One of the things I used to enjoy doing was collecting autographs. I have collected autographs since 1982 and probably have over 100 now. Most of them are sci-fi related but I have autographs from the world of sports, tv and cinema, music and even politics.
I’m not a big believer in paying for autographs and certainly when I started it wasn’t at all common to pay for them, at least if you were a genuine fan. My first autograph was of a footballer (soccer player), Kevin Keegan who was captain of my home team and once captain of England. I wrote him a letter and a few weeks later got a personalised and signed photo back in return.
You can tell a lot about someone by their attitude to autographs. Some people don’t want to sign anything on the pretence that people will sell them on eBay and make money from it… heaven forbid that they aren’t rich enough already or that they might upset hundreds of fans who only innocently want a momento of the star their money and devotion helped build up.
I always enjoyed writing letters to people which was maybe a 1980’s version of blogging. I got replies back from Buckingham Palace, number 10 Downing Street from the British Prime Minister and two from The Whitehouse. I also was interested in space and got quite a pack back from Nasa in the mid 1980’s. It took months longer but I also got a huge pack back from the Soviet Space centre in Star City. It was full of good educational stuff and only partially communist propaganda. I was equally thrilled to find out the delay in receiving my package was due to it being opened by the security forces wondering if I was perhaps working for the Soviets and wanting to see what was in my package. I had been into news and politics since I was 4 or 5 and by the age of 13 was more than able to make my mind up on biased reporting be it British, American, Soviet or whatever. Oh if only there had been Wikipedia back then.
Still my main passion for autographs is due to my being quite a huge Star Trek fan. By quite huge I mean totally epic. I could tell what any episode was about by the opening star pattern or the planet that was used. Yes some planets were used repeatedly but they usually were filmed from various angles, spun backwards or had a funny coloured filter on to fool everyone but Trek mad geeks like myself.
By the time I was about 18, I was attending Star Trek conventions. I found my first in a slightly dodgy part of East London by following a Klingon rolling a giant ball down the street wrapped in bubble wrap. It was larger than a person. Aah, a planet!
The early conventions were all about meeting people, watching videos, chatting to people associated with the TV show and maybe having a photograph or autograph with an actor. Autographs were very nearly free and photos always were. Over the years though, they got over-commercialised until the entry fee was the price of a holiday, autographs costing a small fortune, actors and fans partitioned and generally the whole thing often was a thinly veiled effort to fleece fans from their money. In the U.K. the change happened quickly over just 3 or 4 years and whilst young fans didn’t realise any better, the older ones often didn’t like the change even if they were just a few years older or just started attending conventions that bit earlier like me.
However, many of the actors often remarked they enjoyed British conventions as everyone was so laid back and there was a lot more interaction and fun so maybe we here should just be thankful for that.
Still, I built up a huge array of autographs and photos for next to no cost and after about 10 or 12 years had pretty much met everyone and chatted to everyone I ever hoped to meet. Some people you might imagine to be fan friendly like Patrick Stewart was always nice and polite but hopeless at autographs. Whilst others like George Takei threw themselves into the events.
Over the years I got to be if not friends then on first name terms with several of the folk I had watched on TV for years. There are lots of good memories. Staying up in a quiet bar until 2.30am chatting the night away with my friend Mark on a table with Colm Meaney and Robert Beltran was hugely fun and one of them even fell of a bar stool laughing at one of my jokes. Getting told to shut up by William Shatner was also memorable and he was very much in jest.
Sometimes luck would play its part, getting stuck in the lift (elevator) with someone or simply getting lost spending 10 minutes helping Avery Brooks work out what the different flavours were in the giant box of Quality Street he was munching on.
I got to the stage where I would get myself invited to the European film premières at Leicester Square in London. I went to quite a lot of them but generally the Star Trek ones were always the best as they had a bit more of the old-fashioned star quality to them. They were fun too and it was bizarre having tabloid photographers who obviously knew nothing about the Star Trek to take my photo just because whom I might be in the company of. No wonder I once accidentally ended up in Claudia Schiffers Limo by mistake. She was very nice about it, no police or restraining orders.
Sometimes I would go to book signings. I met Leonard Nimoy 3 times but none would match the nervousness of the first time; not because I was meeting Spock but because I was skipping my university class which was just a block or two away in London. I queued from 7.30am and was number 2 in the queue. In the end the queue was the biggest ever book signing in the U.K. at the that time at least. I was pleased not to see anyone I knew from Uni and successfully got my gear signed by a very stubbly Leonard Nimoy and I was just leaving the building thinking I had got away with everything when who did I see queuing up in the doorway to get his book signed? None other than my university professor. We were slightly shocked and never spoke a word of it afterwards as he had skipped his own lecture. What a cool professor!
