“I go online and print everything I can find on Svengoolie and then hang them all over my kitchen walls,” said the older lady to my right. “I’m just worried since I saw him at last year’s Flashback Weekend he’ll think I’m stalking him by coming to this one.” Considering the number of Svengoolie appearances I had under my belt, I confidently gave her some reassurance. It was just a few short weeks since G-FEST and I was back at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Rosemont, this time swapping Godzilla for slashers. Somehow the two conventions still seemed related thanks to the presence of my friend, Don Johnston. Don’s a powerful presence at the hotel and it’s never more apparent than when his venue hosts events such as these. He’s a larger than life character that appears to be everywhere at once – a titan with a heart of gold who shares my love of comics, horror, and Svengoolie. He was definitely in the “convention zone” on this day as he barreled past me near the photo op area asking if Sven’s crew had arrived. Minutes later, MeTV’s national horror host and company materialized; ready to take on Flashback Weekend as they’d skillfully done at the Chicago Comics and Entertainment Expo (C2E2) last April. And, just like that occasion, they permitted me to stay amongst them where I could observe the broadcasting legend interact with fans, host the annual costume contest, and interview celebrity guests. In exchange, I’d assist them in selling T-shirts and posters while snapping a few fan photos when needed. This gave producer (Jim Roche), director (Chris Faulkner), and cameraman (Chas Ailing) more freedom to keep the appearance running smoothly while capturing material for his upcoming Saturday night shows. So to be put things into perspective – I get the best seat in the house doing something I enjoyed doing anyway.
For the second year in a row, Flashback offered a professional photo op with Sven which was to be his first order of business. After quickly setting up his signing area, we went across the hall to the spot designated for Celeb Photo Ops. As we made our way towards their makeshift studio, we passed a line of fans awaiting their turn.
My friends, Don and Bunny, were there whom I hadn’t seen since Svengoolie’s last “Sventa Claus” appearance in December. Sven’s would-be stalker, a.k.a that nice lady I was talking with earlier, was there too. Apparently, she wasn’t exaggerating her adoration for Sven as she plowed into him for a hug.
These things tend to go lightning fast and this was no exception. Before I knew it, we were back in the signing room, while inadvertently bringing along a couple of stowaways. It was a nice couple who’d just taken a picture with Sven and were now standing around staring at us. Finally, Jim finally asked, “Are you guys lost?” The couple looked confused. “No, you told us to follow you so we did.” (???) This is probably a good time to mention that it was 98 degrees outside and the hotel’s central air couldn’t seem to keep up. Consequently, many of us were acting “punch drunk” throughout the day due to the heat.
Once the signing officially kicked off, that nice couple would be one of the first to complete their Svengoolie/Flashback experience. They were followed by Chicago’s own, David the Rock Nelson, who was in rare form with his video camera and seemingly endless list of requests. The local filmmaker is quite a character started taking up way too much time in my opinion. After watching Sven graciously carry out his numerous instructions I started fantasizing about one of those old vaudevillian, shepherd hooks coming out of nowhere and dragging him offstage.
Some people brought along their freshly printed Photo Op pictures to sign. This included that overzealous fan who’d been hugging him earlier. She would continue her devotional onslaught with more hugs accompanied by declarations of “I love you, I love you, I love you!!!” I thought it was kind of cute though, after a few awkward moments, there was concern he might get smothered.
For the next 90 minutes, I sold a bunch of Svengoolie posters and T-shirts while watching my fellow fans greet the man himself.
With the photo op and signing portion complete, there was a window of time Svengoolie could take a break before hosting the costume contest. Don escorted everyone to the 9th floor where he secured a private room to cool off in. Dripping in sweat, Sven shed his jacket and wig before taking a seat near the air conditioning. Considering I was ready to pass out wearing shorts and a T-shirt, I don’t know how he’d of managed without this respite. Soon it was time for him to make his was way back downstairs to the ballroom. Jim and I broke off from the group to bring the extra Sven merch back to his car. When I made it to the costume area it was packed with people but Don and Bunny motioned me to a seat. It would end up being the perfect spot to get pictures and moments later the show was underway…
Coming Up…The Flashback Weekend Costume Contest!