All about Having a Nice DAY
April 30, 2011 in Parsippany, NJ
A long time ago, on a convention circuit not so far away (in neighboring New Jersey), I met George Romero for the very first time at an October Chiller show. That one convention stands out to this day as the greatest Chiller I ever attended. I’ll never forget heading into the tent with X, my sister Sarah and her friend Jess, and being in awe at how many people I wanted to meet were in one place at one time. That night I met Elvira, Linda Blair, Angela Bettis, Judith O’Dea, and of course, the legendary director of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, Romero. I have such a wealth of stories from that night, and the next day, when I went back and met John Landis and some others. But just as big a story is who I didn’t meet that show. At that time I was only a mild fan of DAWN OF THE DEAD, so I passed on several of the actors from what I now consider a classic. At least I sort of enjoyed DAWN. Back then, I hated DAY OF THE DEAD. I considered it talky, boring, and a chore to watch, outside of Savini’s masterful makeup effects, and Howard Sherman’s performance as Bub. So there was no need for me to get any of the cast from that film. I would see that reunion at a few shows over the years, and I always passed. And then, years later, I started to appreciate DAY for all the wrong reasons. By the time Texas Frightmare Weekend rolled around in February 2008, I was jazzed about meeting some of the cast. Just about the only disappointment at that show was the cancellation of Lori Cardille. I passed it off as no big, secure that when people get on the circuit, they tend to stay on the circuit. Little did I know that she would drop off the circuit for years, only cropping up on guest lists again the last year or so, and most of those were far out of my range. Then Chiller started to compile its guest list, and Lori Cardille very early became my # 1 get for this con.
Lori wouldn’t be the first item of the day. That honor would belong to Loni Anderson, who was X’s big get. I should thank Chiller for making a mistake in our favor, as we only paid for regular Saturday entry, but somehow they mailed us early entry for the day. So the first goal was to make it down into the pit, before it got busy. The sunk in section becomes a chaotic, pulsating swarm of humanity, and as we weren’t afforded the dealers’ bracelets X has surreptitiously gotten us over the years, we knew we had to get in and out early. Before they even let us down there, we noticed that Ernest Borgnine was occupying the corner, spry and talking to fans. Had he forgotten he had a room, and woken up in his seat? We suspected so. What astounded us as the show started was just how many of the “A” celebrities were still in their rooms. It’s bad enough many of these types overcharge for both a signature and photos; but it’s downright insulting to the fans who’ve paid extra to come to see them early, that most of them didn’t bother to show before regular starting time, and in the case of Loni, after it. I gather it’s something the promoters don’t really have much power over, but it’s certainly a situation that needs to be redressed. In fact, as we waited for Ms. Anderson, we ended up right in front of the table of another X “get,” Tommy Morrison from ROCKY V. About 15 minutes in, Morrison’s handler told X he would be “right down,” which constituted him showing up a few minutes before Loni. With so many different lines for so many celebs that weren’t signing yet, there were scores of people with little to do but stand around.
Fortunately, Loni Anderson was very nice. Not nice enough for X to pay 15 bucks to take a picture with her on his camera, but nice. I stayed far way from Morrison until it was time to take his pic with X, because there was definitely more than a few things wrong with him, both physically and mentally. Just look at the picture above, which is worth a thousand twisted words.
The pit would clearly be all about X, and he reveled in it. On to Bond girls Maud Adams and Brit Eklund, both of whom had held up well. While we were on the Anderson line, X had gone to scout out their pics, and found out an interesting tidbit. There’s this old guy who shows up at almost every convention we attend. I actually saw the guy show Celeste Holm show his chest scars from his open heart surgery. Since then, we’ve affectionately dubbed him Cardiac. When X joined me in line, he relayed to me that Cardiac had passed out on the Eklund line the night before because of low blood sugar, and the promoters had guaranteed him the first spot in line on Saturday. I wouldn’t advise it, but the lesson learned: if you ever want to cut the long line of an A-lister, just have a heart attack and come back the next day.
As for Eklund and Adams themselves, they had one quirky deal going: take pics with them individually, and they didn’t charge anything; take a pic with the two of them together, and they charged. I guess there was some monetary logistic to that, and it was only after we were off the line that X stated what I had already known: despite our loathing paying for pics, he would’ve shelled out the cash had he thought to do the Bond pose between them. I of course suggested they should have held him up by his elbows, as they had with Herve Villechaize of Fantasy Island fame.
I did make one brief stop in the pit. Rae Dawn Chong was down there, and I had thought to pass on her, because I figured she’d be of the $30 for an autograph and another $15 for a pic. She was $10 less for the signature and $5 less for the photo, so I went for it. I always thought she was underrated in the 1980s, and she had a great shot from QUEST FOR FIRE. And once told me his buddy Academy Award winner John Caglione had done the makeup for the film, up in Canada, it was a lock. Watching X share Caglione stories is always a trip. He gets so genuinely geeked out, I can’t help but get a kick out of it.
