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?