Originally published July 15, 2013 at The Los Angeles Beat
As most of us fully realize, in the United States we live in an easily disposable culture. Many people focus on the newest, shiniest, trendiest things while forgetting about what was valuable in the recent past. Often when something becomes truly vintage it is accepted again, but there is that shadowy middle ground, that time period when something is outdated but has not quite entered the realm of cool yet. It is definitely prevalent in our city, after all, Los Angeles is looked upon to set many of the trends that people are following worldwide. Our guru-like creation of pop culture, a religious experience to many, is one of the advantages of living in our town. We run into celebrities, past and present, at the market, at the gym, basically everywhere we go, because, like them, this is the city that we all call home. Obviously the ones who are currently at the top of their game, with a hit TV show or a gold record or a film in the theaters are much too busy to fraternize much with their adoring public. But what about those people in that gray area, the celebrities whose hits are fading from memory, who are slightly outdated culturally, but maybe not quite vintage yet? Or what about the ones who achieved cult notoriety, but never quite broke through to hitsville?
Enter The Hollywood Show, a collectors show for the truly fanatic, the fans who appreciate that shadowy area of gray in which their cultural icons are no longer so far removed from mere mortals. This convention, of sorts, which has been happening four times a year since 1979, bills itself mainly as an autograph show. However, it is also a chance to meet and greet these faded stars, chat with them, get photos with them and buy their photos, DVDs or memoirs. Held in Burbank for the last several decades, the show has recently moved to the Westin Hotel near the Los Angeles airport. Besides gathering stars for photos and autograph ops, the Hollywood Show attracts dozens of vendors selling collectibles, movie posters and other memorabilia. The organizers also take the time to round up one or more whole casts of a TV show or film, at least the surviving and available members, for a panel discussion and straight up photo sessions with the public. Obviously these special professional photos cost quite a bit extra. Besides purchasing the shots with an entire cast fans can opt for buying formal photos with many individuals on the show list as well. Depending upon one’s degree of obsession this can become an expensive hobby. Luckily, for those not so obsessed, many of these celebrities allow personal photos with a fan’s own camera or iPhone. Of course it’s somewhat expected that the fan will purchase an autograph or something else the star is selling. At the end of the day the celebs are here to make money, their time of promoting a thriving career is often long past.
Walking into the Hollywood Show, as I did on one recent sunny Sunday afternoon, was quite a surreal experience. After paying an entrance fee and being given a wristband, I was free to wander the large conference hall that was set up with folding tables, piles of merchandise, and the main attraction- the celebrities. I took my time, wandering the perimeter, gaining my bearing. Many of the faces were not recognizable to me at first glance and I would only figure out who they were after reading the placards on the tables and perusing the items for sale. I walked past one table where a tall, handsome man stood talking to someone. This was supposed to be Jimmy McNichol’s table, the 1970s teen star of Teen Beat and Tiger Beat fame, the brother of the more famous teenager Kristy McNichol. The handsome man said hello and I looked around, not quite aware what the protocol for this event was. “Are you Jimmy McNichol?” I asked, fully aware that this particular celebrity really could have been anyone at the table and I would have been none the wiser. I think the last pin-up I saw Mr. McNichol appear in he was probably barely 16 years old. “Yes, I am Jimmy McNichol,” he stated. At a loss I asked, “Do you charge for photos, or can I just get one?” Rather smoothly he responded, “I’d love to get my photo with a beautiful girl, and you definitely don’t have to pay.” So we posed, while a passing fan fumbled while trying to figure out how to use my iPhone camera, and I told Jimmy about the Hollywood Show article I was intending on writing for the Los Angeles Beat so as not to appear as too much of a geek or a stalker.
There are a few different types of people who I can lump into stereotypes that were out in droves at the Hollywood show. The biggest category were probably die hard fans who had never stopped caring about their heroes. These people seemed stuck in time. Although their hair has grayed and their waistlines have expanded, they carry a groupie-like excitement for almost anyone who once held the status of fame. They get autographs and photos, linger at the tables and compose the core group of this little convention. Next in line are the memorabilia collectors. They are there hunting a certain autograph or a particular 8×10 movie still to fill out their collection. They are not as concerned with capturing themselves in photos with the celebrities, but more importantly they are there to obtain the elusive missing piece to their collection. Finally, there are the kitsch seekers, those who enjoy the weirdness of this event and revel at the disbelief a photo with a star of the past might get from their friends and their followers on Facebook and Instagram.
At this particular event the Planet of the Apes and Jaws casts were featured, but there were a total of a 100 or more celebrities present at this 2-day spectacle. These included scandalized baseball player Pete Rose, pop singer Pat Boone, One Day at A Time stars Mackenzie Phillips and Pat “Schneider” Harrington, Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr., who had the 1977 hit song “You Don’t Have to Be a Star (To Be in My Show),” original Star Trek actress Nichelle Nichols (who played Uhura), Eddie Munster actor Butch Patrick and teen star Kristy McNichol. The list is ever changing and the line-up from event to event is always different.
My final stop was at the table of actress Mackenzie Phillips, ’70s wild child, star of American Graffiti and One Day at A Time and daughter of music legend John Phillips of The Mamas and The Papas. I had recently read her 2009 kiss and tell autobiography High on Arrival chronicling her life of substance abuse. I brought it with me for her to sign. Both of us cool girls, rather out of place at this strange autograph circus, tried to cover up our feelings of foolishness for being here. “I write a column called Offbeat L.A.,” I began… Mackenzie smiled tiredly, “Yeah? Well, I don’t normally do many of these kinds of things,” she trailed off. We were both caught, like deer in headlights, in a festival of geekdom, where neither of us belonged. But in the end it was a fair trade. I’d be coming away with an autographed book and a photo that I could post in social media and she was coming away with my twenty dollars. Indeed a fair trade.