David Bruce: Autographs and Dedications Anecdotes

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.”

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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.

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David Bruce: Autographs & Dedications & Inscriptions Anecdotes

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During their 22-year touring career, and later, the Ramones signed many, many autographs, and they even once autographed a human skull. Lead singer Joey Ramone remembers what was perhaps the most unusual object they signed, “In Europe, one fan pulled off his artificial leg and had us sign the prosthesis.” While the Ramones were at an airport in Argentina, the guards stopped them as they were going through the metal detectors, in order to get their autographs. After the band finally broke up, guitarist Johnny Ramone became a huge collector of celebrities’ autographs. He used to write celebrities and say, “I am Johnny Ramone—can you please send me an autograph? I would like to add it to my collection.” The celebs responded favorably.

Before World War II, Lucy Carrington Wertheimer ran an art gallery that championed the work of then-modern artists. Many famous people visited the gallery and signed the guestbook. One day, Ms. Wertheimer looked at the guestbook and told her employee, “I see you have had Mr. Shaw in, Biddy.” A nearby visitor looked at the guestbook and saw that George Bernard Shaw had signed it. Amazed, he said, “Yes, and you’re jolly lucky to have his autograph. How did you manage to get it?” Biddy, an Irish lass, replied, “Oi just said to him, ‘Put your name in the visitors’ book, Mr. Shaw,’ and he put it in.” Mrs. Wertheimer suspects that when Biddy said this to Mr. Shaw, “Biddy’s tone was so authoritative that Mr. Shaw did not dare say her nay.”

In June of 1952, Le Grand Ballet du Marquis de Cuevas danced in Rio de Janeiro. Some ballet fans went backstage, where they quickly stole as many small souvenirs as possible, including many, many photographs that George Zoritch kept of himself in his dressing room. These fans brought the photographs around to Mr. Zoritch, who of course recognized where they had come from, but who signed them anyway. Soon, Mr. Zoritch noticed that the same people kept asking him to sign his photograph. He pointed out that he had already given them an autograph, but they said, “Yes, we already have two or three, but would you autograph one more?”

Enrico Caruso could be very generous. One day he needed a pen to sign autographs, so an electrician lent him a $5 pen he was very proud of—$5 was a lot of money back then. Unfortunately, after signing some autographs Mr. Caruso absent-mindedly put the pen in his pocket and walked off with it. Because Mr. Caruso was a VIP, the electrician didn’t say anything, and he thought that he had seen the last of his pen. But the very next day, the electrician received a package from Mr. Caruso. Inside the package was his $5 pen, and wrapped around the pen was a $20 bill.

Dodger pitcher Carl Erskine knows a good way to tell how popular a particular player is: simply ask a kid—after all, kids tend to be honest. One day, Mr. Erskine was signing autographs for kids, and he noticed that a particular boy came back for a second autograph, and then a third autograph. He asked the boy why he wanted three autographs, and the boy said, “Actually, I would like to have six. If I can get six of yours, I can trade them for one of Jackie Robinson.”

Opera singer Luciano Pavarotti comes from Modeno, Italy, where people make sure not to give celebrities special treatment. Paul Newman visited Modeno twice, where he ate in public restaurants twice. Both times, no one asked him for his autograph. He marvelled, “What a polite city—no one bothered me.” However, he couldn’t help but wonder, “To interest the people of Modeno, who do you have to be?”

Athletes sign lots of autographs, and some athletes’ signatures are written more carefully—and legibly—than other athletes’ signatures. Dodger pitcher Carl Erskine’s signature was especially legible because his teachers had taught him that he should take pride in his name. One fan remarked on the legibility of his signature, and Mr. Erskine told her that he had learned to do that from his teachers. Beaming, the fan replied, “I’m a teacher.”

Comedian Bill Hicks was backstage during the intermission of a concert by Ray Charles, where he witnessed a woman trying to get Mr. Charles’ autograph although members of Mr. Charles’ staff said that he did not sign autographs. Finally, a member of the staff said, “I sign autographs for Mr. Charles.” The woman said, “You do! Oh, thank you!” Mr. Hicks said, “Hey, I can get you John Lennon’s autograph.”

Irish tenor John McCormack adored Italian tenor Enrico Caruso, and early in his career be bought a photograph of Mr. Caruso and forged on it an inscription from Mr. Caruso to himself. Later, he met Mr. Caruso and told him about the forgery. Amused, Mr. Caruso produced another photograph of himself and wrote this real inscription on it: “To McCormack, very friendly, Enrico Caruso.”

Science fiction author Anne McCaffrey wanted to dedicate her novel Decision at Doona to her middle child, Todd Johnson McCaffrey. She wanted the dedication to read, “To my darling son, Todd,” but at age 12 he worried that such a dedication would result in taunts at school, so she compromised and changed the dedication: “To Todd Johnson—of course!”

French humorist and writer Alphonse Allais was very proud of his library, and especially proud of a volume of Voltaire’s work in which appeared this inscription: “To Alphonse Allais, with regrets for not having known him. Voltaire.” However, the inscription was not written by Voltaire, who had died a century before Mr. Allais was born.

After J.K. Rowling published the first Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, in the United Kingdom, she went to a bookstore in Edinburgh to see copies of the book displayed. She was tempted to sign the copies, but she decided not to in case she got in trouble with the bookseller.

Albert Einstein gave autographs, but he charged $1 for each one. All the money he raised that way went to charity.

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