Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Nostalgia Convention

6th Annual Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention
September 22-24
The Marriott Hotel, Hunt Valley, MD

This past Saturday I was all set to head down to the Baltimore Book Festival to get my read on, when my girlfriend Amy asked what our Manic-About-Town friend Dave Cawley was doing. "Oh, he's going to one of those conventions out at the Marriott in Hunt Valley, something like Nostalgia Con or something," I replied, adding, "He said Davy Jones of the Monkees is gonna be there."

"Davy Jones is in town?!?" Amy exclaimed excitedly. "We have to go see him!!! He's from Manchester [Amy loves all Mancunian pop stars] and he went to the same high school as Steve Diggle [Amy loves anything to do with pop-punk legends Buzzcocks or with their guitarist Steve Diggle]!!!"

"Davy Jones is in town?!?" Amy goes ga-ga for the littlest Monkee

Amy-the-Beatles-Completist then pointed out that there was even a Fab Four connection to the diminutive Monkee, to seal the deal with me.

"Davy Jones was on the same Ed Sullivan show as the Beatles during their first American visit in 1964," she said. "Remember? He was in the original cast of Oliver! - I think he was the Artful Dodger." [I believe another little frontman, Steve Marriott of The Small Faces, also played the Artful Dodger in a stage production of Oliver!] Amy, of course, was right, as the YouTube clip below of the cast of Oliver! on the Sullivan show (about 30 seconds in) proves:

As you can see, listening to pipsqueak Davy's mellifluous voice is akin to hearing an opera pour forth from the mouth of a flea. Ah, from the mouth of babes...no wonder the other Davy Jones had to change his name to Bowie. No competition.

Another Pleasant (Hunt) Valley Saturday

And so the die was cast. Our rendezvous with History awaited us in Hunt Valley at the convention dedicated to nostalgia (and where many aged attendees apparently suffered from neuralgia, as well); additionally, we made plans to rendezvous with Dave Cawley and Video Americain manager nonpareil Scott Wallace Brown at the Hunt valley Marriott on Saturday morning. In anticipation, Amy scurried about trying to find any Monkees records (that she didn't sell to Chick's Legendary Records back in the day) that she could bring to get signed by the former little Artful Dodger in Oliver!. The only thing she had was this Colgems picture sleeve 45 (featuring the very Tom Warner-ish looking Peter Tork - MY fave Monkee because he was the "dumb one" like me - on the cover):

For my part, I got into the spirit of things by revisiting Bob Rafelson's one-of-a-kind cinematic headtrip (and, ultimately, The Monkees' commercial deathtrip), Head (1968), yet another cult classic penned by Jack Nicholson (The Trip; Drive, He Said) with help from Rafelson. While SWB waxes poetically about the opening and closing song from this magna Monkee opus (Goffin and King's psychedelic "Porpoise Song" with solarized slo-mo visuals), my fave scene remains the Mike Nesmith birthday discotech scene, set to Peter Tork's "Long Title: Do I Have To Do This All Over Again? " (as shown below):

I've never been to Soul Night at SoWeBo's Lithuanian Hall, but I'd like to imagine that this is exactly the kind of swinging party a go-go that goes on there (with Davy Cawley filling in for Davy Jones on the dance floor, of course!).

Oh, and speaking of Chick's Legendary Records (erstwhile holders of Amy's Monkees back catalog on vinyl)...

Chick Veditz mans his classic trading card collectibles table

I didn't expect to see Chick Veditz at a Nostalgia Convention, but I should have known better. Longtime "Collector of All Things" Harry C. "Chick" Veditz - best known to Baltimore music lovers as the former owner of Chick's Legendary Records in Mt. Washington - got into trading cards back in the '90s when he ran Chick's Records Tapes & Baseball Cards in Pikesville. And here he was selling vintage pop culture artifacts like Monkees bubblegum cards. "With Davy Jones here, a lot of people are buying individual cards for him to sign," canny capitalist Chick commented, alliteratively.

Wacky Monkeemania on display

Alas, as it turned out we - HORRORS! - missed Davy Jones (but did manage to catch his Wacky Wobbler likeness at a vendor's booth, as shown above)...Thinking he'd be there all day (instead of booking right after lunch), we dawdled when we should have hustled, looking at DVDs (me) and Liverpool Cavern Club t-shirts (Amy-the-Beatles-Completist) and other convention paraphernalia and talks - like a great hour-long presentation called "The Mystery of the Enchanted Forest" (more on that later!). But Dave Cawley, who leads a charmed life, not only saw Mr. Jones, but pissed right next to him ("Boy, he's really short!" Dave quipped, non-sequitarily, referring to little Davy's vertical size) when the former Monkees hearthrob was Head-ing out. Dave Cawley had also spotted Davy Jones earlier at his signing table and when we asked if there were long lines of adoring fans gathered 'round him, replied "No, he was sitting all alone. No one was talking to him."

Ouch! Stab us in the heart with that descriptive dagger and let us twist slowly on it, Big "belittling" Dave Cawley!

