Meet, Greet, and Gaze Lovingly Into Stars’ Eyes

Ever wonder what your favorite actors from old TV shows are up to? There is a chance they are down at the Hollywood Show, a fan meet-and-greet at the LAX Westin, as well as in Las Vegas and Chicago. It is in its 40th year.

The Show is run by David and Esther Elkouby, owners of Star World, a fixture on Hollywood Boulevard that closed last year but still sells “personalized leftovers” online, such as a headshot of Howard Hesseman of WKRP, signed to “Betty,” for $15.

Stars attend The Show individually or bundled into “reunions,” which often exclude A-listers and the deceased. This year, surviving cast members from Lost in Space, Empty Nest, Head of the Class, Karate Kid, A Bronx Tale, Happy Days, and Brotherly Love made it. (Brotherly Love?)

For $40, you could have your photo taken professionally with, say, Margaret O’Brien; for another $10, you could get the photo “authenticated” by a professional service; and for another $10, get a hi-res digital copy to post on social media (“bring your own memory stick”). Groupings cost more: Richard Thomas and Michael Learned, of The Waltons, were $80. Four cast members of Blossom were a deal at $125.

Vendors also set up more than 60 tables to sell memorabilia.

My friend Larry went to The Show last weekend. He says it is smaller but more densely packed than Comic-Cons, so a strange feeling of intimacy develops. He looked up and Shirley Jones, mother of the Partridge family, was eating an overpriced sandwich next to him in the snack bar.

“You think of big actors as wizards behind the curtain,” he says, “but here they are, charging their phones with everybody else, doing the pedestrian things we all do. Stars have a reserved area on the first level of the parking garage—but they still had to park in the parking garage. They are not limo-ing to this.”

He said it must feel odd, if you are a known actor, hugging strangers all day long. “One guy wanted a star to hold hands with him, and for them to look into each others’ eyes for the photo,” Larry says. “If you don’t have HPV, you will by the end of the day.”

He marvels at how some of these entertainers went to Studio 54 and got showered with attention back in the day. “Surely, Shirley Jones doesn’t need to come to this—right? She’s getting residuals, if her programs are playing anywhere in the world.” He thinks the only explanation is people like Jones come to love their fans.

For others, though, it could be the money. We tried to do the math. Ned Ryerson (Stephen Tobolowsky, from Groundhog Day: “Now, don’t you tell me you don’t remember me because I sure as heckfire remember you”) got steady business at The Show. Signatures and photos took two or three minutes each, at $40 per. With breaks and a lunch, might he have made $10,000 over two days?

You could see who was popular, Larry says. Kristy McNichol was standing on a chair, acting something out for a small crowd. Edy McClurg, from Ferris Bueller, was busy. Steve McQueen’s first wife was telling attendees about hoping to make a six-season Netflix series about her life with him. (“He called me up on a set and said, ‘I’m gonna fly out and make an honest woman out of you’; I didn’t know he meant marriage.”)

Larry says the crowd was older, and it felt as if something was dying out, like when interest in newspaper strip-cartoons died because their collectors died off. The Show was scaling down from four to three times per year. It used to be three days long and was now two. Attendees spoke in near-whispers that it had gotten smaller. Larry, who loves the old shows, is philosophical.

“Interest in even Jerry Lewis will die in about 15 years,” he says. “Can you imagine? I assumed The Partridge Family was timeless, but it might not be. It might be about to disappear forever.”

John Griswold

John Griswold is a staff writer at The Common Reader. His most recent book is a collection of essays, The Age of Clear Profit: Essays on Home and the Narrow Road (UGA Press 2022). His previous collection was Pirates You Don’t Know, and Other Adventures in the Examined Life. He has also published a novel, A Democracy of Ghosts, and a narrative nonfiction book, Herrin: The Brief History of an Infamous American City. He was the founding Series Editor of Crux, a literary nonfiction book series at University of Georgia Press. His work has been included and listed as notable in Best American anthologies.