Sunday, June 27, 2010

Autograph Hounding

What is the point of autographs (besides, I guess, the resale value on eBay)? Does it prove some kind of relationship with stardom? When I was a kid, my mom got me an autograph book, and trotted me to various events, without my necessarily knowing who the person was. I guess it was easier to have a kid ask than to be a middle-aged woman asking. (Later in life, she would go to Knicks training camp, etc., despite not having any kids in tow).

As you can see above, I was not always gung-ho. Richard Benjamin was in my hometown
with Cloris Leachman shooting The Steagle, a movie noone remembers. (According to IMDB, the director, Paul Sylbert, lost final cut and wrote a whole book about the experience). He was already a big deal from Goodbye, Columbus (which had also shot a few scenes in my hometown) -- not a movie I would have seen at age nine.

But eventually I became a nutty fan myself. I kept scrapbooks about sports teams and the TV season.
I started writing letters to celebrities to get their autographs -- Freddie Prinze (senior!), Tom Seaver. Most of the time I got mass-produced cards. I even have a collection of baseball players thanks to a friend's Dad, who was a network lawyer and brought home old waivers signed by Hank Aaron and Pete Rose. Since the contracts were too big to fit in my album, I cut out just their signatures. I have no idea what these might be worth, and I also have a weird feeling about them, since I didn't meet the players myself, which seemed the whole point.

When I went slightly bonkers for Monty Python, I waited on line in Manhattan for their movie premieres. At the premiere of Jabberwocky, Michael Palin signed a potato (you have to see the movie to understand why). Of course it eventually grew roots and turned moldy, so I had to throw it out. Annoyed, I wrote him a crazy letter as if I were in a loony bin -- and he wrote back.

When my friend Steve Millman's dad opened a restaurant, Pastrami 'n' Things, in 30 Rock the year Saturday Night Live began, we got to work the cash register on Saturdays when Chevy Chase and Dan Aykroyd ate there (and we got their signatures, though Aykroyd anarchically wrote his in all-caps).  We also  delivered sandwiches upstairs to the then-unknowns. We were too young to go to actual shows, but we went to many dress rehearsals. I remember being jealous that my peer Jodie Foster got to host. 

Emboldened by my Palin experience, I wrote to John Belushi. A lot. Finally, he sent me a photo of himself. It's an Instamatic black-and-white, taken by the side of the road, with his shirt off. He inscribed it, "LEAVE ME ALONE. JOHN BELUSHI."

It worked.

In the years after college, I was able to channel my fandom into becoming a celebrity journalist. Immediately it became uncool to ask anyone for their autograph. Or even a photo.

[ADDENDUM: I do have this one souvenir from 1989 -- a visit with Winona Ryder on the set of Mojo Nixon's video for "Debbie Gibson Is Pregnant With My Two-Headed Love Child." Thanks, Kevin Mazur.] 
Nowadays my autograph hunting is limited to book readings by friends. Every now and then I find myself suckered -- I bought Albert Maysles' "Scrapbook" because he was appearing in person and I wanted to pay some kind of tribute to his career. But I don't quite know what to do with the book.

Still, since my daughters grew old enough to stand outside stage doors, I have dutifully chaperoned them, able to converse with the celebrities they were too shy to speak with, and, like my mom, letting my kids be the fans.


barbara said...

Love this entry.

I used be a theater geek and would wait outside the stage door for all the actors to sign the Playbill. For my 16th Birthday I went to see Neil Simon's GOD'S FAVORITE with Charles Nelson Reilly and Vincent Gardenia.

Cut to 25 years later I had become friends with (now the late, great) Michael Jeter who happened to be really good friends of CNR's.

One evening, knowing we would both be at Michael's together I brought the Playbill and, when I was introduced to him, presented it. He flipped through it and then put his arm around me and said, "So Barbara, tell me, what have you been doing since we last saw each other?"

David Handelman said...

That is so hilarious. And so Charles Nelson Reilly.

Carl said...

Going through old stuff in my room ten years ago I found an old SNL rehearsal ticket. Wondering why I had held onto it I flipped it over and there, on the back, were the signatures of Belushi, Bill Murray, and Elliot Gould, who had been the host on that Season 2 episode. We got those while delivering sandwiches - do you remember? Belushi jumped backwards when I brought out the pen, and mock-cowered in the back of the elevator. I don't think I had any idea who Murray was, but he happened to be in the elevator at the time.

David Handelman said...

If you don't want it, I'll take it.

Sal Nunziato said...

One experience was outside of Yankees' Stadium for Old Timers' Day in the 70s. I was 8 or 9 and I had my autograph book and pen in hand. First player I saw was Ken "The Hawk" Harrelson. I walked up to him and pleaded, "Mr Harrelson? Mr. Harrelson?" My cousins, my uncle, and even my father started laughing at me and my formality. "The Hawk" stopped what he was doing, looked at my family and shouted, "Hey! That's my name, isn't it?" I also got a pat on the head from Mr. Harrelson.

Around the same time, someone, not sure who, got me personally autographed 8x10s of the entire 1972 Knicks team. I still have it. In the late 80s, I worked for a printing company, and Dick Barnett came in for business cards. He seemed nice enough, so the day he returned to pick up his cards, I had brought in the photos, thinking he'd get a kick out of it all these years later. By this time, I wasn't a polite kid anymore. I said, "Dick. Gotta show you something." I open the photo binder, and before I said a word, he grabbed it from me and lamented. "Alright! Alright! I'll sign. I'll sign."

I whipped it away from him and said, "Nevermind," and muttered something profane as I walked away and left a co-worker to finish with Dick.

David Handelman said...

@Carl -- click on the P'n'T link above to see the amazing story by Laraine Newman about a Seder at SNL using PnT food.

@Sal -- my friend Matt McGough wrote an amazing book about his two years as a Yankee batboy, which includes some eye-opening tales of mimicking player signatures for unsuspecting fans.

Jacob Slichter said...

My favorite episode of Barney Miller features a guy locked up for forgery. Wojciehowicz is trying to get a present for his son or nephew, a baseball fanatic. In the final scene, Wojo reviews a baseball handed to him by the forger.

Wojo: Ruth, Gehrig, Mantle, Dimaggio, Maris. This is great! John Hancock? Who's that?

Forger: One of the original Yankees.

Carl said...

Not sure how the "Hi Andy -Elliot Gould" would look in your collection. But I looked at it again; it was on your 16th birthday, so maybe there was an occasion there.

Of course, when I showed it to my kids they all said the same thing: "Who's Elliot Gould?"

David Handelman said...

"Courtney Cox's dad on 'Friends'"

Carl said...

Actually, I got through with "the old guy on 'Ocean's Eleven.'"

Anne said...

Reading all your blogs, backwards in time and this one got me thinking about an autograph experience from when I was about ten and Richard Nixon was Vice-President. He gave the "welcome" speech to a meeting of radiologists in D.C. to which the family had accompanied dad. After his speech, I approached him, autograph book in hand. "I have two little girls like you at home," he told me, signing his name. Later that evening, thinking that he was famous and that the signature might have value in time, I regretted that I'd handed him a pencil instead of a pen with which to sign Unclear on the concept, I carefully traced over his autograph with a ballpoint pen!

David Handelman said...

@Anne -- the only story that tops that is my friend John who had all four Beatles' autographs on one piece of paper and cut it up so they'd fit in his album.