Sunday, January 06, 2008

Hooray for Hollyweird 3--in Super 3D

Two years. Two bloody years. It's some kind of record, I swear.


That's how long it's taken me to get around to posting the final chapter of our January 2006 Hollywood visit (here are links to Parts One and Two if you'd like to catch up/refresh). Take heart, dear reader: As a reward for your patience, you'll get some red-carpet frosting on this movie-nerd cake.

Rita and I were floored by the preponderance of unscheduled celebs who attended the January 27/28 2006 Collectors' Show besides Ron Jeremy. Other unannounced guests included Joe Dante (director of The Howling, Gremlins, and the controversial Masters of Horror episode,'Homecoming'), character actor Hank Garrett (who we met at the February '05 Collectors' Show), legendary sci-fi author Ray Bradbury (wheelchair-bound but in good spirits visiting close friend Tab Hunter), and actor Chuck McCann, late of The Far-Out Space Nuts and an irritatingly-memorable guest shot on Starsky and Hutch.

I talked at greatest length with McCann, who was shopping for old vaudeville posters among the dealers, and visiting fellow actor pals. He was a gracious and easygoing bloke, complimenting me on my Schoolhouse Rock T-shirt (a close friend of his was a co-creator on that landmark kid's show) and happy to chat with a fan.

Another gracious and easygoing bloke, Richard Anderson (better known as The Six Million Dollar Man's boss, Oscar Goldman) chuckled heartily when Rita asked what it felt like to be immortalized in action-figure form, and he also reminisced about working with none other than Cary Grant on the comedy Dream Wife. Anderson said that the Hollywood icon was just one of the guys off-camera, and a bit mystified at the image that the world knew.

Billy Dee Williams likewise enjoyed action-figure immortality as Lando Calrissian in The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, but rather than pester him with umpteen Star Wars questions I wanted to know about his great character turns in Lady Sings the Blues and Brian's Song. Williams was smooth as silk in real life, and beamed with justified pride as he talked about those two early acting triumphs.

Plenty of other sci-fi icons made appearances, too. David Hedison and Brett Halsey each played the doomed half-man/ half-insect in 1958's immortal The Fly and 1959's Return of the Fly, respectively. Both men were a lot of fun to talk to: Hedison played US fed Felix Leiter in two James Bond flicks and said that the friendly cameraderie between him and screen Bond Roger Moore reflected real life.

Halsey enjoyed gainful employment in several Italian action, western, and horror programmers throughout the '60's and '70's. He even worked with a couple of that land's most revered cult directors, Mario Bava and Lucio Fulci. Bava, according to Halsey, was a sweet-natured, humble man with a fondness for practical jokes, while Fulci played the enfant terrible most effectively with actors and crew who failed to meet his approval (Halsey, for his part, got on well with Fulci but was in stitches when recounting the director's histrionics on-set). Both men have aged gracefully, a fact not lost on my wife (who harbored a crush on Hedison from The Fly).

Sci-fi TV heroines Denise Crosby (Star Trek: The Next Generation's Tasha Yar) and Erin Gray (Wilma Deering in the beloved '70's space opera Buck Rogers) could also give lessons on elegantly navigating maturity in Hollywood. Both women looked swell, without trying to look younger than they were. They were incredibly cool in person, and appreciative of their fans. Yours truly nursed quite a childhood crush on Gray, and she proved to be a compassionate and level-headed person in real life. When Rita asked her how her former co-star Gil Gerard (Buck Rogers himself) was doing, she told us of his status (he'd been recovering from open-heart surgery, was doing well, and had lost about 80 pounds on a new diet/exercise regimen) with the genuine warmth of a real friend.

77 Sunset Strip starlet Connie Stevens always struck me as the cinematic equivalent of the genuinely nice high school prom queen, a 'people person' whose perky and sincere good nature never felt like a put-on. Life imitates art big-time in Stevens' case; she was bubbly, cute as a button, fun to talk to, and devoid of even the slightest shred of malice. When I told her I was from Seattle, she lit up and talked with surprising authority about the then-upcoming (yes, it's been that long) Super Bowl.

Rita got Stevens' LP of Hank Williams covers(!) autographed, but the pressbook from Scorchy that we found at one of the memorabilia dealers' tables received the biggest rise out of the cheerful blonde (check out the one-sheet poster art that adorns the pressbook cover--can you blame her?). The 1976 movie marked her first go-around as an honest-to-God action heroine. Stevens said it was a hoot to play a tail-kicking federal agent, and she fell so in love with the Corvette she drove in the film that she bought one herself. She also described Petri Dish fave William 'Big Bill' Smith (the movie's resident heavy) as 'unique'.

