The Price of Fame

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.

2 thoughts on “The Price of Fame

  1. Great article Bill!

    As the times changed and the greed machine fired up I now avoid the famous I’m a fan of who are sitting in the chairs of the Benjamins at shows. The money you pay at most comic cons goes to the celebrities and are part of their contracts with that show.

    I have never been a fan of stan the man as I worked for awhile in the distribution end of comics and had the luck to have real conversations with artists and editors and writers in that industry, suffice it to say In my eyes he is a manipulator and money hungry scumbag who only marginally (and in some cases not at all) created characters he is known for.

    sorry back on topic.

    The sad part of the new cash grab autograph moments at shows is a mere 7 years ago I could walk up to Edward James Olmos, Lou Ferrigno, Sam Jones, Erin Grey, the list goes on chat with them and maybe pay a token 10$ for a autographed head shot.

    I watched Kevin Nash leave a ten minute message on a fans voice mail telling him he hoped he would see him next year, John Ratzenberger talked to my daughter and her boyfriend while waiting in line for a slice of pizza at C2E2 neither asked for anything, they know the importance of fans. For the most part alas those days are gone. We have moved to a I’m a celebrity you need to pay me just to say hi.

    I fear my having lived through the golden years has made me a bit sad at the fan world now.

  2. I am more and more convinced that while a few celebrities do set their prices for the sake of profit, the vast majority do so because it’s the only way they can convince themselves to sign a few autographs without becoming overwhelmed by signing one every time someone shoves a pen in their hand.

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