By Paul Mantee

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Celebrity-lite

I was a celebrity last weekend. For two days. The condition materialized Friday and Saturday at the Burbank Airport Marriott Hotel and Convention Center. I sat at a long table carpeted with pictures of me, still photographs from various films and television shows of yesteryear-Suzy the Significant by my side-and signed my autograph on anything and everything for twenty bucks a pop. There were probably a hundred of us signing. Top of the line included Patricia Neal, age 93, a magically youthful Tippi Hedren, and the gifted Karen Black and Carol Lynley. The bulk of us comprised a group of supporting players, some even less recognizable than yours truly (I’m counting Ralphs Market here).

Part of me couldn’t wait to attend and part of me wanted to duck it altogether. I’ll re-acquaint myself with people I sat next to at Schwab’s; on the other hand, we’ll all look 30 years older. I will make some money; on the other hand, I will make it by selling my signature.

There is a considerable group of people out there who are willing to pay not only $15 at the door of a so-called celebrity convention, but a good deal more for autographs on memorabilia. People who consider it vital and have made it their business to commit to memory the name of the imbecile I portrayed as the Cat Woman’s assistant in a television episode of “Batman.” In 1968. I think. Now multiply that by the hundred or so other shows I was fortunate enough to snag, then multiply again by the number of performers gathered at the convention and you find yourself immersed in a festival of pointlessness. The first casualty is relevance. The second is ego.

I remember hating the “Batman” experience. I was forced-well, hardly forced; acting was my profession and I needed the eggs-along with two other idiots whose names I’ve forgotten, to wear a little beanie and fawn over Julie Newmar, The Cat Woman of her generation, and a big sexy pussycat she was. But it was probably the most trivial week of my life and it happened decades ago. Time to forget already. But they won’t let you. “Please sign here and print ‘Chester’ underneath your signature.”

Delighted.

A lovely French couple handed me an original poster twice the size of this newspaper from Belgium, depicting “A Man Called Dagger,” 1967, probably the worst movie ever made in any language, in which I played the lead; and fought, by the way, to win the role. And they remembered. And made it a point to purchase the poster, trudge it across the Atlantic and present it to me in Burbank, strongly suggesting I frame it immediately before it gets wrinkled: a rendering of me, casually lighting a cigarette while dangling from a meat hook along with a bikini-clad Terri Moore: “He’s different … He’s dangerous … He’s Dagger! You’ll dig him!”

Don’t get me wrong, I love being recognized for my work. Trouble is I’m usually recognized for some of the worst work I’ve ever done. It was as if a group of well-meaning fans the world over made it a point to dig up embarrassing experiences and dump them lovingly into my lap.

That night Suzy and I took the opportunity to have dinner at Musso & Frank, our favorite Southern California restaurant, a 10-minute drive from the convention hall: Dungeness crab cocktails with toast points and broiled chicken-bone-in and cooked to order-plus a twice-baked potato. You can’t find that in upscale Malibu. We stayed-over at the Marriott. The bed was comfy, the TV a puzzlement, the shower floor slippery and the faucet itself baffling. I maintain there should be a directive standardizing the mechanics of On, Off, Hot and Cold, so that every hotel shower is not an experimental experience. The breakfast at what purports to be an incarnation of The Daily Grill was alarming: elastic-fried potatoes, greasy bacon and OJ laced with a chemical aftertaste.

On day two I was reminded of an episode of “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea” in which I morphed into a grotesque monster with a gigantic bug-head after dying a well-deserved death, which at the time depressed the hell out of my mother. And “Breakout,” not the best Charles Bronson movie ever made, where I was cut in half by a propeller. You can’t imagine the number of people who couldn’t wait to bring these images to my attention.

People nodded and smiled at me in the hotel lobby. I relished that and smiled back. Occasionally a stranger approached my table and reminded me that we’d shared a significant moment at a similar convention three years ago. They remembered details and I tried my best to conjure them as well. Two days of celebrity-lite can be exhausting. The convention experience is like praying for butter while diving into a tub of margarine. I hope they invite me back.

Probably the most legitimate touch of celebrity occurred for Suzy. Friday night she had a dream pertaining to an intimate interlude with Tony Soprano.