If your typical Hollywood Collectors' Show is a crackhouse for movie nerds, a guest like Russ Tamblyn represents the highest-grade, most addictive rock imaginable. He's had one of those careers that crosses every possible genre and strata of film--child stardom in classic Hollywood flicks of the 50's like Samson and Delilah and the original Father of the Bride; an Oscar nod for one of Hollywood's most durable cinema soapers (Peyton Place); film immortality as Riff in West Side Story; lean years as a repeat leading man for schlock auteur Al Adamson; and a late career comeback in Twin Peaks.

Rita and I were fortunate enough to meet Tamblyn at our last Show in July 2005; at that time he regaled us with stories of working with Adamson on grade Z nuggets like Satan's Sadists and Dracula vs. Frankenstein. This time, the curly-haired actor's eyes lit up talking about director Robert Wise, who helmed two of Tamblyn's best, West Side Story and The Haunting (my pick for the greatest horror movie of the 1960's). He talked about shooting in a genuine British haunted house in the latter, and about Wise's astonishingly kind and forthright nature--Tamblyn said Wise was the only person in the business he ever knew who truly answered every single piece of fan mail he received, personally.

But one of our most spirited--and surprising--encounters at the Show was with Laurene Landon. The tall, leggy blonde hit prominence in 1981 as a lead in Robert Aldrich's female-wrestling drama, All the Marbles. Industry buzz around her cooled when the movie underperformed at the box office, but she worked steadily throughout the eighties in everything from gritty crime thrillers (she was a terrific Velda opposite Armand Assante's Mike Hammer in the underrated I, The Jury) to cheesy Conan ripoffs (the entertaining--and recently-released on DVD!--Hundra).

Like all too many actresses who've committed the unpardonable sin of growing older in Hollywood, Landon's acting gigs have dwindled some over the years, and I made the mistake of judging a book by its cover in her case. She looked haggard and beaten down at first glance, her lips a bit too plump and her figure a bit too slender for real-people comfort. Before we spoke to her, I felt a little bit of sadness at the steps she appeared to be taking to conform to draconian showbiz standards of thinness and beauty.

Conversing with her really opened my eyes. You don't expect an erstwhile blonde bombshell to expound with real, rolled-up-sleeves authority on the lean, old-fashioned scriptwriting of current beau Larry Cohen (the veteran scribe behind the I, The Jury screenplay), or to breezily-but-intelligently call Assante on his cro-magnon view of her character in the aforementioned film, or to profess the most sincere of crushes on her oddball Maniac Cop co-star Bruce Campbell. Something about the smarts just underneath her blonde exterior--and her indomitable spirit--reminded me of Judy Holliday, in a good way.

The largest of larger-than-life celebrity adventures, however, waited around the corner. And the harbinger of this trek into the Land of the Red Carpet was a genial and utterly unassuming Cali resident.

While waiting in line for Julie Newmar's John Hancock, Rita and I made the acquaintance of Wayne, a good-natured and articulate guy who had been collecting autographs for over thirty years (making Rita's and my decade-plus of collecting look positively girly-man by comparison). Despite his east coast accent, Wayne was a longtime Californian, and Yoda to us humble autograph-collecting Padewans.

It wasn't long before this Master Jedi casually mentioned that there was a genuine red-carpet event coming up that Saturday night--The Directors' Guild Awards. "If you want some autographs from A-listers, you'll see some there for sure," Wayne said with sanguine authority before adding the ultimate endorsement: "I'll be there."

Rita and I looked at each other. Her eyes said the same thing as mine did: Hell, yes.

So that Saturday night we drove to Century City, a cluster of generic office buildings and cushy hotels near Beverly Hills (sci-fi nerds, take note: The locale served as the faceless Utopia that the chimps overthrew in Conquest of the Planet of the Apes some thirty-plus years ago). Once we reached the Hyatt Regency, however, the plushness kicked in, with a steady stream of limos and luxury cars depositing their famous, rich, and/or snotty cargo onto the crimson-carpeted walkway. A large fountain in the driveway shimmered in the headlights of the luxury vehicles like an upside-down chandelier. We skirted around the caravan of cars into the Hyatt's parking garage (peasant portion, of course), plunked down $12 for parking, then proceeded to the hotel's entrance.

Rita and I got there about 6:30, and the award ceremony was slated to start at about 7:30. Sure enough, Wayne was faithfully stationed outside. He smiled broadly when he saw us, like a cokehead with extra nose candy who knew he'd found two fellow addicts to share with.

The red carpet started outside the front door about 100 feet shy of the entrance, then snaked its way into the actual lobby of the Hyatt. The crimson-lined walkway stopped just short of the inner sanctum/stairwell that led to the banquet hall where the Directors' Guild Awards would actually be held, so most of the guests had no choice but to pass the fans and onlookers on the way in and out.

