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Face to face with vintage Hollywood history

FictionGhouls and Zombies (supernatural entities)Lifestyle and LeisureCookingBarbara EdenJohn SaxonScott Schwartz

Is there anything more unctuous than a 20-year-old celebrity? Heck, is there anything more unctuous than a 20-year-old, period — all angst, eyelashes and silly stilettos?

Yet give them time, and 20-year-olds will eventually grow, like sycamore trees, into something grand, trading pimples for patina, fast-twitch neuroses for wit and wisdom.

At least, that's my theory, and I'm sticking with it.

Which is what makes this celebrity autograph show such a hoot, for these are people in their prime. As I've always said, women don't really peak till 65 or 70.

You like Mrs. Robinson? I prefer her mom.

Yep, give me the still-wondrous Tippi Hedren looking you square in the eye, just the way she did the sexually predatory Alfred Hitchcock.

Give me Barbara Eden, a voice like church chimes, who lights up like a daffodil in ballroom lights.

How many sad sacks like me has Eden met over the years, a pair of rumpled trousers cinched a tad too high, guys who just stepped off a city bus carrying a big fabric bag and an autograph book?

That's the kind of crowd attracted to these shows, but they also draw anyone who loves TV or movie history, and industry types in their 20s and 30s seeking to talk to guys like Larry Thomas, the Soup Nazi on "Seinfeld."

For 45 minutes, Thomas serenades us with the story of his audition, a tale as good as the famed "No soup for you!" episode itself.

"I arrived ... in a beret, a mustache and a three-day growth of beard," he says. "I looked exactly like Saddam Hussein."

The world is lacking great storytellers right now; it's almost a crisis. You can assess a society by its literature, fables, films, and right now we seem smitten mostly with vampires, zombies and cougars.

If I wanted zombies and cougars, I'd stay home. And I do. But occasionally, it's good to stretch my mighty legs.

Quick back story: I couldn't resist this autograph show near Hollywood's Chinese Theatre, what they're calling Grauman's these days. It seems an inspired place to hold such a show, better than the usual airport hotels. Why not in the bosom of Hollywood? Why not in the bosom of Bosomland?

So here I am at the Loews Hollywood Hotel, in this show Scott Schwartz set up. You may remember Schwartz as the kid who's tongue froze to the flagpole in "A Christmas Story."

Still with a taste for the unusual, Schwartz organizes shows like these, taking a flying leap that the ka-jillions of tourists who pour onto Hollywood Boulevard each week might plop down $10 to see a famous face in the flesh, even if the flesh isn't as fresh as it once might've been.

That's how I find myself at the Loews. That's how I find myself talking to Hedren, who tells the most forthright stories of working with Hitchcock on "The Birds" and all the accompanying sexual ambushes and career extortions.

"Then he started this obsession," she says. "I became very expert at getting out of situations."

I talk to Eden, the show's biggest draw, and the talented John Saxon, looking grand at 77, and Loni Anderson, looking not a day older than in her "WKRP" days.

"God as my witness, I thought turkeys could fly," she quotes from my favorite episode.

Schwartz himself is a little disappointed in the gate, discovering too late that a good portion of tourists these days are Asian and that he needs to adjust his advertising blitz accordingly.

Still, he's planning other events here in a couple of months, still believing that a show in the heart of Hollywood should draw big and happy to assist old friends in the business, whom he says usually leave with a couple of grand from the $25 photos they sign and sell.

"I wanted to be a doctor or a paleontologist," geeky Morgan Fairchild is saying of her childhood.

Me too!

Look, maybe I've been in this town too long. Or maybe I haven't been here long enough. But the whole experience turns out to be a buzz, not so much the celebrities, but their fetching histories. Hitchcock and Seinfeld. Old Hollywood and new.

On the way home, I call a buddy who's a showbiz wonk and, like me, a sucker for a Hitchcock blond with a great story.

"Dude, you gotta see this thing ..."

chris.erskine@latimes.com

twitter.com/erskinetimes

Chris Erskine will be at the Los Angeles Times Travel Show, Feb. 23 and 24 at the Los Angeles Convention Center. He will appear at 1 p.m. both days.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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FictionGhouls and Zombies (supernatural entities)Lifestyle and LeisureCookingBarbara EdenJohn SaxonScott Schwartz
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