Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention

When I first began attending Cinevent in 2007, I was very much a loner. I was so focused on all of the movies and memorabilia that were available that I had no time to try to meet people too. It was very much an experience in isolation, which was how I experienced classic films at home too. This was a hobby that was truly my own.

As time has gone on, I've become more and more social. It would only make sense that my experiences at conventions would become more social as well. Because of the people I have met at Cinevent, I have attended not one, not two, not three, but four conventions this year.

The latest was the Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention, which is run by my friend Martin Grams. For years I have heard good things about it, but felt the distance from my house was too prohibitive. Luckily, I have great friends, like Rodney Bowcock who offered to drive me there.

The great thing about MANC, which is different from most movie-related shows, is that there are celebrities there. Unlike many autograph shows, the celebrities are there to chat as well as sign autographs, and they each give short formal talks about their careers which end with audience questions.

I was most excited to see Margaret O'Brien, one of the most talented child stars of the golden age of Hollywood whose experience with MGM landed her in some really great films with some wonderful co-stars. How many children can claim they grew up "playing" with people like Charles Laughton, Elizabeth Taylor, June Allyson, and Judy Garland? And how many people can claim they turned down an autograph from Lawrence Olivier? Margaret was kind but not overly welcoming to her fans who came in a variety of shapes and sizes asking her to sign various items ranging from the 8 x 10 glossies she brought with her (the two from Meet Me in St. Louis were her favorites) to original posters from her films to antique Margaret O'Brien dolls.

My friend Matthew Walls wanted to meet "the catwoman," Julie Newmar and I tagged along with him in line. (By this time I had purchased a 1950s Little Rascals poster from another friend and was finished buying things so I didn't get an autograph.) Newmar was in a wheelchair but stood to pose for pictures with fans when asked. She had a variety of photo choices to sign including cheesecake poses, stills of her as Catwoman, and a photo from Seven Brides For Seven Brothers. In spite of being frail, she was exceedingly elegant with a dancer's poise and very chic clothes that fit her well. When I commented on her outfit, she smiled and pointed out that each piece was at least a decade old.

Late Friday afternoon, my friend Richard Finegan told me that in Johnny Crawford's talk, he mentioned knowing Dick Powell. Rich encouraged me to go talk to him to see if I could use any of the information he had for my book. He also told me that Crawford had expressed an enthusiasm for early jazz, and that in his talk he asked the audience if they knew of Annette Hanshaw. Only Richard raised his hand. Saturday morning I made my way downstairs to the celebrities and stood in a long-ish line (The great thing about MANC is that the lines are usually less than 5 people deep so you don't feel rushed.). I got to Crawford and chose a picture of him as a kid from The Rifleman and told him I was a Dick Powell fan, and that I heard he knew him. He grinned and said that he had, that he was a nice,
friendly guy and that he came around all the sets a lot and said hello to everyone. He said that he had invited him to his vacation home at Newport Beach a few times. I asked if Johnny had been friends with Dick's kids, and he said yes but that they were no longer in touch. In my nervousness, I forgot to ask for a picture with him, so I stood in line again, a shorter one this time, to get my picture. Then I mentioned knowing of Annette Hanshaw, and he seemed very excited and shocked. He recommended a film which uses Annette's music as the soundtrack called Sita Sings the Blues, which I have on reserve from the library now, and after posing for my picture he kissed me on the forehead. I stumbled away blushing and grinning like an idiot.

The big highlights of the show, besides meeting the celebrities, was spending time with friends I only see at these events. Old movie worship is rare, so when those of us stricken with the bug find each other, we bond quickly and form lasting friendships. I had a blast hanging out at the Radio Once More table with people like Neal Ellis, Ken Stockinger, Rodney, my roomie Kathy Meola, etc. talking about nonsense. And the best thing is that I feel like I really belong.

When I came home, I discovered that there had been a comic book convention in town and several people I know got to meet members of The Walking Dead cast, a show I watch faithfully, but meeting icons of Hollywood cannot compare to the temporary excitement of meeting modern celebrities who rarely have staying power. How many people can say they met Margaret O'Brien?

Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Cincinnati Radio Convention was a lot of fun, and it inspired me to book a room to go to the Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention too. I'm very much looking forward to it.

I am currently reading Debbie Reynolds' new book Unsinkable. When I was in the early stages of my research about Dick Powell, I borrowed Debbie's first book from the library, hoping to find information about Susan Slept Here. I was disappointed, and wrote her a letter asking for anecdotes and impressions of Dick. She never responded, but she did address the film in her new book. What she says is amusing and gives me something to add to the book.

"Dick Powell and I became friends while making the film. At the time he was married to June Allyson, another MGM star. I hadn't yet met her. Before marrying Dick, June had dated many men, including John F. Kennedy, who happened to be the brother-in-law of Peter Lawford, June's co-star in Good News.

