This post has been a long, long time coming. I’ve been writing letters to movie stars from the Golden Age of Hollywood and receiving their autographs since 2015, and so far it’s one of the ways that I proclaim my adoration for old movies that brings me the most joy. There’s nothing more exciting than waiting beside my mailbox and finally seeing one of the envelopes that I sent out return to me, ripping it open and revealing the mystery of which actor responded to my letter. I started this blog in 2016, and it’s been on my to-do list essentially since my blog’s inception to share pictures of all of the autographs that I’ve received, but scanning and cropping them all on my computer isn’t a quick task. I also held a fear that any additional light exposure given to the photos in the scanner might speed up the deterioration process that will already befall my collection eventually, but I figured that I’d stop with the excuses and finally get some high quality pictures to share with my readers. I have over twenty autographs in total and a lot to say about each, so as much as I didn’t want to prolong the wait any more than neccessary, I have no choice but to split this post into two parts. Rest assured, though, that part two will be on its way sooner than you think!
The very first fan letter that I ever wrote was to Ann Blyth on November 2nd, 2015. I couldn’t tell you exactly what made me want to write my first letter and eventually dive head first into this hobby, but I can tell you that I’ve adored Ann for nearly as long as I’ve been a classic film fan. She’s best known for her performance as the vile teenager Veda in Mildred Pierce (1945), which gave Ann her only Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress at the age of seventeen, but to me she’s so much more than that. I’ve watched and adored nearly all of Ann’s incredible performances in films like Kismet (1955), The Student Prince (1954), and I’ll Never Forget You (1951) with my all-time favorite actor Tyrone Power, but the film of hers that will always be the nearest and dearest to my heart is Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid (1948) with William Powell. She portrayed one of the very first onscreen mermaids in a silent yet important part of that picture, but she expressed nearly every human emotion within her role with absolute brilliance without even having to speak. If you haven’t seen that film, I highly suggest you watch it immediately! It took just over two weeks for me to receive Ann’s autograph on November 16th, 2015, and it’s one of the most treasured photos in my collection. So treasured, in fact, that it’s the only one that I have framed, and it proudly sits on my desk to this day.
Debbie Reynolds hardly needs an introduction. Like many others who hadn’t been born yet when Debbie captured the hearts of millions as an ingenue throughout the fifties, I unknowingly discovered her as a child while watching Charlotte’s Web (1973), for which she voiced the title role. Even when I was little her voice resonated with me, and I can recall thinking to myself how beautiful it sounded even back then when I didn’t know her name. Debbie has been important to me throughout my whole life, and practically handed my lifelong passion to me on a silver platter as she starred in the very first classic film that I ever watched, Singin’ in the Rain (1952). Since I became captivated by her over a decade ago in that picture, I’ve seen dozens of her film and television appearances, and after writing to Ann I knew that I simply had to write to Debbie too and tell her how much she meant to me. I sent her a letter on July 22nd, 2016, and received her autograph on August 7th of that year. Tragically, Debbie passed away less than five months later on December 28th, only one day after her daughter Carrie Fisher. As of this writing, she’s the only star that I’ve written to who has since joined the Hollywood in the sky, and I miss her more and more every single day. I feel incredibly fortunate to have been able to write to her and to receive her response, and her simple dedication, ‘happiness’, keeps me going whenever I begin to miss her or feel blue.
Eva Marie Saint
To me, Eva Marie Saint is one of the most incredible and underrated women to appear onscreen. She won the Academy Award for Best Leading Actress for her portrayal of Edie Doyle opposite Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront (1954), and gave powerhouse acting performances in films like A Hatful of Rain (1957), Raintree County (1957), 36 Hours (1964), and The Sandpiper (1965). The most impressive to me, however, was her characterization of Eve Kendall in perhaps the best Hitchcock thriller ever made, North by Northwest (1959). I remember watching her take charge in her obviously sexual pursuit of Cary Grant and deliver some of the raciest dialogue that I’d ever seen in a classic film, and I venerated how ahead of her time she was. In my opinion, her role did so much for the feminist movement, and on the same day that I wrote to Debbie, I wrote to Eva as well so I could tell her that as well as how much respect I had for her and how much I enjoyed her work. I received her signature on this picture just one day before I received Debbie’s, and I had the pleasure of finally realizing my dream of seeing her in person at this year’s TCM Classic Film Festival. I wore a black dress with red roses on it as an homage to both her and my favorite onscreen costume of hers in North by Northwest (1959), and I sat in the very front row as I watched Grand Prix (1966) for the first time, no more than five feet from her as she discussed the film afterwards with historian Leonard Maltin. It was one of the highlights of my life!
