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I began attending Fanex in 1991 (number 5) at the urging of my good friend Lynn Naron. Being from Seattle, this was no easy task, nor one to be taken lightly, given the time and expense involved. After all, I was going to fly 3500 miles and spend all this time and money on some silly movie convention! I was right then finishing up my first film book, so I justified it to my oh-so-patient and understanding wife (who even attended a few Fanexes over the years herself) by pointing out that it was tax deductible; and I told myself that it'd be a great way to make useful contacts (which was one of the truest things I'd ever said during an inner monologue). Well, after meeting Gary and Sue and many of the friendly Fanex staff and regulars, and having the time of my life for three days, I ended up flying 3500 miles every year to do it all again. I was hooked.
A few moments that set that hook:
Seeing Christopher Lee kicked out (politely, of course) of the Hyatt Regency ballroom when the hotel staff finally insisted he wrap up his riveting talk--after two and a half hours ! (Undoubtedly, he'd have gladly gone on--with the rapt audience's blessing--for another two and a half.)
Lunching with William Shallert at Baltimore's Inner Harbor, only to discover that we'd both recently read physicist Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time , then puzzling over how something could be both a particle and a wave during the salad course.
The honor of not only introducing one of America's greatest filmmakers, Oscar-winner Robert Wise, at the Fanex Awards Ceremony, but also of moderating one of his talks (Mr. Wise was by far the easiest interviewee I've ever encountered--posit a question and he'd be all over it like a highly articulate dog with a bone).
Now, I may not have the best recall in the world (one of the reasons I always use a tape recorder for interviews), and I often spent much of the time in a somewhat, shall we say, hazy state (due to a combination of lack of sleep and the fact that Gary and Sue always picked hotels with great bars), but there remains many, many wonderful specific memories.
One of the first that comes to mind, appropriately enough, occurred at my first Fanex, where I ended up having a late breakfast with John Agar. At this point I'd met very few celebrities, and I must confess that I was a bit awestruck. I began by introducing myself and stuttering something like, "I've been a fan of yours for years, Mr. Agar," at which point he stopped me, looked me in the eye, and insisted, "Call me John." As friendly and unassuming as could be. There passed an exceptionally pleasant hour of conversation covering everything from the pancakes we were eating to his love of bowling, not to mention his film career. Though I no longer remember the details, I can vividly recall the ease and comfortableness this man inspired in myself and those lucky few present.
Scheduled Fanex events are great, no doubt about it. About the only thing that beats a spirited panel ("Hammer vs. Universal" anyone?), fascinating Q&A guest session, or entertaining Awards Ceremony (with its attendant, endearing snafus) is meeting up with friends--and guests--in the bar afterwards. One night in the hotel bar during Fanex 11 (1997) I found myself talking with the still-stunning Caroline Munro. And what was the topic of conversation with this gorgeous icon of glamour? Her modeling career? Her Hammer films? Her Bond appearance? Nope. We became animatedly involved in discussing... toilet training! At the time, my son was going through that dreaded stage, and she had experienced the same with her son a few years back. So there I was, swapping potty strategies with one of the most beautiful women ever to grace a Hammer horror. And she gave me some good tips.
Veronica Carlson was one of the warmest people I've ever met. Invariably, she'd talk with--and charm--any and every person who approached her, which meant she was always one of the last to leave the bar. I don't think she ever made it back to her room before 2 a.m.
I had the great pleasure of spending quite a bit of time with this wonderful and gracious lady, leading to a lasting correspondence over the years. At Fanex 8 (1994) I had the good fortune to attend a screening of Horror of Dracula at Baltimore's historic Senator Theatre, accompanied by Ms. Carlson, who held my hand throughout the film. During the "owl" scare (Hammerheads will know whereof I speak), she jumped in her seat and bore down on my hand-- hard . She laughed at her own reaction, then, being one of the most thoughtful people on the planet, expressed concern for my crushed appendage. Truthfully, it did hurt--this statuesque beauty was no shrinking violet--but, naturally, I was too "macho" to admit such a thing. That kind of pain I'll welcome any day.
Of course, not all the guests were of such, well, class. Case in point: Michael J. Pollard. Half-way through his Q&A session, Mr. Pollard abruptly stopped his barely-coherent ramblings to announce, "I gotta take a piss." Upon which he got up and left the room, never to return. Later, in the bar, he tried to drunkenly chat up the wife of a friend of mine by boasting about his deep knowledge of baseball and then promising her a movie role! Ugh.
Over the years Fanex introduced me to many new friends, and opened many doors for me, enriching my life both personally and professionally. The Fanex experiences--the good, the bad, and even the ugly (mornings were often a little, well...rough)--are ones I'll always treasure.
Bryan Senn is the author of A Year of Fear: A Day-by-Day Guide to 366 Horror Films (McFarland, 2007); Drums of Terror: Voodoo in the Cinema (Midnight Marquee Press, 1998); Golden Horrors: An Illustrated Critical Filmography of Terror Cinema, 1931-1939 (McFarland, 1996); and Fantastic Cinema Subject Guide (McFarland, 1992; co-authored with John Johnson). He's also contributed chapters to numerous Midnight Marquee books, including their Actors Series entries on Bela Lugosi , Boris Karloff , Lon Chaney Jr. , Peter Cushing , and Vincent Price . He lives in Washington State with his wife and son, several cats, and a boa constrictor named "Fang."
