Sunday, July 13, 2008

OMG! Tori Spelling Down To Signing For Cash At Hollywood Autograph Show

LOS ANGELES--Tori Spelling and Canadian-born hubby Dean McDermott were among the former child stars, rehab regulars and assorted D-listers scrambling for cash this weekend at the Hollywood Collectors & Celebrities Show.
The autograph market, which was held at the Burbank Marriott airport hotel, is a surreal experience for even the most devout TV fan. The hotel's main convention room is packed with old movie posters as well as old movie and TV stars, with the general public paying $20 bucks to see the likes of Brandon Cruz (The Courtship of Eddy's Father), Keith "Little Ricky" Thibodeaux (left, from I Love Lucy) and Grease and Taxi actor and celebrity rehab patient Jeff Conaway (there with his enabler wife from that Dr. Drew series).
With a few exceptions, it is a room full of people who aren't working and need cash. Shocking, then, to see Spelling behind a table signing autographs from her 90210 days for $20 a pop. (Some celebs charge more and most charge just for having their pictures taken.)
When I approached her table and said hi to fellow Canuck McDermott, you could feel the dude trying to rescind into the wall paper. I asked Spelling if the rumors were true that she was joining the new 90210 series, and she said nothing has been signed yet. A new season of the couple's reality series Tori & Dean: Inn Love, has just begun airing in the States.
The Hollywood Collectors & Celebrities Show should be a mandatory stop on any TV fans list. If you were ever unsure about the fickleness of fame, this is your wake up call.
It is always strange dropping in on this fan fest in the middle of a TCA press tour. Some are not that far removed from The Show. One day, you are interviewing them as stars in fancy hotels in Pasadena or Beverly Hills. The next, you are handing them a twenty to take their picture. One minute you're a Sweathog (like the four Welcome Back Kotter cast members at this show, including Ron "Arnold Horshack" Palillo), the next, you're working in a sweat shop.
Catherine Hicks, who spent 11 seasons on 7th Heaven, not to mention earlier shows like Tucker's Witch, is suddenly signing anything put in front of her for a buck. Same with Charlene Tilton, who enjoyed a long run on a top show, Dallas. Spelling and McDermott were at the last press tour selling their cheesy reality show. Today, the reality was that they were down to selling themselves.
Not everyone at the show is a charity case. Hugh O'Brien, the western star who played TV's Wyatt Earp for seven seasons, greeted fans with warmth and humor, even putting up a sign which read, "He's STILL alive??? Hugh O'Brian TV's Wyatt Earp--See For Yourself." Fifty years ago, when he was a big TV star, O'Brian founded a leadership exchange for high school students after he was inspired by meeting Dr. Albert Schweitzer in Africa. I only knew about it because a neighbor at the cottage's daughter was a recent HOBY grad, and the experience changed her young life. O'Brien signed a photo for her and told me to tell her to write him a letter.
She's one of 390,000 15 year olds who have been inspired by this experience. The first HOBY grads are now turning 65.
A few yards from O'Brian's table, however, others are signing autographs who have no business posing as celebrities. Brad "Charlie Brown" Kesten was signing pictures of the famous Charles Schultz Peanuts characters because, as his business card states, he was the "voice of 'Charlie Brown'--1982-1985." Others in the room were there because they were related to D-Listers: a group of tables were set aside for Three Stooges fans. Saxon Sitka was sitting in for his late father, Emil, who was billed as the "fourth stooge." You could charitably argue he was seventh, since six actors played one of the three main knock-a-bout comedians over the team's long film career. Ami Dolenz (billed as from "Pumpkinhead II: Blood Wings"), was there more as the daughter of former Monkee Micky Dolenz, or perhaps to show off her impressive new breasts, which she did with remarkably good cheer.
Others who once danced on the periphery of fame were in the house. Jerry "Buster Brown" Maren, one of eight remaining Munchkins from The Wizard of Oz, was there at 89. Three of the original Mickey Mouse Club mouseketeers, Sharon Baird, Carl "Cubby" O'Brien and Karen Pendleton, still looked neat and pretty. Academy Award winner Celeste Holm (All About Eve) was there to greet anyone still alive who might remember her.
Me, I had a great conversation with Robert Easton, a one time Red Skelton Show regular who for years has been training Hollywood actors on how to adopt accents from all over. His latest triumph was coaching Forest Whitaker for his Academy Award-winning role in The Last King Of Scotland.
We talked about all those Brits coming to American TV screens in the last season. We talked about so much more, but if you want to read about it, you'll have to wait until I sell it to a newspaper or magazine. Hey, like the stars themselves, I'm learning. If you're going to give it away, charge twenty bucks.
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