Tuesday, January 11, 2011
Backstage at The Nutcracker last week, a 12-year old dancer excitedly told me, “I signed my first autograph last night!” She had ridden in the elevator with someone who recognized her from the show, so she hastily wrote her name on their program before the elevator doors closed.
I remember giving my first autograph many years ago, when I was in high school and the little kids wanted one when I played Snow White. Later I signed autographs when I played lead roles as an adult, when excited theatre-goers came at me with Playbill and pen after the shows. It was always a little weird – after all, I’m not a celebrity or anything. But it’s a nice compliment.
Some people might treasure a celebrity photo more than an autograph, but for me, the idea of pen to paper is more important. There are thousands of photos out there, taken by reporters and paparazzi and fans and friends, but when someone takes the time to ask for an autograph, and the person stops and actually signs his or her name, it means more. They’ve given more effort. They’ve stopped and spoken to you and looked at you instead of looking at a camera. Signing a name is more personal.
When I worked at the Stratosphere we had to pose for pictures with the public after every show, and often people would buy the t-shirt with our photos on it and then ask us to sign by our picture. One day a rather condescending man shoved the shirt at us while making degrading comments about us being stupid dancers. We did sign his shirt, but we made sure to add evidence of our degrees next to our names, too. Sasha’s included B.F.A., Danielle wrote A.A., and I wrote B.A., M. Ed. with a flourish. Sometimes autographs are signed to prove a point.
I don’t have many celebrities’ autographs at home. I’ve found that celebrities usually don’t live up to my expectations. Mickey Rooney was incredibly rude; Rip Taylor was annoying. But I did get Debbie Reynolds’ and Mel Tillis’ when I worked with them; I was around them enough that it wasn’t a big deal.
I also have Fred Kelly’s (Gene’s brother), one of Ted Healy’s Stooges, and movie musical actress Ruta Lee’s. I met them when I worked for Debbie, and it was fun to talk to them about the business and to mix and mingle. These people didn’t give attitude; their number of requests for autographs have obviously declined over the years. I bet they appreciate the occasional autograph request at this point in their careers, much like a twelve-year-old at the start of her career. Maybe she’ll make it big one day, too.