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Getting Celebrity Autographs Is Not Always Easy By Stephen Schochet

Article by Reg Rock

Being a star means dealing with fans’ requests for autographs. One time, Katharine Hepburn was performing on Broadway and tried to exit backstage through a crowd of jostling autograph hounds. Bodyguards helped her push through to her limo. Once safely inside, the private star rolled down the window and shouted,” Run em down! We’ll clean up the blood later!”

The crowd scattered as the limousine sped away, pausing long enough for Hepburn to again roll down the window and give a wave accompanied by an evil laugh. When she lived in Beverly Hills, the same seclusion-loving actress loved, as a hobby, to sneak into her neighbor’s beautiful homes, just to see what they looked like on the inside. She became an expert at climbing trees, avoiding alarms and dogs and revealing herself just before her nervous neighbors called the police.

Walt Disney had the strange experience in the 1930s of his name being famous around the world while his face was not. Sometimes he would forget his identification when he went out to dinner. Wearing casual attire sometimes caused fancy restaurants to refuse him entrance. In the 50’s, Walt became a recognized figure because of his television hosting duties. His lack of anonymity made it increasingly difficult for him to walk through Disneyland without being badgered for autographs. Disney struggled not to be brusque while explaining he didn’t have time, he was trying to make his park a better place. Then in the 60’s, when the Walt Disney company was trying to purchase Florida marshland for a second amusement park, Walt was warned by his advisors to stay out of the Sunshine State; the real estate prices would go up once the identity of the buyer was known. But the entrepreneur couldn’t stay away. While eating in an Orlando diner Walt was approached by a curious waitress, “Pardon me. Aren’t you Walt Disney?”

“Hell no! And if I see that SOB, I’ll give him a piece of my mind.”

Stars making movies at Universal Studios often hide when the tourist tram comes by. One particular group leader became ingenious at tracking down Michael Caine, who toyed with the idea of having the young man fired, then decided, “What the hell, I’ll just sign” and was gracious. It turned out to be a good move; the tour guide was Mike Ovitz, who later became the most powerful talent agent in Hollywood.

When stardom is new, signing celebrity autographs can be a thrill. One night in Paris the 24-year-old Sophia Loren wanted to go out to dinner with Cary Grant who was thirty years her senior. “But the people will come up to us. I can’t stand it!” said the jaded Briton.

“I love it,” said Sophia. When they left their hotel, Grant complete with his hat pulled down, dark glasses, his scarf wrapped around his face, and his huge overcoat looked like the Invisible Man. Sophia looked like Sophia. As they walked the streets of Paris, people began to come up to her for autographs, which she joyfully signed. After a few encounters where he was ignored Grant began to get jealous. Down came the hat; off came the glasses, the coat and the scarf, and soon Cary was standing under neon lights to get noticed.

Another English actor named Grant was thrilled by his breakout stardom due to the movie Four Weddings And A Funeral (1994). Hugh Grant would drive around New York looking for theaters where the film was playing, then get out and wait in line, happy to get attention and to sign autographs. Later, when he was arrested in Los Angeles for hiring prostitute Divine Brown, Hugh turned down requests to put his signature on tabloid magazines containing his mug shot.

Some actors sign despite their annoyance. One time Arnold Schwarzenegger was at a press conference when a reporter asked him for an autograph for his mother. The star grimaced at the inappropriate request and said, “Of course. I wouldn’t want to disappoint your mother.” He paused then added,” I’m sure you have disappointed her enough already.”

Autographs can cause internal conflicts for stars that take themselves too seriously. While making Klute (1971), Donald Sutherland received a written request from a fan that wished for an autograph for his daughter. Sutherland showed the letter to his humorless co-star and girlfriend, Jane Fonda, who expressed a strong opinion that he should not sign it; autographs imply that movie actors are somehow superior to others. Sutherland bowed to her philosophy and wrote a letter stating his reasons for refusing the request. The man wrote him back, “Dear Mr. Sutherland, thank you for your letter. We think you are full of it but we ripped off the signature and gave it to our daughter.

Author Stephen Schochet is a professional tour guide in Hollywood, who years ago began collecting little known, humorous anecdotes to tell to his customers. His new book Hollywood Stories: Short, Entertaining Anecdotes About the Stars and Legends of the Movies! contains a timeless treasure trove of colorful vignettes featuring an amazing all-star cast of icons including John Wayne, Charlie Chaplin, Walt Disney, Jack Nicholson, Johnny Depp, Shirley Temple, Marilyn Monroe, Marlon Brando, Errol Flynn, and many others both past and contemporary. Tim Sika, host of the radio show Celluloid Dreams on KSJS in San Jose has called Stephen, “The best storyteller about Hollywood we have ever heard.” Available at Barnes & Noble, Amazon, or wherever books are sold.

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