SOME REMEMBRANCES OF STARS OF THE ZONE CONVENTION #1 - AUGUST 24 & 25, 2002
FROM ANDREW SZYM (RAMAGE)
It hardly seems possible that a decade has passed since the first TZ Convention was done. Although I will not be posting the complete 'TZ Con Turns 10' retrospective until later this year, I didn't want to let the anniversary of the historic occasion pass without at least sharing a few of my recollectings from the event, which was so special in so many ways. I and Bill DeVoe may have spearheaded it, and we may have made sure that it happened at all, but everyone else who was at that convention made it what it was. Some flew into Los Angeles from other countries. A few of the actors flew in from out of state to attend. One couple came from England by plane to the east coast and then took the train to Los Angeles. What fun. I met probably three-dozen or so fans that weekend and I can't name them all right off the top of my head anymore, but special mention goes to Paul Giammarco, and his brother David, who flew out from Rhode Island to attend. I'd known Paul briefly for about 4 years before that, and knew of his extraordinary knowledge of the TV show. Paul is, for my money, TZ's greatest 'fan.' I am very serious about that. He knows and appreciates everything in those 156 episodes more than anyone else I have ever known, or will know, this I am completely certain of. He's also a very kind and generous person and would never be labelled as 'a fangeek.' As far as Twilight Zone autographs and who out there was significantly influenced by the convention...I don't take any credit for this. But, I think the two conventions we did here in L.A. helped Herman Darvick to finish off his collection of autographed TZ postcards - the TZ actors wrote a line or two from their episodes on 5x7 custom-made TZ postcards, signed their name, and also the name of the character. Those postcards, I think, trump ANY autographed TZ photo! Herman is a longtime autograph collector and he would go on to continue what Bill and I started, holding his own two TZ conventions in New Jersey in 2006 and 2007, which were among the last public appearances of Lois Nettleton (the great Lois, of course, starred in the episode "The Midnight Sun", one of the finest in the series.) It was a pleasure meeting Herman for the first time that weekend and he got about 50 more cards done. He expressed his great appreciation to us by writing an article which appeared in the October issue of Autograph Collector - and 'Twilight Zone Convention' was printed on the cover, next to a big photo of Pam Anderson, of all people.
So here are some of my memories, a short stroll back in time...a time travel episode...and didn't Rod say, "On TZ, we ran the time travel theme to death..."?! If you want to see more about what happened at the con, or if you were there and want a recap, GO HERE. I will get the aforementioned article online before year end. In the meantime, THANK YOU, most sincerely, to all of you who attended and to all who helped Bill and myself make that weekend happen. Warmly, -Andrew
1. Anne Francis - While we were setting up on Friday night, Anne Francis arrived at the hotel. I was at the opposite end of the ballroom when I saw 'this lady' appear in the doorway, bathed in sunlight. I knew it was Anne, although I did not see her face right away. She looked fantastic. She had the exact same image as she did forty-three years earlier when she played Marsha White in "The After Hours." And when I finally talked to her, I was amazed at just how down-to-Earth she was. "The After Hours" has always been my favorite TZ episode. When I first saw it, I was floored. I never knew television could be that good. And here was this Anne Francis, an actress whom I (then age 18) had never heard of. And initially my thought was, "there's no way she is still around, or if she is, she's gotta be a hundred years old now." But here was Anne Francis, bigger than life, with tons of life left in her! And such a wonderful person, she was. She was one of the last to leave the VIP dinner the next night. I'm sorry I only met her that one time, and my interaction with her lasted less than 2 minutes, although we did keep in touch by email sporadically for quite a while after that. Anne's being there that weekend was, for me, the icing on the cake.
2. H.M. Wynant - H.M. went on to become a treasured friend, but our beginning was a bit awkward! When I went to his table and introduced myself on Saturday morning, he didn't know who I was, even though we'd communicated earlier by phone and by mail. He was cordial but not overly friendly. Well, okay. But he was on the list for the VIP dinner that evening, and by 6:00 pm, he'd put two and two together and remembered who I was. He arrived at the dinner and gave me a very hearty handshake and apologized up and down, laughing, and said, "Let me buy you a drink!" We've been in touch ever since then and I've had countless early morning breakfasts with him over the past 8 years. In a way, he's like the uncle I never had.
