By Anna Merlan
By Keegan Hamilton
By Albert Samaha
By Darwin BondGraham
By Keegan Hamilton
By Anna Merlan
By Anna Merlan
By Tessa Stuart
Elvira, three Oscar winners, an Elvis co-star who became a nun, an out lesbian actress, an ex-porn star, and one crazed reporter, all in the same New Jersey hotel lobby! If a bomb had dropped, it probably would have been the DVD of a wildly misunderstood movie one of them made in their European Period, and they'd have just ended up selling it to a fan.
I'm talking about Kevin Clement's guiltily pleasurable Chiller Theatre autograph show at the Parsippany Hilton, a biannual event where rabid devotees with fistfuls of cash line up to procure signed merch from people on all walks of the fame ladder—some climbing up, some down, and others just holding it steady from the middle.
Two Oscar winners were stationed in the main room—Martin Landau, who was besieged by admirers, and Louise Fletcher, who told me the thing people most want to know from her is what it was like to work with Jack Nicholson, turning away before she could give me the answer! Was she still playing the sadistic Nurse Ratched, lol?
Rather than find out, I tracked down the third trophy holder, Lou Gossett, Jr., in another room, where he told me his Eracism Foundation is dedicated to teaching kids compassion and understanding. "They need training against the evil onslaught," said Lou, sounding a little like a sci-fi comic book being sold down the hall but coming off like An Actor and a Gentleman (the title of his available memoir, by the way).
My own onslaught continued with Martine Beswick from the 1967 camp classic Prehistoric Women, in which she's a scantily clad jungle queen holding a bunch of blondes captive. "It was one of the silliest movies ever made," she told me, bedecked in jewelry, "but it was so much fun." But doing Thunderball was even better: "It was a fabulous two months in the Bahamas, with wonderful served meals," Beswick exclaimed, adding that her best acting work was actually in Dr. Jekyll & Sister Hyde. (And I knew that!)
Oscar nominee Valerie Perrine was hawking photos from Lenny and Superman, though naturally I asked her about the immortal Village People movie Can't Stop the Music. Is it true she got director Nancy Walker fired? "It's true," confirmed Valerie, saying Walker berated her for talking on the set when in fact she was just shooting a scene! Poor Nancy's job was promptly wiped away with Bounty paper towels.
You couldn't stop porn-star-turned-singer Traci Lords, who was dressed like Little Red Riding Hood and telling me, "There are a lot of wolves here! I have my Gucci hidden in my basket, so I can powder myself." Is it true she's in control of her orgasms these days? "I am?" Traci replied, laughing. "When did that happen?"
Sex-sational Pam Grier (Jackie Brown, The L Word) was cutely giving old 45s to her fans and telling me about Larry Crowne, the little-seen Tom Hanks film she appeared in this year. "I love Tom," she said. "To be a part of his dream was so important. 'OK, Tom, so now I'm gonna knock on your door, and you'll be in my movie. And you're gonna wear an Afro!' " She broke up laughing as I searched her stack of old records for some Motown.
"You stole the movie," I told Pam, but she wasn't having that. "I tape my nipples down," she insisted. "I try to be a good girl. I try to be a nun. I was raised Catholic!"
There couldn't have been a better segue to crawl over to Dolores Hart, the two-time Elvis costar who transitioned out of the evil onslaught of Hollywood and shockingly became Reverend Mother Hart. She was in her habit (if not her habitat), gamely selling old Where the Boys Are photos to raise money for a monastery renovation. Surreal can't begin to describe it. But why did Hart swivel her hips to a nunnery, pray tell? "It was God's idea, not mine," she told me, sweetly. "I do not understand God's decisions. I never have. I only know it was a calling. I loved Hollywood. It was the greatest gift of my life. But I knew I had a calling from the Lord, and it was devastating to realize that was the fact."
"Did Elvis have the Lord in him?" I wondered, trying to look beatific. "He did," she replied. "He was a lovely person." I was dying to know the real story of why this starlet drummed herself out of Hollywood, but I wasn't going to mess with a Reverend Mother in autograph mode.
Instead, I found some spiritual comfort in Michael Paré (Eddie and the Cruisers), who told me how he maintains his comely visage after all these years. "I meditate a minimum of 45 minutes a day," revealed Paré, glowing. You hear that, actors? Take some time out every day to think!
In a corner, spunky Heather Matarazzo (Welcome to the Dollhouse) turned meditative as she told me that since she came out as a lesbian, "I'm happier than I've ever been. I get to live in freedom!" She also gets to direct a movie called Summer Camp. "I said, 'I want to direct,'" related Heather, "and the universe said, 'Here you go.'"
And off I went—but not until talking to one of my faves, Betsy Russell from the teen prostie flick Avenging Angel and also five Saw movies. Alas, Betsy was a wet blanket, giving me one-word answers and an all-around "Get away" vibe. Was she mad I brought up Avenging Angel? But she was selling photos from it!
Still, vulnerable celebrities like these are my calling, whether their nipples are taped down or not. And one day, I'll find out what it's like to work with Jack Nicholson if it kills me.