David Bruce: Autographs & Inscriptions Anecdotes

The great Norwegian soprano Kirsten Flagstad used to enjoy giving autographs to fans who wrote to her for them, but she was surprised when several fans complained that the autographs weren’t genuine, but were instead written by her secretary. After investigating, she discovered what the problem was. Not only did Ms. Flagstad write the autograph, but she also wrote the names and addresses on the envelopes she used to send her autograph to her fans. Fans compared the writing, noticed that it was done by the same hand, and incorrectly concluded that a secretary had written the autographs.

Canadian figure skater Toller Cranston once acquired an old photograph of skating and movie star Sonja Henie. He wrote a fake inscription on it — “To Dearest Toller, Only you will compete with my legend. Love, Sonja” — then watched the reactions of his friends as they read the inscription after he explained (that is, lied) that he had met Sonja in LA in the late 1960s, just before she died, and that he had asked her to write a dramatic inscription for him. Such figure skating legends as Brian Boitano, Robin Cousins, Caryn Kadavy, Brian Orser, and JoJo Starbuck saw the inscription and were very impressed.

Professional baseball player “Shoeless Joe” Jackson was nearly illiterate and seldom signed his name — his wife Katie had the task of signing his name to baseballs to meet the requests of fans. However, one paper he is known to have signed is his will. In the will, his and his wife’s estate was given to the American Heart Association and the American Cancer Society. These charities would love to have the will so they can auction it off — it could bring in $100,000 — but the will has been ruled the property of the Probate Court.

In 1958, President Dwight D. Eisenhower threw out an autographed baseball at the season opener of the Senators and the Red Sox. All of the players, hoping to get a baseball autographed by the President, ran after it — except for the Red Sox’ Jimmy Piersall, who walked over to President Eisenhower, handed him a baseball and a pen, and asked for his autograph. Mr. Piersall explained later, “I never did like crowds.”

Many authors write witty and/or sentimental inscriptions in their books. Humorist Frank Sullivan once wrote this inscription to Marise Campbell: “To dear Marise, without whose sympathetic help the undersigned would not have written this book,” then signed his name and the date. The book this inscription was written in was a 1929 Staten Island telephone directory.

Zero Mostel’s wife Kate once had a small role as a chambermaid in the play Ladies of the Corridor. One day, she was asked what the play was about, and she said, “It’s a play about a chambermaid.” When the play was published, the authors, Dorothy Parker and Arnaud d’Usseau, sent her a copy inscribed, “We still think it’s a play about a chambermaid.”

As an 11-year-old, gymnast Shannon Miller finished second (behind Wendy Bruce) in the all-around competition in the Alamo Classic. Afterward, the pre-teen Shannon signed autographs for her adoring fans. In fact, when her father, Ron, went up to talk to her, other parents grew angry at him because they thought he was cutting in line.

Rudolf Nureyev was conscientious about signing his autograph for fans. Each day, his personal assistant used to gather up a great number of programs from fans in the lobby, then take them to him to sign. Mr. Nureyev would happily sign them in bed, with a big cup of soup by his side.

Saul Bellow and his wife had an argument one day, so she threw several eight-by-ten glossy photographs of him in the garbage. A few days later, there was a knock on his door. Standing in the doorway was the porter. He was holding one of the glossy photographs, and he asked Mr. Bellow to sign it.

After Mary Lou Retton won gold in the all-around competition at the 1984 Olympics, she went back to her gym to train, and lots of eight-year-old gymnasts she had trained with asked her for her autograph. Ms. Retton was surprised: “What do you mean, autographs? You know me.”

At Ted Shawn’s Jacob’s Pillow, a dance retreat, were several cabins for women. Each of the cabins was named after a famous ballerina — Alicia Markova, Maria Tallchief, Nora Kaye, Alexandra Danilova, etc. — and each cabin contained a toe shoe autographed by that ballerina.

Liberace was a celebrity known for his graciousness to his fans, and he was very willing to sign autographs except in two situations. He would ask fans to come back for an autograph later — when he had finished — if he were eating or in the men’s room.

Wally Cox became a famous television star in Mr. Peepers. One day, he was recognized while he was in a rubber boat in the ocean at Ogonquit, Maine. Fans held their autograph books and pens above their heads and swam out to him to ask for his autograph.

Professional baseball player Albert Belle sometimes signs autographs for over an hour, although he doesn’t enjoy it. After one such session, he started to leave, but one fan who hadn’t yet gotten an autograph asked, “What about me?” Mr. Belle replied, “You should have been here earlier.”

Peter Ustinov says that being famous is a handicap when it comes to doing first-hand research. For example, he can’t go into a brothel in Hamburg to do research for a thriller because people ask him for his autograph.

As a young gymnast, Dominic Moceanu showed a lot of confidence. While signing autographs before the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta were held, she added to her signature, “’96 gold, for sure.”

Daniel O’Connell was an Irish patriot, lawyer, and politician. A man once wrote him to ask for his autograph. He replied in a letter: “Sir, I never send autographs. [signed] Daniel O’Connell.”

After the police had reported that Noël Coward had survived an attempt by three thugs to kidnap him, Mr. Coward said, “They weren’t thugs — they were autograph hunters.”

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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