By Tim Doherty
Copyright ©1982 Larry M. Byrd/Way Out West Tent
The Second biannual convening of the Sons from around the globe took place in the Movies' Home Town.
The second International Convention of Sons of the Desert was held at the Los Angeles Hilton Hotel. At its close I was exhausted from all the bus tours, banquets, continuous L&H screenings and trading room activities. Still, there's one thing I'm sure of: I have never felt as much intense affection and a sense of belonging from a group of total strangers in my entire thirty years. All of us (over 500 strong) were drawn from every quarter of the globe by our mutual affection for the long-ago antics of Laurel & Hardy.
The gathering takes place every two years. 1978 saw the original event meet in Chicago (where, in the 1933 feature, Sons of The Desert, the boys attended their convention on the sly). The 1980 gala with all of its attending headaches and joyrides fell to the Los Angeles area tent, Way Out West. Officers Lori ]ones, Bob Satterfield and Earl Kress performed the super-human task of assembling and coordinating one of the most complex and rewarding ventures I have ever witnessed.
My first activity was a bus tour which left the Hilton Wednesday morning at 8 AM. En-route we visited the resting places of Stan and Ollie as well as Buster Keaton, the endless stairs of The Music Box fame; The Chinese, Egyptian and other legendary Hollywood theaters, as well as the former RKO and Warner movie lots and the Hollywood Memorial Cemetery.
Following a brief freshening-up period we convened in one of the hotel's largest ballrooms for a parade of tents -- an amazing affair! Late that afternoon we again boarded the buses for a rare tour of the Burbank Studios' back lot. It is currently shared by Warner Brothers and Columbia and is the one remaining back lot in all of Hollywood. After a delicious picnic style crew feed we were free to roam the suburban street that featured the college in Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, and the TV homes of Father Knows Best, Hazel and The Donna Reed Show. Further on we saw the "Blondie" house, the church from The Flying Nun, a Boston street, a western street and several sets from Fantasy Island. Six buses full of happy but weary fans motored back to the Hilton to hear a panel discussion featuring some of the Roach Studios' behind-the-scenes super-stars, including Roy Seawright who delighted us with stories of balloons, glue and baling wire behind the memorable special effects of long ago.
Thursday was the Day of all Days! After a couple of hours in the L&H screening room six buses of the faithful cruised through the older part of L.A. to discover the house from Hog Wild, Stan's first home in the southland and the Ambassador Hotel--custodian of the venerable Coconut Grove. This was merely the first leg of our day's activities.
Hal Roach Studios was located on Washington Blvd. until the mid-sixties. The site is now graced by a Mazda dealership. This day the street was a madhouse of media crews, milling Sons, celebrities and baffled onlookers. The event? An impressive plaque commemorating the glorious history of this particular piece of real estate was to be unveiled. By standing on my toes I could check out the "eye" of this storm of people. A table had been set up with an interviewer and Mr. Hal roach himself - 88 and looking great! A parade of be-fezed and be-leid Sons with parasols twirling was to follow, so Mr. Roach moved to his V.I.P. parade car and the crowd thinned a bit. Next up to the table was none other than Spanky MacFarland who was being interviewed. Another look around and the pieces fell into place. Our Gang leading lady Jackie Lynn Taylor put together a picture book on Our Gang about ten years ago, which she displayed, showing many interesting bits of memorabilia. The parade from Roach Studios site to the MGM Studios (about a mile) was long and hot.
We rendezvoused with our beloved buses to view more of the remaining film sites--the Perfect Day house, the Selznick studio, the County Hospital, (actually the Culver City City Hall) Joe Cobb's house from Our Gang, another former home of Stan Laurel's and many other instantly recognizable locations.
Back at the hotel, the evening's festivities began with an autograph party. This was fantasy time - the Our Gang reunion. Among those honored were Spanky MacFarland, Dorothy DeBorba, Tommy Bond, William "Buckwheat" Thomas, Sidney "Woim' Kibrick, Joe Cobb, Marianne Edwards, Marvin "Bubbles" Strin, Peggy Ahearn, Jackie Davis, Eugene "Pineapple" Jackson, "Sunshine Sammy" Morrison, Delmar Watson, Mildred Korman and their on-screen teacher, Rosina Lawrence. Former Roach Musical Director, T. Marvin Hatley, provided a masterful display of One-Man Bandsmanship.
This first of the banquets allowed several celebrities to each table, so that everyone had an opportunity to chat with, as well as eat with, the stars. Mr. Hatley and Jane Withers shared our table.
Following dinner we completed the toasts to all those immortal L&H stars and supporting players, sang the SOD anthem and then one by one the Our Gang alumni approached the podium to say a few words, accept a trophy and autograph the backdrop poster. Sweet Nostalgia!
Bob Satterfield and Rick Greene of the Saps At Sea tent introduced each "Gang" member with a true fan's perspective and affection filled the hall and made the occasion unforgettable. Only two days left, and still plenty to do!
A golf tournament, an hilarious pie throwing Battle of the Century, and continuous L&H films. I was fascinated by the celebrity panel discussions, presided over by member/moderator, Dwain Smith of the N.Y. Sons. They were basically question-and-answer format. Imagine asking anything that came to mind of all those stars. Surprisingly, all the questions were intelligent and all the answers intriguing and thoughtful.
The evening banquets were all memorable affairs, with the pre-banquet mixers and autograph parties also delightful. Some of the other celebrities to rub shoulders with were: Trudy Marshall, Vivian Blaine, Della Lind, Henry "Barnaby" Brandon, Mrs. Buster Keaton, Mrs. Harry Langdon, Nolan Leery, L&H impersonators Chuck McCann & Jim MacGeorge, casting director Ruth Burch, special effects whiz Roy Seawright, and of course the inexhaustible Mr. Hatley. A total of 50 stars were in attendance over the convention period!
Various presentations, skits and films tilled out each evening's activities.
The convention officially closed Sunday with a brunch.