My first TCM Classic Film Festival – Walk, Don’t Run

I made it to Hollywood and had just gotten kicked out of my shuttle and was wandering down the street when my roommate Angie yelled at me from up the block. I had never been so happy to see someone in my life. She showed me how to get into our apartment and where I would stay. To get into the apartment, you had to unlock a gate, climb some stairs, use your key fob to use the elevator, and turn right, left, and right again before you hit our door. It was an excursion in itself. I would occupy the left side of the bedroom, Angie, from a suburb of Detroit, would take the right side, Kristen from Pasadena would take the couch, and Jessica from South Carolina had the bad luck of getting the air mattress with the hole in it. We had a refrigerator filled with canned wine, a television we didn’t turn on once, and a place to sleep. We were set for the next five days.

After I unloaded my things, Angie  showed me where we would spend most of our time. The TLC Chinese Theaters, and down a block and across Hollywood Boulevard was the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. I would spend seventy percent of my time in the Hollywood Roosevelt and Theatre Four of the TCL Theater Complex. We explored for a bit before we hit 25 Degrees for a meal. The 24-hour burger stand in the Hollywood Roosevelt boasted the most amazing hamburgers in the area. I was too excited to think about food, which is unheard of for me. I ate what I could before we ran back to the apartment to change into our fancy clothes for my first event of the festival.

I had difficulty deciding what to do with each second of the next four days. At any time during the festival, at least four events happen simultaneously. The first night we got to choose between the red carpet, a poolside showing of the Harold Lloyd classic The Freshman, the Bette Davis classic, Dark Victory, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn or One Potato, Two Potato. My big choice was between my favorite silent comedian and the red carpet. When Angie and Jessica said they  do the red carpet because it was always fun, I had to go with them. It was something I didn’t get to do every day, and the fact that I was number 38 in line was incredible and possibly won’t happen again. The red carpet event only holds a handful of people, and only a few are lucky enough to get a seat on the bleachers.

The red carpet arrivals are the best bet to see any star you were hoping to see during the festival. I knew that I wouldn’t make it to see Jack Lemmon’s son introduce My Sister Eileen and expected he would walk the carpet, which he did, and he was incredible to watch. His mannerisms and voice were just like his father’s. The entire audience was in awe of him, and to top it off, he was hysterically funny too.

I was able to see Darryl Hickman, Ted Donaldson, Chris Lemmon, Gina Lollobrigida, Salvatore Cascio, Louis Gossett Jr., Norman Lloyd, Roger Corman, James Cromwell, Lee Meriwether, Anna Karina, Ann Robinson, Katharine Houghton, Leonard Maltin, Carl Bernstein and Alec Baldwin.

I felt like a total dork and didn’t belong there at that moment. Each celebrity made their way down the carpet and stopped to do an interview. They stopped and posed for pictures and talked to us. It was surreal to have Chris Lemmon tell us about his dad or have TCM host Ben Mankiewicz stop and speak to us and tell us that we are the reason this magnificent event is possible. I am such a huge Mankiewicz fan that having him stop and chat with us until he was dragged away was fantastic. He didn’t have to stop and talk, but he did, and he was down to earth and a fan just like us.

Time flew by, and before we knew it, we were too late to get into other films. We decided to grab dinner at the famed Pig ‘N’ Whistle while we waited for the next film block.  We were all chilly during dinner as the sun had gone down and the temperature dipped under 55 degrees. I popped into a shop next door to buy an overpriced Hollywood sweatshirt-a great inside joke and memory.

Our next and final stop of the night was one of the films I was looking forward to seeing. One of my favorite movies is Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? I love Hepburn and Tracy, but Hepburn’s niece, Katharine Houghton, and Sidney Poitier steal the show. Angie and I got in line early enough to get numbers 17 and 18, then headed to the bar outside the theaters for a drink. TCM had classic film star-inspired drinks, and I fell for it. I was happy to pay $15 for a thimble of liquid. As the bartender handed me my glass, the fire alarms went off. The employees told us to hang out because it happens often and is usually a false alarm. We sat until a manager came over and said we had to go. We were on the second story of this shopping center/theater, and with everyone from all the theaters outside, we had nowhere to go. I stood as Angie talked to others and watched the people walk down Hollywood Boulevard. It was interesting to see who would come around the corner, a tourist. Batman? Darth Vader? For 20 minutes, I watched people and took in Hollywood’s sights, sounds and smells; most could have been better.

Once we were given the all-clear (somebody set off a fire extinguisher in a theater), we retrieved the drinks we had yet to touch. The bartender made us new drinks and didn’t charge us, but we were due in our seats in a few minutes. I took a couple of sips, then trashed mine when I saw Ken Jenkins by the entrance. We were being herded into our line, but nobody noticed that it was Ken Jenkins! He was there alone, and nobody was asking him for an autograph. I had to run past him to get my spot, but I smiled and waved at the man who was married to Katharine Houghton, who also happened to play Dr. Bob Kelso on Scrubs and who happened to play Courtney Cox’s dad on Cougar Town. Several people asked me who I was so excited to see and kept yelling at. I was tickled that I had him smile and wave at me but disappointed I didn’t get a photo with him.

Once we entered the theater, we sat in primo seats, and tears filled my eyes. This was the moment I had dreamed of for so long. It was my first classic film at the festival. Katharine Houghton came out and discussed how difficult it was to work on the movie with her aunt Katharine Hepburn due to the health of Spencer Tracy. Everyone knew Spence was ill, and tensions ran high. Another issue was race; Houghton said she was young and naïve and didn’t understand the fuss. She also did a few impressions of Hepburn that had the crowd roaring. After ten minutes, she presented the film, got up and left. The film started, and the crowd cheered with each name that flashed on the screen. We were all so excited, and the air was electric.

At this point, I had been up for over 20 hours and only slept for two hours the night before. My head started to drop, and my eyes grew heavy. I didn’t want to fall asleep during my first film! I was so mad that I would squeeze my thigh to stay awake. Spencer Tracy stood up to give his speech that made me cry like a baby, then the next thing I knew, the lights went up, and the crowd was clapping. I had fallen asleep sitting up, even though it was only for a few minutes.

Our group of four met up and began our walk home. We discussed our favorite part of the night and our plans for the next day. I didn’t have time to think about what a whirlwind day I had just had because I was out cold as soon as I hit the pillow.


(McKim attended the 2016 TCMFF as a fan and not a member of the press., Photo by Nikki McKim, Katharine Houghton walking the red carpet in Hollywood.)

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