As a longtime autograph collector, and someone who has written for Autograph Magazine for years, I was fascinated by the story by the HuffPost regarding the fight between The Princess Bride actor Cary Elwes and Senator Ted Cruz. In short, after Elwes bad-mouthed Cruz on Twitter, and Cruz had talked about how much he loved The Princess Bride -- Cruz asked if he had to give his picture back. He showed a photo supposedly signed by Elwes, personalized to “Senator Cruz.” Elwes immediately said it was fake and forged.
Aside from this being a funny fight, both parties played it perfectly. Cruz is showing a picture, as if to say -- if this guy hates me so much, why did he sign a photo for me? Well, that can be explained in many ways. For example, Elwes has appeared at many events signing autographs over the years. People know these things happen at various Comic Con’s around the country, but there are some events that are merely “autograph shows” (a popular one used to be held at the Marriott by LAX). They had them once a month. You’d pay $25 to get in, and various “celebrities” had booths set up, where they’d charge $25 per autograph. Cruz could have gotten the picture signed at one of those events, or one of his co-workers or family members might have. One of them may have even added the “To Senator Cruz.” Also, fans stick so many pictures in front of the celebs so quickly, they could have said “Make it out to ‘Senator Cruz’” and Elwes wouldn’t even question who that is, or have time to think about who that is. And if he had, he probably wouldn’t have cared, since the person paid their $25 for the photo.
Elwes has also signed items that fans have shipped to him to be autographed. I saw a website offer where he would sign a photograph with Chris Sarandon (who was also in The Princess Bride) for $150. What is currently a lot more popular than sending in money for stars to sign photos, are websites like Cameo, where the celebs will record a personalized video. Fans can find actors, musicians, and lots of other famous people. Some charge as little as $25 for a message. Caitlyn Jenner charges $1,500. Two members of Cheap Trick charge $100. The prices range, usually depending on how famous they are. And it can be good money for them. Do you know the name Brian Baumgartner? Probably not, but you’d recognize his face. He’s one of the cast members of The Office, and he made a million dollars doing Cameo videos for fans.
Elwes also wrote a book (As You Wish), and did lots of book signings. It would have been easy to have a photo signed there, although many bookstores now will only let you get the book signed, as autograph dealers (yes, there is such a thing) will often have 8x10s or movie posters signed, and sell them on eBay.
Here’s the thing, though. Once Cruz showed that photo, Elwes couldn’t say, “He probably got that at one of the autograph signings I did.”
The problem with saying that is...when people find out you charge fans for autographs, the optics are bad. Usually. Now, when Ed Beagley Jr. was at an autograph show in L.A. that I was covering, he had the cheapest signature at $10 and he donated it all to one of his green charities. I promptly coughed up the money to have him sign my Spinal Tap CD (he played one of their early drummers).
When I was a kid I read a story about Mickey Mantle in Sports Illustrated. Mantle said he made more money doing autograph signings than he did as a player. Yet for some reason, people don’t mind athletes charging for autographs. When it’s a B-list movie actor, or someone from a ‘70s TV show that nobody has thought about in years -- it rubs people the wrong way. So Elwes simply shot back “That picture is forged.”
Cruz also can’t respond, “No it isn’t, I paid for it at one of your signings” because that, too...sounds foolish. A senator standing in line to get an autograph from a guy who was in movies like Saw and Robin Hood: Men in Tights? A senator should have more important pursuits.
Now, it might have been a bit more interesting if the autographed photo said, “To Senator Cruz, one of the best politicians ever.” Yet even that wouldn’t be a diss to Elwes.
When I was at a book signing for Al Franken, a woman working the event walked up the line giving us each a post-it note, telling us, “Write exactly what you want Franken to write in your book.” So I wrote, “To Josh, who’s also a big fat idiot.” When the woman saw what I wrote she freaked out, saying “No, no, no! He will not write that in your book!”
I laughed, saying it was a joke and he wouldn’t mind. She said she didn’t get it, so I explained, “Franken wrote a book called ‘Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot’ and I was referencing that. She got more agitated. Franken heard the commotion and asked, “What is going on? Why is that guy bothering you?”
She explained what I wanted written and he smiled and said, “Sure, I’ll write that.”
Thank god I didn’t ask for a picture. The dude’s a groper. That’s another story for another time.
When I met Karl Malden at a book signing, we were also given post-it notes. To impress the group I played poker with, I had him write “You’re a better poker player than the Cincinnati Kid.”
I made two much stranger requests over the years. When Elmore Leonard was doing a book signing, I got the book, but had another motive. I had been having a debate with a friend about a scene in Jackie Brown (adapted from his book Rum Punch). I had typed out a letter, stating that I, Josh Board, was correct in the debate, and how as the author of the book, he understood everything about the Max Cherry character.
It was a full page long, and written and dated, by Elmore Leonard. All I needed was him to sign it. I gave him a quick explanation of the story and he laughed and said that specific scene was written by Tarantino and wasn’t in his book (perhaps it would have behoved me to have read the novel before embarking on this). He said, “But I think you’re right in this argument and I’ll gladly sign this letter and help you win the $25 bet.”
As he read the letter, the woman who worked at Barnes & Noble said, “Just sign the letter. We don’t have time for you to read the whole thing. It’s a rather long line.” He looked at her, put his reading glasses down on his nose a bit, smiled and explained, “I have to read the letter. What if he wrote that I leave my entire estate to him when I die.”
He read the letter and signed it. My friend didn’t pay off the bet, as he said we’d now have to ask Tarantino about that scene, but hey...it made for a nice letter for my collection.
When Jane Lynch did a book signing, I actually couldn’t make it. I had my friend go and buy us both a book. I asked for this personalization, “To Josh, My Fu** buddy, Jane Lynch.”
My friend was worried about asking her to write it, and she asked me why I wanted it. I explained that in The 40-Year-Old Virgin, she’s Steve Carell’s boss. When she finds out he’s a virgin, she volunteers to help him with his situation and utters the line. My friend didn’t feel much better about asking this well-known actress to write that. I said, “Look, if she refuses, that’s fine. Don’t push the issue. But she’s a comedic actress, I think she’ll laugh.”
My friend told me when she asked her to write it, she threw her head back and laughed, gladly writing it.
Now, if I were to show people that book, I doubt anybody would believe we actually had an affair (not just because she’s a lesbian).
So all of this is a long way of saying -- lots of people have autographs of other people. It doesn’t mean they’re friends. It doesn’t mean they’re fans. It doesn’t mean they agree or disagree with their policies as a politician. In fact, in a lot of cases, it doesn’t even mean they met the person.
I’ll end with one of the best stories of people who aren’t fans of one another, and the most incredible autograph that came about.
When Hillary Clinton was a Senator, one of the readers of Autograph magazine decided he wanted to get her autograph. Yet he liked unusual things signed, not just an 8x10. He got her book that had come out a few years before -- Living History -- and figured if he just showed up at her office he could probably talk his way into getting it signed. I’d think that would be tough, as she’s also a former First Lady. But his deviousness went a step further. What he instead did was also buy Monica Lewinsky’s book Monica: Her Story. He then took the book cover off of Hillary’s book, and slipped it over Lewinsky’s, with it opened to a blank page for her to sign. The guy was able to tell the person at the front desk he wanted the autograph. He waited a few minutes, and she came out and smiled, signing the book for him. I never heard if he was able to get close enough to have Bill also put his John Hancock on it.