Tuesday, April 23, 2013

L.A. Times Festival of Books

Fans waiting for Debbie Reynolds

The L.A. Times Festival of Books is Los Angeles’ annual weekend-long celebration of reading and local authors. The event, which is free, attracts hundreds of thousands of people. We used to go every year when it was held at UCLA. But we stopped when it moved to USC—just too busy, I guess (she said, flashing her Bruin smile). However, with our rival campus now just a short trolley ride away, we had no excuse this year and so went last Saturday.

The weather was perfect as we strolled around, peering at the booths while trying to avoid the eyes of vendors and self-published authors. Tim ended up buying a book written by a woman who collects and sells Miata cars. I, on the other hand, couldn’t resist The Beatle Who Vanished, about the poor schlub who briefly filled in for a sick Ringo on one of the Beatles’ tours. Impulse shopping is a big part of the festival! The main draw, however, remains the countless author panels featuring celebrities and non-celebrities alike. This year’s line-up included Margaret Atwood, Carol Burnett, Orson Scott Card, Raymond Feist, Joyce Carol Oates, and everyone’s favorite Angeleno, Steve Lopez. We saw state-librarian-emeritus Kevin Starr interviewed before a standing-room-only crowd.

The true highlight of the day, though, was seeing movie star Debbie Reynolds, who was promoting her new autobiography UnsinkableThe audience erupted into applause as soon as she walked on stage with her daughter Carrie Fisher’s dog, Dwight, and Mark Olsen, the young L.A. Times journalist assigned to interview her. Debbie took control before Olsen could even utter one word.

Walking on stage

“I know what you’re all thinking,” she told the enthusiastic crowd. “So I’m just going to tell you. I’m 81 years old and still alive!” She then proceeded to tell amusingly self-deprecating stories about her career and former husbands. She spoke very fondly of Fred Astaire, who mentored her during Singin’ in the Rain, her first musical with Gene Kelly. She also talked about attending school at the MGM studio with Elizabeth Taylor, who would later scandalize the movie world by stealing Debbie’s husband Eddie Fisher. “You know I’m the mother of Princess Leia!” Debbie exclaimed, speaking of her daughter Carrie’s role in the original Star Wars trilogy. “I guess that makes me a queen!,” she said, waving to a group of strapping young men sitting to her left.

A microphone was then opened to the audience. Instead of asking questions, her fans gushed with love and requested that she sing their favorite songs (e.g., “Tammy” and, from How the West Was Won, “Home in the Meadow”—yay!). Some even gave emotional testimonials. One woman made Debbie cry when she related how, in 1964, the actress had opened her home to a group of low-income schoolgirls, who spent the day swimming and enjoying Beverly Hills. “You changed my life that day,” she told Debbie, who seemed sincerely grateful for the memory. An older man then stood up and confessed to being in love with Debbie Reynolds since her very first movie, June Bride. He still has her autographed photo hanging on his wall. It was my turn to cry.

Chiding Carrie's dog

Staying cool in my new hipster hat

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