3. Arlene Martel – Arlene was one of the first to arrive on Saturday morning. Little did I realize how influential she'd be in my life over the next couple of years. When I saw her, I introduced myself and she was amazingly kind, and so professional. She asked me how much she should charge for the autographs. Her devoted assistant, Mike, was very organized and was taking care of a chubby Pekingese dog named Teko-Bao (she told me later that it was a Chinese play-on-wordz of 'Take a Bow') which they had brought in a duffel bag! I guess Teko was one of those dogs who could be transported that way, and he would actually take naps inside the duffel bag. Arlene's intelligence was obvious, and during my conversation with her, it came as no surprise that she was an Actor's Studio actor. I'm sorry she hasn't been on screen hardly at all in the past 25 or so years. I hope she'll be doing more in the future.
4. Peter Mark Richman – What a guy. What an artist – in addition to acting, he also paints and writes books and screenplays and stage plays. I'd communicated with him a bit before the event, but I didn't introduce myself when I went to his table. He proceeded to give me a very entertaining sales pitch about some of the items he was selling on his table – he had a great many of them from his long and varied career. I bought a copy of his (then) new novel, "Hollander's Deal" and a couple photos from his TZ episode, "The Fear". He asked me my name, so he could dedicate the photo, and then looked up suddenly and kinda bellowed , "Are YOU the Andrew I've been emailing back and forth with for months?!" I bashfully said "Yes..." and he turned to his wife and said, "THIS is Andrew! Andrew, this is my wife Helen." I've been on their holiday greeting card list ever since. I later learned that Peter Mark and Helen were, and still are, friends with Eileen Ryan, who just happens to be the mother of Sean and the late Chris Penn.
5. Gloria Pall – Well, Gloria defies description. Actually, our friendship began about a year earlier when I connected her to Rittenhouse Archives to sign TZ trading cards. Gloria really wanted me to advertise the show a lot in the LA Times and LA Daily News…but unfortunately, I did not have the required $3,000.00 at that time. I think she was disappointed about that – but she soon forgot about it. Our friendship is still going strong. She just turned 85 and she's got a lot of life left in her. She and I found that we were a lot alike - our birthdays are 3 days apart (I'm on the 12th, she's on the 15th) and as members of the Cancer astrological group, we both have trouble staying organized! The thing that struck me about Gloria when I met her at the convention was her creativity - she's a creator. Later, I realized just how iconic she was in the 1950s when she was on the covers of tons of men's magazines and then she moved into real estate and became agent to the stars. I also have since seen some of her acting work - one unflattering critic called her "Queen of the Bits" - she ended up mostly with bit parts in her career but she does know how to act. I did a couple other autograph shows with her later on and she knew almost every other celebrity in the room or had at least crossed paths with them in the past half-century. Amazing.
6. Camille Franklin – Camille and Gloria (Pall) were in a play together in 1958 and have known each other ever since. I was always somewhat intrigued by the character of Molly, the waitress who serves drinks to Burgess Meredith and Bob Sterling. Two years later, when I moved to L.A., I started seeing Camille regularly at the Book Publicists of Southern California meetings. She's a great conversationalist and a very outgoing lady, and she's also a writer. I once asked her how old she was when she did TZ, and she just laughed. An actress never, ever reveals her age. Her work on TV was brief – she didn't work a lot, but she was extremely talented. When I met Camille for the first time that weekend, what really struck me was that she was so incredibly nice, and that she looked almost the same as she did 40 years earlier. She still does, in fact. I've never met anyone who aged so well. She'd never done an autograph event before and I think she was really impressed by the whole process and that people were willing to pay her money for her signature. I wanted Camille to sign a martini glass for me but somehow I couldn't find one in time for that weekend.
