Dawn Wells ‘date’ highlights visit to 2017 Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention

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Dawn Wells (r) smiles for a picture with fans Melissa and Tammy Morales at the 2017 Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention. (Anthony C. Hayes)

For longer than I care to admit, I’ve wanted a date with Dawn Wells. In my mind’s eye, an intimate dinner with “Mary Ann” would be delightful. Maybe we’d start with a leisurely cruise to some tropical desert isle. After a pleasant walk by the lagoon, we’d settle down at a bamboo table, illuminated by the moon and the light from flickering tiki torches. We might enjoy a round of fruity drinks as we slowly savored the catch of the day. Then for dessert, we’d share a luscious slice of coconut cream pie. Sounds idyllic. But the best part would be simply spending some time with Dawn Wells.

Ah, it’s nothing but a pipe dream, right?

Not so fast.

This reporter DID spend some one-on-one time with the effervescent (and incredibly gorgeous) Dawn Wells. And with numerous other celebrities, authors, vendors and guests, at last weekend’s Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention.

Filling two floors worth of conference space at the Hunt Valley Delta Hotel, the Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention is one of the largest shows of its kind. Now in its twelfth year, the convention (which drew an estimated 3,000 people) offered fans a chance to meet their favorite celebrities, peruse an extensive array of memorabilia, catch a flick in the 24-hour movie room, attend panel discussions and book presentations, and finally ~ dine with the stars.

Tammy, Alberto, and Melissa Morales traveled all the way from storm-racked Florida to attend the three-day convention. When I asked Melissa why they picked this show, she said it was because her mom and dad grew up watching The Partridge Family.

“Most of the performers here were before my time, but my parents wanted to see Shirley Jones, along with Dawn Wells and Cindy Williams. We’ve been other places, too,” continued Melissa. “I like dragging my parents around.”

“We’re also fans of ChiPs,” chimed Alberto. “We met Larry Wilcox in Nashville. I even offered to take him fishing if he ever comes to Florida!”

Alberto then showed me a picture of his boat. It made me think of Mary Ann and the S.S. Minnow.

What spurs the intrepid family on?

“We home-schooled Melissa,” explained Tammy, “so over the years we’ve been to a number of historic and nature sites. This is the first year we’ve done any of the comic cons. We’ve always loved traveling; going to museums and historic places. When they did the re-enactment for the 150th anniversary of the Lincoln assassination, we went to that. We’re also doing some sightseeing while we’re here in Maryland. We’ve been to the cemetery in Baltimore where John Wilkes Booth is buried, and on Sunday, we’re taking a tour of Tudor Hall, the Booth family home in Bel Air.”

Tammy said the family trips have taken the Morales’ to other places of historic interest, such as the Harriet Tubman home in Auburn, New York.

“The museum is usually closed in the winter, but we made special arrangements for a tour. As it happened, we were there the day President Obama signed the bill making the home a national park. We saw the story while we were eating breakfast, then news crews started showing up while we were taking our tour of the house. We were on television, so we had our five minutes of fame.”

Richard Sands with Dallas fans Virginia and Bonnie Ulmer. (Anthony C. Hayes)

Marylanders Bonnie and Virginia Ulmer made it out for the Saturday portion of the show. Bonnie said she came specifically to see Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing of Dallas and Knots Landing fame.)

“I’ve seen every one of those shows and even have them recorded,” said Bonnie. “I just saw Bobby! I got a picture with him, I got an autograph, I got a hug and I smelt him. He smells terrific!”

Daughter Virginia told us she too came along to see Patrick Duffy. “I also got a hug, though I didn’t smell him. I’m just glad Mom let me in on the picture without edging me out.”

Taking in the vendor tables, the Ulmer’s stopped to get a picture with Blues Brothers tribute artist, Richard Sands.

Sands – a Baltimore native who now resides in Hagerstown – was making his fifth appearance as “Jake Blues” at the convention.

“I have a partner, and we do the whole Blues Brothers act. We do a lot of charity work, such as raising money for St. Judes Hospital. We don’t charge a dime for those kinds of appearances. We also help (show promoter) Martin Grams when he does his yearly auction.”

Erik Estrada and Larry Wilcox pose with an appreciative fan. (Anthony C. Hayes)

Sands may be a performer, but he’s also a fan of the stars who have appeared over the years at the convention.

“I met Adam West, here, and Davy Jones of The Monkees. They were both really neat.”

