The Hollywood Show does not, as its name would imply, take place in Hollywood. Nor is it a show in the traditional sense of the word. Rather, it’s a weekend-long expo in a hotel ballroom, a chance to peddle yellowed movie memorabilia and even yellowed-er celebrities from days long past. For a mere $20, nostalgia buffs can meet “the guy”: the guy who wrote the song “Build Me Up Buttercup,” the guy who starred in M.A.S.H. (the movie, not the TV show), the guy who spat, “No soup for you!” on the episode of Seinfeld that inspired a million novelty shirts.
A “Celebrity Check-In” table greeted the show’s attendees; behind it, a bored-looking woman silently ate a slice of flavorless-looking pizza. In the corner, a revolving door of middle-aged men, who had each paid $40 for the privilege of getting professional photos taken alongside a rapidly decaying Martin Landau, struck a pose next to the Ed Wood star. "Make sure to mention the Hollywood Show on your Facebook posts!" an employee loudly, cheerfully, reminded them.
Hugh O’Brian, star of 60-year-old show The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, hung signage in the hallway inquiring, "He's Still Alive???"; said signage instructed readers to "See For yourself!" Once one took the bait, they bore witness to the sight of an elderly, yet still breathing, O’Brian eating a sandwich next to his parked Rascal scooter.
Lita Ford, wearing a leather jacket with her own name on it, signed mementos shakily held by a man sporting a vintage Runaways tour shirt. The face of the woman who played Margaret "Hot Lips" Houlihan contorted into a look of pain and confusion as a large white male (the show’s target demographic) asked her one in a no doubt series of inane questions.
The Soup Nazi, sullen and alone, swiped at his iPhone behind a folding table filled with unsold, signed ladles. Sans fanfare, he pulled a vape pen out and started smoking.
The lines to meet Landau, Patty Duke, and Cloris Leachman, the show’s main draws, were endless. Not so for folks like the Soup Nazi. I spotted him smoking outside and followed suit. I listened to him speak, in hushed tones, to an associate about how he hoped the show’s attendance would pick up tomorrow. About how he no longer drinks liquor. About how someone once said something extremely nice about him on the internet and how it made his day.
I could tell, watching him from a distance, that he was kind-hearted, undeserved of the karmic injustice of his surroundings. Hours after the cigarette, I walked by his folding table and saw him finally get his photo taken with an eager fan. A genuine smile crossed his previously pursed lips.
The "celebrities" wandering around the convention wore lanyards indicating their status. I recognized virtually none of them. The star of The New Adventures of Pippi Longstocking mindlessly doodled behind her folding table; I watched as her presence was met with universal disregard. She seemed used to such treatment.
While it was part of the reason why I was there, I felt uncomfortable taking photographs of the festivities. The intrusion seemed too intimate. As I moseyed by their folding tables, the sad, yet somehow hopeful, looks the “stars” gave me as I passed by made me feel as though I were walking through a pound.
In their eyes, I was here to find someone to love, to appreciate. They hoped it was them. I quickly realized there was no place more vulnerable a person, let alone a celebrity, could sit than behind a folding table. It seemed disingenuous to feel sorry for them—after all, they had achieved far more success in their careers than I ever had and ever could. Yet, as a person capable of human empathy, I did.
On a lighter note, it turns out that Chuck Negron of Three Dog Night has his own variety of hot sauce. And guess what? It’s for sale!
The line to meet Patty Duke was an endless snaking mess, the extent to which attendees used the sentence "by where Patty Duke is" as a map point. A 20-something guy, the kind I'd let give me a mediocre hand job, stared intently at her head as he waited to shake her bony hand.
Everyone who had weathered the line’s length was delighted by her pixie-like size and friendly demeanor. "She was great," one fellow sighed to another outside her table, the joy and relief in his statement implying he had just successfully fucked her.
Duke was high-profile enough to warrant her own handler—she, however, was an exception to the rule. Only the big guns—your Mickey Dolenzes, if you will—could afford such luxuries. The rest of the fray were subject to the existential crisis only sitting alone behind a folding table could provide. In this context, a handler was one’s best ally, not to mention the perfect hype man. "He's been in more Gunsmokes than anyone else!” one shouted. “Look at his credits!" As I wandered by, I couldn’t help wondering if they were new hires, procured for a cheap rate, or had stuck with their employer through the good and the bad, like a long-suffering wife.
"Isaiah 26, Verse 18–19, New English Translation," a Bible-carrying gentleman instructed Sam J. Jones, the star of Flash Gordon, to make a note of. "I was like the Prodigal Son's brother," he reminisced. "But when I got saved, it was like an opening up. Like freedom." While feeling blessed to meet his idol, he gave props to the creator who had facilitated the whole thing. "Thank you God first,” he said. “God's more important. Sorry, but I love God more than I love you." "Yeah,” Jones replied. “Gotta put God before everyone else." Walking into the conversation, I assumed the fan was an insane annoyance. It turned out, however, that he was a spiritual ally. “You've always been a blessing to talk to," the fan spurted. Jones thanked him for his love.
For the unsaved, there was little common ground. Their job was to pretend as though they enjoyed the intrusions their rabid (albeit small) fan bases provided. Their acting training, however, facilitated this ruse.
And some, anyhow, made the most of it. I saw Fred Williamson, star of M.A.S.H. (the movie, not the TV show), first merely exchange pleasantries with a young, lithe fan. The next time I walked by, she sat behind the folding table with him. Decades younger and delighted by his presence, she delivered a series of preplanned, bemused laughs in response to everything he said. I’m sure, right now, in a hotel by the airport, they are making something akin to love.
Tony Clifton, inexplicably, was also in attendance. I, in love with the irony, took a picture of two bros taking a picture with him. As I did so, he spotted me out of the corner of his eye and sprinted toward me. He was quite spry for his size. "Whatcha doin'?" he aggressively spat. Terrified, my camera shook in my hands. Once he reached me, he began to laugh. "Ah, I didn't scare ya, did I?" he asked. "No," I lied, my heart pounding.
The bros went back to taking their photo. "Yo, put your middle finger up!" one implored. Andy Kaufman, creator of the Tony Clifton persona, would have allowed this. He would have loved it. While this iteration of Clifton was clearly Bob Zmuda, not Kaufman, he appeared to be the only one at the show who was genuinely enjoying himself. Most of the time, he wasn’t even manning his booth.
Surrounded by photographic specters of their past selves, less self-aware celebrities must have felt as though they were in hell—failing that, purgatory. It must have, to them, felt like a goddamned Twilight Zone episode. "Let's say 'bye to Richard," a woman said, as if she were close personal friends with the huge, grotesque actor who had played a huge, grotesque alien on the show and sat behind a folding table because of it. Shit, maybe she actually is, I thought. He seems nice.
"She's… that gal… from that thing!" Spoken with reverence.
"Look! Billy Preston!" Spoken while the person held a water-damaged notecard with Preston’s signature on it, which was procured from a bin of discounted signatures.
"I saw Stephanie Powers!" Spoken by a portly middle-aged man with an un-ironic mustache
“Y’know, the guy who plays Boba Fett."
"The hottest old lady actress? Definitely Helen Mirren."
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