I just returned from my latest trip to the Hollywood Show, the venerable autograph fest which hosts venerable celebs and their increasingly venerable fans (us!)
This time, I was lured to the Westin LAX by several names in particular, chief among them living legend Diahann Carroll.
Check out my observations and encounters from the show!
Diahann Carroll, 82
How often does one get the chance to share air with Diahann Carroll (b. 1935), Dynasty's (1984-1987) Dominique Devereaux and the star of groundbreaking sitcom Julia (1968-1971)?
That was the question that prompted me to take the plunge and fly to L.A. My sidekick for the day, the talented writer, raconteur and walking encyclopedia of Hollywood history and gossip, Michael Michaud, was indispensable, filling me in on various rumors regarding Miss Carroll that helped explain some of her quirks.
That said, as intimidated as I was, she turned out to be quite lovely to us. (She asked one friend to remove his arm from around her during their photo op, earning his enmity forever, but other than that, a directive she blamed on her minder, I observed her to be more than game with her fans.)
As we approached, I saw her interact with a guy who famously attends the show in some sports garb, often face-painted and with a giant toy snake around his neck. He's alarming, but she tolerated him. Once they were prepared to be photographed together, she turned her head and for the first time fully took in the serpent, telling the guy firmly and in her best Indiana Jones voice, "I don't like snakes." He dutifully removed it and she then playfully kept doing double-takes toward him, asking, "Are we good now? Are we ready? Okay, now. Sure?" I'm positive his picture is a Diane Arbus work of art.
I also noticed the actress, whose career stretches back to the classics Carmen Jones (1954) and Porgy and Bess (1959), was beside herself over the lighting situation, having been positioned in the dark main entry hall right in front of a low-level wall fixture. Inspecting a patron's snapshot of them together, she declared, "This isn't good, but it's as good as we're going to get with this lighting. Find me a place with real lighting and I'll be happy to do one for you there." (That was magnanimous, but her handlers never would've let her move.)
Of another shot, she said with resignation, "I look like an old drunk."
I thought she looked quite pretty, though she was having trouble making sure the lock of hair she wanted drooping over one eye did so obediently with any consistency. Considering her stature, she was one of the most easygoing A-list attendees I can recall.
I love to bring original photos for the stars to sign rather than buying one of their modern reprints of common images, and I'd gone all out for Miss Carroll, lugging an oversized Peter Basch (1921-2004) portrait from the '50s. The dewy pose captured her imagination as she took it in. She said, with perfect fairy-tale intonation, "This was a long time ago."
I told her she was one of the people I'd come from NYC to see, and she shot back, "I came from New York, too, and I think I should go back!" with a wink. Or a blink?
I think our pic came out great, but I had already purchased pro photo ops with her and several other stars, just in case, so that's why you'll see variations on poses in which I appear.
Once it was over, she thanked me and was on to the next wonderful person out there in the dark ... or at least out there in the very poor lighting. (Note to fans: Bring a real camera with a flash!)
Much later in the day, it was nearing time for Miss Carroll to do her pro photo ops, and she was engrossed in producing hundreds of autographs on clear tape (a requirement as part of doing the show so that they can be plastered on photos for sale to fans who couldn't make the event), and I saw that she was chatting with Marc Copage (b. 1962), who played her son Corey on Julia. His character's buddy Earl, aka Michael Link (b. 1962) was also at the show. I saw it as a great photo op, but her handlers kept shooing me away because those signatures are worth big bucks.
As more and more fans kept interrupting her anyway, leading to some pulling her for photo ops and signatures, I took the bull by the horns and asked Marc if he would just sidle up to her. Diahann's handler called me a pain in the ass (it felt playful), but I got the picture, a real flashback to a series that featured an early black lead, and the first to feature a black lead in a non-stereotypical role.
