In the days before the Internet, writing a letter to a celebrity and sending it out via snail mail was almost a rite of passage. Nearly everyone did it. As a kid, I wrote letters to my favorite athletes requesting autographs, and was always thrilled—and a little shocked—when I received a response back.
But now, celebrities typically connect with their fans via their own websites or on Twitter—so the magical quality of a written letter sent to a fan has largely been forgotten. Luckily, sites like Letters of Note (where many of these came from) are perfect for documenting these delightful little brushes with fame. Here are a few approaches stars have taken when writing back.
1. Send A Handwritten Letter (Sort Of)
I first wrote about this one a few years back. Steve Martin was once known to respond to his fans with a hilarious form letter that mocked the entire idea of the fan-celebrity letter exchange by pretending not to even be a form letter.
He even signed this highly personal response to a fan named Jerry with a postscript that recalls a warm memory they once shared.
2. Check All That Apply
Whereas Steve Martin’s form letter was a witty way of replying to his fans, science-fiction author Robert Heinlein used a standardized checklist to seemingly vent about the repetitious nature of the mail he got from readers. The letter is really just a collection of things he might potentially have to say in response to the fan’s letter, so that the appropriate one could simply be marked and sent back. The list of potential responses includes:
- You say that you have enjoyed my stories for years. Why did you wait until you disliked one story before writing to me?
- Don’t plan to call at our home; we work very long hours every day of the year.
- It is not just for a student’s grade to depend on the willingness or capacity of a stranger to help him with his homework. I am ready to discuss this with your teacher, principal, or school board.
- Please do not write to me again.
But it also includes this nice thought:
- Your letter was most welcome!—loaded with friendliness and with no requests or demands. You suggested that no answer was expected but I must tell you how much it pleased me. I wish you calm seas, following winds, and a happy voyage through life.
3. Break Their Hearts And Blame Your Wife
When a teenage girl wrote Conan O’Brien asking if he’d join her at her high school prom, he sent back a handwritten response that included the following line:
Unfortunately, I got married recently and my wife doesn't allow me to go to proms anymore with cute 16-year old girls.
4. Have Your Wife Break Their Heart
After one Sinclair Lewis fan stepped over the line, his wife took the liberty of responding directly. The fact that she signed her name at the end, then threw in “(Mrs. Sinclair Lewis to you.)” is pretty great.
5. Call Them A Complete Moron
The Cleveland Browns aren’t exactly a “celebrity,” but this response is so amazing that it deserves to be included. Back in the 70s, a Cleveland Browns season ticket holder wrote the team to inform them of the fact that fans at the stadium had begun the habit of creating paper airplanes out of game programs and flying them through the crowd at the stadium. His letter included this note of caution:
Please be advised that since you are in a position to control or terminate such action on the part of fans, I will hold you responsible for any injury sustained by any person in my party attending one of your sporting events.
In response, someone inside the Browns organization sent back this simple reply:
Attached is a letter we received on November 19, 1974. I feel that you should be aware that some a**hole is signing your name to stupid letters.
As an added bonus, then Browns owner Art Modell is copied on the letter.
6. Just Show Up At Their School
If you write your favorite actor a letter and he writes you back, you’ll surely be excited. If he instead just surprises you at your school fully dressed up as his most famous character, you may skip past excitement and go straight to shock. That’s what happened to one London school girl after she wrote Johnny Depp—who was shooting a Pirates of the Caribbean film nearby at the time—to ask for his assistance in staging a mutiny against her teachers.
7. Write Back to All of Them
After his longtime comedic partner Oliver Hardy passed away, the great Stan Laurel devoted much of his remaining years to personally responding to the many fan letters he received. Today, the website Letters From Stan exists to honor Laurel’s amazing comedic achievements and serve as an archive for the many responses he provided to his fans. To highlight just how different things are today, the site also explains that Laurel’s phone number was readily available in the phone book and it wasn’t uncommon for fans to call or stop by his home.
8. Write Back to None of Them
Ringo Starr was once known for responding to many of his fans. But a few years ago, he posted this video on YouTube imploring his fans to stop sending him mail.
After being criticized for it, he explained that the video was "in direct response to an inordinate amount of items which have recently appeared for sale on E-Bay, and to those that repeatedly send cards and items to be signed."