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My day with the G-Listers at the Chiller expo

by Joel Keller, posted Jan 30th 2006 5:48PM
Chris Knight and Adrianne CurryAh, there's nothing like an entertainment convention to bring out the freaky, the obsessed, and the just plain weird. Such was the case at the Chiller Theatre winter convention, which was held in Secaucus, NJ this past weekend. Probably the smallest of the three Chiller conventions (there's one in the summer and "the big one", around Halloween), this one still had it's share of sci-fi and fantasy nuts floating around, especially in the dealer area, where there were tables with Japanese anime action figures, fake samurai swords, tons and tons of movie imports, sci-fi toys in the original packaging, and lots of black t-shirts.

(A good example: I went with my buddy Roger, a Chiller veteran. While we were there, he found out that one of his friends bought some rare Japanese monster toys for $23,000 at the show. Another guy dropped $5500 on a single monster toy. The people who go here are hardcore, to say the least.)

But what has always intrigued me about this convention are the celebrities that attend. Unlike Star Trek or other show- and genre-specific conventions, Chiller usually gathers fallen celebrities from all over the entertainment spectrum. That is what brought me to the convention on Saturday. 

All the celebrites that showed up were gathered in one ballroom signing items for twenty bucks apiece and posing for pictures. Since there weren't a lot of people there, there were many moments when there were either few or no people talking to a particular celebrity. This is where I saw them at their most vulnerable, "how the hell did it come to this?" moments.

It was a fascinating and surreal experience. I even got to talk to a few of the celebrities, even though I didn't spend money on anything other than the admission and some refreshments. For the curious, or maybe the masochistic, here is what I saw at Chiller (I was just there as a fan, not in any journalistic capacity, so a lot of this is from memory):
  • Robert Vaughn, who is currently on the show Hustle, but is best known for playing Napoleon Solo in The Man From U.N.C.L.E., was stuck in the corner, wearing huge glasses and looking like he was bored and in pain. He left early.
  • Ernie Hudson leaning back from his empty table during a lull, staring into space and looking thoroughly tired. "Hard, day, huh?" I asked him. "Yeah. At least we're almost out of here," he came back to me with a smile. He had about 90 minutes left. It looked like his stint on Oz was less harrowing.
  • Mark Goddard, who played Major West on Lost In Space, relaxed and calm, taking the sparse crowd in stride. Thirty years of conventions will train you to not get flustered by that kind of thing, I guess. He was a pro.
  • Jane Wiedlin, formerly of the Go-Go's and a Surreal Life alumnus, hugging Felix Silla, the man who played Twiki the robot on Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (in body only; Twiki was voiced by Mel Blanc). Jane must have been on a break from her own table.
  • Later, at Jane's table, I asked her if she had any CDs coming out. She smiled and said no she didn't have any new music. "Just pictures," she said chirpily. When I mentioned that it would be cool if she had signed CDs for sale, she replied, "Not a bad idea. But I don't have anything out right now." Oh, well.
  • When I went to Robert Picardo's table, I noticed he was selling a picture of himself -- in character as the doctor on Star Trek: Voyager -- drawn by legendary arist Al Hirschfeld. When I asked, Picardo told me that Hirschfeld's drawn him a couple of times, but he actually comissioned the artist to draw that particular picture. "Cost about eight thousand," he told me. When I mentioned to him that it was good that he was able to do that now that Hirschfeld is dead, he nodded at me and said, "Yeah. I'm not stupid."
  • Ron Palillo, very happily greeting fans and taking pictures, looking nothing like his days as Arnold Horshack on Welcome Back Kotter. Not only has he aged 30 years, of course, but his nose looked suspiciously smaller than I remembered. I mentioned this today to my friend Mark, who quickly found and sent me this before-and-after photo. God, I love the Internet!
  • As I sat in the lobby lounge after the celebrities adjounred at 6 (I was waiting for an artist friend of Roger's to finish up, so we could grab some dinner), I noticed veteran character actress Beverly Garland hanging out with some friends. A few minutes later, Ruth Buzzi and her companion greeted Garland's crew and joined the pow-wow.
Finally, there was the "big draw" in the celebrity pen: Christopher Knight and Adrianne Curry. Of course, we all know Christopher as Peter Brady, but we know the two of them as the happy couple from VH1's My Fair Brady. Adrianne was as tall and sexy as she looks on TV, and she was busy hanging out, drinking, and flirtily snapping pictures with the actors who were walking around the ballroom dressed as Star Wars characters, so I didn't get a chance to talk to her.

But I did get a chance to talk to Chris. I didn't ask him any Brady Bunch questions; all I did was extend my hand and say, "Chris, you're one lucky man." As he shook it, the grin on his face told me that whatever one might think of the "reality" of their show, the romance is real. "Yeah, I stepped in shit and it turned out roses," he said, looking at her with pride.

(One of Roger's buddies, after I retold that tale, mentioned that I should have asked Chris if he ever got revenge on Buddy Hinton. When I said "Who's Buddy Hinton?", the friend said "He's the guy who was making fun of Cindy's lisp and beat Peter up when he defended her." Ah. Maybe that was the guy who dropped $5500 on a monster toy. Made me wonder what other kind of anal questions those celebs were getting downstairs.)

There were a bunch of other celebrities at the show, some of which were obviously hiding out from the small crowds -- the smaller the crowd, the more face time the guests will demand, right? Among the hiding and visible celebs were Margot Kidder, Nichelle Nichols, Michael Beck, wrestler King Kong Bundy, porn veteran Marilyn Chambers, and Ian Mitchell from the Bay City Rollers. You can see pictures of some of the guests here.

Looking forward to the next two Chillers. The Halloween one must be nuts; I'll be there with my camera, though. It's a better show than anything on Broadway.

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... and you wonder why those guys love this part of their job. ;) Need pics! :)

February 01 2006 at 12:05 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Joel Keller

Good to know Gary. Not exactly the point I was trying to make, but good to know.

January 30 2006 at 8:59 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Peter got revenge at the end of that episode by socking Buddy in the mouth and knocking his tooth loose, thus giving Buddy a lisp. Oh the irony.

January 30 2006 at 8:49 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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