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Would You Wait Six Hours for Priscilla Presley’s Autograph?

Kim Gwizdala and Nikka Markarian have driven four hours to be here today. They’ve dressed in Dallas-style outfits (cropped jackets and black suede cowboy boots) and are sporting Reagan-era ’dos (blown out and heavily feathered). And now, these best friends from Las Vegas, both 32, will spend several more hours in line at a hotel in Burbank, waiting to meet the 83-year-old actress who, decades ago ­— before Gwizdala and Markarian were even born — played J.R. Ewing’s long-suffering wife. The character who tried to buy a baby on the black market, spent the better part of a season locked away in a sanitarium and whose sister shot her husband.

“Linda Gray!” they chime in unison, as if reciting a holy incantation.

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And those are just two of the more than 2,500 rabid fans who have converged at the Burbank Marriott on this hazy weekend in March for The Hollywood Show, a two-day gathering of aging TV and (some) film celebrities held thrice a year.

This event’s tentpole attraction is Dallas, but there are scores of other vintage shows represented here as well, giving conventioneers a chance to ogle at, mingle with and ultimately pay for a chat with 100 stars, ranging from the relatively famous (Engelbert Humperdinck) to the “Who’s that?” (Jackson Bostwick?).

Guests pony up a few hundred dollars at the door and then, once they’re in, fling cash like they’re at the craps table, buying photos, autographs, selfies and memorabilia to document their starry meet-and-greets. For the Dallas reunion, cordoned off in its own corridor, an impressive 26 former castmembers — ranging from Gray, Patrick Duffy and Charlene Tilton to Omri Katz (he played the child John Ross) and Josh Henderson (John Ross 2.0 in the TNT Dallas reboot) — have shown up to relive the glory days of Southfork.

Merch at the show included J.R. Ewing-style belt buckles and I Dream of Jeannie bottles (genie presumably not included)
Merch at the show included J.R. Ewing-style belt buckles and I Dream of Jeannie bottles (genie presumably not included.)

The brains behind The Hollywood Show is David Elkouby, a former celebrity photographer who’s been wrangling stars for the convention since 2008. In the past 16 years, he’s put together reunions of the casts of Laverne & Shirley, Happy Days, West Side Story and The Terminator. But the frenzied response to Dallas has him thinking he should do Dynasty next. He’s continually surprised at the slavish devotion of fans.

“A lady from Pennsylvania has seen Engelbert 25, 30 times,” Elkouby says. “It’s a closeness [to the stars] they want. It makes them feel, ‘Oh my God, maybe now I’ll be able to say what I want: “I’ve loved you all my life.” ’ ”

Singer Engelbert Humperdinck, 87, has one fan who has returned for autographs close to 30 times.
Singer Engelbert Humperdinck, 87, has one fan who has returned for autographs close to 30 times.

At The Hollywood Show, a few minutes of that closeness is precisely what the stars are selling, but it doesn’t come cheap. After paying the initial $200 entry fee, then waiting in line for up to six hours to meet the more in-demand personalities — like five-season Dallas star (and six-season Elvis wife) Priscilla Presley — an autographed photo will cost you an additional $60. If she signs something you’ve brought, that’s $80. A selfie with her? Another $80. Want something more than a signature, like “Dear Joe, you’re as handsome as Elvis”? That’ll be $20 for every six words, cash or card.

“The ‘words’ stuff, that’s only come up recently,” Elkouby says disapprovingly. “A few people started it, but I am not a fan of charging somebody to write, ‘To Steve, To Mike, To Joe.’ That’s insane to me.” He shrugs. “I mean, these are your fans.”

Christopher Atkins, 63, of The Blue Lagoon fame, with one of the convention’s gobsmacked fans
Christopher Atkins, 63, of The Blue Lagoon fame, with one of the convention’s gobsmacked fans

The fans, though, don’t seem to mind. The crowd is remarkably calm and orderly. Waiting in line to meet Joan Collins, regular attendee Angela Resendi, 48, says she comes because “it’s fun to meet people while you can.” (Translation: While they’re still alive.) She holds a plastic sleeve protector with a Dynasty PR photo of Joan and Diahann Carroll that sports an autograph from Carroll, who died in 2019. Angela has already been waiting an hour to get Joan’s. “Under normal circumstances, I would be done by now,” she says forlornly. “I would have all of my little autographs, and I would be having lunch.” But the Priscilla line took hours, and now this one will, too. Her husband left. “His back gave out,” she says.

