"May I have your autograph, please?” If you’re somebody famous, chances are I already have it. After all, I have a pretty cool collection. It all started back when I was about seven years old and I got an "autograph hound” for my birthday. For those of you who are "youthfully challenged”, an autograph hound was a stuffed animal shaped like a weenie dog, that was hard and smooth enough for your friends to sign their names on. True, Cary Becker and Susie Matthews (my two elementary school buddies) aren’t exactly highly sought-after signatures in today’s collector’s market; still there was something about possessing their "John Hancocks” that made me feel important.
Pursuing autographs seems to sort of run in my family – my mom got Tommy Dorsey’s signature when she worked at a Memphis radio station in the 1940’s; and John Wayne signed his business card "Good luck” and gave it to my dad during the war. (I still have both.)
My first big celebrity thrill came in the sixth grade, when I joined the "Man from U.N.C.L.E” fan club. Along with my official membership card, I received a signed photo of the entire cast in the mail. I could hardly believe it! Illya Kuryakin’s (well, okay, David McCallum’s) own handwriting – right there on my bulletin board! Meanwhile, just across town a boy who would later become my husband was proudly showing off his autographed picture of Shari Lewis and Lambchop! See why we are so perfect for each other?
During my teens and early adulthood I was a much more discerning collector, which is a polite way of saying I don’t have diddley squat to show for those years. It wasn’t until I discovered signed books that I picked up steam once again. Now I have several autographed editions from authors like Erma Bombeck, Hedda Hopper (the famous Hollywood gossip columnist), Phyllis Diller, and even Harper Lee (yep, I have a personally inscribed copy of "To Kill a Mockingbird”!) I thought I had Mark Twain’s too, but his "handwritten note” turned out to be printed right into the book. Oh – that reminds me – Rule Number One for would-be collectors: signatures on bookplates don’t count! It’s all about fingerprints and DNA on the paper.
For me, EBay has made collecting a whole lot easier (after all, how else could I have obtained a signed photograph from Barbara Hale in her role as Perry Mason’s secretary, Della Street?) Unfortunately, it has also taken a lot of the thrill out of the pursuit. Case in point: I have two books signed by Bob Hope. One I purchased online. The other was autographed for my star-struck son in person. Which one do you think means more to me?
I had a similar experience not long ago. While on a layover in the Los Angeles airport I happened to spot Carol Burnett going into a bookstore. Naturally I turned around and followed her (well, wouldn’t you?) Coming up quietly beside her I placed my arm around her shoulder gently and said, "Carol, do they really make you stand in line to buy your own book?” We had a laugh (but didn’t sing a song.) After the proprietor of the store helped us locate her autobiography, she told him, "I also need a copy for my friend here.” (Reader, she was talking about ME!) Then she inscribed it for me. To put it mildly, I’m so glad we had this time together!
Now it’s no secret that the whole point of garnering all these signatures is to make people jealous, but in order to whip up the desired envy, it helps if they’ve have heard of the person whose autograph you’re bragging about. I found this out when telling a friend I had signed copies of all four of Jean Kerr’s books, only to be met with a blank stare and the reply, "Who’s that?”
But I don’t care. I like what I like, and my collection of autographs means a lot to me, even if my children (aided and abetted by my very own spouse) will probably dump them half an hour after my funeral. It really won’t matter. By then I’ll be up in heaven. I can just see me now, on the very first day – running up to the Apostle Paul, shoving a pen and a stuffed weenie dog in his face and breathlessly squealing, "May I have your autograph, please?”
And with that, I’ll be off and running on a whole new collection!