Pie in the sky

B-movie fans have come to expect fun things from Kathy and Tommy Hildreth. Comet Video, their Wadesboro, N.C., store, stocks the hardest-to-get B westerns and serials, and for the last five years they’ve brought us glamorous glimpses of a bygone era via their Asheville Film Festival.

This year’s event features, live, a bouquet of past and present stars of westerns, musicals, sci-fi, slapstick and soaps that includes, among others, Pamela Sue Martin (Dynasty), Pat Priest (The Munsters), WNC resident Elizabeth MacRae (Gunsmoke, Gomer Pyle), Soupy Sales and Noreen Nash.

Nash has played about every role there is — showgirl, actress, novelist, wife, mother. She appeared in such films as The Red Stallion (1947), The Adventures of Casanova (1948), Giant (1956) and The Lone Ranger and the Lost City of Gold (1958), acting opposite Robert Paige, Rock Hudson, Arturo de Cardova and Clayton Moore.

“It’s been a wonderful life. I have done so many things and have two outstanding sons and four grandchildren,” she told Mountain Xpress from her California home. “I’m really humbled by my good fortune.”

After winning a beauty contest in her home state of Washington, Nash was invited to take a screen test in Hollywood. “And I never left,” she says. She began her career as a showgirl and soon found herself in a whirlwind romance with Dr. Lee Siegel, 20th Century Fox’s staff physician — also known as “doctor to the stars.”

“It was a very exciting time in Hollywood, and we were in the middle of it,” she noted, adding, “My career is so long ago it seems like another life, really.”

James Whitmore has distinguished himself as an actor in a variety of venues. On-stage, he has enthralled theatergoers with his one-man shows Harry Truman, Franklin Roosevelt, Walt Whitman and his personal favorite, Will Rogers.

His film credits include Them (1954), The Deep Six (1957), Planet of the Apes (1968), Give ‘Em Hell, Harry (1975), The Shawshank Redemption (1994) and dozens more. He received an Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actor in only his second film — 1949’s Battleground — and recently appeared in the television drama The Practice.

Whitmore has brought a variety of characters to life, perhaps none more tragic than the inmate he played in The Shawshank Redemption.

“Very often, you evaluate a role and its worth by the entrance and the exit of the character,” he reveals. “And when you enter supposedly about to eat a worm in the prison food … and then you exit by hanging yourself in total despair — it’s not bad. The stuff that came in between was quite wonderful, and the direction was terrific, so making that was generally a very happy experience.”

Back in the 1970s, Pat Priest was part of one of television’s most popular, offbeat comedies. As Marilyn Munster, she played the one normal-looking family member on The Munsters, an Addams Family copycat. She also had roles on Bewitched, My Favorite Martian, The I Love Lucy Show and Voyage to the Bottom Of the Sea, and worked on several films, including East of Eden (1955) and Easy Come, Easy Go (1967) with Elvis Presley.

“He was very polite, shy, and very religious,” she recalls. “I have a good memory of him. I was sort of a bad girl in the film, trying to get to some buried treasure, and bad girls never get to kiss Elvis. Only the good girls do, so I didn’t have that experience, or pleasure.”

But being Marilyn — the only traditionally pretty member of the lovably ugly Munster family — had its rewards.

“At the end of a long day, I could get into my car and drive home, and it took everyone else an hour to get out of their makeup.”

The actress retired and moved to Idaho about 15 years ago. “We live out in the country on a river, and it’s a lovely way of life,” she says. Priest doesn’t have cable TV, but she caught part of a 48-hour “Munsters Marathon” in a hotel room recently.

“It’s kind of called ‘watch and weep,’ because I don’t remember when I was that thin and that pretty,” she smiles. “I’m now just a little, well-rounded grandma.”

The Munsters‘ continued popularity astounds the actress.

“I wish I had kept my scripts,” she says. “When we finished work on Friday, there was a garbage can by the door, and we’d just toss our scripts in. I saved no memorabilia, and now The Munsters memorabilia is so expensive I can’t afford it.” Priest is flying to Asheville with another festival guest-star, fellow Idahoan Pamela Sue Martin (Dynasty, Nancy Drew).

Soupy Sales, one of America’s revered comic personalities, was born in Franklinton, N.C., and spent his early boyhood in the Tar Heel state. “I’m looking forward to coming down, because I have property there. The Ramada Inn is holding two of my suitcases,” he deadpans. Sales graduated from the same physical-comedy school as the likes of Jackie Gleason and Milton Berle, and he says he misses the variety shows that decorated television’s golden era.

“I don’t watch too many sitcoms,” he admits. “I watch ‘Sex In The City,’ ‘The Sopranos,’ and I’m looking forward to John Goodman’s new show.” Sales’ trademark gag has long been the taking and giving of cream pies. He pied Frank Sinatra while he was singing “A Foggy Day,” and he once ambushed Sammy Davis Jr. and Trini Lopez in a veritable pie-fest on his show. Mostly, though, he’s known for taking them — right on the kisser.

But he doesn’t support pie-throwing as a political act.

“You have to know that you’re going to get hit with a pie, or else you’re not going to be very happy,” notes the TV pioneer. “Of course, Frank [Sinatra] knew. If he didn’t, I’d be a right turn on I-95.”

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