Memories of Fanexes Past: 1996-2001
I am thrilled and honored to contribute my own memories of some of the greatest conventions that I have ever attended. Year after year, Susan and Gary Svehla hosted one of the finest horror/sci-fi conventions in the United States. For years, several of my pen pals had raved to me about a Baltimore convention called Fanex, so I attended the con for the first time in 1996. I had such a great time meeting fellow fans, speaking with the celebrity guests, watching their movies, shopping in the dealers' rooms, and participating in panel discussions that the next year, I brought my university colleague Jonathan Lampley with me. Jonathan became a Fanex regular, along with me, and several times thereafter, Jonathan and I visited the grave of Edgar Allan Poe in Baltimore a day or two before Fanex began.
Fanex 10 (26-28 July 1996 ) was the tenth-anniversary convention and the year that Robert Wise was one of the guests. The great director graciously autographed a half-dozen of my LP record covers of the soundtracks of some of his films. I thanked Wise for directing some of the greatest movies ever made, including The Day the Earth Stood Still, The Sound of Music, and The Haunting. Other guests in 1996 were Forrest J Ackerman, Kathleen Crowley, Dolores Fuller, Linda Harrison, and Ann Robinson. Fuller screened some obscure Ed Wood footage that she had re-edited into a short film. Director Bob Tinnell showed his superb, nostalgic movie Frankenstein and Me (a.k.a. Mohave Frankenstein ), which I loved as much as Matinee, Lady in the White, and The Sandlot. Also at Fanex '96, I participated in fan panels about science-fiction movies and TV shows of the 1950s.
The theme of Fanex 11 (20-22 June 1997 ) was "Hammer Has Risen from the Grave 2," and a dozen years later, I still proudly wear my two Fanex 11 shirts with their pictures of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee on the backs. This year's thrilling Hammer convention (a follow-up to 1994's all-Hammer year) welcomed Veronica Carlson, Freddie Francis, Val Guest, Caroline Munro, Jimmy Sangster, and other Hammer personnel to Fanex. I was especially delighted to meet Francis and Sangster just as much for their many non-Hammer projects as for their Hammer output. Two special memories that I have of Fanex 11 are having my picture made while standing between Sangster and Francis and making friends with Veronica Carlson. I saw Veronica again later that year at Dracula 97: A Centennial Celebration in Los Angeles, as well as at subsequent Fanexes. My favorite memory of Fanex '97 is the so-called "Drive-In (Well, Actually, Sit -In) Theatre," where other fans and I sat in lawn chairs and watched a 16mm print of The Revenge of Frankenstein outdoors on a big screen set up on the tennis courts of the Hunt Valley Inn.
The two panels on which I spoke at Fanex 11 were extra-special to me, for they dealt with some of my favorite subjects. One was "Bastard Children of Psycho ," all about the good and bad film imitations of Robert Bloch and Alfred Hitchcock's 1960 thriller. I had corresponded with Bob Bloch for the last four years of his life, and Psycho is one of my favorite movies. One of the three bathrooms in my house in Nashville is a Psycho bathroom! The other panel was "The Night Stalker 25 th Anniversary Panel." I am a lifelong devotee of Dark Shadows, The Night Stalker, and the many other productions of producer-director Dan Curtis. I wrote my 2006 doctoral dissertation about Curtis's 16 horror productions (including Burnt Offerings ), and I recently reshaped that dissertation into a 2009 book about Curtis. This is what Fanex was all about : convening with other like-minded fan-friends and having lively discussions--sometimes, late into the night!--about the literature, television, and cinema that we had loved and studied for our whole lives.
The guest list of Fanex 12 (10-12 July 1998 ) included Kevin McCarthy, Peggy Moran, Lori Nelson, Mala Powers, and Dee Wallace Stone. I enjoyed meeting McCarthy and telling him that I had seen his outstanding one-man show Give 'em Hell, Harry! (by Samuel Gallu) in Nashville in 1981 at the same time that I was watching him on NBC-TV's Flamingo Road. The Fanex '98 panels in which I participated were "Beyond Ballyhoo"--from William Castle to Matinee --and the "Dangerous Dames" of horror, film noir, sci-fi, and television.