The whole ritual provided ample opportunity for examination, internal and otherwise. It illustrated that great paradox--nourishing the notion of celebrity-as-deity while alternately reducing said celebs to the status of collectible commodity. The most cynical demonstration of this came from the small cluster of parasites that stood shoulder-to-shoulder with normal fans. The less said about this bunch of jerks (autograph dealers who carried cases of alphabetized 8 x 10's, pushed polite fans around, and even verbally abused the red carpet celebs), the better.

I suppose in some way we lowly fans just reinforced the absurd deification of celebrity by being there. And, yeah, you've gotta totally mute your ego to stand in one place and meekly ask for another human being's signature. But Christ in a compost-filled ditch, Rita and I had the time of our lives. In some very real way, it was like plugging into the continuum of the glamour of Hollywood.

It's taken way too frickin' long for me to get this damned entry posted already, so enclosed please find pictures (with exactly as much commentary as my slacker ass feels like inserting)from the 2006 Directors' Guild Awards. The resident photographic genius of the house (namely, Rita) snapped all of them.

The mighty Clint Howard--one of Rita's and my fave celeb encounters at the February 2005 Collectors' Show--arrived to offer brother Ron moral support (Ron was nominated for A Beautiful Mind). I neglected to ask Clint where the wound on his head came from (one theory: He may have caught his skull on a chandelier while levitating through a church and hacking people's skulls open with a broadsword).







I've always been a big fan of John Leguizamo, a good actor and pretty funny guy, so seeing him at the DGA's was pretty cool. In person he was just the right side of wise-ass, yet still really appreciative of his fans. Nice trick.










Ron Howard followed his brother Clint, and was as nice and polite as you'd expect in person. He gladly signed items from a sizeable throng of fans. At one point, though, Howard grabbed my modest little note card and Sharpie, and was literally about to sign the card when close friend Rob Reiner showed up. The Apollo 13 director turned around to say hello to his pal, politely handing my pen and note card back to me to shake hands with Reiner. Then he left. Dammit.






The distracting influence of that rat bastard Rob Reiner stiffed me out of Ron Howard's autograph, but at least he signed my note card. Reiner was nice, too, and he wins bonus points for having directed This is Spinal Tap.











Ludacris put a wide berth between himself and the red carpet onlookers. He was sporting a nice foofy scarf, however.











Ladies and gentlemen, the back of Clint Eastwood's neck.


And lest you doubt that Rita and I came within literal arm's length of said Hollywood legend, please note Defense Exhibit B...


Heath Ledger was on hand, looking like a serial killer.














Rita and I missed a few luminaries (Ang Lee and George Clooney, among others), but after the DGA's, we caught a few other celebs on their way out.


Rita did a terrific job of taking pictures under the circumstances, but the crowded environs impeded some of her work. Case in point: This shot of my manly neck, and Marg Helgenberger's cleavage.







Randy Quaid and his wife made some major news in my neck of the woods for being, well, really psychotic (long story, some of which you can read here). A good friend of mine employed at the theatre affected experienced some major mental shrapnel from one Quaid, but luckily, we were spared any trauma.






Our new buddy Wayne chatted with LeVar Burton extensively about Roots (Wayne's children were viewing the historic mini-series in class).








If I were Carl Weathers, I'd be inflicting some major body blows on the horses' ass autograph dealers who literally started levelling four-letter words at the actor when he politely declined to sign a Happy Gilmore poster. But the Man Who Was Apollo Creed was way cool, and truly classy all the while to actual fans. Sadly, we missed out on grilling the actor on his work in The Bermuda Depths, a 1978 epic in which he emotes opposite a giant sea turtle and folk singer Burl Ives.




Taylor Hackford, director of the DGA-nominated bio-flick Ray, actually laughed out loud when I asked for his autograph, not out of derision or snottiness, but out of genuine "I'm just a director" bemusement. Yes, Mr. Hackford, I'm a big dork. A really, really big dork.









Over the years, Rita and I discovered that the nicest famous people tend to be character actors, so Geoffrey Rush's sweetness and candor with fans was unsurprising. I chatted with him about his fine work as Peter Sellers in the HBO film, The Life and Death of Peter Sellers.










James Burrows, a man with a TV sitcom Midas touch, signed for us...












...As did Lou Diamond Phillips. Phillips was even posing with fans, a fact which sent Rita into paroxysms of depression when she missed said photo op.















Watching our new partner in autograph crime interacting with celebs, however, truly blew our minds. Like the missus and I, Wayne enjoys getting signatures, but getting photos with celebs handily trumps autographs for him every time. And he worked actor after actor like a pro, demonstrating a combination of tenacity and no-bull East Coast affability that worked wonders on some of the most crabby famous folk in attendance. Since our adventures on that January night we've maintained an email correspondence with our Jedi mentor, vicariously thrilling to his periodic updates from Tinseltown. Thanks for leading us on such a fun Red Carpet Adventure, Wayne: Master Celebrity Schmoozer, you are.

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