In the Dallas corridor, the show’s theme song blares over speakers and people pose with the oil painting of Jock Ewing, one of the few photo ops that’s free. Michelle and Alexander Zajac, from Washington, D.C., proudly show off their vintage Dallas board game, now covered in scribbles from various castmembers garnered from three hours in various lines. “The game itself is not expensive,” Alexander, 31, says wryly. “But getting the signatures was a little much.”

WKRP in Cincinnati star Loni Anderson, 78, posed for a selfie with a fan
WKRP in Cincinnati star Loni Anderson, 78, posed for a selfie with a fan

On day two of the convention, the crowd is even bigger. Over the intercom, a woman with the bored intonation of a flight attendant reading boarding groups announces who’s available for $40- to $80-a-picture private portraits in the photo studio (“Currently only Engelbert”). The Priscilla line remains insane, snaking around like a Disneyland ride. People clutch precious items — a book, a magazine, a photo, a gray felt cowboy hat — waiting for their two-minute turn with the Queen of Graceland, who sits at a table behind a poster-sized portrait of herself in younger days.

“She will stay until the very last person leaves,” one of Presley’s assistants promises when asked if there’s enough time for everyone in line to get an autograph. “She’s like that. She won’t disappoint.” (In the end, Presley stays until 8 p.m., a 10-hour shift.)

Hart to Hart star Stefanie Powers, 81, signed memorabilia
Hart to Hart star Stefanie Powers, 81, signed memorabilia.

For the stars who sell their autographs at the convention, there’s more to it than just a pay day, although that can be considerable (the bigger names pocket tens of thousands of dollars a day; lesser lights usually leave with at least $1,000). They also get a taste of their old fame. “The fans get here and they can’t speak,” says Steve Kanaly, who played Dallas’ ranch foreman Ray Krebbs. “They don’t know what they want. They’re overwhelmed. It’s their fantasy and reality banging heads.”

Recalls Elkouby, “We had the Osmond Brothers once, and this lady literally collapsed to the floor. When she woke up, they were all standing over her, asking, ‘Are you OK?’ ”

She was — as is everyone here, thrilled to be milling about this landlocked Love Boat episode. As day two wears on, the celebrities seem looser, more fun, a bit more forthright. Which is what the fans are really after — that feeling of intimacy, of just-between-us chitchat.

Tony Danza, 72, is holding court, telling stories about Vic Damone; Joan Collins, 90, scribbles autographs with the cool dispatch of Alexis signing oil leases; snowy-haired Jamie Farr, 89, M*A*S*H’s cross-dressing Corporal Klinger, waxes sanguine about his fading celebrity (“There’s no Jamie Farr stalking going on”). A few rows over, Newlywed Game host Bob Eubanks, 86, seethes, accusing the producers of The Holdovers of using clips of him without proper compensation (“It’s not fair what they’ve done … it’s bullshit”).

Joan Collins, 90, peddled — and signed — some of her books
Joan Collins, 90, peddled — and signed — some of her books

Still, it’s a long day, and none of these stars are getting any younger. Maxwell Caulfield, 64, the British actor best known for starring opposite Michelle Pfeiffer in Grease 2 — and for being married to Juliet Mills, 82, who played the nanny in Nanny and the Professor, also here today signing autographs — says it’s a good thing the show is only two days. “If they drag it out, somebody who was gushing over you on Friday walks by on a Sunday and looks at you almost in sympathy.”

Over at Linda Gray’s line — not quite as expansive as Presley’s but impressive nevertheless — Gwizdala and Markarian are back for more, waiting patiently for a second round with their ’80s TV idol. “She was so nice to us,” Markarian says of their first encounter yesterday. “She was so sweet. She took her time with everything. She actually remembered our names in conversation.” She gets a little misty. “Linda Gray knows my name now!”

Jessica Cauffiel’s table peddled mementos from her career (which includes parts in all three Legally Blondes)
Jessica Cauffiel’s table peddled mementos from her career (which includes parts in all three Legally Blondes)

This story first appeared in the March 27 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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