I met the original Scotty, James Doohan, twice but the first time round was out of his “work” and we just had a friendly chat. I didn’t get to get a personalised autograph until his very last British/European convention. He was very old and very ill and he decided to go for lunch at a certain point through his autograph line. I was the unlucky person who would have been next in line and had to wait for his return. It was a cold and wet day and though I was uncomfortable, I was more concerned for Jimmy. Before he left he apologised to me and again when he returned. As it turned out my good faith and genuineness was rewarded and Jimmy was quite chatty on his return. I got my photo and autograph and best of all a good chat with him about all sorts. So much so he was told that his queue was lengthening and he said that “Stephen has waited here for hours and sat on that floor another hour waiting for me and if I want to talk to him, I will”.
It’s always great though when the person you meet meets or exceeds your expectations. My fave autograph is one from Deforest Kelley aka Dr. McCoy. He is the only one I didn’t get to meet in person but I did write him a looong letter. I didn’t expect a reply as firstly he was Dr. McCoy and secondly he was extremely old and suffered from arthritis and at that time only wrote a dozen or so autographs for charity events each year. Who could blame him, he was in his late 70’s and had been signing autographs for decades.
However being an optimist and knowing what a nice man he was, I quietly hoped I would get a reply, even a mass-printed one. Month by month time went by. I didn’t expect anything in the first 3 months, 6 months would be quick. 9 months, that would be the optimal time surely. Every day I would run down the stairs and check the post until after 1 year I finally gave up hope. I didn’t mind, I just wanted to write and say thanks for the good times he had brought me until then and the additional 20 or so years more I now have
Anyway, 1 year and around 3 days after I wrote to him, I received a large vanilla envelope with extremely fine writing on the front. Ooh, it was from the USA… don’t get many of those. Even bigger oohs, it was from California and it contained cardboard.
Thank-you Deforest, I knew you’d come good. Nervously I opened the envelope not know what quite to expect. There it was, a large black and white photo with a personalised autograph “To Stephen, Best wishes Deforest Kelley”.
Yipppeeee, my 5 or 6 page handwritten scrawl had been read and listened too and I received my priceless gift and none of those charges you get at conventions. A really genuinely nice man who happened to be a Hollywood star who played my favourite character of all time. He didn’t have to send me anything, I knew he was ill but bless him for making a young guy over the moon. I still have his autograph above my desk, well a scanned copy… I don’t want it fading in the sun.
There are conflicting opinions whether it is best to get an autograph personalised or not. I always get mine personalised if I can, it proves I met them and if it makes some 10% less valuable then who cares? I’m never going to sell them.
Some people state that if you write for an autograph you should keep your note short and to the point and if possible include either SAE or International Reply Coupons. Sometimes this is true, at least regarding the SAE and IRCs. However in my experience writing a long letter always works. You have to put some effort in and I think often people love to read about you and why you like them and what you do in your general life. I am sure DeForest wouldn’t have replied at that time if I just wrote “Dear DeForest, I am a huge fan, please send me an autograph”.
That last person I wrote to in this way was a certain Eddie Paskey who played Mr Leslie in Star Trek. Never a big star but something of a cult hero. He was one of those few red shirts in the background who had a name and did stuff and didn’t die. Well he did die but he came back to life. He stopped acting 75% through the old Star Trek series in 1968 and since became a mechanic. Somehow I tracked him down and found his address where he runs his own garage car repair workshop. I wrote him a good 4 or 5 page letter by hand about two years ago. Bless him, he wrote back to me with a really cool autograph and a little letter expressing his thanks. Similarly Roy Thinnes, the star of the 1960’s cult hit The Invaders responded similarly last year.
The only rule I would have and it is totally self-imposed is that I’d never bother someone in their free time as a restaurant or with their family in the city. Everyone deserves time to themselves.
I used to have a website dedicated to all my autographs but it went off-line about 10 years ago. Each autograph has a story that goes with them. Maybe I will put them back up on my blog somewhere or make an e-book of them. I still love my Star Trek and am half way through writing a series guide-book I hope to publish next year. All the time though whatever I write whether it be blogs or books, hanging up on the wall above my computer are a small section of autographs with my DeForest Kelley Dr McCoy in pride of place alongside, Kirk, Spock, Scotty and the others.