She then bolted for her pro photo ops, in which I took part. Once there, she was positioned standing, but quickly demanded a chair (who wouldn't?). As they brought one in, I observed her sauntering over to a nearby table, seemingly looking for something important. Then, with the dexterity of a magician, she deftly removed a mint from her mouth and left it on the table discreetly. I'm sure no one else noticed. She's a pro! She returned, perched on the chair comfortably and then greeted each person for his or her photo with a surprising amount of energy and friendliness, considering she'd been working all day save for an hour-ish lunch break.
At this time, Stefanie Powers (see below) arrived for her own pro photo op. After interracting with Diahann, she emerged all smiles an laughing because Diahann had been asking her about Van Johnson. "Oh, no, no, not Van Johnson, the woman Johnson — Kate Johnson, you know who I mean!" (Probably referring to Kate Edelman Johnson, a film producer and philanthropist.) Stefanie seemed to get a kick out of Diahann's regal demeanor. And you know what? So did I.
Billy Mumy, 63
Billy Mumy (b. 1954) was our next target.
The prolific child actor of the '60s has done outstanding work, including in my late friend James Sheldon's (1920-2016) "Long Distance Call" and the classic "It's a Good Life" episodes of The Twilight Zone (both 1961); most famously on Lost in Space (1965-1968); and in the quirky comedy Dear Brigitte (1965), which starred luminaries like Jimmy Stewart (1908-1998), Glynis Johns (b. 1923), and Brigitte Bardot (b. 1934).
Mumy is a pro at the autograph circuit, so your interaction is never in danger, Will Robinson, of being anything less than professional and friendly, if polished to the point of packaged.
He was leaving for a photo op but graciously stuck around for our photos, and he raved about my friend Jim, recalling him as a true talent (60 years after they worked together, Jim had still been agog at Mumy's precocious talent) and remembering going to Disneyland with his sons one time.
Joely Fisher, 49
Born in 1967, Fisher is the oldest daughter of Eddie Fisher (1928-2010) and Connie Stevens (b. 1938), has appeared on Broadway, was the BFF on Ellen (1995-1998) and had success as Brad Garrett's (b. 1960) wife on 'Til Death (2006-2010).
She had a giant blow-up of a photo strip of herself and Garrett from the series, as if the Hollywood Show crowd would not know exactly who she is, not only as a familiar TV actress but as Hollywood-royalty spawn.
Fisher, looking pleasingly zaftig with cleavage for so many days you could tally it in weeks, she had a huge smile on her face at all times and was absolutely tickled to receive fans.
I've had to avoid her mom at conventions because she's a crazy right-winger, one who donated money to former Rep. Allen West (b. 1961). I realize lots of the stars at these shows are conservatives, especially the older ones, but I can't overlook it when it comes up like that. For example, this latest show included former football great/acting novelty Rosey Grier (b. 1932), and while I'd have loved to have asked him WTF was up with The Thing with Two Heads (1972), in which he shared a body with Ray Milland (1907-1986), his religious zealotry and support of Trump (b. 1946) made him a non-starter. (P.S. He looks like he's at death's door, so don't count on him running for office, as he's threatened to do.)
P.S. Joely told me she was loooving people-watching at the show. "You think you guys are watching us, but we're watching you!"
Clark Brandon, 58
Clark Brandon (b. 1958) is one of those '70s hotties I had a severe crush on back in the gay. My first words, upon seeing a brunet with looks like his, were probably, "That's my type."
Brandon was a young looker on The Fitzpatricks (1977-1978), starring in the family dramedy with Bert Kramer (1934-2001), Mariclare Costello (b. 1936), Jimmy McNichol (b. 1961), Michele Tobin (b. 1961), Sean Marshall (b. 1965), Derek Wells (b. 1967) and an up-and-comer by the name of Helen Hunt (b.1963).
That show helped make him a teen-mag pinup, but the series that should've made him a star was the charming Mr. Merlin (1981-1982), featuring Barnard Hughes (1915-2006) as the immortal wizard, Merlin. That show also featured Phil Lewis (b. 1959) as a sidekick; Lewis, later famous as Jackie Chiles on Seinfeld (1995-1998), actually popped up at the Hollywood Show in the crowd, but I missed talking to him.
