boomerang! (1947) with Dana Andrews, but what really captured my heart and interest was a half sheet of We’re Not Married (1952), a delightful comedy that features an all-star cast that includes Marilyn Monroe, Ginger Rogers, and my personal favorite, the alluring Zsa Zsa Gabor. Of course, once again it wasn’t meant to be as understandably the seller asked $75 for it because it featured Marilyn, even though of course I wanted it for Zsa Zsa.
I’d return to the booth multiple times throughout the day because it had quickly become my favorite, but at that point I had to move on because it was nearly noon and time for the first event of the day, an interview with a woman who was easily among the finest actresses and singers of the late fifties and sixties, Diahann Carroll. In all honesty, I feel that this interview was somewhat poorly conducted, as host and historian Spike Barkin spent the hour throwing random questions her way, many of which were negative and inappropriate considering the occasion. Perhaps it’s because I’m too used to the incredible interviews given on TCM by Ben Mankiewicz and Eddie Muller, but I couldn’t believe my ears when he asked her about her personal “#MeToo” experiences and what she found to be the most depressing moment of her career. It was obvious that she was unprepared for these types of questions and ended up rambling about her stance on the #MeToo movement a bit in an effort to dodge the inquiry about being a victim of sexual assault in Hollywood.
There were still many intriguing and entertaining moments in this discussion with Diahann, though, my favorite being when she told the story of how she met Marlon Brando. Apparently, the legendary Method actor asked Diahann out on a date, which she refused as she was genuinely busy with another event at the time. As she left the room, Marlon smacked her rear end and in retaliation, Diahann slapped him as hard as she could! The anecdote has a silver lining as Mr. Brando quickly understood the error of his ways, and the pair became good friends. From there we explored some of the other booths and saw some very interesting and unique collectibles for sale, like more posters, autographs, vintage toys and games, and even one merchant who sold gorgeous hand-painted Christmas ornaments that featured classic film stars! Before we knew it it was time to head up to the movie room, where I planned for us to watch an episode of How To Marry A Millionaire (1957-1959).
As you might imagine, this is a television show based on the iconic 1953 film of the same name, directed by Jean Negulesco and starring Lauren Bacall, Marilyn Monroe, and Betty Grable. The show ran for two years with two seasons and starred Merry Anders, Lori Nelson, and Barbara Eden. Even long before I found out that episodes of the show would be shown at the convention I’d been extremely intrigued by it, especially because I’d already adored the film version as well as Barbara Eden, who seems to be filling Betty Grable’s shoes as “Loco” Jones, though many of the other characters and aspects of the series are completely changed. As I mentioned before, Barbara Eden was expected to headline the convention, but unfortunately, the incoming Hurricane Florence made it impossible for her to fly up and appear. This was fairly heartbreaking to me as I’m a gigantic Barbara Eden fan and I’ve wanted to meet her in person for years now, but I was still more than happy to finally watch one of her appearances in an episode of this rare show on a big screen.
In this particular episode from the first season, entitled “Loco Leaves Home”, Loco finds herself fouling up the trio’s plans to snag a millionaire one too many times and moves out, feeling that the other two girls would fare much better without her. It was adorable seeing Barbara Eden in an earlier role, and I really found it interesting that not only does Barbara portray the ditzy and comedic “Loco” of the group, she also personified aspects of Marilyn Monroe’s character Pola from the original film as there are multiple gags in the episode in which she struggles to perform daily tasks after losing her glasses. I was thrilled that I got to see this performance, but aside from that the episode was slightly underwhelming. The other two women sort of faded to the background and much of the comedy was tired and reused from the earlier film. From what I understand after reading some of this particular episode’s reviews, it isn’t one of the better episodes of the show, so I’m going to keep on looking for what’s left of this fifties gem and hopefully tell you what I think of it in the near future!
Next, we have my favorite part: THE AUTOGRAPHS! There were quite a few stars who I was keen on adding to my collection but after Barbara’s cancellation there was one that stood out the most: Robert Wagner, famed leading man of the fifties and beyond and husband of Natalie Wood, whom (as I wrote in my tribute of her back in July) was my first favorite actress. I have to admit that I was hesitant to dive into his work and meet him face-to-face as a part of me feels that there’s a possibility that he was involved in Natalie’s passing, but at the same time I realized that I don’t know anything for certain and I would deeply regret it if I didn’t give him a chance and take this opportunity to see one of the remaining Old Hollywood legends in the flesh. As you might imagine, RJ’s booth was by far the busiest of all of the stars who had appeared; when I first scoped out the convention I couldn’t make my way down the corridor to even see him signing autographs, much less actually get one myself. I realized that if I wanted to see him, it was best that I get in line quickly and knock him off of my list first, even though I knew that seeing him would make me the most starstruck.
