by Michael Bowen

In 1998, Ron Ford directed and acted in Hollywood Mortuary, a B movie in which Randal Malone plays a guy who tries to revive the horror movie genre by resuscitating some Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi lookalikes and staging a couple of murders to grab some headlines. Ford, now a Spokane actor (Greetings at CenterStage, The Elephant Man at the Civic's Studio) was essential in helping Michael Weaver attract talent like Malone and Margaret O'Brien (the child star of the '40s and a friend of Malone's) to help with this weekend's fund-raising activities for the Actors' Repertory Theater of the Inland Northwest: a showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show on Friday night and a musical-comedy revue entitled "To the Stars and Back" on Saturday night, both at the Met.

Randal Malone is what our grandparents used to call "quite a character." As a boy growing up in Louisville, Ky., he dreamed of Hollywood, then jumped into a couple dozen B movies before hitting the big time as the crabby angel on MTV's mega-speed dating game show Singled Out. All along the way, because he worshipped the glamour of the Golden Age, he insinuated himself into the presence of Hollywood's leading ladies of yesteryear.

Malone is the link to all the stars who will be making Spokane appearances this weekend, either in the flesh or as represented by some of their memorabilia. Weaver - who's trying to fund a new theater in town and needed someone with Malone's connections to cram a fund-raising gala full of celebrities - thinks of Malone as someone "who can use phrases like 'Anita Page, legendary star of the silent screen' and get away with it."

"When you have a passion for something, people know it, and so I became close to a lot of these people," Malone explains. And that's how it is that jewelry and photos and books associated with O'Brien, Malone, Anita Page, Patty Andrews, Rose Marie, Virginia Mayo, Patricia Neal and more will be available for viewing and purchase at the Met this weekend.

"To actually be able to own Virginia Mayo's earrings, Rose Marie's bracelet (that she has given with a signed picture), or Margaret O'Brien's pin that was made for her and that she is going up there to donate -- it even makes me excited," Malone enthuses. "Everyone loves Hollywood, everyone dreams of coming here, but few people can own a piece of it."

Snippets of Malone's conversation evoke the Golden Age of Hollywood that he adores - and are, after all, the reason for all the glamour of the A.R.T. benefits this weekend.

"At one point, Anita Page was receiving 10,000 fan letters a week, second only to Greta Garbo... I only met Garbo once," says Malone, sounding cheated.

Both Malone and O'Brien will speak during "To the Stars and Back" on Saturday night, and both will receive awards for their extensive charitable work. O'Brien gained fame as a child actor in the 1940s, starring in such films as Jane Eyre, The Secret Garden and Little Women. Perhaps most famously, at the age of seven, she was Judy Garland's little sister Tootie in Vincente Minnelli's 1944 MGM musical, Meet Me in St. Louis - the one to whom Garland heartbreakingly sang "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas."

Little Tootie may now be in her sixties, but she retains her energy and enthusiasm. And just because she made all those movies - and then went on as an adult to guest on such TV shows as Perry Mason, Dr. Kildare, Wagon Train, Marcus Welby and many more - don't think she's indifferent to stage acting. She was in lengthy national tours of plays like A Thousand Clowns, Barefoot in the Park, Peg o' My Heart and more.

In 1945, O'Brien won a special child actor Oscar for her performance as Tootie. Sometime in the late '40s, the maid took the trophy home to polish it, "and she kind of never came back," recalls O'Brien. Flash forward to a Rose Bowl swap meet in 1994, when two auctioneers recognized the statuette as genuine. (The maid's children had had it stuffed in an attic, forgotten for years.) "The Academy really had their detectives out - they're very strict about such things," says O'Brien.

Almost as much as fans of the Golden Era are about purchasing Hollywood memorabilia. A half-dozen local singers and actors (including Weaver himself) will perform. Malone and O'Brien will speak and receive awards for their lifetime charitable work. KXLY's Molly Allen will host the event, at which three Broadway performers -- Bruce Blanchard, Amy Jo Harrington and Brach Thomson -- will also sing show tunes.

Publication date: 04/01/04

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About The Author

Michael Bowen

Michael Bowen is a former senior writer for The Inlander and a respected local theater critic. He also covers literature, jazz and classical music, and art, among other things.