The twice-yearly "Should I really go and spend all that money at Chiller?" debate began a few months ago when the first guests were announced. It was a strong start, though most of the interesting guests (Susan Olsen, Mike Lookinland, T&R Hall of Famer and the people's Celebrity Apprentice Gary Busey) were people I'd already "met." Of course, since I'd already "met" them, that meant I had pictures with them--pictures I could get signed and lovingly framed so that my apartment can look like a Famiglia pizzeria. And, really, that's sort of always been the goal I've been striving for.
Robert Romanus (Damone from Fast Times at Ridgemont High) was another good add, and the return of Ernest Borgnine, whom I'd passed on last time he attended Chiller, gave me a chance to right a previous wrong and add a signed Marty photo to my collection (see Marty if you haven't, unless you've had a pain-free, love-filled life, in which case you probably won't enjoy it). But I was still on the fence. Then came two big adds.
The first was Tommy Morrison, better known to me as Tommy "The Machine" Gunn (though I did follow his boxing career and was legitimately bummed when Ray Mercer pummeled him). It would be almost impossible to pass up the opportunity to be that close to someone from Rocky V, easily the Rocky movie I've seen the most (note that this does not mean I think it's the best; I assure you I'm not that deranged). Sure, Mr. Morrison is quite possibly crazy now, believing that not only was his HIV-positive diagnosis wrong but also that HIV doesn't even exist. And, oh yeah, he teleported once. I am not making any of that up.
Anyway, if I'm gonna let a person's alleged out-to-lunch craziness stop me from handing over money for an autograph and photo, then, really, this blog's gonna be even duller than it already is. So, Tommy Morrison's inclusion confirmed my appearance at Chiller.
Then, as a bonus, and in a booking I still don't quite understand, Tony Clifton--Andy Kaufman's lounge-singer alter ego that lives on now allegedly perhaps maybe courtesy of Bob Zmuda--was added to the bill. I had no idea if anyone was going to be willing to pay for a Tony Clifton autograph (except me, of course, because I had pictures from Mr. Clifton's Santos Party House show that I thought might look nice signed), but a photo with sounded like an idea I'd be willing to pursue.
And now you know why I went to Chiller last Friday.
My first stop after I arrived at the surprisingly uncrowded Parsippany Hilton was at Gary Busey's table. As I walked down the hallway to get in line, I heard a big-boned gentleman ranting and raving about Mr. Busey for some reason, punctuating his disgust by shouting, "And that's why he got kicked off Celebrity Apprentice!" This, of course, made me more eager to get in line to see what Mr. Busey was doing that was so offensive. Unfortunately, two minutes before I got to the front of the line to go into the room where Mr. Busey was signing (and roughly an hour after the show started), Mr. Busey decided it was time to take a break. For about 30 minutes. So I spent those 30 minutes in the room watching Alex Winter (Bill S. Preston from Wyld Stallyns, of course) and Heather Langenkamp (from Just the Ten of Us, or, more important to the Chiller attendee, Nightmare on Elm Street) cordially greet fans and hoping Jake Busey wouldn't ask me (as he did the other people waiting for Papa Busey) if I wanted to listen to his band's music.
Finally, Gary Busey returned and soon I had this to display to my future wife when she comes to my apartment:
And if that doesn't dazzle her, maybe she'll be swept off her feet by my signed photos of Cindy and Bobby Brady:
And, hey, while I'm casually referencing my sad-sack, womanless existence, here's our patron saint:
Ernest Borgnine is the coolest 94-year-old I've ever met. Friendly with everyone (despite fighting a cold) and downright jubilant in every picture I've seen of him with others. You can't see it now, but you'll likely see our picture by the end of the year.
