I often try to write a personal List of 9 around my birthday, which was yesterday, so here you go. I've never been much of an autograph hound, but over the years I've compiled a most random collection of famous signatures. More or less in chronological order:
- Robert Hegyes and Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs. It was 1975, and Welcome Back Kotter was all the rage. I grew up in San Jose, which was a hick town back in the 1970s (it still kind of is), so having actual celebrities signing autographs at our local amusement park Frontier Village was a big deal – even if the real stars of the show, Gabe Kaplan, John Travolta, and Ron "Horshack" Palillo, were M.I.A. Alas, when we arrived, they had already roped off the maximum number of fans who could get Hegyes' (who played Juan Epstein) and Hilton-Jacobs' (who played "Boom Boom" Washington) autographs. Even at five years of age, I was a good boy who obeyed the rules, so when some adults offered to let me squeeze in under the velvet rope, I declined. They got me the two actors' autographs anyway.
- Robert Shaw. My older sisters wrote to celebrities fairly often, as I recall, and received signed photos from the likes of Paul Newman and so forth. Getting mail from a Hollywood star sounded like fun, so in 1976, who did I write to? The guy who played Captain Quint in Jaws. I hadn't even seen Jaws – too scary – but I had seen a since-forgotten Shaw vehicle called Swashbuckler. I kept his photo ("Best wishes, Robert Shaw") long after the actor passed away in 1978. I don't know where it is now.
- Bob Newhart. This was the other celebrity to whom I wrote in 1976. Though it seems precocious for a 6-year-old to ask Bob Newhart, of all people, for an autograph, I never watched The Bob Newhart Show, so I have no idea why I chose him. Unfortunately, I lost Newhart's photo long before I lost Shaw's. If anybody wants to get me a new one, it would be a nice belated birthday present. Just throwing that out there.
- Jim Davis. The Garfield cartoonist was at peak popularity in 1985 (1986?) when he came to The Booksellers at Cupertino's Vallco Fashion Park mall to sign whatever Garfield crap you thrust in front of him. Like Hegyes and Hilton-Jacobs a decade earlier, a celebrity of Davis' caliber was a major coup for sleepy San Jose, so there were big crowds at The Booksellers. I didn't actually own a Garfield book, so I snagged one off the shelf, intending to purchase it after Davis signed it. But then I noticed that my friends, who had their own books signed before me, were leaving. So as soon as Davis signed "my" book, I ran off to join my buddies, without paying. That's right: I shoplifted a Garfield book literally right under Jim Davis' nose.
- Suzanne Vega. In 1992, I had graduated college and was living in LA, and Vega was at a local record store signing copies of her new album 99.9F°. I didn't have the album yet, and in fact I was at work and couldn't go, but my unemployed roommate Chris took my copy of Solitude Standing (the album with "Luka" on it) and got it signed by the singer/songwriter. He also filmed her, with his 8mm camera, saying "Elvis is not cosmic." Chris had an idea of getting scores of celebrities to say this dopey phrase on film, but like most of his big plans, he soon gave up on it.
- Shonen Knife. I mentioned meeting this Japanese trio, famously known as one of Kurt Cobain's favorite bands, in an earlier List of 9, so you can read about my encounter there.
- Steve Martin. I wish there was a cool story about this, but I've never met the guy (though I did see him talk after a screening of Pennies from Heaven). My friend Jon attended an event where Martin presented his novel An Object of Beauty, and he had the funnyman sign a copy for me. I didn't even ask for it! Jon's a generous guy.
- Sarah Vowell. I wrote about my encounter with the squeaky-voiced historian in another previous list, and that amusing little anecdote, while certainly worth 20 seconds of your time, doesn't need to be repeated here.
- David Wallechinsky and Amy Wallace. I close with the authors of The Book of Lists and its sequels, which inspired many list obsessives such as myself. The two siblings – the former adopted the family's original name – appeared at LA's legendary Book Soup (where I'd later meet Ms. Vowell) to promote their 2005 tome The New Book of Lists. I had them sign my copy, where they enthusiastically encouraged me to continue with my own lists. Amy Wallace was particularly friendly and forthcoming, and I'm sad to have learned that she passed away in 2013 at the age of 58.