Somewhere around the end of the 20th century, busyness became not just a way of life but a badge of honor. Celebrities may find it difficult to make time to meet and greet their fans but one venue has provided a platform for the two to meet. The Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention is a three-day film festival screening rare films 24 hours a day, providing slide show seminars of academic nature, celebrity panels, over 200 vendor tables and Hollywood celebrities signing autographs. This is where your friends get those trophy photos that are posted on their Facebook wall; autographs framed and hanging on the wall next to their child’s graduation pictures. Bragging rights indeed.
Every September in Hunt Valley, Maryland, thousands of fans (short for fanatics) from across the country (including numbers from Canada, Finland, Belgium, England and Australia) gather in herds to share three days with folks who share a common interest. From old black and white movies and film noir and vintage comic books to pulp magazines to retro television, old-time radio to drive-in movie theaters… the convention has a little of something for everyone.
“Our goal is to be like Walt Disney World,” says Michelle Vinje, events coordinator for MANC. “What makes Disney’s amusement parks a notch above the other amusement parks? That is what we hope to accomplish. At MANC we do not give a single sheet of paper folded in half and call it a program guide. We provide all attendees with a 56 page program guide. We do not tell attendees where they need to go, we take them. During late night movie screenings we provide free soda, water and snacks. If there is anything we can do to make the event fun we’ll do it.”
Vendors at the convention offer an eclectic selection of merchandise from movie posters, comic books, action pictures, DVDs, VHS videos, books, magazines, old-time radio programs and virtually anything mass produced before 1980. “Someone who flew in from Los Angeles gave us a compliment before flying back, telling us that our vendors offered the best selection he has ever seen at any event — ever,” Michelle recalled. “And now that I am taking a moment to think about it, I believe he was referring to the quality of the merchandise. There were no reproduction movie posters. They were all originals. Comic books ranged up to $10,000 in price because of their graded condition. Lobby cards and photographs were abundant. I would wager if I wanted to find a streetcar sign promoting the Marx Bros. movie, A Day at the Races, framed behind museum glass, I might have been able to find one.”
The major attraction, of course, is the celebrities. Ed Asner, Davy Jones, James Darren, Ron Ely, Shirley Jones, Patty Duke, Celeste Holm and many others paid a visit to MANC to sign autographs and pose for photos for fans. Tony Award winners, Emmy Award winners, proud recipients of an Oscar… they have all been there. Patty Duke created someone’s voice mail for their phone. Davy Jones doodled original art work at the show and gave it away to the first fan who asked for it. The cast of The Six Million Man and The Bionic Woman (Lee Majors, Lindsay Wagner and Richard Anderson) were on stage for an hour to field questions from fans who heard behind-the-scenes stories.
The convention Chairman insists that the Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention is a throwback to a bygone era were conventions were focused on the fans. Many of today’s fan gatherings are considered a media frenzy, offer $100 to $1,000 autograph VIP packages, and everyone is a number — not a name. “That won’t happen at MANC,” says the Chairman. “We’ve turned down celebrities who are not fan friendly. It’s not about the money. It’s about recognizing the talents of specific celebrities and at the same time, preserving part of their accomplishments. I have always said that when a celebrity passes away, they are immortalized one of two ways: on celluloid and through recorded/documented interviews. MANC provides the stage for celebrities to take time to answer questions for fans and cement their immortality for generations to come. Some of their interviews appear in print magazines and blogs. And who doesn’t want to know how a special effect was produced or why a stunt man filled in for a scene that was not necessary?”
This year’s guests include Bernie Kopell (The Love Boat, Get Smart), Kent McCord (Adam-12), Robert Fuller (Laramie, Emergency), Luciana Paluzzi (Bond girl, Five Fingers), Britt Ekland (Bond girl, After the Fox), Keir Dullea (2001: A Space Odyssey), Gary Lockwood (2001: A Space Odyssey, The Lieutenant), The Amazing Kristin, Kathy Garver (Family Affair, The Ten Commandments), Jeremy Ambler (The Three Stooges, The Walking Dead), Russ McCubbin (Cheyenne, Knight Rider), Geri Reischl (The Brady Bunch Variety Hour) and a major highlight of the year… Robert Conrad. You read that right. The star of The Wild, Wild West, Hawaiian Eye and Black Sheep Squadron will be making a rare East Coast appearance to sign autographs for fans.
“Every year we try to raise the bar,” remarked Terry Salomonson, volunteer staff. “We look for ways to make it bigger and better. The attendance has grown in size every year. As for the events, we have a special film short screening provided by The Library of Congress, providing attendees an opportunity to help contribute in the preservation of an old movie. I am especially excited because this year we will be streaming the seminars and celebrity panels live over the Internet. This means anyone who lives too far to consider traveling to Maryland can watch the events as they unfold on their laptop, iPad, smart phone and desktop computer. There will also be a feature where they can participate and ask questions from the movie and TV stars.”
The streaming is free and open to the public, provided through a feature on Facebook. Anyone who wants to visit and “like” the Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention Facebook Page (CLICK HERE) can watch the video stream live as the events unfold. The dates of this year’s convention are September 15 to 17, 2016. A schedule of events is listed on the convention website: www.MidAtlanticNostalgiaConvention.com