Sophia Loren was the very first foreign film actress that I ever admired, and boy do I still admire her! Italy is to this day the number one country that I want to visit, and there’s something about Italian women that I find myself completely captivated and inspired by. I watch them carry themselves with a confidence and inner beauty that I only wish that I posessed, and to me Sophia is a prime example of this. Another actress on this list to earn an Oscar, she dazzled audiences as the first to win for a picture made in a country other than the United States, for the heartwrenching drama Two Women (1960). I’ve loved her in that and nearly everything else from The Millionairess (1960) all the way to the short film Human Voice (2014). She’s one of the people whom I hold in the highest regard, and I try to emulate her whenever I can. She inspires everything from my fashion choices to my food, as I also own and frequently use one of her incredible cookbooks, Recipes & Memories (1998). I wrote to her about all of this and more on November 19th, 2016, and receiving her response was one of the most joyous moments that I can remember since beginning this hobby as it happened to arrive to me in the mail on Christmas Eve. What an amazing surprise that was! Unfortunately this is the only photo of mine that has any significant damage, as you’ll see a bit of the ink has worn off in a spot on her hair. Despite this, it’s still something that I’ll always treasure.
Brigitte Bardot is indisputably one of, if not the most iconic French actress to ever appear onscreen, and if you don’t know her from any of her incredible and artistic films like Plucking the Daisy (1956), …And God Created Woman (1956), The Night Heaven Fell (1958), or Love on a Pillow (1962), you may know her simply for her undeniable beauty which rivaled that of Marilyn Monroe to many fans overseas throughout the fifties and sixties. I have to admit that I haven’t seen as many films of Brigitte Bardot’s aside from those listed above as well as her cameo in Dear Brigitte (1964) with James Stewart and Ron Howard on top of a couple of others, but that certainly doesn’t mean that I don’t want to, and these films were more than enough for me to become a fan of hers. I wrote to her about her work as well as her love of animals and her motivating activism on their behalf on the same day as I wrote a letter to Sophia Loren (because they both required international postage), and I received her autograph back just three days after Sophia’s.
What can’t I say about Shirley MacLaine? For my money she really was (and still is) one of the finest and most versatile actresses of her time, appearing and excelling in everything from comedies like Artists and Models (1955), Irma La Douce (1963), and What a Way to Go! (1964), to unbelievably heartfelt dramas like the iconic The Apartment (1960), The Children’s Hour (1961), and Being There (1979). This doesn’t even begin to touch on how many important and varied films she starred in that I cherish, and once again I believe that she’s vastly underrated. I often attempt to introduce friends and people I know to classic movies, and I had made many attempts to introduce one friend that I was spending a good deal of time with to films and stars hoping that one would stick and that she would develop an interest. I wouldn’t exactly say that my previous attempts had failed, but she was only mildly interested until I showed her The Children’s Hour (1961). Shirley became her favorite actress, and as I introduced my friend to more of her work, I thought that it would be a nice surprise to send two pictures instead of one when I wrote to Shirley on January 26, 2017 about how much we both appreciated her. She replied on March 22nd of that year, sending me a signed letter thanking me for writing and dedicating both pictures, one to me and one to my friend. It was the only time that I sent more than one photo to be signed, and I was so delighted that she did that for us!
This is without a doubt one of the most amazing responses I’ve ever gotten. I haven’t been a fan of Mary Carlisle for very long, but I’ve certainly been a devoted one. I discovered her through one of my most beloved actors, Bing Crosby, as she was his leading lady in three films, two of which I’ve had the pleasure to see (I can’t find Doctor Rhythym (1938) for the life of me!). To me she and Jean Harlow were on two sides of the same coin. They were both gorgeous platinum blondes during the 1930s with a killer sense of fashion and a heart of gold, but while Jean was stereotyped as a “bad girl”, Mary was given opposite goody two shoes roles that matched her angelic features. I’ve watched every single film made during Mary’s all-too-brief career that I could get my hands on, and after doing research on her and finding just how entwined her life was with stars that I also adored, I attempted to write to her, though I had trouble finding an address and managed to get in touch with Darrell Rooney, who manages Mary’s Facebook page, asking him where I could write to her as I was a true fanatic by this point. He encouraged me to send the letter to him and told me that he visited Mary often and would deliver and read it to her personally. I certainly did so on March 15, 2017, asking her about her time with Bing and with Jean, and on the 22nd I got back the above picture and the card below:
If you can’t read it, it says:
Mary was very pleased and impressed with your letter and said, “Now that is a letter that I must respond to!” “It was very kind and I appreciate it” she said. Mary says she was not a close friend of Jean Harlow’s, but she did know her and liked her very much. She certainly saw her often socially, and was even at her home in Beverly Glen with Dick Powell. She adored Bing Crosby — they were very good friends, he was instrumental in bringing her to Paramount in 1936. Mary is always so amazed that young people know [who] she is. It pleases her to no end to think someone so young appreciates her work and her personal life. She was happy to sign your photo —
Darrell (writing for Mary)”
It was the first written response that I’d ever received, and it still makes me emotional reading it. I keep the card with her picture, and I’ll never, ever forget her kindness and sweet words. To me she’s one of the most beautiful and unappreciated actresses from my favorite decade of cinema, and I feel so lucky that she got to hear how much I appreciate her and her work. She’s still with us at 104, and every day I’m more and more grateful!
