Ruta Lee and Margaret O’Brien at Cinecon
After 5 years dreaming of Cinecon Classic Film Festival, I finally attended. I wish I had started 15 years ago or at least 2 years ago when I first moved out West, a short bus ride to Los Angeles. As much as I wish I could attend TCM Classic Film Festival, this was just as wonderful as I’d imagine TCM.
Cinecon plays movies on film but there is the occasional digital. I didn’t start attending 2 years ago for a few reasons: the airfare to Los Angeles was a bit pricey for me, I didn’t know the Hollywood area too well and lodging near the Egyptian Theatre is not cheap. I initially thought Greyhound would be the only bus option until I discovered a very affordable Vietnamese bus that takes last minute bookings. The bus includes a bottled water, banh mi Vietnamese sandwich and sometimes a movie. I watched 12 Years a Slave, Gravity, Captain Philips, Tom and Jerry cartoons and Mr. Bean. A few months ago to acquaint myself for a future Cinecon or TCM Film Festival, I took the bus to Los Angeles, stayed at a lovely private room/shared bath hostel in safe Koreatown, and gave myself an impromptu self-guided tour of Hollywood.
At Cinecon, I saw a few silents including If I Were King (1920)and a discussion on silent serial queen Ruth Roland. The two films I saw with celebrity guests appearances, Ruta Lee and Margaret O’Brien, were Witness For the Prosecution (1957) and Meet Me In St. Louis (1944). Luckily I had never seen either so I got to enjoy their newness.
On a Saturday afternoon, I screened Witness for the Prosecution. Honestly I previously had never heard of Ruta Lee. She had a small but pivotal role as Diana, a courtroom spectator mainly interacting with Elsa Lanchester’s character, Miss Plimsoll. During the interview after the film, I grew fond of her lively and gracious personality.
The following day when she received her Cinecon Lifetime Achievement award, she was thankful for her career. She acknowledged she wasn’t the top tier nor the one of the most famous but grateful for always working with wonderful people in the area of film and television. That is how she struck me during the interview and Q&A, someone who is so thankful for her Hollywood career.
She is also very welcoming to her fans. I patiently waited to get her autograph and photo however before my turn, I saw Robert Forester. I didn’t know he came to surprise Ruta so while I waited, I innocently asked him for an autograph. He kindly asked my name and gave me one. I may have delayed his hug to Ruta.
After they hugged and spoke, Ruta finally got to me. I asked if she spoke Lithuanian because she kept mentioning her parents were Lithuanian. She does and happily obliged to write a little Lithuanian notation with her autograph. Here is a video of her speaking Lithuanian. Finally before I uttered a word, she saw my camera and asked if I wanted a photo asking another fan to photograph us. She is so inclusive and in tune with her fans. I shamelessly admit I wasn’t a genuine fan before the interview but I quickly became one after I left the theatre.
The following day was the screening of Meet Me In St. Louis followed by an interview with Margaret O’Brien. I heard Kenneth Anger, author of the Hollywood Babylon books was there but left by the time Margaret spoke about the journey of the red coat she wore in the film, her flamenco dancer mother and Margaret’s reconnection decades later with her stand-in who is now a friend. Speaking of which, if I may, I was once a stand-in to a gorgeous actress named Natalie Martinez. If only I could be her stand-in for all her roles.
Margaret signed autographs after the interview. I opted out of waiting in the long line since I already got an autograph last year at Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention. I did want to ask her if Rita Lupino, Ida Lupino’s sister, is still alive. Rather than wait in line, I hoped to have the opportunity at the banquet that evening to inquire about Rita but Margaret was the star of the evening and by then I was too mesmerized by the other stars at the star-studded gala.