"While we were filming, Dick invited me to their ranch in Mandeville Canyon, just outside Los Angeles. Dick was a very good businessman who owned a production company with David Niven in addition to his other enterprises. Dick loved that ranch; they even had cattle. During my visit, Dick went out with the horses while June took me on a tour of the house. As we climbed up to the second floor, she stopped by a window in the hallway and instructed me to look at the view--hundreds of acres of beautiful land, a breathtaking vista. When I turned back to her, June had taken about four roses out of a bud vase and was drinking the contents of the vase before replacing the flowers. Apparently, the clear liquid was vodka. She had it stashed all over the house, in various containers.

"June went to great lengths to hide her drinking, which was strange to me, as Dick was also a big drinker. Every afternoon at five-thirty, no matter what scene we were filming, a tray with two large glasses of milk would appear on the set. Dick and the director, Frank Tashlin, would enjoy their milk, which was half whiskey."

Friday, May 31, 2013

Cinevent 45

Cinevent 45 is over, and although I would love to be roaming about from person to person talking about movies and going to see movies, the convention has breathed new life into my interest in movies and in my goal to write Dick Powell's biography. The loss of my website was a bigger blow than I would like to admit, and it left me in a rut for a long time, but talking to published authors has rejuvenated my interest and given me the motivation to set little goals for myself until the project is done.

For those of you who don't know, Cinevent is a film convention held each Memorial Day weekend in Columbus, Ohio. It is practically in my back yard and I have been attending since 2007. My passion for this show has made me a bit of a posterchild for it, and I'm constantly trying to recruit new attendees.

This year, several of my friends were unable to make it for various reasons, mainly financial. I was bummed and expected that this year would be less fun than usual, but I'm glad I was wrong. While some people were not there, some of my old friends who have been unable to attend in past years were there, as were several of the old stand-bys. In addition, I met lots of new people, which is always thrilling. For someone interested in obscure movies whose contemporaries are mostly deceased, it is indescribably exciting to meet likeminded enthusiasts.

The movies that were shown this year were less exciting than in the past. I had seen several of them before, and while I enjoyed seeing them again, I expect to see rarities I haven't had access to before. This is no fault to the shows' organizers, who pull their titles from attendees who own the 16mm prints. The larger availability of obscure films on DVD also makes it harder to find hidden gems, but there were a few.

Queen of the Mob, a story about Ma Barker and her ruffian boys, was quite good. I was amused that it was set at Christmas over several years, a nice contrast to the dregs of crime that the family wallered in. Blanche Yurka was quite good, alternating between a frail, helpless woman to a smart and tough as nails leader, depending on who her character was manipulating at the time.

My friend encouraged me to stay for The 5000 Fingers of Dr. T, an unusual film, which goes without saying because it is a Dr. Seuss story. The visuals were twisted and strange and beautifully exhibited in Technicolor. There was a quirkiness to the story that made it appealing to young and old, although the music was mostly forgettable.

The silents were disappointing on the whole. None of them quite captured my attention. Pola Negri was sufficient but not great in Woman of the World. The Fighting Eagle didn't have anything wrong with it that I could see, but I wasn't impressed. The Nut was too uneven, but it had potential to be a quite funny film. I was delighted to see Mary Pickford in Stella Maris, which I had seen before and had considered to be one of her weaker films overall. It is worthwhile to see Mary in a non-conventional role, but the film is too political to find a place in my heart.

I found comfort in the routine. When I first began to attend Cinevent, I skipped the annual animation program in favor of another hour of sleep, but not anymore. This year's highlights were two cartoons that are often banned for having racially sensitive elements: Swing Wedding and Clean Pastures. I find today's society to be too quick to make negative judgements, and the obsession with being politically correct really fuels a lot of censorship these days. These cartoons, while they do have the gratuitous mentions of gambling and watermelon, are mainly celebrations of jazz and famous musical personalities of the day including Cab Calloway, Fats Waller, Louis Armstrong, and actor Stepin Fetchit. A modern audience might jump to the conclusion that these characters are racist without knowing that they were real people. It is unfortunate, and a lot of comedies and cartoons suffer due to lack of knowledge and witch-hunt mentalities.

I look forward to seeing Charley Chase and Laurel and Hardy shorts each year. Even though Laurel and Hardy's sound shorts have been released in a very nice boxed set, Cinevent just wouldn't be the same without them.

I had already seen all of the films shown on Monday, including the surprise short Every Sunday, but I enjoyed them just the same. House of Fear is a quick and entertaining murder mystery made on a low budget with lots of characters. The Social Secretary was better than I remembered it to be, and Erich von Stroheim was hilarious as the scandal sheet writer. I was excited to see another Henry Aldrich movie, which I was introduced to at Cinevent. I loved the series so much I went out and found copies of all of the films in the series and ...Editor is one of the best.

This year's Monday was different from most because I was invited to a Cinevent party at a friend's house afterward. We watched an additional four movies before I had to go home to crash: Peach-O-Reno, Who Done It?, The Damned Don't Cry, and 5 Fingers. Who Done It? was a repeat for me since they showed it at Cinevent last year, but it was nice to see it again.

It has been a few days now since Cinevent 45 gently came to a conclusion on Monday, but I am not depressed that it will be another year until I see my friends again. Perhaps that is because tomorrow I am off to see some of them again in Cincinnati at the Old Time Radio and Nostalgia Convention. I hope to see you there, and I will be sure to let you know how to goes.