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Fans Meet Old Time Hollywood Stars at Autograph Convention

Autograph conventions offer fans the chance to meet the stars from television and movies. They offer the stars a chance to get involved in the growing business of celebrity memorabilia. At a recent convention in Los Angeles, fans bought pictures of their favorite Hollywood actors, many from movies and television series from decades ago.

One of the more recognizable people at this convention is the actress Margaret O'Brien, who started working in Hollywood in the 1940s, at the age of four.

"I did a lot of movies. Meet Me in St. Louis was the most famous, with Judy Garland; Little Women with Elizabeth Taylor and June Allyson, Janet Leigh; Jane Eyre with Orson Welles, and many, many more. So a lot of movies," she said.

Then came work as an adult actress in television series such as Rawhide, which starred a young Clint Eastwood, and appearances in a weekly suspense series from director Alfred Hitchcock.

"And worked with Lassie, who is at this autograph show," she said.

The theatrical dog is a member of a famous Hollywood family. He is a ninth generation descendant of the collie, Pal, that appeared in the classic 1940s film Lassie Come Home. Later descendants of the dog appeared in the Lassie television series from 1954 to 1971.

Another Lassie veteran, the actress June Lockhart, played in several movies that featured the well-known dog and then, in the 1950s, co-starred in the series. She says her Hollywood contracts prevent her from speaking on radio, but a costar from her 1960s series, Lost in Space, was more than ready to tell his story. Bob May played a robot in the light-hearted science fiction show.

"Lost in Space. I was the actor who played the part [of the robot]," he explained. "I did it the entire series, which is 83 episodes, three years."

Viewers never saw his face inside the robot costume, but fans are still thrilled to meet him.

A more recognizable actor, John Saxon, started in show business 50 years ago, and has appeared in many science fiction and horror films. He also played opposite kung fu star Bruce Lee in the 1973 martial arts classic Enter the Dragon. Mr. Saxon sometimes attends these autograph conventions, since he learned that movie memorabilia can be big business.

"There was a time when I paid a couple in Beverly Hills to answer my fan mail and to write notes back and sign photos," he said. "It would cost me, I think, about $500 or $600 or $700 a month to do this. Then I began finding people bringing me these photos back from shops from which they were sold, and I realized I was being inducted into a home cottage industry. "

He says he decided to get involved in the industry himself.

The convention was held at a Los Angeles hotel owned by another Hollywood star. Since 1971, the actress Beverly Garland has run a Holiday Inn near Universal Studios, and she still appears occasionally on television and in movies. She reminisces with guests about her long career.

"I did the The Joker is Wild with Frank Sinatra. The first big series that I did was called Decoy, the story of a New York police woman that we filmed in New York City," she said. Then I did My Three Sons; then I did Scarecrow and Mrs. King. And then I did The (New) Adventures of Superman."I go on and on and on. Do you think I can remember everything? I'm an old lady."

Actress Marla Gibbs, who appeared in the 1970s series The Jeffersons and a show called 227 a decade later, says these conventions give her the chance to meet old friends from Hollywood. She is a singer as well as actress, and the event also gives her a chance to promote an upcoming recording.

"My CD should be coming out the end of September, the first of October," she said. "The name of it is It's Never Too Late, and the name of my record label is 'Forever Thirty,' because I'm forever 30."

So, it seems, are many at this convention, although most have been working in Hollywood for many decades. Organizer Mickey Sinardi says the event is partly about business and partly just for fun, even for the performers. He says a famous comedian stopped by to meet the fans.

"A lot of stars, people like Jonathan Winters, who was here earlier, and others, they don't have to come here to make a living, but they like doing it," he said. "It's a lot of fun. They come here to meet the crowd."

For Steven Christianson, a Canadian visitor who is here with his girlfriend, Kristen, the convention offered a chance to see some familiar stars, including one that he loved in his childhood. He was thrilled to meet Ron Harper, who starred in the 1970s television series Planet of the Apes.

"It was a real treat because he was not only one of the people that I'd watch every Saturday morning on the Planet of the Apes series, but I actually had a 12-inch [30-centimeter] action figure of this actor, and I think he got as much of a charge out of that as we did meeting him," he said.

Mr. Christianson bought an autographed picture of the star for $20.

Actress Rena Owen, who appeared in two Stars Wars movies, displays her own action figure as the alien space character Taun We. She is selling photos that retrace her varied career in science fictions films and television series.

"Oh God, I've been in this industry 20 years," she said. " I did years of theater and then eventually television, Gideon's Crossing, Angel - I had a recurring role on Angel[playing] Dinza, the goddess of all lost creatures. Whatever comes my way, honey."

Fans can hear tales of life in Hollywood. Richard Yniguez has played roles opposite Lucille Ball, Anthony Quinn, Glenn Ford and many other stars.

"And it's been a career of over 30 years now, and it's just been fun, interesting, and most of all exciting," he said.

Hollywood hopefuls can also get advice from veterans. Actor Jeff Conaway started working on the New York stage at the age of nine. In the 1970s, he appeared in the Broadway version of Grease, the rock and roll musical, then co-starred in the movie. He worked in the comedy series Taxi and the science fiction show Babylon 5. He says acting is a great career, but it has its ups and downs. And this is his advice to aspiring actors.

"I just say just get ready to work hard and get ready to be rejected and get ready for some heartache, and get ready for some good times too because the art, the craft is a wonderful thing," he said.

He says entertainment is also a business, and today, a growing part of the business involves celebrity autographs, pictures and memorabilia from Hollywood.