Tony Clifton was a few tables down from Mr. Borgnine and Loni Anderson (and, oddly, right between Pat "Marilyn Munster" Priest and Butch "Eddie Munster" Patrick) and was, not surprisingly, doing almost no business. So when I arrived with my photo, there was much rejoicing among Mr. Clifton and his manager. We reminisced about the Santos show (the longest they ever did, somewhere around four hours...and, yes, I stayed for the whole thing), talked about the Atlantic City show I missed (Mr. Clifton shared a joke he told to scare away the elderly members of the crowd), and generally had a very pleasant conversation, or as pleasant a conversation as you can have with a guy playing a character. Actually, it might have been the highlight of my night. And it's certainly one of my favorite inscriptions on a photo.
And, yes, despite the fact that this isn't Andy Kaufman as Tony Clifton, this picture makes me so happy I can't even tell you.
As I made my way out of the pit, I was stopped by a guy who wanted to know about my interaction with Mr. Clifton, since I was the first person he'd seen buy an autograph from him all night. He wanted to know if he was hurling insults, if he was really Bob Zmuda, and, if so, why wasn't he signing "Bob Zmuda as Tony Clifton," or something like that? He said he just thought it was odd that he was signing as a character and not as a real person. I thought of relating to him that it was odd that we were in a hotel lobby in New Jersey on a Friday night, forking over money to "celebrities" most of the world wouldn't know existed and that we were, in fact, roughly 20 feet away from "Fake Jan" from The Brady Bunch Variety Hour, who was doing a steady business, but I figured that was a little too deep of a thought for the evening.
I soldiered on to the rooms with the lesser-known celebrities (the class structure of Chiller must be humbling for some) and soon queued up behind a guy who became what I assume was the first of roughly 343 people to approach Robert Romanus over the course of the weekend and ask, "Hey, man, you got any Blue Oyster Cult?" Soon after that interaction ended, it was my turn, but I just asked him to sign a photo for a friend and then got my photo taken, courtesy of a woman walking by who, upon being asked by Mr. Romanus to take the picture, said, "Oh, I just wanted to hear if your voice sounded the same." Her mission accomplished, she then took this:
Soon, I moved on to this Chiller's "Yes, for $10 I Will Take a Photo With You Because I Liked You in That One Thing I Saw You In" winner, the one-degree-from-Zabka Joyce Hyser, better known as devoted journalist/male impersonator Terry from the brilliant '80s film Just One of the Guys.
She earned a lustful "She hasn't aged one bit" from a guy I passed on my way out.
And now we come to my encounter with Mr. Morrison. As I approached the table and examined the items for sale (a signed boxing glove [$30], signed red, white, and blue boxing shorts [$50], a wide selection of Rocky V photos [$20]), I recalled the many times I'd been on line behind someone who requested a movie/TV show quote from a celebrity on their signed photo. Sometimes I find this to be a brilliant idea, and sometimes I find it to just be annoying (whoa, I think I just described my life). But I'd never tried it myself. And, since one of the photos was from Rocky V's concluding fight scene and I knew almost every line from that scene, I figured now might be the time.
So, as Mr. Morrison (who, to prepare you, is not looking very good) posed for several photos with what I assume was a dad and his children (or child and her friends, none of whom seemed likely to be either boxing or Rocky V aficionados), I summoned up the courage to ask for a line from the eminently quotable film. And that's why, when it was my turn to get a photo signed, I asked this:
"Hey, Tommy, would you mind writing 'I aint nobody's robot' on it?"
He snickered. And then did it.
So awesome. I briefly panicked a few minutes later when I thought I might have flubbed the line (was it "robot" or "puppet"?...surely he wouldn't know and would just sign whatever I told him), but a viewing when I returned home confirmed the total awesomeness of the above photo.
Less awesome is the photo below, in which Mr. Morrison grabbed the woman he was talking to and said, "C'mon, get in the photo." He told me, "That's my girl," followed by something unintelligible that, if she was not actually his girl but a random woman he struck up a conversation with, I suppose could've been, "Please don't tell her about the Internet." And then the photo was taken.
Those three people will never be in the same photo again. A true collector's item.
And another successful Chiller.