RARE BOOK GUIDE - THE RUNNERS, THE RIDERS & THE ODDS

13 November 2010

Autograph anecdotes


There is a story behind every autograph. Idly fossicking about on Google I have retrieved a few such stories and added some of my own. It needs cojones to be an autograph hound so I offer much respect to those who have hunted down celebs and obtained signatures. The best collection I ever bought (about 2000+ inc Walt Disney, Ian Fleming, Bogart and Bacall, the Dalai Lama, Frankie Lyman (and the Teenagers) Tony Hancock and Lester Piggot) was from a very minor celebrity who was able to get into receptions and first nights etc., He had written jokes for Bob Monkhouse. It doesn't get much better. The greatest groupies and name droppers are often slightly famous themselves and a minor name will often have accumulated a few major names.

The most common type of autograph story usually ends 'and he was a really nice guy...we had a good chat'. It seems to come as a surprise that celebrities are not monsters, although great scorn is reserved for those who refuse autographs. A star cannot disappoint his fans. Graham Greene had a good line when refusing to sign a book--something along the lines of " I would like to but it would devalue those I have already done and I don't want that to happen, sorry.'

Rudyard Kipling received a note from a fan saying '...I hear you get paid $5 for every word you write. Enclosed is $5, please send me one word. Kipling replied with the one word "Thanks."

George Bernard Shaw was more generous (and even wittier). To fans writing to ask for his autograph he would often reply "Certainly not! George Bernard Shaw."

The painter Utrillo could, after a few free drinks, be induced to sign canvasses that he had not painted. Buyers beware.

Damien Hirst, the foolishly successful artist, sometimes signs things (books, tea shirts) as David Hockney. These are still saleable as he is known to do this and, in its way, it is also quite witty.



American crime writer and essayist James Ellroy signed every one of 65,000 first-edition copies of his 1996 memoir My Dark Places. You can buy a fine signed copy on ABE for $5 - there are over 200 signed copies for sale there with several over $100. As the signing progressed his signature degenerated to an unreadable scrawl. The ever-optimistic Booksniffer of Sussex manages to make a virtue of this '…wildly scrawled signature, as frantic and vigorous as the author's crackling prose.' $70 with free postage in UK. The above pic is of the great man pointing to the exact spot in L.A. where the murder victim known as the Black Dahlia was found.

Lou Reed's signature is the worst I have seen. It goes like this '----- -----.' Two almost straight slashed lines, making Ellroy's signature look like the handwriting of a village postmistress. Possibly easy to forge, so provenance needed when buying.

[…to be continued with tales of pathos and even bathos…]
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