Stan Laurel personally answered over one million letters during his lifetime. Winona Ryder thinks it is a weird hobby for weird people. Australian soap stars are routinely told that it is an important part of the job. Don Bradman happily fulfilled every request until it became clear that some people were cashing in on his fame. Some stars will only do it for money. More seasoned celebrities tend to be more appreciative than their younger counterparts…
Writing letters to celebrities has been a popular pastime for many years across many countries. Reasons for writing to famous people are many and varied. To some people it is a way of thanking a person for the joy that they have brought into their lives. For others it is the financial rewards that can acrue from reselling memorabilia. It is for the former group that this article is written.
Writing the Letter
A celebrity's time is precious. Often the more successful actors, singers and sportsmen have little time to read fan mail. When they do they will be making instant decisions as to whether the letter is worth replying to. In order to make a letter stand out the writer has to know the tricks of the trade.
The Personal Touch
In the days of internet access and word processing it is very tempting to type out a neat well-presented letter of appreciation. This is totally the wrong approach. A typed letter will indicate to the celebrity that you may be from a business that merely wishes to profit from their fame. A handwritten letter will be the first step towards convincing your chosen celebrity that you are in earnest. It requires a lot of effort and the letter is clearly meant for that particular celebrity. As a general rule, though, any more than one page of A4 is a bad idea.
Displaying your Knowledge
There is one important point to get across. You are writing to this celebrity because you have been influenced by them or simply appreciated what they have done. The secret is to write about three things that they have done that really impressed you. Any less, and you can look like a simple autograph collector. Any more and you look like an anorak. If the person has done a lot in their career it is easy. If the person is very new, or associated with only one success, you choose two aspects of their career and then offer the view that they are destined for much greater things. Genuine praise and enthusiasm will win over a celebrity at any stage of their career.
Never forget that you are writing to a stranger, albeit one that you enjoy watching. This person has no over-riding reason to answer you or to accede to any request. If you are unfailingly polite the celebrity will often be happy to entertain your request. Do not be obsequious, but remember that the photograph request is the main point of the letter. The most appropriate form of words is that you would be very grateful if they could send you a signed photograph.
Where Do you Write to?
Once the letter is written you need to know where to send it. In essence there are four main avenues of approach.
Often the agent will read through the letters before they get to the celebrity. They will often have a supply of pre-signed photos to send out, or they will ask the celebrity to sign a set number of photos next time they visit the office.
Agents' addresses can be obtained from a number of firms that advertise in film or science fiction magazines. As with anything else it is a case of caveat emptor.1 However firms like ICL2 come highly recommended by dedicated autograph hunters.
Online, the situation is much more unreliable, but the IMDB3 give users a free two week trial of IMDBpro which lists agents for many actors.
The success rate for requests sent to agents is generally reckoned to be 50-60%.
Places of Work
In the case of soap stars and sports people the best place to write to is the studio or club that they work at. At either place there will be staff who are in charge of collating and distributing autograph requests. The letters are handed to the person in question, and, if they decide to answer, the office will take care of the dispatching the reply. For Australian soaps like Neighbours and Home and Away the reply rate is 90% or more. For British soaps the reply rate is still a healthy 75%. It is also worth knowing that the BBC will pass on letters to actors that have worked for them in the past.
Sports stars can be much more difficult to get hold of as they will often sign in person at events, instead of answering lots of letters. From experience it is unusual to get more than a 10% reply rate from this group. However, writing to the club still gives the best chance of success.
Actors will often take on long running roles at theatres, and for an autograph hunter it is a great chance to obtain that hard to get photograph. Although the leads will often do eight productions a week, actors in a play will complain of boredom especially after the initial hard work of settling in has been done. Many behind the scenes documentaries show the stage door security man greeting the well known actor with his letters from that morning. Actors genuinely enjoy answering these letters as they while away the long hours before the play starts. A healthy reply rate of 80% can be obtained through this approach.
The other group of celebrities that this will work for is snooker players. They will often be around a venue for at least a week, so there is a very good chance of catching them during the 24-48 hours between matches.
The One Night Stand
Pop stars and sports stars will often appear at a venue just once for a concert or a match. As such it is very difficult to guarantee that your chosen celebrity will even receive the letter, but if you take the view that it is just the price of a stamp the possible return is well worth the minimal outlay. A reply rate of 15-20% is the best you can expect by this method.
General Points to Consider
Once you have sent off your letter the best approach is to be grateful for any replies that do come in. If you get an overall reply rate of 50% or more you are doing extremely well. Sometimes you will end up trying three or four times in the case of a particular celebrity.
A common suggestion for improving success rates is to include postage. If you wish to do this it won't harm your chances. Some celebrities will specify a requirement for an SAE on their official websites. In this case an SAE is your only chance of getting a reply. However, when you take the hobby seriously you will realise that some celebrities reply and some don't. If you send an SAE be prepared to accept that this will not guarantee a reply.
Some celebrities reply by return of post, whilst it is not unknown for some to take six months to reply. However long it takes there is nothing so exciting as hearing the post drop onto the mat and picking up an envelope that says 'Photograph. Do not bend.'