Friday, August 9, 2019

The Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention 2019

Shirley Jones poses for the camera with a fan.
Once viewed as a disease, nostalgia is now considered to be an important resource. Revisiting cherished memories from drive-in experiences to classic television programs of the 1950s and 1960s provide feelings of social connectedness. That is why the staff of the Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention (MANC) provides people the opportunity to meet their childhood heroes. For three days every year in September, Hollywood celebrities are flown in to Maryland to meet and greet fans, answer questions, pose for photos and sign autographs. The celebrities at MANC, however, are not the same that attend those heavily-publicized Comic Cons. The convention itself is something altogether different. 

Next month marks the 14th year, with an average attendance of 4,000 over the three days. Over the past thirteen years, MANC has brought over 100 celebrities to Maryland including Patty Duke, Davy Jones, Shirley Jones, Robert Wagner, Stefanie Powers, Robert Conrad, Lee Majors, Robert Fuller, the cast of Lost in Space, Tony Dow (Leave it to Beaver), David Hedison (The Fly), Roy Thinnes (The Invaders) and others.
Chucks; Comics poses with comic books he sells at the convention.

Thousands of people attend the convention annually from all over the globe; attendees fly in from Britain, Belgium, Finland, Germany and Australia. “What I value most about MANC is the personal attention,” says Josh Michnik of Vancouver, Canada. “At comic cons we are numbers and cattle. The convention promoters make it obvious that it is all about money. They herd you in to a room to pose for a photo with the celebrity, you pose for five to ten seconds, hand you a number for your photo, and herd you out. At the nostalgia convention, we are treated like family and the celebrities take their time answering questions and sign autographs. There is a laid-back atmosphere here.” 

For many of the actors and actresses, there is no shortage of accolades from attendees. Kent McCord, co-star of television’s Adam-12, was a guest at the show a few years ago and was pleased to hear from many who were inspired to become police officers because of his portrayal on the weekly program. “There were so many fans who came from so far away that I stayed behind my table until nine in the evening to sign autographs,” recalled Robert Conrad (The Wild, Wild West). Davy Jones insisted on not charging for his autographs. Ron Ely, television’s Tarzan, spent the evening hanging out with fans while sharing drinks in the hotel bar. Mark Goddard paid a visit to the movie room to provide commentary during a screening of television’s Johnny Ringo, which he co-starred back in the late fifties. Patrick Duffy decided not to do his Q&A panel on the stage; instead choosing to stand off the stage to answer questions from fans in a more intimate setting.

Wes Shank displayed the silicone used for the movie monster, The Blob.

“Fans bring everything to be autographed from LP records, board games, lunch boxes and original art,” explained Michelle Vinje, volunteer staff. “But all of the celebrities have glossy photographs for fans to choose for free when getting an autograph. Sometimes the collectibles are more appealing – especially when the actors stop to take a close look and admire their image on a product they never even knew was produced years prior. Patrick Duffy was amazed when he saw a Man from Atlantis collectible produced in Brazil that he never knew existed.”

“Like hundreds of fans lining the red carpet during the Academy Awards, we fanboys flock to this same hotel every year in September determined to memorialize a celebrity moment,” adds Mark Gross, staff photographer. “The time-honored scrawl on a glossy photo, or vintage memorabilia, that we now consider the gold standard of that brush with greatness now warrants bragging rights to our friends.” The photo of oneself for posting on Facebook and social media has become so popular that it has added a new word to the lexicon – “selfie.” Yep, more bragging rights. “Almost since the beginning of the convention’s inception, I have been able to snap photography of fans admiring the tens of thousands of collectibles on vendor tables, fans interacting with celebrities, fans enjoying the slide show seminars upstairs. Those, to me, have become the keepsakes that exceed Hallmark excellence.”

Mark Gross poses with the cast of The Six Million Dollar Man
and The Bionic Woman.

“Among my fondest memories was bonding with Davy Jones (The Monkees) who consented to a filmed interview about his career,” Mark continued. “Afterwards, he asked me subtlety if I could please take him over to meet the great Patty Duke and introduce him to her. Turned out Davy Jones was a huge fan of hers and was just as nervous of meeting her as most of us. According to Davy Jones, that was how a gentleman meets someone of Patty Duke’s stature. An introduction from an associate. I walked him over to her and he acted like a giddy fan boy.”

In an era where Comic Cons (fan gatherings primarily focusing on comic books and superhero motion pictures) dominate social media with the latest Marvel Cinematic entries, the Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention focuses on days gone by when Abbott and Costello were among the biggest box office, and where people can attend slide show seminars hosted by museum curators and historians, watch old movies in a large dark room and shop with the vendors who offer vintage toys and collectibles. “We have been blessed to have the Hunt Valley Delta Marriott in Maryland host our annual convention,” Michelle remarks. “There are very few venues in the state larger than this hotel. It is large enough to allow for more than 200 vendor booths.”

Hammer horror stars Martine Beswick and Caroline Munro take
time to chat with the local television morning show.

It remains difficult to compare the Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention to comic cons across the country simply because the business model is different from other counterparts. Besides being non-profit to benefit children with treatable cancer, the attendees come first and foremost. “Fourteen years have made us realize how vital it is to continue the tradition of bringing people together who share a common interest,” adds Michelle. “This is the weekend when we learn what has been happening in the hobby during the past year, examine vintage treasures on the vendor tables, meet our heroes and icons who flew in from California to sign autographs, and hang out for lunch and dinner with friends we see once a year.”

Every weekend contains a number of memories for the attendees. Whether it be a slide show seminar offering recent historical finds that change the way we thought about a particular television program or Hollywood icon, or the screening of a recently-preserved motion-picture found in a film archive, attendees have much to return home with. “A few years ago Lee Majors, Lindsay Wagner and Richard Anderson from The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman attended the convention,” recalled Mark Gross. “As Lindsay pointed out on stage at the beginning of the question and answer panel, this was the third time all three of them had been together for the same convention since the programs went off the air in 1978. That was history in the making; there can be no doubt that I snapped tons of photos from that event.” 

Dawn Wells (Mary Ann from Gilligan's Island) poses for the camera
with a fan, Clint Tsao.

In the grand scheme of things, fourteen years is not such a long time. Success if relative but in my view success is based on the size of the attendance. If the attendance continues to grow in size every year, then the staff and convention organizers did their job. And the attendance continues to grow every year. This year’s event will be held September 12 to 14, 2019 at the Hunt Valley Delta Marriott, in Maryland just north of Baltimore. Celebrity guests include Angie Dickinson, Richard Thomas, Maud Adams, Nancy Kwan, Loni Anderson, Tatum O’Neal and many others. 

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