Davy had left the building, but his aura was all around us. Thus, Amy spotted the Monkees reinvented as Stooges on this t-shirt vendor's tee (I like to imagine that the Stooge equivalent of "cutesy" Davy Jones in this 100% cotton triptych is frontman Moe!):

Hey hey we're the Stooges!

Dave and Scott Wallace Brown fared much better in their celebrity encounters, with SWB scoring a signed 8x10 glossy of Karen Valentine (who was seated right next to her principal on Room 222, Michael Constantine) for his buddy Carey, while Dave had a long chat with former child star Billy Gray (Father Knows Best, The Day the Earth Stood Still). Not only did Dave get Billy to sign his 8x10 still from The Day the Earth Stood still with the inscription "To Dave, Klaatu Barada Nikto," but he also gave Dave an unbreakable guitar pick - one that music buff Billy himself invented! (Billy Gray the inventor - who knew?) So excited were we all by these celebrity stories, that we forgot Sir Larry Storch (Corporal Agarn on F Troop, the voice of Phineas J. Whoopie on Tennessee Tuxedo and His Tales) was also in the house! (In fact, I was surprised that I didn't run into Steve Liebewitz here, since he's the president of Baltimore's "Larry Storch Fan Club"; maybe he was still doing his own celebrity signing tour for his excellent book Steel Pier, Atlantic City: Showplace of the Nation.)

Of course, I blame myself for wasting time looking at too many DVDs. Following Dave Cawley's lead, we spent a great deal of time at vendor (and filmmaker) Ted Moehring's table, where one could find some rare Eurotrash and Asian cult oddities for $7 a pop or 3-for-$20. I kowtowed to Dave Cawley on his Japanese DVD recommendations (Ultraman Tovah, Gorath, and Goke, Body Snatcher from Hell.) But as I am currently on a Euro comics kicks (Dylan Dog, Diabolik, Modesty Blaise), I had to fall back on my Eurocentric instincts and also pick up something called Kriminal (1966).

I knew nothing about this character or film other than the cover depicted the protogonist (Glenn Saxon, who looks like a Dutch Tab Hunter) wearing a yellow skeleton suit that reminded me of John Phillip Law's screen depiction of Diabolik in Mario Bava's Danger: Diabolik (1966). But I'm glad I got it because right from the opening credits on...

...it's great! We're talking a swinging '60s soundtrack, a bounty of beautiful babes, and a succession of exotic locales (traipsing from London to Madrid to Istanbul, a la a James Bond adventure). And, like Diabolik, Kriminal was an 1960s Italian comic series; Kriminal was created by Magnus and Max Bunker (who also created Satanik - a DVD I passed up at Moehring's table).

According to Wikipedia:
Kriminal is an English master thief, Anthony Logan, who dresses in black and yellow costume with a fearsome skull face for his adventures. The character was directly inspired by the contemporary (and more successful) Diabolik, with whom he shares the ability to use masks that allow him to assume any identity. In the earliest adventures, Kriminal was a near sadistic killer fighting for revenge against the criminals who had pushed his father to commit suicide. Having also lost his mother and sister, Logan spent his youth in a reformatory, from which he managed to escape, intent to pursue vengeance.

Kriminal has a female companion, Lola Hudson, who was once the wife of Scotland Yard Inspector Patrick Milton, his main enemy. Gradually over time, Kriminal's most extreme villainous features were toned down, and in the later stories he assumed more positive and heroic connotations.

The series was also notable as one of first to employ continuity in Italian comic books, as any new story would begin exactly at the point the previous had ended, and the characters' lives continually evolved (in contrast to Diabolik). Logan himself married and had a child, who soon died.

The series ended in November 1974, after 419 episodes.

Skeleton-clad Kriminal is ready to rock some bones

The comic depiction of this same scene

But unlike Diabolik, Kriminal is a real badass! As Cinema Nocturna reviewer Nick Frame points out, "While Diabolik was nicknamed "Il genio del crimine" (the genius of crime), Kriminal on the other hand is "il genio del male" (the genius of evil); he is the anti-Diabolik, a little more sadistic." I'll say; this guy not only steals and kills - he murders people, even pouring acid on one guy's face to disfigure him. Oh, and he tries to blow up his ex-wife (the lovely Tina Louise lookalike, Maria Luisa Rispoli - aka "Susan Baker"), as well.

"Ginger"-haired Maria Luisa Rispoli

Kriminal was adapted for the big screen several times. The DVD I picked up was by Umberto Lenzi. A sequel, Il Marchio di Kriminal ("The Mark of Kriminal") was directed by Fernando Cerchio and followed in 1968.

The standout eye candy in this film was German beauty Helga Line, who appears not once, but twice. That's right, she portrays twins Inge and Trude. And she turned up (as a new character) in the second Kriminal film, 1968's Il Marchio di Kriminal. Seemingly drawn to films based on masked master criminal Italian comic strip characters, she also appeared in 1967's Mister X (aka Avenger X). Line, who later relocated to Madrid, subsequently appeared in two early Pedro Almodovar films: Labyrinth of Passion (1982) and Law of Desire (1987).