In 1999 , Fanex moved to Arlington, Virginia (outside Washington DC), and metamorphosed into Monster Rally '99 (August 6-8), an epic gathering rivaling the 1993 Famous Monsters of Filmland convention, which had been held in the very same hotel. I enjoyed returning to that place and reconnecting with my Fanex friends and several friends and stars from Famous Monsters '93, meeting many other stars for the first time, and speaking on five Fanex panels (three of which I moderated). Who wasn't at this year's convention?! Almost everyone from A (Forry Ackerman) to Z (Robert Z'Dar of Maniac Cop ) was there! A very few of the attendees were Jane Adams, Veronica Carlson, Basil Gogos, Coleen Gray, Ray Harryhausen, Ed Kemmer, Terry Moore, Ingrid Pitt, Rex Reason, Michael Ripper, Yutte Stensgaard, Elena Verdugo--and Christopher Lee. The star who had played Dracula, Fu Manchu, and Rasputin graciously chatted with fans and autographed his Midnight Marquee Press biography Tall, Dark, and Gruesome. During his long, fascinating question-and-answer session (co-hosted by Tom Johnson and Mark Miller), Lee reminisced about Hammer, Amicus, The Man with the Golden Gun, Jinnah, Saturday Night Live, his service in World War II, and much more. He spent a full 20 minutes speaking, quite emotionally, about his famous friendship with his frequent co-star Peter Cushing, who had died five years earlier.
As excited as I was over meeting Christopher Lee, I was just as thrilled to meet Nightmare Alley star Coleen Gray, whom I had watched on NBC-TV's Days of Our Lives in the late 1960s. I surprised the actress and her husband Fritz with a VHS videotape of some of her rare Days of Our Lives episodes. Every year since 1999, I have received Fritz and Coleen's Christmastime newsletter, and I enjoy keeping up with their world travels, their musical pursuits, and their prison ministries. I also was delighted, along with several other fans, to eat breakfast with Mr. and Mrs. Ray Harryhausen, whom I first had met in 1993. This year, I spoke on fan panels about science-fiction movies, horror cinema, "Movies That Are Better Than the Books That Inspired Them" (e.g. Somewhere in Time, Touch of Evil, Planet of the Apes, The Hot Spot, et al.), horror heroines and villainesses, and "Movies That Should Be Remade" (e.g. I Am Legend, The Other, The Killer Inside Me, the Dr. Phibes movies, et al.).
Classic Film Fest 2000 , held July 28-30, again in Arlington, Virginia, was a worthy successor to Monster Rally '99. A few of the many celebrity guests were Samuel Z. Arkoff, Veronica Carlson, Roger Corman, Ib Melchior, Yvonne Monlaur, Paul Naschy, Margaret O'Brien--and Janet Leigh. I had met Janet Leigh 15 years earlier, at her book-signing in Nashville in 1984, and I was overjoyed to meet her again. She signed a picture, "To Jeff and his Psycho bathroom--Janet Leigh!" Adding to the Psycho theme of Classic Film Fest 2000 was the presence of both Patricia Hitchcock, daughter of the director, and Dorothy Herrmann, daughter of the great Psycho and Vertigo composer Bernard Herrmann. Dorothy Herrmann revealed that her father's personal favorite of his film scores was his music for The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. The daughters of Herrmann and Hitchcock signed a half-dozen of their fathers' soundtrack LP covers for me. I also had the chance, along with several other fans, to eat breakfast with Betsy Jones-Moreland and to get to know her. The Last Woman on Earth star admitted that her favorite movies were the Godfather films. "I could watch those movies all day long!" she declared. This year, I participated in panel discussions about Alfred Hitchcock, fandom, film noir, "Horrific Scenes in Non-Horror Films," and "Overrated and Underrated Horror/Sci-Fi/Fantasy Films--1890s-1990s." The latter was the basis for a collaborative article that was published in Midnight Marquee #65/66 in 2002.
After two years in Arlington, Fanex 15 (6-8 July 2001 ) returned to Baltimore and the Hunt Valley Inn, the location of the 1997 and 1998 gatherings. Some of this year's guests of honor were Forry Ackerman, Curtis Harrington, Jonathan Haze, Jackie Joseph, Paul Picerni, and Barbara Shelley. One of the highlights of the convention was Paul Picerni's exuberant Q&A, in which he quite naturally broke into laughter, tears, and song at regular intervals as he regaled the fans with lively stories about Vincent Price and House of Wax, as well as The Untouchables, Gunsmoke, Batman, and more. The panel discussions in which I participated in 2001 were about Hollywood epics, film music, and "chick flicks."
After 2001, my schedule did not permit me to attend the last few Fanexes. By that time, my classroom and committee responsibilities at Tennessee State University (where I have taught English since 1985) had increased, and I was heavily involved with the yearly PCAS academic conference. PCAS is the Popular Culture Association in the South, and I have attended its conference every year since 2000. As a matter of fact, my university and Fanex colleague Jonathan Lampley and I are co-chairs of PCAS '09. A good topic for a presentation at PCAS would be the history of Fanex, its promotion of "participatory culture" (i.e. fandom), and the emergence of this book of reminiscences. Sue and Gary Svehla should be very proud of the outstanding, exciting, and stimulating conventions that they put on, year after year, and I am deeply honored to have attended and participated in six of them. My Fanex memories are some of the happiest memories of my life as a fan of great genre movies and television. F.I.A.W.O.L. (Fandom Is A Way Of Life)!
Jeff Thompson is a contributor to Midnight Marquee and author of The Televison Horrors of Dan Curtis
FANEX GUESTS FROM 1987 THROUGH 2005