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Film fans meet the stars on Turner Classic Movies cruise

Disney Magic crew members unfurl the banner as

Disney Magic crew members unfurl the banner as the 2014 TCM Cruise sets sail From Port Canaveral, Florida, in October 2014. Photo Credit: TCM / Edward M. Pio Roda

Alfred Hitchcock may be known as the "Master of Suspense," but to me, he's just as much a master of romance.

One of the most memorable dates my wife, Kathy, and I had before we were married was seeing Hitch's 1954 masterpiece, "Rear Window," on the big screen in 1983, when it was rereleased. Watching James Stewart and Grace Kelly engage in all matters of murder and mayhem was ideal for hand-holding — even if it was of the sitting-on-the-edge-of-our-seats variety.

So catching the movie again, in all its Technicolor and panoramic glory on the Turner Classic Movies (TCM) six-day cruise in October, rekindled memories of that perfect date. It was especially appropriate since we booked the trip to celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary. We booked online at tcmcruise.com; prices started at $1,400 per person, double occupancy, and included all meals. There also are similar cruises for Broadway fans.

For film fanatics like Kathy and me, even better than seeing screen gems from "Mildred Pierce" to "Captain Blood" was the chance to meet some stars in person.

The passenger list included Oscar winners Shirley Jones and Richard Dreyfuss, '50s heartthrob Tab Hunter, '60s starlet Diane Baker, character actor James Karen of "Poltergeist" and "Wall Street," "Jeopardy!" answer man Alex Trebek and hosts of the cable TV channel TCM Robert Osborne and Ben Mankiewicz.

Osborne, Mankiewicz and special guests conducted interviews with the stars before the ship's audiences. Jones dished on why Frank Sinatra walked off the set of "Carousel" (hint: Ava Gardner was involved); Ann Blyth recalled her screen test for "Mildred Pierce" with Joan Crawford; and Dreyfuss boasted about his prediction to win the Oscar for "The Goodbye Girl," the moment he sized up his competition.

Kathy and I also got to do some role playing for the ship's film-noir-themed costume party. I donned a trenchcoat and Kathy wore a black suit and fedora; we both went as Sam Spade, the "Maltese Falcon" detective played by Humphrey Bogart. But for me, even the fantasy of winning an Academy Award couldn't compare to the personal encounters I had with the stars, from chatting with Baker to a photo op with Trebek after my teammates and I won both of his trivia contests — one on movie quotes and another on film music.

Obviously, all of those years of watching vintage movies paid off. My obsession started when I was about 8 and was allowed to stay up past 9 p.m. on weekends; Doris Day comedies were staples of "NBC Saturday Night at the Movies." As I grew older, "Million Dollar Movie," which showed the same film multiple times a day for a whole week, became a favorite program (I can still spout off lines from Hitchcock's "Suspicion" after seeing it five times in a row). I've since been lucky enough to interview a number of stars for stories and write books about the movies.

Kathy and I weren't the only film fanatics from L.I. on board the 2,700-passenger Disney Magic that left from Port Canaveral, Florida, and sailed to Key West and Castaway Cay in the Bahamas.

Here are some others we met while reliving Hollywood's golden age on the high seas.

 

ANDREA AND ERIC SLEEPER

For Oceanside native Andrea Sleeper, meeting Robert Osborne played out like a scene from her favorite romance film, "Now Voyager," the 1942 Bette Davis classic.

Sleeper, 59, says she learns about the back story of older movies from Osborne's introductions on TV. So when she saw him coming out of the ship's men's room, she couldn't resist the chance to express her gratitude.

"I turned to him and said, 'I just wanted to say two words to you: Thank you,' " says Sleeper, who works for a social policy research firm. "He got a big smile on his face. Then he kissed my hand and asked me if I was enjoying myself on the cruise. I said, 'Oh yes, now I am. You just made it so much better.' "

Her husband, Eric, 55, suggested the cruise for their 30th anniversary, but Sleeper's love of the movies began as a child when her Saturday morning ritual consisted of watching a Shirley Temple movie and then heading off to Hebrew school.