Okay, so perhaps this one isn’t as closely related to classic film as it is to classic television. I’ve undoubtedly seen and enjoyed a few of Barbara Eden’s movies, like Ride the Wild Surf (1964), Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? (1957), and From the Terrace (1960), but my love for her is, like everyone else, due to her hilarious and vivacious portrayal of the title genie on I Dream of Jeannie (1965-1970). It took me a while to finally begin watching the show, and I’m so glad that I did! Her chemistry with Larry Hagman can’t be beat, and even though she wasn’t given many dramatic opportunities during its five-season run, Barbara Eden’s acting is still extraordinary. I wrote her a letter in January of 2017 and got my very first return to sender before another fan imformed me of a private address to use. I sent the picture once again in March, and received it back just over a week later signed along with a letter discouraging me from writing to that address again. I didn’t intend to spam her and I honestly regret writing to her even once instead of buying her autograph online, but the price was pretty steep and I thought it couldn’t hurt to try. If everything goes well, I’ll be meeting Barbara at the Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention in Hunt Valley, Maryland, which starts on my 22nd birthday on September 13th! I’m very excited to finally get to tell her how much I enjoy her work, and to buy an autograph this time!
This is another successful correspondence that will never cease to amaze me. If you don’t know who Don Murray is, you really should! He’s perhaps best known as Marilyn Monroe’s last surviving leading man, as he costarred with her in and earned a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for Bus Stop (1956). It’s controversial by today’s standards, but both Marilyn and Don gave acting performances in that film that rivaled any other in either of their careers. He continued to test the limits of his insurmountable talent in dramatic pictures like the aforementioned A Hatful of Rain (1957) with Eva Marie Saint, The Hoodlum Priest (1961), and my personal favorite, Advise and Consent (1962), in which he gives one of the first sympathetic portrayals of a closeted gay man. Even though the picture is jam-packed with stars, Don always stands out to me, and I find his performance in Advise and Consent (1962) to be so progressive in comparison to the treatment of the LGBT community during the time of the film’s release. On March 15th, 2017, I wrote to Don about how much I admired and respected him for his treatment of sensitive subjects like sexuality and morphine addiction onscreen, among other subjects, and sent the above picture that I didn’t exactly feel proud of as I felt that it didn’t turn out looking very nice. Not only did Don himself write me a letter in response that I received on May 4th, he signed the picture that I sent to him and signed and included some much nicer looking photos from his own collection, as seen below:
Don’s letter reads as follows:
Dear Samantha Ellis —
I very much appreciate your very thoughtful and insightful letter. You express yourself so beautifully and have an admirable sensitivity to the film “Advise and Consent” (It’s playing on Turner Classics May 16th). I have a granddaughter, Olivia, just a year younger than you with your kind of wisdom and sensitivity.
Even writing about this now really moves me. I own Advise and Consent (1962) on DVD (and I’m pretty sure that I told him so in my letter), but you’d better believe that I watched it when it played on TCM that day, because Don Murray told me to. I never thought I’d say that! Even before this and even more now, I’d consider Don to be my favorite living actor second only to Sidney Poitier, and it still warms my heart that he was so thoughtful and kind to me.
Gena, like Debbie Reynolds, has had a lengthy and varied career, and which films you might know her from likely depends on when you were born. I’m from the younger crowd, so I first saw Gena as the older version of Allie in the modern classic The Notebook (2004). You might argue that she’s more famous for the ten independent pictures that she made with husband John Cassavetes, and you may even go as far as to say that Gena and John were one of the first couples to successfully ventue into making independent films. Their most notable hit together was A Woman Under the Influence (1974), for which she earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress in a Leading Role, and during my discovery of classic film this one in particular really struck a chord with me and inspired me to pen the most personal letter that I’ve ever written to someone that I didn’t know personally. On January 26th, 2017, I told her about how her character in that film, Mabel Longhetti, reminded me of my mother and her struggles with mental illness, and how I’d never seen an onscreen character capture her likeness in such a way. I told her that I was hardly able to finish it because the similarities made me too emotional, and how that must have been a testament to her acting prowess. I didn’t receive her response until four months later, but it was well worth the wait!
That’s all for part one! I hope that you enjoyed reading about these letters, pictures, and experiences. I thought it’d be a nice personal post to write before The Natalie Wood Blogathon arrives on Wednesday! Be sure to check back soon for the second part of my collection!