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The Name Game: Collecting Signed First Editions

A Bibliophile's Tales of Collecting Signed First Editions
Lawrence Grobel
From the Print Edition:
Michael Richards, Sep/Oct 97

(continued from page 2)

But sometimes I have no choice; I have to pay the going rate for a book if I know I'm going to see the author or someone associated with the book--if I can find the book in the first place. Because many of the interviews and profiles I write are with people in the entertainment industry, I've begun to collect books that have been made into movies and have asked actors to write about the character they played or their experience while making the picture. Some, like Harvey Keitel (The Piano, Clockers), Christopher Walken (The Dead Zone, The Comfort of Strangers) and James Earl Jones (The Great White Hope), are reluctant to link themselves too closely to a book and will only sign their names, but others are willing to return to their characters. These are the inscriptions, I'm sure, that have made my books rare and collectible. For instance, when Iinterviewed Anthony Hopkins for Playboy, I brought along three books: The Silence of the Lambs, The Remains of the Day and The Bunker, in which Hopkins portrayed Adolf Hitler. In The Bunker, Hopkins wrote: "All orders must be obeyed without question at all" and initialed it "A.H.," which was a clever touch. He kept in character as the English butler Stephens when he signed The Remains of the Day: "I think we should take breakfast in the Drawing Room." And as Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs, he wrote, "Next time we meet, Larry will be in England for a few dinners of raw liver, fava beans and Chianti. So until then--pleasant dreams." All that was missing was that chilling lip-sucking sound.

I brought The Silence of the Lambs with me on the set of Maverick and showed Jodie Foster what Hopkins had written. She turned the page and wrote "Quid Pro Quo!" and signed it as her character, Clarice Starling, with her own name in parentheses. Now all I need is reclusive author Thomas Harris' signature (he lives in Italy) and I'll have a one-of-a-kind modern first that could probably qualify as auction material (a couple of years ago, a copy of Gone With the Wind signed by the entire cast was auctioned for more than $20,000).

I was interviewing James Garner for Maverick, and when he told me that The Americanization of Emily was his favorite film and Murphy's Romance wasn't far behind, I found copies of both books and sent them to him, asking him to put his sentiments in writing. He did. I did the same with Farrah Fawcett, who appeared in William Mastrosimone's play Extremities ("Life is sweetened by risks," she wrote. "This was one of mine.") and C. David Heymann's Poor Little Rich Girl for TV ("This one was--should a...could a...You know what I mean.").

After a poker game, I asked Elliott Gould to sign Rowland Barber's The Night They Raided Minsky's, a first edition I had picked up at a used bookstore for 20 bucks. It was Gould's first film (he played Billy Minsky) and he wrote: "It was Bert Lahr's last shot in a picture and it was with me. I had no clue of how to work with the camera and was constantly getting Mr. Lahr's shadow on me. He kept moving, trying to adjust to my ignorance over and over again." Another time, I asked Ryan O'Neal to sign some books that had been made into films he had appeared in. In Norman Mailer's Tough Guys Don't Dance he wrote, "Yes, they do!" And in Erich Segal's Love Story, "Love means never having to say you're sorry."

Al Pacino joins our poker game whenever he's in Los Angeles. I've known him since we met on the set of Cruising, in 1979. Since then we've become friends, and I must annoy the hell out of him when I keep coming up with books to sign. He wasn't happy with the results of Cruising and when I gave him Gerald Walker's novel he wrote: "I don't know why I'm doing this." In Patrick Mann's Dog Day Afternoon it was: "Oh Larry." In Serpico, by Peter Maas, he scribbled, "Larry is a pain in the ass!" In Andrew Yule's unauthorized biography, he gave me one of his patented looks and didn't want to sign it, but I said if he never signed any others it would make this one extremely rare, so he wrote, "Forget about it." I paid $125 for a first edition of David Mamet's play, American Buffalo, which Pacino had performed a number of times, making one of the theater's more memorable entrances by repeating the F-word over and over, complaining about a woman named Ruthie. So I asked him to use the word when he signed the book, which he graphically did: "To Larry, Fuck You." Unfortunately, when it came time to do the movie, Dustin Hoffman wound up playing Pacino's role.

In Mario Puzo's The Godfather, I've so far gotten four signatures. Pacino wrote, "Please try to understand." Puzo and producer Robert Evans also signed their names. And on the last page of the book, I got Diane Keaton to write, "They all lied! Kay."

Keaton turned out to be a good book signer, even though she's always reluctant to do it because she says she can never think of anything clever to say. Then she says something about the particular movie in question and I tell her to write that. In the English first edition of Judith Rossner's Looking for Mr. Goodbar, she wrote: "I have nothing to say about this movie except that, like all stories, I die at the end!" For the American edition, she wrote about director Richard Brooks: "Brooks was a screamer, but he was a pussycat to me." In John Le Carre's The Little Drummer Girl, she laid it all out: "A bomb, a dog, a turkey! George Roy Hill wanted Meryl Streep. He should have used her." And in Edward Streeter's Father of the Bride, she gave her own critical review: "Think I smiled enough!"

A smile as broad as a barn door appeared on my neighbor's face when his wife brought him back his copy of Stick by Elmore Leonard with negative comments by Burt Reynolds. She worked for a company that did business with Reynolds and explained to the actor that her husband was collecting books that had been made into movies. Leonard never liked what Hollywood had done to his novel, telling me that they had made it into a revenge film when it wasn't that kind of book. In my neighbor's book, Reynolds didn't shield his own disappointment: "It could have been a very special film, but Universal and Dutch Leonard himself sold out. It was a sad and bitter film that they finally released. Great writer, not a good man."

I told Leonard what Reynolds had written. "How could he blame me, for godsake?" he retorted. "He had it rewritten and he directed it. He inscribed my book? He's got no business doing that. It's really sad."

Whether Reynolds or any other actors have any business signing books they haven't written but have represented on the big screen is a moot point. For collectors, it's still a wide-open field.

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