Brandon was lovely to me, warm and conversational. He said Mr. Merlin was only canceled due to its $1-million-per-episode overhead thanks to its FX, and he admitted he wished he had had his taste of fame a little later in life, when he could handle it better. He said he was a handful, but that Hughes, much like his character, mentored him and took him under his wing.
Now a dean of students at a private prep academy, he hasn't acted in nearly 30 years, but directed three films, the most recent in 1997. He told me hanging at the Hollywood Show was a way to toe the waters about possibly acting again.
Now that I've met him, Peter Barton (b. 1956) and Tim Matheson — keep reading for Tim! — I'd just about completed my checklist of '70s supercuties.
Molly Hagan, 56
The adorable Molly Hagan still looks about 30! She was in Some Kind of Wonderful (1987) and Election (1999), and while her biggest roles were probably on Herman's Head (1991-1994) and Unfabulous (2004-2007), she will always be Sister Roberta from the classic Seinfeld ep "The Conversion" (1993) to me.
She also played the annoying daughter of Miles, Caroline, on The Golden Girls (1990), among her many, many TV and movie credits.
She was more than happy to indulge my Seinfeld focus, and said filming the episode was a riot, with Jason Alexander (b. 1959) cracking her up nonstop.
Like Joely Fisher, Molly confessed she was enjoying observing the fans. I think the craziness of the setting, which can beat some stars down, lifts others up.
Tim Matheson, 69
Two months shy of 70, Tim Matheson is looking sharp as ever.
Fifty-six years after his debut on the TV show Window on Main Street (1961-1962), the man who never stops working stopped working on TV and in films long enough to work the Hollywood Show.
Among his most famous roles, he was the voice of Jonny on Jonny Quest (1964-1965), one of the kids in Yours, Mine and Ours (1968), Griff King on Bonanza (1972-1973), bared his booty in Animal House (1980), appeared in The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again (1979), was one of the stars of the Spielberg (b. 1946) misfire 1941 (1979), played the veep on The West Wing (1999-2006).
When I approached Tim, I told him I loved him and had come from NYC mainly for him and Diahann. He told me that meant a lot, but I jumped in to say, "Actually, it's just because you're cute, so don't get a swelled head." He laughed appropriately.
I had asked my pal Bob Deutsch for prints of a fantastic pic he snapped of Tim back when he was shooting The Quest (1976) with Kurt Russell (b. 1951). The pic reveals Tim in costume, gun drawn. When I showed it to Tim, he was impressed and produced his business card so Bob could send him copies.
Bill Macy, 95
Bill Macy (b. 1922) was one of the oldest actors I've met at an autograph show — but not the oldest! Still, when I complimented him on looking well, he replied proudly, "Ninety-five!" He also made sure to tell his helper to charge me for the photo I'd taken, astutely worrying I would forget.
The pic I presented to him to sign threw him for a loop. "Is that me?!" he asked, as if anyone else looks like Bill Macy. The series was IDed on the back as Hayden Hall, something IMDb doesn't even seem to know existed. He was thrown, completely, but signed it happily.
I later discovered Hayden Hall, originally The Big Nine, was a summer series on CBS beginning in August 1979. It starred Macy, Barbara Rhoades (b. 1946), Dennis Burkley (1945-2013) and Nedra Volz (1908-2003) ... but I couldn't find more info.
Someone at his table mentioned being from Brooklyn, prompting the old codger to say, "Know how they teach the alphabet in Brooklyn? Fuckin' A ... B ..."
Chester Rushing, 25
Born in 1991, Chester Rushing of Stranger Things (2016-) was by far the youngest attendee I met up with — and the youngest one there! I couldn't resist saying hello, having just binge-watched the show (love it), which has a fantastic '80s/Dungeons & Dragons-saturated setting.
Though he plays one of the most unrepentantly evil bullies on the series, in life he is ridiculously nice, thanking fans for their kindness in approaching and giving me a free copy of his CD. (Who knew he made music, too?)
