Ernest Hemingway once visited Robert Benchley and discovered that Mr. Benchley had a first edition of every book that Hemingway had published, including his first book, In Our Time. He said, “So you were going to save this, and then sell it when it got to be worth a lot of money—all right, I’ll fix you.” He then wrote a filthy inscription in the book. Next he took Mr. Benchley’s copy of A Farewell to Arms and filled in the original dirty dialogue that the publisher had not seen fit to print and had represented by blanks. On its flyleaf, he wrote, “Corrected edition with filled-in blanks. Very valuable—sell quick.”
Alan Hale played the Skipper for three years on Gilligan’s Island, and for the rest of his life, he wore a Skipper’s hat and of course was constantly recognized. In a restaurant, he was recognized immediately, so he asked his waitress to head off any fans wanting him to sign autographs until after he had eaten, when he would be happy to speak to fans. The waitress did as she had been requested, and after Mr. Hale had eaten, she requested an autograph for herself, saying, “Captain Kangaroo, you were one of my favorites.” Mr. Hale signed the autograph, “All the best, Capt. Kangaroo.”
Author G.K. Chesterton once visited Oxford, where he made an acquaintance of an undergraduate, Philip Guedalla, even going to visit him in his rooms. During the visit, Mr. Chesterton sat in Mr. Guedalla’s only armchair—being very much overweight, he broke it. In addition, Mr. Chesterton drank all of Mr. Guedalla’s whiskey. Mr. Guedalla asked him to autograph a copy of Orthodoxy, and Mr. Chesterton wrote, “BOSH BY G.K. CHESTERTON.”
George Balanchine took the New York City Ballet on a tour to his native Russia and throughout Europe, ending the tour in Poland. During the tour, the ballet company carried grey linoleum flooring to dance on. In Poland, Mr. Balanchine made a present of the flooring to the Polish Ballet School after autographing a corner of it. The Polish Ballet School cut off the corner that Mr. Balanchine had autographed, then framed it and hung it up.
Dancers are asked to autograph strange items. After dancing before President Kubitschek of Brazil and his family, Alicia Markova was asked to autograph one shoe apiece for his two daughters. And in London, a new tomb was needed for a performance of Giselle, so décor artist Bernard Dayde stayed up all night constructing one—provided Ms. Markova sign one of her ballet shoes after the performance, which she agreed to do.
Autograph hunters come in all shapes and sizes. A mother and her child once approached comedian Red Buttons—the child was holding a piece of paper and a pencil. The mother nudged the child and said, “Tell Red Buttons what you want.” The child was silent, so the mother again told the child, “Tell Red Buttons what you want.” Finally, the child spoke up and told Red Buttons what he wanted: “Ice cream.”
Diana Rigg, who played Mrs. Emma Peel on The Avengers, once declined to sign an autograph for a fan by saying, “I’m sorry, but it’s illegal to sign autographs in the street.” (It’s not, of course.) It was Ms. Rigg’s mother who answered fan mail from overeager youths by writing, “My daughter is much too old for you and what you need is a good run around the block.”
Because of his white hair and large moustache, Mark Twain resembled Melville Fuller, the Chief Justice of the United States. While Mr. Twain was visiting Washington D.C., a little girl saw him, mistook him for Mr. Fuller, and asked, “Mr. Chief Justice Fuller, won’t you write something for me in my autograph book?” Mr. Twain agreed, then wrote, “It’s glorious to be full but it’s heavenly to be Fuller,” then he signed his own name.
H. Allen Smith was present at a book-signing by Sinclair Lewis, author of Babbitt, when a woman brought him a copy of Will Durant’s Story of Philosophy to sign, explaining that she hadn’t bought one of Mr. Lewis’ books. At first, Mr. Smith thought that Mr. Lewis was going to throw the book at the woman, but he merely handed the book back to the woman and told her to go find Mr. Durant.
Comic author H. Allen Smith occasionally found himself working for Paramount Studios. When he didn’t have anything better to do, he would stand at the gate, scribble his signature on a piece of paper, tear it off the pad, hand it to a famous actor or actress who happened to be passing by, and say, “Here you are. Thanks for asking.”
After writing the book Overset, Franklin Pierce Adams dedicated it to the editor of the New York World. The dedication read: “To Herbert Bayard Swope without whose friendly aid and counsel every line in this book was written.”
Russell Johnson has many fans because he played the Professor on Gilligan’s Island. Once, a fan asked for a special autograph, saying that he wanted him to write, “Thanks for saving my life in ’Nam.” Because this made Mr. Russell laugh, he wrote the autograph exactly as requested.
Famous mime Marcel Marceau once watched ballet dancer Peter Martins rehearse and was so impressed that he autographed Mr. Martins’ arm and added his impression of Mr. Martins’ talent: “wonderful.”
A child once asked Herbert Hoover for three autographs. When asked why he wanted so many of the President’s autographs, the child replied, “It takes two of yours to get one of Babe Ruth’s.”
According to black comedian Dick Gregory, the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., was “the only celebrity who’s given out more fingerprints than autographs.”
While signing a first edition of one of his books, Alexander Woollcott said, “Ah, what is so rare as a Woollcott first edition?” His friend Franklin Pierce Adams replied, “A Woollcott second edition.”
Cecil C. Conner, Jr., dedicated his book, Skeletons from the Opera Closet, “To my mother, who knows little about opera, but who’ll buy this book anyway.”
Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved
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