Actress Lana Wood had been quietly sending out her autograph for years, answering letters from her fans. But then a stranger made her think that maybe there was a better way.
"A gentleman called me and said he was an autograph dealer," Wood says over the phone from her home near Los Angeles. "He wanted to be upfront with me — he said that it had come to his attention that I respond to fan letters and had been sending out photos. …He said, 'Do you realize that these people turn around and sell them? People are making a lot of money on your photos. Why don't you go and also give your fans a chance to meet you and chat?'"
A few months later, Wood — best known for playing opposite Sean Connery's 007 in 1971's "Diamonds are Forever" — showed up at her first fan convention. Although nervous at first, she says she had a blast, and has been a steady presence on the convention circuit ever since. Thursday, she and a handful of other celebrities — including one of Connery's successors as James Bond, George Lazenby — will be in Hunt Valley for the ninth Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention. They'll be offering fans the chance to meet, talk to and walk away with an autograph (generally for around $20) from stars they've heretofore met only on movie or TV screens.
"The first time, I was very nervous," says Wood, whose career dates back to 1956's "The Searchers," when she played a younger version of her sister, Natalie's, character. "I didn't know how I would feel doing that, sort of leaving yourself open to the public. But I had a terrific time."
For Lazenby, who succeeded Connery as Bond but quit the role after only one film, fan conventions offer a more practical advantage. Organizers generally pick up his expenses, which means he can travel the world at little or no cost. And he says he enjoys talking with people who still remember him fondly for a single film he did more than 40 years ago.
"I happened to be a famous actor one time, so that's part of my life," he says over the phone from his California home. "Meeting the people, getting out there, enjoying yourself — it's life."
In addition to realizing their dreams of meeting both a James Bond and one of that select group of actresses to be forever known as Bond girls, visitors to this week's convention will experience close encounters with all sorts of fame. They'll be able to meet a von Trapp from "The Sound of Music" (Angela Cartwright) and a crew member of the doomed cargo ship Nostromo from "Alien" (her sister, Veronica Cartwright).
Others on the guest list include a sexpot secretary from "The Producers" (Lee Meredith), the Oscar-nominated mother from "Carrie" (Piper Laurie), the only one of the brothers Larry, Darryl and Darryl from "Newhart" who spoke (William Sanderson) and the actress who played Jan Brady when Eve Plumb decided she had better things to do (Geri Reischl).
"It's like going to Disney World without the amusement park rides," says local author Martin Grams, who puts together the convention — and is, perhaps, a little prone to hyperbole. Still, he insists, stars and fans have a great time getting to know one another at shows like this.
For the fans, "it's popular because everybody likes to look back on the good old days of their childhood," he says. "It's a fun thing to do for an afternoon, or for a few days."
As for the celebrities, "they're receiving accolades and hearing stuff from the fans for about three or four hours a day," he says. "It's a good thing. It builds a rapport with the fans that go out and see every movie that they do."
Lazenby, who made his screen debut in 1969's "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" after an extensive search for a new Bond, says he never suspected playing 007 would lead to such enduring fame. Indeed, he says, he quit the franchise even before the film was released, so sure was he there was no future for the character.
"It was hippie time," says the actor, who was married to tennis star and Baltimore native Pam Shriver from 2002 to 2008. "Everybody had long hair, bellbottoms, beads, flowers. There was Woodstock. Bond was out, and I didn't think it would go on. I thought it was all over."
For a man who regarded acting more as an opportunity than a career, Lazenby says, 007 simply didn't seem like the road to success. "I was more interested in getting laid than in being James Bond," he says. "If you were alive in the '60s and saw the way that women frowned on people in suits, you'd know what I'm talking about."
Wood has recently revived her acting career; among her upcoming films is "Killing Poe" (how's that for a Baltimore connection?), a comedy about students teaching their overbearing teacher a lesson the way Edgar Allan would have. She's appeared in more than 60 movies and television shows since appearing alongside Natalie in director John Ford's epic western, written a memoir about her older sister, and been featured in an April 1971 Playboy pictorial.
But even though her appearance as Plenty O'Toole in "Diamonds are Forever" involved only a few minutes of screen time, it's still the favorite topic of conversation among her fans.
" 'What is Sean Connery really like?' That's what they all ask," she says. 'Was I nervous meeting him?' And no, I knew him already; we had been friends before I started the film."
Then again, she notes with a sigh, some fans take the Bond connection too literally.
"Somebody actually slipped me a piece of paper with an actress' name, address and phone number on it, and asked if I could have her killed. I was not thrilled."
If you go
The Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention runs Thursday through Saturday at the Hunt Valley Inn, 245 Shawan Road. The convention, which includes celebrity appearances, movie screenings, seminars and a dealers room, opens at 9 a.m. daily. Tickets are $20 per day. Information: 443-286-6821 or midatlanticnostalgiaconvention.com.