He and Michael and I talked a very long time, with Chester expressing appreciation for many of the other stars at the show, particularly his neighbor-across-the-aisle, Sherilyn Fenn (b. 1965) of Twin Peaks fame. Their series share common vibes, so that was inspired matchmaking. He also chatted up Tawny Kitaen (b. 1961).
Chester gave us his life story, saying he moved to L.A. from Texas just about five months ago, and is grateful to death for Stranger Things and the opportunities it has brought. He could see I had a decent camera, and happily gave me his personal cell number so I could send him pictures.
It would be hard to imagine him being any less like his character!
Stefanie Powers, 74
I've met Stefanie Powers (b. 1942) before, but couldn't not meet her again.
Looking slim and fit after a terrible lung cancer ordeal a few years back, she was sporting a new, short 'do that did not, upon close inspection, appear to be a wig. It was a little June Allyson (1917-2006) meets Joan of Arc (1948) Ingrid Bergman (1915-1982), but suitable for an accomplished equestrian like Powers.
She cutely scrunched up her face to say no when I asked her to do a solo shot, but warmly pulled me in for a pic-with. I told her I thought The Boatniks (1970) was one of my first movies I saw in a theater, and that I'd often wondered how I'd have turned out if it had been her Die! Die! My Darling! (1965) with Tallulah Bankhead (1902-1968) instead.
She laughed, saying noncommittally that Disney made good, wholesome fare back then, but didn't say much about the other; I find it fascinating that Powers would later play Bankhead in the national tour of Looped (2013) when Valerie Harper (see below) had to bow out during the early stages of her cancer battle.
The night before our encounter, Powers had held court at a large dinner in the venue's The Daily Grill, the pricy tickets to which helped raise money for the William Holden Wildlife Foundation, which she's run in Kenya since shortly after Holden's (1918-1981) death in 1981; Powers and he had famously been romantic partners throughout the '70s. The packed table was a testament to how highly Powers is still regarded, thanks in large part to her fetching performance on Hart to Hart (1979-1984) and its ensuing TV movies.
The day I left L.A., she and Joanna Cassidy (b. 1945) were eating lunch next to myself and my friends Don and Matt. She was quite accessible, chatting with Don about his close pal Jane Withers (b. 1926). When she heard Jane's name, she declared she must call her, and she did so on the spot, handing her phone to Don so he could say hi as well. Jane's first words once she was told Stefanie Powers was calling her were, "Why are you calling me?" which made Stefanie laugh.
She's gorgeous. What a terrific lady.
Joyce Bulifant, 79 & Roger Perry, 84
I couldn't wait to meet Joyce Bulifant (b. 1937), mainly because of her time on Match Game (1973-1978), but she was also part of the casts of The Happiest Millionaire (1967), Mary Tyler Moore (1971-1977), Airplane! (1980) and Flo (1980-1981), a bubbly presence who always had a deceptively wholesome look — and a winkingly naughty sense of humor.
Currently married to Roger Perry (b. 1933), her first hubby was James MacArthur (1937-2010), making her mother-in-law at the time the great Helen Hayes (1900-1993). I was dying to ask her about Hayes, but didn't want to upset her. Luckily, I happened to have dinner with her gay the night before, Gilmore, and he said she'd be thrilled to answer any of my questions, informing me that Joyce has a new book called My Four Hollywood Husbands (Tilton Bass Publishing), and infrequently performs a one-woman show entitled Remembering Helen Hayes — With Love.
How far off could I be in worrying about upsetting her?!
First of all, Joyce is immaculately preserved. It's unfair to rave about people who look good as they age, since so many factors are at play (health both mental and physical, wealth, addictions, plastic surgery misadventures), but in her case, it's hard to marvel that she looks the same as always — adorable.
Clinging to her adored hubby's hand (they were inseparable), she told me she loved Helen Hayes and wishes she would bring her show to NYC. "I think it should play the Helen Hayes Theatre," she offered, smiling. Happily, she's coming to NYC October 30 for a book signing at the Drama Bookshop, so I'll see her again. (There's also a signing the following night, at KGB Bar.)
