David Bruce: Letters Anecdotes

When Stan Lee, creator of Spider-man and the Fantastic Four, was a kid, he wrote his hero, Floyd Gibbons, who went on adventures and wrote a column for the Chicago Tribune. Mr. Gibbons wrote him back, something that truly impressed the young Stan Lee. Working at Marvel, he encouraged fan mail and he often wrote fans back, either in person or on the pages of the comic books he wrote. Mr. Lee says, “I wanted the fans to feel that they were part of the Marvel family. If I received a letter that started ‘Dear Editor’ and was signed, I don’t know, ‘Charles Smith,’ I would write back, ‘Hiya Charlie!’ I wanted it to sound friendly and I signed all my replies ‘Stan,’ not ‘the Editor.’ I think it worked because when I met fans at conventions, they came up to me as though we were old friends. ‘Hi, Stan, how are ya? I’ve always wanted to meet you.’” Actually, it was Mr. Lee’s creations that got Marvel Comics fan mail. He says, “Before the Fantastic Four, we hardly ever got fan mail. Occasionally I might get a letter from somebody that said, ‘I bought one of your comic books and one of the staples is missing. I’d like my ten cents back.’ I would tack that letter up on the bulletin board and say, ‘We’ve got a fan letter.’ But after the Fantastic Four came out, we started to get genuine fan mail. At the start, a lot of the letters were written in pencil. After a few months, they were written in ink. A few months after that, we were getting typewritten letters and the return addresses were high schools and colleges.”

Richard Barthelemy, the voice coach and accompanist of Enrico Caruso, was French, and the French have a reputation for having a certain regard for a good turn of praise. A high-society woman once sent opera singer Enrico Caruso a very nice gift, which pleased him. Mr. Caruso sent back a souvenir, and he asked Mr. Barthelemy to compose a nice letter to accompany the gift. Mr. Barthelemy did compose the letter, and soon afterward the high-society woman invited him to lunch and said to him, “I have a favor to ask you, for which I desire secrecy. I am going to have you read an extremely charming letter from Monsieur Caruso in which he begs me to accept the lovely souvenir here. I want to thank him, and I’ve thought of you for that. Would you do me the pleasure of composing an answer to his letter which would have a true French turn to it? I’ll recopy it and send it to Monsieur Caruso.” Mr. Barthelemy did compose the letter.

In 1980, Joan Jett received 23 rejection letters after sending out tapes that included “I Love Rock ’n’ Rock,” “Do You Want to Touch Me,” and “Crimson and Clover”—three huge hits. The letters said, “No good songs here. You need a song search.” Fortunately, Ms. Jett printed 5,000 copies of the record, sold them, printed 5,000 more copies and sold them, and eventually landed a recording deal. She wonders, “Do they just throw these tapes into a bin of music, ’cause they don’t have time to listen? And if they do listen, it’s kind of scary that someone could hear three top-ten hits and miss them.”

While she was in high school, Tamora Pierce wrote a story about a kids’ birthday party. She wrote the story out neatly on pencil on 3-ring binder paper and submitted it to Seventeen magazine. The magazine’s editor, Babette Rosmund, wrote Tamora a nice letter telling her about how to submit manuscripts (typed, and in a professional format). She also encouraged Tamora to keep on writing. Tamora appreciated such a busy woman taking the time to write her a helpful letter. Later, Tamora became a very successful writer of young adult fantasy literature.

Jerry Spinelli, the author of Crash and Wringer, got many, many rejection letters when he was a young author, but he did not give up. Every time he finished a novel that no publisher would publish, he wrote another novel. Mr. Spinelli once noted that during his first 15 years of writing, he made only $200 from his writing. He also recommended that publishers send rejection bricks instead of rejection letters, noting, “Decades of work should not be able to fit into an envelope. You should be able to build a house with them.”

Young people’s author Richard Peck has received many letters from the readers of his books. Some are funny, as when someone wrote, “Our teacher told us to write to our favorite author. Could you please get me the address of Danielle Steele?” Other letters are serious; for example, someone wrote to him about Remembering the Good Times, a novel that recounted a suicide and educated the readers about the warning signs of suicides. The person wrote, “The only trouble with your book is that I didn’t find it in time.”

Karyn McLaughlin Frist edited a book titled “Love you, Daddy Boy”: Daughters Honor the Fathers They Love. Just as the title suggests, the book is a collection of reminiscences of loving fathers by loving daughters. The title comes from the way Ms. Frist’s father signed his letters that each Monday he wrote to her when she was in college: “Love you, Daddy boy.” Her friends used to ask her, “So what did Daddy-boy have to say today?”

Playwright and actor Peter Ustinov had many occupations, including at one time being Rector of Dundee University. Unfortunately, he once received a letter addressed to “The Lord Rectum of Dundee University.” Such an error gives one pause, and Sir Peter later said, “And that is how I have seen myself ever since in moments of self-doubt.”

Early in her career, Audrey Hepburn attended a Screen Actors Guild at which Marlon Brando was present. She was in awe of him and said hello, but after that they did not speak to each other. Forty years later, Mr. Brando wrote a letter in which he explained why he had not spoken to her. He had been unable to speak because he held her in such awe.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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