She enjoyed the screening of "Cover Girl," the 1944 musical starring Rita Hayworth, and savored the celebrity interviews and poolside conversation with Illeana Douglas, granddaughter of the late Melvyn Douglas.

"It was so nice to meet people who are into the old movies," she says.

 

MARTIN AND PHYLLIS FRIEDENTHAL

The first TCM Cruise in 2011 was such a hit with the couple, they couldn't wait to set sail again.

"On the first cruise, I shook hands with Ernest Borgnine and got some autographs," says Martin, 68, a retired English teacher from Island Park. "On the second cruise, we were waiting for 'Singin' in the Rain' to start. I was trying to take a picture of Alex Trebek, who was a couple of rows ahead of us. When he realized what I was doing, he posed for us."

Moments like those have turned Martin and his wife into TCM cruise regulars. For him, it's also the culmination of his long love affair with the movies. "I can remember back in the '60s knowing that on Saturday and Sunday, Channel 5 would show these great old movies like 'Captain Blood,' " he says. The film's screening on board was a high point for Martin, especially when it was introduced by Rory Flynn, daughter of the late Errol Flynn, star of the 1935 classic.

Martin and Phyllis were also regulars at the trivia matches and won a film noir trivia event hosted by film historian Eddie Mueller.

 

JOAN AND TOM WEINSCHENK

When the Weinschenks went shopping for souvenirs at the ship's gift shop, they snared a priceless memento: a photo with actress Ann Blyth.

"She was shopping in the store with her daughters," Joan says. "Tom had loved her in 'Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid' . . . we asked her daughter to take a picture of the two of us," says Joan, 68, a retired secretary from West Babylon.

Being on the cruise allows real-life comparisons to the stars. In "Mildred Pierce," Blyth appeared to be average size, but in person, Joan says, "I'm not tall and I towered over her."

This was the third TCM Cruise for the couple, who were on its maiden outing in 2011 that featured Borgnine, who won an Oscar for "Marty," and Hitchcock villain Norman Lloyd ("Saboteur") among the celebrity guests.

"We like movies and we like being on cruises," says Tom, 68. "It was the perfect marriage of the two."

The couple's passion for film goes back to the days of local TV programs like "Million Dollar Movie" and "Chiller Theater," says Joan. As a horror film fan, she got goose bumps on the ship seeing the 1954 creature feature "Them!" (about giant ants) and "Poltergeist."

Tom, who's retired from the Suffolk County Water Authority, is more into adventure films and didn't mind waking at 7:30 a.m. for a screening of "Captain Blood."

 

THE DELMONICO FAMILY

Linda Delmonico Prussen was turning 50 this month, and thought such a milestone deserved a celebration. So Prussen, an actress-playwright from Merrick, suggested to her parents that they all take the cruise together.

Her mother, Mary Ann Delmonico, 71, who also lives in Merrick, says she and her husband, who have been married for 51 years, "had talked about going on a trip for our 50th anniversary, which we didn't do. So it was a celebration for us, too."

When they were younger, Mary Ann, who worked for an insurance firm, and her husband, Bob, now 76, would sometimes take in three movies on the weekend.

"On Saturdays, I liked to see the serials. My favorite was the Tiger Woman," says Bob, a retired police officer. On this trip, he didn't get to see any felines, though Bob did spot a barracuda when he and his daughter went snorkeling at Castaway Cay. On board, they spotted Tab Hunter dining at one of the ship's restaurants, though they didn't want to disturb him.

Linda, however, couldn't resist a photo op with James Karen. Most Long Islanders probably would recognize him as the Pathmark spokesman in commercials for the supermarket chain in the '70s and '80s. "I put the picture on my Facebook page," she says, "and wrote, 'I'm here hanging with Mr. Pathmark.' "

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