The books seems frank — my friend flipped it open to a passage in which she writes about MacArthur smacking her around on their honeymoon.
As for her husband Roger Perry, I was able to tell him how much I loved his appearance in The Alfred Hitchcock Hour ep "Final Performance" (1965), in which he plays a man driving down the road who makes the fateful mistake of trying to help a young girl (Sharon Farrell, b. 1940) attempting to flee the nearby small town. He beamed at the mention of it, acknowledging how good Franchot Tone (1905-1968) had been in that supremely creepy installment.
Joyce was delightful, and she helped me get pics of her with her MTM co-stars Valerie Harper and Ed Asner.
... and The Rest!
The rest of these are people with whom I did not interact extensively, but whom I made sure to photograph.
Valerie Harper (b. 1939) had been the picture of health at past shows, then was diagnosed with incurable cancer — and then survived well past the time she was allotted by experts. At the Hollywood Show, she was busy the whole time, always smiling and overjoyed to interact with fans. When I got her to pose with Ed Asner (b. 1929), they kept hugging and kissing so much her husband had to prompt her to pose for me. "I love this man! I do!" she kept saying, and Asner kept joking that she was lying. He was more fragile than I'm used to seeing him, and was all too ready to depart once the show wound down. I've met him in the past and told him his politics impress me as much as his great acting.
Tommy Kirk (b. 1941) is a loner, but at almost every show. He has an incredible story, but as he has told me and my friend Michael in the past, he refuses to write a book. The openly gay former kid star finds the idea distasteful, saying this time it's "for me and God."
Leave It to Beaver (1957-1963) stars Jerry Mathers (b. 1948) and Tony Dow (b. 1945) were there in unison, only the second or so time they've done this type of show simultaneously. Jerry was fairly quiet, but Tony, when told by Michael that he'd grown up with their show, replied, 'No, we grew up with you." A goodnatured chap, Dow had plenty of shirtless and suggestive Wally Cleaver shots from which to choose — hey, he knows his market!
Shirley Jones (b. 1934) agreed with Michael when he told her The Partridge Family (1970-1974) was a great show, even though she must have heard that 1,000 times that day. She looks good, and was as sweet as pie when I asked for a photo.
Same goes for Barbara Eden (b. 1931), who lit up when I told her I was friends with Chip, who'd brought her to Vienna for Life Ball a few years ago. This was the event at which she donned her Jeannie costume again past age 80 — and looked sensational. She later said she has retired the costume. She gave me a lovely pose.
I loved grabbing Lee Meriwether (b. 1935) and Loni Anderson (b. 1945) in conversation, which resulted in a radiant pic of the pals. I don't know how they know each other, but I've been out to eat with Lee, and I must say she is warmth personified. A friend said that when she saw a photo signed by nearly the entire cast of her series Batman (1966-1968), she became misty-eyed and asked him to lock it in a vault, probably still a bit sad over the loss of co-star Adam West (1928-2017) earlier this year.
The line for La Bamba (1987) stars Lou Diamond Phillips (b. 1962) and Esai Morales (b. 1962) was incredibly long every minute, so I sprang for a pro photo op to cut down on the wait time. When I approached, I shook both their hands and made sure to compliment Esai on Bloodhounds of Broadway (1989). He said, "Wow! No no one's mentioned that one!" and asked my name. He was very friendly, joking that I should give his regards to Mark, Luke and John.
I gotta say, he is the hottest 55-year-old on the planet. He hasn't lost a bit of his appeal. I hear he is quite the ladies' man, as well, which is a shame ... if you're a man.
Thanks for reading my insights into the show! Click the links below for more autograph adventures!
2010-14 — Various Stars
2013 — Angie Dickinson & More
2014 — Katherine Helmond & More
2014 — Teri Garr & More
2017 — Peter Paige & More
Candid images with me in them by Michael Michaud; studio images with me in them via The Hollywood Show; others by Matthew Rettenmund unless noted.