As a youth, I collected autographs of baseball players the couple of times a year we were able to attend pro baseball games. I managed a few good ones too: Hall of Famer Paul Molitor, Bob Uecker, better known for his Hall of Fame career as a wisecracking baseball announcer than as a player, Cub great Ernie Banks, and former Yankees catcher and Hall of Famer Yogi Berra — those last two at baseball card shows. More recently, I’ve collected autographs of Babylon-5 stars, including Jason Carter, Bruce Boxleitner, Peter Jurasik, Claudia Christian, and the late Steven Furst and Jeff Conaway. It’s a fun, goofy way to capture the memory of a brief moment, and while I don’t actively seek out autographs of the famous any more, I would take advantage of appearances of stars whose performances I’m fond of at conventions I’m attending to try to get them to sign something meaningful as a memento. I once ran into the late EdMcMahon in Heathrow Airport in 1985. For those who might not know, McMahon is most famous as the announcer and sidekick to Johnny Carson during Carson’s run as host of the Tonight Show. I screwed up my courage and approached him, asking to take his photograph. His wife Victoria graciously offered to take a photo of the two of us together:
I was grateful for their kindness, and thanked them, wishing them a pleasant trip. Then I went away and left them alone, which is as it should be.
I was perusing some information online about a comic convention coming to my city. The price of obtaining an autograph from their attending stars is astonishing, and I can’t help but feel a certain amount of dismay at the level of greed.
But then I think about it for a moment: celebrities are hounded for autographs incessantly, and it must be tiring having to sign every scrap of paper pushed at them. Theoretically, the convention is paying them good money to show up and pose for photos and sign autographs; is it the convention that sets these pricing policies at conventions? I don’t know much about that world, but when Stan Lee can demand $120 per autograph and get it, that strikes me as a symptom of a system completely out of whack.
Now I’m not really picking on Stan The Man personally; he’s had a long career as the face of Marvel Comics, and for most of those years probably didn’t earn a fabulous living at it. He’s in his senior years now, and having that extra money is probably damned useful at his age. More power to him. Still, the $40 and $50 for an autograph most celebrities charge seems pretty high. Perhaps it’s one way to limit the number of people demanding their signatures. Even with these exorbitant fees, the lines for autographs seem no shorter than the days of my youth when autographs were usually free.
My dad had an autograph story: as a kid, Babe Ruth was his idol. One of the few times he was at a Yankees game — probably in Chicago against the White Sox, but it might have been the once or twice he visited New York City with his parents — he got in line at the field railing, and handed his scorecard to Ruth to be signed. “Sorry, Kid: I only sign autograph books.” was Ruth’s reply, handing the scorecard back. My dad was crushed. He never did have another chance to get the Babe’s autograph, but he didn’t let the encounter spoil his memory of his baseball idol.
Autograph hunting has been taken too far. If you watch the documentary Tom Felton Meets the Superfans, you see autograph hunting taken to an extreme. People wait for hours outside of hotels and film studios to try to get their favorite TV and film stars to sign an autograph, and a few of them are well-known to the celebrities they follow. I highly recommend watching this film. Tom Felton — Draco Malfoy from the Harry Potter films — has a unique perspective on celebrity, and includes interviews with friends and fellow Harry Potter stars Daniel Radcliffe and Rupert Grint, among others. While the autograph hounds depicted are all uniformly polite and courteous, their dedication to their hobby borders on stalking in my opinion.
The entire pursuit of celebrity obsession in the US is staggering, and also frightening — particularly, I have to imagine, for the stars being pursued. I guess, all things considered, I can’t really blame the stars for charging what they do. You can bet I won’t be paying that kind of money for an autograph, but there are people who do, and I hope the enjoyment they get from their memories of the event is worthwhile to them.