7. Shelley Berman – Well, if Anne Francis put the icing on the cake, Shelley put the chocolate drizzle and the cherry on top. I'd seated him next to H.M. Wynant when I made the seating chart for the convention, not even knowing that they were old friends. I introduced myself to Shelley, he shook my hand, signed an autograph for me, and I left. Later that night, at the VIP dinner, Shelley went up to the microphone and got me real good. Haha. Well, he made a very touching little speech that went something like this: "This is one of the loveliest days I've ever had...[he was very sincere about that.] Of course, not many people came and purchased the photos that I paid so damn much money for, which I ordered through this guy named Andrew [he turned and gestured in my direction]. This morning, when I got here with my wife, this boy comes over to my table, extends his hand, which I shake, and he says, "I'm Andrew." I sign an autograph for him, and then he...um...ran away! And after laughing a bit, I turned to my wife and said, "WHO the HELL is HE?!" And then I realized, this is the guy who I have been communicating with about the arrangements for this event that we're all at right now...he sounded really important, and I suppose he is...and Andrew told me, in an email, 'No tuxedos at the dinner!' And as you can see, I'm not wearing one. Okay. Fine. Whatever. My God, Cliff Robertson had a huge line, and I had no line. Oh well. I'm gonna blame it on Beverly Garland...she picked that damn table that I was sitting at, and tomorrow, I am going to come around to all of the other celebrities' tables, in hopes that I can sell you my autograph." Tons of laughing and applause followed.
8. Susan Gordon – I miss her. I will continue to miss her. She flew out to Los Angeles at her own expense because "Twilight Zone" had a very special meaning for her. I later found out from a close friend of hers that "she would've paid you to be there." She'd just started doing autograph shows, after having been out of Hollywood for over 35 years. She had clearly moved on from showbiz - it was part of her past - and she was just glad to have been a part of it. Her current work, and her children were her life by that point. The weekend before, she'd proudly married off her eldest daughter. She spoke on the TZ director panel - we were expecting Richard L. Bare, who directed her episode (amongst others) to be there, but he didn't make it, so Susan filled in for him. But she'd worked with James Sheldon, who was on the panel as well. I made a bold move by seating Susan at an all-male table at the VIP dinner. It just kind of worked out that way. I really wanted her to dine at the table I was sitting at. She sat across from me. I think she knew how exciting, yet stressful, that weekend was for me. We definitely made a connection, one that I will always treasure.
9. Jonathan Harris – In late 2001, I sent out invitations to over one-hundred TZ actors whose addresses I could muster up. I didn't expect much of a response. Jonathan was among the very first to respond, which I thought was amazing. He was a Hollywood legend...a BIOGRAPHY special on his life was in production and nearing completion. Fans of "Lost in Space" from all over the world knew and revered him. And now, he was saying "Yes, I will be there." He wasn't far from death; he was gone less than three months later but he was still sharp as a tack in every other respect. He talked willingly to myself and to other fans about Rod, and about "Twenty Two" and "The Silence", which he was so grateful to have been cast in. He said, "You could smell the bourbon on that Franchot Tone every day we were shooting." He also remarked about how much he missed Barbara Nichols, who was a great comedic actress who died far too early. He vividly recalled Arlene Martel's famous "Room for one more, honey!" line, which he delivered splendidly himself... Accompanying him that weekend was Mr. Ray Dutczak, one of Jonathan's close friends and an ardent "Lost in Space" fan. It was Ray who passed the word along, two years later, to Bill Mumy about our 2004 Convention. Bob May, aka 'The Robot', which of course was Jonathan's (Dr. Smith's) adversary on "Lost in Space", attended the 2004 con along with Bill, and we all of course missed Jonathan a lot. Bill Mumy was not at the 2002 convention and I commented to Jonathan about it, saying I wish he'd have been there. Jonathan replied, "Yes, I wish he was too." I'm honored that his last public appearance was at our convention. His wife, Gertrude, wrote to me later that year after he'd passed away, and asked for a VHS copy of the panel discussion that he spoke on, which I arranged for her happily.
10. Beverly Garland – Bill and I were honored that the hotel owner came to our convention. Even if Beverly had not been in Twilight Zone, we would've invited her. She was a very modest lady. She had a zillion TV and film credits but just talking with her, she didn't seem like a Hollywood personality. And I don't think she was. She was a working actress, and in fact, that's what her goal in life was. She was also very professional and obviously a good businesswoman who devoted equal time to acting and her hotel. When I introduced myself to Beverly, I took the opportunity to compliment several of her employees who had been instrumental in making the convention a reality. I think she appreciated it. The next afternoon, she found me and asked "Who took the pictures at the dinner last night?" And I said "I think a lot of people did!" She said, "George [Clayton Johnson]'s speech...wow. That was amazing. It's been a long time since I was part of anything that special here at the hotel. Here's my home address, could you please mail me some pictures when you get them back?" And of course, I did. Below are two of the ones I sent her, which she and George later autographed.