Just got back from a trip to the semi-annual Chiller Theatre Expo at the Sheraton Parsippany Hotel. This Chiller promised to be big from the get-go. Headliners included Priscilla Presley at her first convention appearance, Norman Reedus & Jon Bernthal of the immensely popular Walking Dead, Tommy Flanagan & the cast of Sons of Anarchy, show business legends Shirley Jones, Abe Vigoda, & Cloris Leachman, and nearly 100 others. As usual, I purchased a pre-show ticket in advanced and was in the doors by 5PM on Friday night.
Thanks to the Chiller staff, the maps of guest rooms are available prior to the show, so I knew which rooms I needed to hit up. I got inside and first checked out the Living Room. None of whom I needed was there yet, so I went into the Skyland Suite and began crossing names off my list.
First up was Andrew Stevens, who portrayed Lucy Ewing’s boyfriend Casey Denault for two seasons of Dallas. Andrew is the son of Poseidon Adventure star Stella Stevens and ex-husband of Charlie’s Angels star Kate Jackson.
Next up was someone near & dear to my heart, the first celebrity I ever met back when I was just four years old, Bob McGrath. At 81 years young, Bob is one of the few original cast members to see Sesame Street into its 45th season.
Located in the back of the room were two former General Hospital leading ladies, Megan Ward & Kari Wuhrer. Megan, who played Kate Howard, & Kari, who played Reese Marshall, were both sweet, gracious, and class acts all around. I kept hearing from other convention goers about how great these two beautiful women were to the fans.
On the way out of the room, my mother stopped to get meet Paul Petersen, child star of The Donna Reed Show, The Mickey Mouse Club, and Houseboat. I never knew Paul was a part of The Mickey Mouse Club, so I told him I’d be back the next day with my 1975 book about the series.
Over in the Morris Room, I finally got to meet PJ Soles, star of John Carpenter’s 1978 classic Halloween. PJ had made a previous commitment to another show and was unable to attend the big Jamie Lee Curtis event back in November 2012.
Just as I finished up with PJ, legendary Star Trek star Walter Koenig arrived. Koenig of course played Chekov in the original series and the first seven feature films. Some time back, I found a copy of his memoir, Warped Factors, and brought that for him to sign.
I then headed back into the Living Room, or as we Chiller regulars call it, the Pit.
Stationed in the armpit of the room were the cast of WKRP in Cincinnati (Loni Anderson, Howard Hesseman, Tim Reid, and Jan Smithers). What I thought would be a big draw, I found these actors to be hidden away in the back of the room. Reid was actually sitting behind a pillar. Personally, I’m not too familiar with the series, so I didn’t need Reid or Smithers and I had already met Anderson, so that just left Hesseman. While I had met Howard back when he did Chiller in 2009, I never got a photo with him, so this was my chance to do so.
Just after I finished up with Howard, Cloris Leachman arrived. What can I say about Cloris? She’s a true legend, having won a slew of awards over the years, but she’s a bit quirky to say the least. To start off, Cloris had only been there a number of minutes before somehow ending up with a blue Sharpie exploding all over her hands. She cleaned herself up the best she could and kept going. When I got to her, she signed my Mary Tyler Moore Show cast picture vertically. And when it came time to take a picture with her, this is what I got.
Another star making his first convention appearance was Dominic Chianese, who came to see what it was all about. Dominic is widely known for his portrayal of Uncle Junior on the HBO series The Sopranos.
It was now 7:30 and I prepared myself to brave the line for Priscilla Presley, the last name on my list. To my shock and amazement, I was in and out of Priscilla’s room by 8 o’clock. I had brought along an 8×10 of Priscilla and Patrick Duffy on the set of Dallas, but I opted to go with one of her own photos, a very glamorous shot of her during her Dallas years. For someone believed to have as much money as Priscilla, she was one of the kindest and most honest souls I have ever encountered. Her room, run by A Christmas Story star Scott Schwartz and his mother, was quiet, calm, and relaxed, a far cry from the cattle run I had figured it would be.
I was done and out of the building just after 8, which I believe may be record time for me. But then I did something I normally never do, I went back on Saturday morning…No parking spaces in the large corporate plazas surrounding the hotel, lines jettisoning out of seemingly every door into the hotel, and complete utter chaos when it came to figuring out which line to go to. One Chiller staff member was admittedly having a breakdown. Others tried their best to assess the situation while the fire marshal breathed down their necks. I had only gone that day to bring that darn old book for Paul Petersen to sign and here I was going through this monstrosity. I lined up with other Chiller regulars and we quickly learned that the longest of the lines was for Norman Reedus, who had a 4-5 hour wait time. I made it inside after time well spent chatting with other event goers, and found there to be little to no lines inside. Stars sat twiddling their thumbs.
I went into the always ungodly hot Skyland Suite to have Paul Petersen sign my book. He politely did and then told me I didn’t have to pay him, but that I could make a small donation to his charity, A Minor Consideration, if I felt I needed to. Without hesitation, I donated $20.
Before heading out, I went in the Living Room. The big stars were taking long lunch breaks due to little lines. The WKRP cast sat motionless in their little corner taking it all in. Shirley Jones, an Academy Award winner, sat there with her hands crossed like an attentive schoolgirl. I was pretty shocked at the sight. I then noticed Shirley had some customers and that she was doing table photos, which she was not doing the night before. I was never very happy with the picture I have with Shirley, so I went over and got a new one.
I hung around for a bit and looked for friends, whom I never found due to the crowds wondering aimlessly in the hallways. I spent a majority of the day conferring with Howard Hesseman, Megan Ward, and a few other friends who bring in the stars. While Chiller most assurdly made bank with the huge draw that was Norman Reedus, there is no doubt in my mind that the other stars lost business from other attendees who may have been turned off and/or confused by the larger crowds and the lack of signage and direction. Overall, I had a great time as usual and am anxiously awaiting the October show.