So, I joined the line that was so long that it led outside and wrapped around the small courtyard and watched as other fans equipped with authentic posters from The Towering Inferno (1974), Titanic (1953), and other works of Robert’s approached him and got their memorabilia signed. I struck up a conversation about his films and television appearances with the man standing next to me, and before I knew it I stood before the legend himself. I told him how much of a fan I was and that it was my birthday (the day after totally still counts), and how much I’d admired him in A Kiss Before Dying (1956) in particular. He didn’t say much but I noticed that his dedication on the photo that I’d purchased was getting longer and longer, and he would pause every few seconds to listen to my words and likely to think of what he would write next, write a little more, and pause again for another moment. It was incredibly intriguing to watch, and when he was finished, he looked up and smiled at me, wished me happy birthday, and shook my hand. As I left his table, I couldn’t wait to see what he’d written, and I teared up a bit when I finally saw his sweet and thoughtful dedication.
The other star that I knew that I simply had to get the autograph of was Diahann Carroll. She’d been on my classic movie star autograph list for ages and used to have a website where she sold signed photos, but over the last year or two, the site has become no longer accessible. I knew that this was my only chance to meet her and finally cross her off of my list, and after meeting RJ it was easier to keep my cool around the lovely and talented actress. As soon as I approached her, I got the aura that she was an important person. Most of her face was obscured by giant sunglasses and she wore one of the largest and prettiest sapphire and diamond rings that I’d ever seen. I complimented it, and in all honesty, it distracted me from actually watching her sign my picture. It took her a couple of tries to get the signature right as the first time she signed in a light silver pen on a photo with a light background, but the second try in blue ink looked stunning, and I’ll always treasure the extra bit of time that I had chatting with her about how much I enjoyed her interview and career.
After that, I was faced with what I thought was a tricky decision: Either I could get the autograph of Stefanie Powers, a wonderful actress who I admired personally but had only seen in one film, or head for Ricou Browning’s table, who was a part of my favorite classic horror film, The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), but whom I wasn’t very familiar with personally. After much deliberation, I went with Ricou for a variety of reasons. For one thing, I admired that he was a film student from Florida, just like me. For another, his table had been empty for most of the day, which I felt a little bad about, and I recalled that his signature was on the cheaper end of the spectrum and undoubtedly less than Stefanie’s. Finally, I already had the autograph of The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)‘s leading lady Julie Adams and thought it was only fitting that I add the actor who played original Gill-Man (in the underwater scenes only, just to clarify) to my collection. Little did I know, however, that Ricou had raised the price of his autographs to $30 instead of the $20-$25 like I thought, and if you can believe it, I was one dollar short! It was by far the most frustrating part of the day, but rest assured that I’ll still get his autograph, as luckily for me he still signs through the mail!
Only a few events remained in the day, though part of me felt frustrated, a little tired, and itching to head home. My boyfriend talked me out of it, and as we waited for the next event that we’d expressed interest in we got the chance to watch the convention’s annual charity auction, where any items were accepted and auctioned off to the highest bidder and all proceeds benefitted St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital. While most of the items were honestly what I would consider junk like obviously bootlegged DVDs and old items that looked like they belonged in a garage sale, it still became a very interesting event as the host was definitely charismatic and some of the items still had worth. It was great to watch the audience bid on things like a pair of seats at the celebrity’s table at the upcoming banquet that would end the convention and a fine-looking framed reproduction of a Casablanca (1942) poster, that, of course, I bid on and lost. The world just doesn’t want me to have vintage movie posters, does it? Finally, it was time for the second interview of the day, which originally was supposed to be with Robert Wagner, Stefanie Powers, and Barbara Eden, but due to Barbara not being able to attend, only the costars of Hart to Hart (1979-1984) remained to answer questions in what I soon found out was their first joint convention interview.
It felt like a real honor to be there, and nearly everyone who attended the convention was present as well and filled every seat and standing area in the room. Thunderous applause and an immediate standing ovation were given to these screen icons as they entered, and it was a real treat to watch them discuss their respective careers as well as their collaborations. As much as I adore Barbara Eden, I couldn’t see how she could have been a part of this interview (she really would have deserved her own, anyway) as it appeared that RJ and Stefanie had known each other all their lives and exchanged only the tenderest of compliments to one another at any given opportunity. Robert’s humor really shined through, and as a whole, it was a true delight to see, even if I’d never seen a single episode of the show they spent quite a bit of time discussing. It turned out to be the perfect end to the day, as by that time it had begun to grow dark, the vendors and celebrities had left for the day, and it was still over three hours until the final event that I wanted to partake in, the screening of The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) attended by Ricou Browning himself. Of course, it would have been a real treat, but we simply had no way to fill the hours in between and exhaustion had descended on us, so we drove home, listening to an incredible live Paul McCartney concert that happened to be on the radio and feeling so glad that I chose to spend my birthday weekend this way. Who knows, maybe I’ll do this every year!