David Bruce: Autographs Anecdotes

When Erma Bombeck’s first book, titled At Wit’s End, was published, she went on her first tour to publicize her book. At one book signing, she spent three hours in a department store with a stack of her books on the desk at which she was sitting, but only two people approached her: A woman wanted directions to the ladies room, and a man asked her the price of the desk. Later, after she had written several best sellers, the lines of people waiting to have her autograph a book became very long. Once, a woman with an infant waited in line to have Ms. Bombeck sign a book. When Ms. Bombeck said that the infant was adorable, the woman replied, “Thank you. It was born in the line.”

Julius LaRosa was a very popular singer on Arthur Godfrey’s TV show, but he was fired for what Mr. Godfrey called “a lack of humility” (apparently meaning that Mr. LaRosa got an agent to represent him). Unfortunately, Mr. LaRosa’s reputation was bad for quite some time to come. A few years later, Mr. LaRosa was in a hospital, where his wife had just had a miscarriage. A woman fan saw him and asked for an autograph. Obviously, Mr. LaRosa was upset and wished to be alone, so he asked the woman to leave him alone. The woman said, “Arthur Godfrey was right. You do have a lack of humility.”

At an autograph signing for one of his books, H. Allen Smith was asked by an eager fan, “What do you think of poetry?” Mr. Smith knew what was going to happen. The fan was a poetry buff who was willing to talk to him for hours about poetry, and the fan had his pockets filled with his own poetry, which he would spring upon Mr. Smith and force him to read. Having better things to do with his time, Mr. Smith hesitated. The fan asked, “You do like poetry, don’t you?” Mr. Smith replied, “God, no. I hate it.” This was the perfect reply to make, because the horrified poetry lover left immediately.

Jackie Gleason once took reporter W.J. Weatherby out to dinner. Mr. Weatherby wondered why Mr. Gleason took a cab the very short distance to the restaurant, but he soon found out the reason. As Mr. Gleason walked the few steps from the taxi to the restaurant, several people asked him for his autograph. If he had walked the entire two blocks to the restaurant, he would have attracted a mob.

Enrico Caruso (1873-1921), widely regarded as the greatest tenor of his era, loved to joke. Once an autograph seeker asked for his signature. Looking through her autograph book, he saw a number of signatures, under which the autograph seeker had written such labels as “First among world’s harpists” and “First mandolist of Italy.” Mr. Caruso signed his name, then wrote under it, “Second tenor.”

Woody Allen has noticed something interesting about autograph seekers. It takes just one courageous autograph seeker to set off a wave of autograph seekers. In a restaurant without courageous autograph seekers, Mr. Allen can eat in peace although 50 people may recognize him, but if just one person asks him for an autograph, the other 49 people will also ask him for an autograph.

“Your note, requesting my ‘signature with a sentiment,’ was received, and should have been answered long since, but that it was mislaid. I am not a very sentimental man; and the best sentiment I can think of is, that if you collect the signatures of all persons who are no less distinguished than I, you will have a very undistinguishing mass of names.”—Abraham Lincoln, writing to an autograph collector.

H. Allen Smith once was asked to autograph a book by a fan named Bob who wanted to make use of his writing ability. The fan was angry at a woman named Joyce, and so he asked Mr. Smith to really give it to her good. Mr. Smith obliged by writing, “To Bob—from one who knows that Joyce is an awful stinker. H. Allen Smith.” Bob was very happy with the inscription.

Bob Denver and Dawn Wells, who played Gilligan and Mary Ann on the TV series Gilligan’s Island, were signing autographs together long after the series had been cancelled when a young man leaned down and whispered something to Ms. Wells. Later, Mr. Denver asked what the young man had said. Ms. Wells replied that he had said, “Thank you for getting me through puberty”—this made both of them laugh.

Russel Crouse was a popular author of the 1930s and 1940s who was very happy to inscribe the books of pretty secretaries with such gems as, “To Mary Ellen—in memory of that beautiful moonlit night on the beach at Laguna when we tasted bliss and, as you so sweetly put it, went all the way. Passionately, Russy Wussy.”

When Art Linkletter first began skiing, he lost his balance on the skis and slid down the mountain on his back, hitting a snowbank at the bottom of the ski lift. Immediately, a couple of women came over, recognized him, and asked for his autograph. Mr. Linkletter almost said something that would have ruined his image as a very nice man.

While Eve Arden, famous especially for her radio and TV character in Our Miss Brooks, was having labor pains for her child Douglas, she ran into one small problem—nurses in the pre-labor room kept asking her for her autograph.

A man once saw dancer Martha Graham surrounded by fans, so he asked her for her autograph, which she gave to him. But after reading the name on the piece of paper, he asked, “Who are you?” Ms. Graham grabbed the piece of paper from his hand, then snapped, “Find out!”

Johann Strauss’ waltz “The Blue Danube” is a much-loved piece of music. When a famous composer was asked to sign his autograph, he wrote a few notes of “The Blue Danube,” then added, “Unfortunately, not by Johannes Brahms.”

As a celebrity, Olympic gold-medal-winning gymnast Shannon Miller is used to being asked for her autograph—even when she is at the mall to buy underwear.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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