September 20, 2023

Leftovers from the Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention

When I made my original on-site report from the Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention a couple of weeks ago, it was Friday morning, meaning there were still two more days to come. As I mentioned, we had an absolutely great time on Thursday, and if we'd left then, it would have been one of our greatest vacations ever. Having driven nine hours to get there, however, we were going to make sure we got our money's worth, and in fact there was still a lot more fun to come. Herewith a report on some of the things we did during the last two days, not only to gloat about what a great time we had, but to show you all what kind of an experience MANC is, in hopes that you'll be encouraged to become a regular attendee as well.

At the time of my Friday post, I mentioned that we were off to a What's My Line? recreation, and that was great fun (as John Daly would have put it). Martin Grams played the role of John (and I'm so jealous), while three volunteers from the convention served as the panel, and the guests were ordinary people with regular occupations that the panel had to guess. (There were some great questions, by the way; these people were clearly familiar with how the show worked.) Filling the role of Mystery Guest: two of the cosplayers who wandered the corridors of the convention all weekend, "Commando Cody" and "Jake Blues." Martin says they'll be reprising this next year, and I'm looking forward to it. 

Friday evening was highlighted by an interview featuring Hal Linden and Max Gail from Barney Miller, and Tim Matheson, from many shows and movies. It was a charming hour, with the three guests sharing stories and insights from their years in the business, and answering questions from the audience. It was particularly fun watching Matheson, who, when he wasn't answering questions, was watching Linden and Gail and taking it in as if he was in the audience with the rest of us. Three great raconteurs,  especially Linden, who at age 92 has neither missed a step nor forgotten a story. You'll remember that I mentioned how nice each of them was when we met them in the autograph line; they were just as nice in this appearance. You can see a video of the interview here.

After that, in the movie room, it was a showing of the 1957 Playhouse 90 drama "A Sound of Different Drummers," which was never repeated on television, and has seldom been seen anywhere since then, It was a terrific opportunity for me to do some first-hand research, as you'll be reading a "Descent into Hell" essay on "A Sound of Different Drummers" in the next couple of weeks, and I'll leave it at that. That was followed by the 1970 Hawaii Five-O episode "Bored, She Hung Herself," another controversial episode that was never reaired, nor included in the syndication package or Five-O boxed set, because some fool accidentally hanged himself after trying to copy a move from the episode. I wouldn't put it in the upper tier of Five-O episodes, but neither would I ban it from being reshown, and since I'm something of a completist when it comes to series television, I'm glad we were able to see it. That's one of the great things about MANC; it isn't limited to meeting celebrities, but includes seminars, special showings such as these, and vendors. Something for everyone.

Nostalgia isn't limited only to television and movies, of course. My friend David Krell is a fan of both classic television and classic baseball, which helps explain why we're friends. On Saturday morning he gave a talk on primetime television in the 1960s, which included a tough 50-question trivia quiz on various aspects of '60s TV, made all the tougher because it was a multiple-choice quiz in which "all the possible answers are plausible, but only one is correct." Modesty prevents me from identifying the winner of the quiz, but I am saving my answer sheet for posterity. At a previous convention I'd purchased his book "Our Bums": The Brooklyn Dodgers in History, Memory and Popular Culture, and this year I picked up two of his new books, 1962: Baseball and America in the Time of JFK, and Do You Believe in Magic? Baseball and America in the Groundbreaking Year of 1966, and I'm looking forward to reading both of them. I also purchased Veeck as in Wreck, the autobiography of baseball visionary Bill Veeck, for two bucks at a used book table; I've been wanting to read this for years. (The magazine is a publication of the Society for American Baseball Research, in which David has an article; it was given out as a prize for the trivia quiz, which, again, is all I'll say regarding the winner of the quiz.) 

I also got a few minutes to chat with fellow author Garry Berman, who confessed that, like me, he always worries that a question-and-answer segment will expose him as a poseur. After we left, my wife asked me if we were all like that, since I'm always expressing the same apprehensions, almost word-for-word, as Garry. I suspect that at some level we all think we're just playing at this, and I'm not sure I'd want it to be any other way; I'd hate to be one of those snooty academics who's so cocksure about everything and talks down from the Ivory Tower. Anyway, Garry has nothing to worry about—yours truly, on the other hand, has every reason to be afraid.

We wound up getting some classic TV boxed sets at ridiculously good prices, including The Lawless Years, starring James Gregory (who's also a recurring actor in Barney Miller), a progenitor to The Untouchables, for $8. You can't beat that. The Loner, created by Rod Serling and starring Lloyd Bridges, is a philosophical Western that CBS didn't really allow to bloom; Serling found it a typically frustrating experience, but it's well worth watching. Arrest and Trial was a failed experiment on the part of ABC, a 90-minute drama with Ben Gazzara as a police detective making the arrest in the first half of the story, and Chuck Connors as the defense attorney trying to get the suspect off in the second half. It's an interesting concept and features some terrific actors, so I wasn't afraid to buy it at that price. And then there's Nichols, the one-season Western from James Garner that's part-Maverick, part-Rockford Files, and one of the few shows that I actually remember having watched back in the day.

There were other things we'd have liked to have seen or done while we were there, but just as it was impossible in the era of classic television to watch two shows at once, it was impossible to be in two places at once. I think we made the right choices, but I can't imagine that any choice would have been wrong. As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, it was such a nice experience being around people who shared your interests, understood what you were talking about (instead of starring at you with blank expressions), and looking for nothing more than having a good time. We'll be back next year, God willing, and I hope we'll see some of you there! TV  

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