Autograph Convention Report: Virginia Madsen Nice, Penny Marshall Not Nice


Tarzan, Annie, Catwoman, Rhoda, Alexis Carrington, and the co-star of Creature From the Black Lagoon were all in one room last week. Did you honestly think I wasn’t going to be there?

It was the quarterly Chiller Theatre, a bustling autograph convention at the Parsippany Sheraton, where hordes turned out to honor their timeworn favorites while showering them with money for a smile and a signature.

Most of the stars are delightful in the face of such avid appreciation. In the main room, Oscar nominee Virginia Madsen (Sideways) told me she had done a Star Trek convention, “and I almost got kicked off Instagram because I took so many pictures of people dressed up as Borgs.” As for this type of celebrity hoedown, Virginia said, “I always thought it might be like that scene from The Wrestler.” But her brother Michael Madsen did four of them and recommended it, so here she was, sans attitude and raking in the admiration.

Across the room, a longer-running blonde, Connie Stevens, looked like a Christmas-tree angel that had spent time on the beach at Malibu and was really fun to talk to. So was Morgan Brittany from Dallas, though I was more interested in the fact that she started out as Baby June in the movie Gypsy. “The movie never got the credit it deserves,” Morgan said. “I thought Rosalind Russell was really good.” Totally agree. I couldn’t even fake a counterargument!

A 1950s treasure, Julie Adams was signing her memoir and telling me: “I loved all my co-stars. I was crazy about Elvis. I was crazy about the creature from the Black Lagoon.” And yes, those were two different people.

That handsome creature Steven Bauer—from Showtime’s Ray Donovan—told me he still talks to his ex, Melanie Griffith. “We have a 27-year-old son who’s going to be a rock star,” Bauer said. And suddenly, a little girl was hugging Bebe Buell for dear life. Why? Because Bebe’s daughter Liv Tyler played Arwen in The Lord of the Rings. “They know me as the mother of Arwen!” Bebe told me, glowing. They know me as Mother, Goddamn.

The kids were also giddy in the room where puppeteer Caroll Spinney (Big Bird on Sesame Street) was clucking up his fans. In the midst of the fun, a grown-up handed Spinney the New York Post with the cover about Obama and Big Bird, with the headline “Cheep Shot,” and Spinney wouldn’t autograph it; unlike Chick-fil-A, this is one winged creature who refuses to get political. But Spinney did smile and keep the paper, with the fan’s blessing—hopefully for Big Bird to relieve himself on it.

I was relieved to then meet Donna Wilkes, who played the high school student who moonlights as a street hooker in the first Angel film. Didn’t she want to do Angels 2, 3, and 4? “I did,” Wilkes told me, “but I wanted a little raise.” And when that happens, they always get other Angels.

And then I hit a career rough patch of my own. I knew Linda Thorson had been on The Avengers, but I wrongly thought she was the replacement Emma Peel. Thorson explained that it was a whole other character she had taken on in Diana Rigg’s absence. I then asked for Thorson’s favorite film or show of hers, and she bristled: “I don’t think you should be interviewing me if you don’t know what I’ve done! I’ve done 56 movies, shows, and plays!” Pause. “I just wanted to know which was your favorite movie,” I repeated, deadpan. “The Other Sister—and Sweet Liberty,” she replied as we stood there, staring each other down. The killer is, I was mainly talking to Thorson because Lee Meriwether—seated next to her—was busy signing autographs. This was like The Wrestler.

I also struck out with onetime Tarzan Miles O’Keeffe, who didn’t want to do interviews, and the fabulously turbaned Valerie Harper, whose husband shooed press photogs away. But putting the blah back in blasé was Penny Marshall, who looked like a Borg and snapped at me, “Yeah, I’m working now” when I approached for a quick quote. Now I know how Cindy Williams feels!

Because I’ve known writer-director Paul Morrissey (Heat, Trash) for years, I figured that would be an upbeat encounter. Alas, Morrissey was busy doing a panel in another area. “Just a warning,” blared his handler, sitting alone at the table. “If you bring him anything to sign that has Warhol’s name on it, he will cross it out!” Fine, as long as there’s no extra charge for that.

But don’t cross out Caroline Munro, a Bond girl I loved in a weird Joan Collins evil-baby movie, The Devil Within Her. I reminded Munro that Collins was in the other room, making a Devil Within Her reunion a distinct possibility. But rather than set that up, I hit up the star of the cute-child movie AnnieAileen Quinn—who looked about 60. The poor thing had aged terribly! No, wait, that was her handler. The person next to that was Aileen, who was still cute as she told me she planned to take two young relatives to see the Broadway revival of Annie. “For free, I hope,” I said, smirking. “I don’t know,” she replied, laughing. As we shot quick photos of Aileen, the handler demanded “$45!” but at least she nicely took that back as my heart attack subsided.

More celebs, more schmoozing. And then I heard a woman screech out of the blue, “I’ve watched you on TV my whole life! You should have your own table!” I swiveled my head to see who she had addressed that to, and it was me! How flattering! Yeah, but I’m working now.

Read more Michael Musto at La Dolce Musto