Having polished off the pit, we then headed on to the smaller rooms, where I found the WEIRD SCIENCE girls. Judy Aronson and Suzanne Snyder have been on the circuit for a few years, and no one to my knowledge had been struck by the wisdom to have them together at one con. Chiller was kind enough to fix that. Unfortunately, the two shots they had of them together from the John Hughes minor classic (that I went to see on my very first date) both had issues. One was a bad production shot, and in the other, Aronson’s black vest provided all sorts of problems on how a signature would come out. So I did the wise thing: I got Snyder on a NIGHT OF THE CREEPS pic, which sated a zombie craving, and Aronson on a FRIDAY THE 13TH PART IV 8×10. And I posed for a pic with the two of them together. These two are hotter now than they were then, and sandwiching me made me feel very good.
Had this been the end of my run on autographs, it would have been a really good show. But the highlight was yet to come. Walking in and out of the other rooms down the hallway, I finally came across Lori Cardille.
I don’t know what it is about the people who work with George Romero, but most of them are the kindest, most generous people you would ever want to meet. Lori was no different, smiling and sharing stories about DAY and her famous dad, Chilly Billy Cardille. She had a table full of photos from the film, and once she knew I was an acquaintance of her agent, Jim Cirronella, she was even kinder. For weeks, X had been busting my balls about how he was gonna bust my cover and tell her how I hated DAY for all those years, but I cut him off at the pass and gently exposed myself. She even took this in stride, and said that lots of fans had come around to it over the years. In her honor, I’d bought a red DAY shirt earlier in the day, and in her honor I would later go back and buy the black one with the “darkest day” tagline. Best of all, when I asked her for an interview, she offered to meet me next time she was in New York, as she was worried about the hustle bustle from the con ruining our talk. I have to thank you, Lori, for making the years of waiting to meet you well worth it. I enjoyed meeting her so much, I stopped by right before we left the con to buy a copy of her memoirs, I’m Gonna Tell.
As I ended up walking away from her table with a lot more than I had expected, I was happy to stop at Antone Dileo’s table, next to hers. With her newly minted signature on a shot of the two of them from the opening minutes of DAY, I was happy to add his to the mix. We discussed the TFW 2008, where I’d originally met him. He’s a bit quirky, but again, another nice guy from the Romero stable.
With the zombie forces in our rearview, it was time to close our remaining business out. Outside of Lori, my other big get was supposed to be Chris Sarandon, another guy who’s been on the circuit for years, but never at any show I attend. Strange how fate works. Well, he wouldn’t be at this one either, because he had cancelled. This is another easily fixed flaw in the convention system that annoys me: if a guest cancels, please let your fans know on your guest list page. It doesn’t take long to update, and it’s insulting when Sunday rolls around, and Sarandon is still listed as a guest. I was also interested in Amanda Wyss, because she’s got a cool death scene in the original NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, and she’s hot. But she and fellow Freddy victim Heather Langenkamp were for some unfathomable reason in a room with the sideshow Buseys, and I wasn’t waiting on a line that snaked all over the backside of the hotel.
With these guests fallen to the wayside, there was one more matter of urgency: Augustus Gloop. At that Chiller show where I met Romero so many years ago, Denise “Violet” Nickerson was one of the last holdouts for X’s WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY (she was also extremely inebriated, which made her lots of fun). The big German would be the last, and after so many years, X was able to wait a while on a long line to meet the Gloop. I snuck in to visit my buddy Mike Baronas and discuss Mario Bava with him and Bava’s son Lamberto. When I returned to X, he was at the front of the line, alongside a bunch of people with golden tickets. Seems these people had missed out on Nickerson, who had stepped out and deprived them of the full Wonka experience; the golden tickets were their re-entry passes. As an ogre of a woman from Chiller security tried to bar us entry, X explained that he only needed Augustus. This prompted one of the funniest replies I’ve ever heard in seven years of conventions: “Go get the Gloop.” Gloop is a severe German businessman now, a giant who was sporting a German hat, complemented with a feather. Meeting him was a unique experience. And by unique, I mean really bizarre. But hey, now X has all the Wonka kids, and it’s time Gene Wilder hits the circuit.
Leaving, X and I agreed this was the best Chiller we’d been to in years. A year prior, I had been burnt out on the convention experience, and didn’t really appreciate that show for what it was worth. But, despite the absence of Sarandon, Lori Cardille got me excited about conventions again, and looking forward to Saturday Nightmares a month later. I feel energized about the circuit again, and Lori made sure that for me, this Chiller was a very good DAY.
– Phil Fasso