* * * * *

Talk with the stars often veered away from their public careers, into other serious areas of interest. Gary Conway, for example, wanted to talk about his wine and olive oil business. Conway also remarked that he believes his show, Land of the Giants, would be relevant today if considered as a purely political form of expression.

Larry Wilcox – a Vietnam veteran – was eager to share his views on the perils modern police officers face every day of their lives. (I had hoped to ask Erik Estrada for his thoughts on modern police work, but he had a line of female fans waiting for a kiss.)

Shirley Jones smiled as I briefly shared the story Bill Mumy had told me about the crush he had on his beautiful co-star in the film, A Ticklish Affair. And Larry Storch reflected for a moment on another great impressionist, performer and friend – the late Frank Gorshin – simply saying, “I miss him. He was a wonderful actor.”

After the show closed down for the day, Paul Petersen took some time to share a true-life Hollywood story – not from his acting career – but from his days as a pop singer.

Paul Petersen, seen here signing a cast photo from The Donna Reed Show, reminisced about recording with Brian Wilson. (Anthony C. Hayes)

“I was in Las Vegas when I got a call from record producer Lou Adler, asking me, ‘How fast can you get to the studio?’ I said, ‘Lou, it’s New Year’s Eve! I’m in Las Vegas. What’s the hurry?’ He replied, ‘Brian Wilson has written a song for you.’ I knew The Beach Boys, of course, because when I appeared at some live events around ‘61, they were a local band who backed me up. But by this time, they were on top of the world. When I finally got to the studio, I saw Brian behind a Leslie speaker, doing something with the wires to get the sound just right. So we recorded She Rides With Me. It’s just another great Brian Wilson song. That’s a memory I will always treasure.”

Petersen’s post-show reminiscing was momentarily halted when another star boldly launched into song.

A few tables away from where we were sitting, Aileen Quinn had approached Olivia D’Abo to chat with the star of The Wonder Years. Apparently, Olivia is a huge fan of the musical Annie, because no sooner had the two exchanged pleasantries, than D’Abo belted out the familiar lyrics:

“The sun will come out tomorrow. So you gotta hang on ’til tomorrow, come what maaaaaaay!”

* * * * *

On authors row, we had a chance to spend some time with biographer Cathy Fitzgibbon Rudolph – a lifelong fan and friend of the late Paul Lynde.

“Paul was in some wonderful Broadway shows, such as New Faces of 1952 and Bye, Bye, Birdie, and in a number of films and television shows, like Beach Blanket Bingo, Dean Martin, and Bewitched. But today, he is remembered primarily for being the center square on a game show. He wanted to be a movie star, and he felt trapped inside that little box. I believe he had the talent to do something much more serious, like The Graduate, but it just didn’t happen. That’s a shame. It’s also sad that there was once a sign in Mount Vernon, Ohio, saying, “Welcome to the Home of Paul Lynde.” That sign is long gone. He was my friend, and I miss him dearly. But I feel like he’s with me here today because so many fans have dropped by and shared his voice, and those wonderful quips of his.”

Paul Lynde biographer Cathy Ruduloph's table at the 2017 Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention. credit Anthony C. Hayes

As if on cue, funny-man Larry Storch walked by Cathy’s book table and froze when he saw Lynde’s smiling face. Storch and Lynde had worked together in a hysterical episode of F-Troop, where Storch (as a French-Canadian on the lam) is being pursued by Lynde – a Mountie who always gets his man. I asked Storch if he had a special memory of working with Lynde? Without missing a beat, Storch voiced an impeccable impression of Lynde doing one of his favorite jokes:

“What do you call a hooker with emphysema?
An entrepreneur who whistles while she works.”

The show wrapped up for most of the fans at 5 PM on Saturday. There was a farewell banquet afterwards, but I had other plans for the evening. Luckily, I got to chat with Paul Petersen for a little while longer, as we repaired to the patio for a breath of fresh air.

But wait – what about my date with Mary Ann???

Seems I missed the boat on that one.

My brief encounter with Dawn Wells, as she feverishly signed autographs, went something like this:

Me: Someone asked me if I was going to get your autograph. I said No, but I was hoping to get a date.
She: A date?!?
Me: Yes! I’ve always wanted a date. In fact, I wanted to ask you to my high school prom.
She: Well, why didn’t you? I waited for your call!
Me: :/