Kriminal intent: Glenn Saxon konspires with Kraut kutie Helga Line

Double your pleasure, double your fun with Helga Line

All very fine and good, but for me the day's highlight was that morning's one-hour talk and screening called "The Mystery of the Enchanted Forest." Though the program guide credited the talk to Bruce Barrett, Barrett actually only worked the laptop to project a new DVD showing highlights of the Enchanted Forest as it stood in 1987, one year before closing. Rather, the featured speaker was former longtime employee Norman Cavy, who was flanked by his cousin Patsy Selby and Barrett. Also in attendance (in fact, seated right next to me) was Linda Harrison, daughter of the original owner (not the Linda Harrison who played Charlton Heston's mute galpal "Nova" in the original Planet of the Apes).

The Enchanted Forest was the second-ever fairytale/storyland theme park in America (after Uncle Walt's Disneyland, of course) and everyone from my Baby Boomer generation seems to have a fond memory of going there as a kid. Even John Waters. Speaking of fuzzy memories of bygone utopias of childhood, here's the Enchanted Forest scene from John Waters's Cry-Baby (1990) to set the scene.

And here's a YouTube clip of the current Enchanted Forest ruins.

But Enchanted Forest wasn't just for kids. In fact, back in 1975 when I was in high school, all the Senior Class Stoners (we called ourselves the "St. Paul's Bowling Team") made a field trip there to smoke hash in Ali Baba's Cave (inspired by the Barefoot Jerry song "Ali Baba"; we stopped the boat that went through this water cavern so many times to light another bowl, that the attendant came out to see what the problem was - geeze, I hope it wasn't Norman Cavy!). I also seem to recall someone feeding a cigarette to the goat on the island where Mt. Vesuvius once stood. But I digress...

From the Nostalgia Convention program's description:
On August 15, 1955, The Enchanted Forest opened for business in Ellicott City, Maryland. Appealing to families with small children, the theme park had a nursery rhyme theme and thousands flocked to see the pumpkin coach, Mother Hubbard's shoe and wave at Humpty Dumpty. Sadly, the theme park was forced to close in 1989 when much larger and elaborate attractions such as Kings Dominion and the mouse house in Florida gave people more bang for their buck. For a full hour, preservationists will show us what the park was like in its heyday, with photos and scale model, the history behind the theme park itself, and the sad state of affairs as the monuments today are still crumbling and falling apart, with neglect to any kind of restoration.

The Enchanted Forest in its heyday

Naturally, as a hoarder and amateur archivist, I had to purchase the DVD. Sure, it's a totally amateur production, but it's a labor of love by the folks who were there (and not, thankfully, but some Johnny-come-lately hipsters appropriating yet another swath of retro pop culture).

The "original" Enchanted Forest DVD (accept no substitutes!)

And, more importantly, it's a thorough guide to each and every ride, building, and character that was still standing at the Forest in 1987. Mother Goose, the Black Duck, Cinderella's Pumpkin Coach, the Crooked House and the Crooked Man, the Little Red Schoolhouse, Little Toot, the Easter Bunny's House, the Giant Mushrooms (many a drug user's fave!), Jack's Beanstalk with the Giant at the top! Ah, a veritable treasure trove of memories!

The Enchanted Forest today on Route 40

Enchanted Forest closed in 1988 when the original owners sold the property and construction of the Enchanted Forest Shopping Center began. In 1994, the park was reopened by JHP Development and it 1997 Mid-Atlantic Realty Trust (MART) became the owners. In late 2003, Kimco Realty Corporation merged with MART to take over as Enchanted Forest caretakers. Today, Old King Cole greets shoppers at the original park gate, which is still guarded by a dragon that, according to the Nostalgia Convention program notes, "warns trespassers away."

King Cole points the way to the shopping center

In 2005, most of whatever Enchanted Forest installations could be moved, were relocated to nearby Clark's Eliok Farm off Route 108 in Ellicott City. Hence, Norman Cavy and Bruce Barrett have carefully labeled their DVD and their preservation efforts as being on behalf of "the original Enchanted Forest."

Following is a video clip showing Enchanted Forest highlights on display at Clark's Eliok Farm.

Now, I don't know the exact relationship between Martha Clark of Clark's Eliok Farm and local artist Charlene Clark (charleneclarkstudio.com) - or even if they're related - but whenever I see Old King Cole it always makes me think of Charlene's wonderfully nostalgic Enchanted Forest prints; I keep reminding Amy that she needs to hang the King Cole prints I bought from Charlene at the Hampden Festival years ago.

Charlene Clark's King Cole


I came, I saw, I reminisced. And with that, I bid you all addio. My train of thought is now pulling out of Memory Lane.

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Anonymous Michael said...

The Nostalgia con was great! I go every year and they have Shirley Jones this year in August. Can't miss this one!

2:31 PM  
Anonymous Wedding Gowns 2013 said...

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5:15 AM  

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