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    Stuff Matters

    By Jan Wahl–

    Look around you your home. What is hanging or sitting there that means something special to you? I am sitting right now staring at a photo of me with a statue of Oscar Wilde. This was in Dublin, Ireland, from a few years back. The statue is at a small park across from the great Oscar’s alma mater of Trinity College. The photo brings back a few of his most famous bon mots: “I can resist everything except temptation,” “To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance,” and my favorite: “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” 

    I have been a Wilde fan since I was a young girl, and the more I found out about this courageous man, the more I fell in love with him. The best movie on his life is Wilde, with Stephen Fry and Jude Law. Catch it … and get thee to Dublin, if possible, to pay homage at his statue.

    When I read that the Antiques Roadshow will be coming to this area in the summer, I did everything I could to get tickets. No luck. I sent two photos as requested of items for appraisal. One was a one sheet movie poster (27” x 41”) of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers’ The Barkleys of Broadway. It’s gorgeous color with full-body shots of both of them plus a picture of inebriated costar Oscar Levant. Framed and unwrinkled, it brings to life their last pairing onscreen. The other is a one-of-a-kind candid photo of the amazing Louis Armstrong. He is sitting in a makeup chair and smiling right at the lens. Oh, my god, but I love this one.

    Both of the items were rejected from the Roadshow due to their “overwhelming submissions.” And I couldn’t get tickets. Phooey.  But they are still my beloved treasures. And I am still addicted to the Antiques Roadshow, both the American and British versions.

    When my husband was in the Navy, he met a TV star on an aircraft carrier. Way into the bowels of the old ship (my honey was a Lieutenant mechanic) came a guy in a Hawaiian shirt. This was the late sixties. Usually stars like Bob Hope or John Wayne would just visit the bigshots on the bridge. But here was this guy climbing over steam vents and metal stairs. My sailor recognized him right away. “Hey … you’re Raymond Burr.”

    Burr was sweet and they chatted a few minutes. Then he disappeared up the steps. Many years later I did the last TV interview with Burr before he passed away. By this time, he was out of the closet and had his lovely home up north. We were at the Hotel Nikko. I reminded Burr of the Navy meeting and he clearly remembered. He kindly signed a napkin I found there and I had it framed alongside a picture of him from Perry Mason. Sometimes a prized object can be personal.

    Some of you might remember an LBGTQ magazine from March 1999 called Frontiers. I was once lucky enough to grace the cover, holding up a giant Oscar with the caption “Some Like It Hollywood.” I framed that. It hangs next to a picture of me with the great Gloria Steinem. I emceed an event where Steinem spoke. Every woman there cried because she meant so much to us in the Woman’s Movement. I have framed two tickets and a newspaper photo of Ella Fitzgerald’s last concert at Davies Hall. I was there. Ella kept apologizing for having a cold. We were so busy applauding and crying out, “We love you, Ella!” that few let it dampen their spirits. She sounded wonderful, as always.    

    I’ve always been fascinated with eccentrics, especially those with incredible talent. So, I have a number of Mae West items. She’s my personal role model. (Please check out the American Masters documentary called Mae West: Dirty Blonde, co-produced by Bette Midler.) Another is Salvador Dali. I stare at a poster of Dali looking at me with those spooky eyes and fabulous mustache. I am rather obsessed with him, even going to his home in Spain. Both Miss Mae and Dali lived by their own rules.  Bless them.

    I’ll end this tour with a tribute to my fantastic mother, my own Auntie Mame. Mom loved to travel and taught me to draw outside the lines. She was so full of life and individuality. I found a clock with Rosalind Russell’s face as Mame on it and her saying, “Life is a banquet.” It tells me more than the time. Objects can matter! 

    Jan Wahl is a Hollywood historian, film critic on various broadcast outlets, and has her own YouTube channel series, “Jan Wahl Showbiz.” She has two Emmys and many awards for her longtime work on behalf of film buffs and the LGBTQ community. Contact her at

    Published on May 19, 2022