Publicity photo of Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart. Photo Credit: Lorey Sebastian.

Autograph May 2010

I was rooting for Jeff Bridges to win that Best Actor Oscar during the last Academy Award ceremonies. Aside from him being nominated four other times in the past, in interviews he just seems like the most likable guy. And if you look at his body of work…it’s amazing. I didn’t even have a problem with his Crazy Heart character, Bad Black, being a little like a country version of Lebowski.

When he won the Oscar and thanked his parents, both of whom have passed, it reminded me of a story I’d like to share.

Anyone who’s a hard core collector of anything understands the compulsion to scour the newspaper for listings of collectibles and antiques people are selling. Sure, things have changed over the years. Now people sell a lot of stuff using Craigslist, eBay and such. But you can still find some gems in the newspaper classifieds or the Pennysaver.

A few years ago I saw an ad someone placed selling four UCLA yearbooks from from the late 1920s and ’30s. I wracked my brain to remember famous UCLA students that might be in there. Jackie Robinson was one.

Signed photo of Bridges in White Squall.

I drove 50 miles to take a look at the four books this guy was selling. My first disappointment was that there wasn’t a single signature in them. But I slowly was delighted by what I did see. There was a page with photos of Albert Einstein, who visited the campus at some point during the year.

And one year, I was surprised to see that the cricket coach was Boris Karloff. Yep, Frankenstein himself was coach for one year, 1932. A few years earlier, he formed the Hollywood Cricket Club, that included members like Laurence Olivier, David Niven and Olivia de Havilland.

I quickly looked at the drama section, to see if anyone famous made it from UCLA’s stage to Hollywood. There was Lloyd Bridges, the star of the television series Sea Hunt and many movies. My two favorite Bridges roles are in Airplane! and Cousins, in which he plays the grandfather who’s always out looking for women.

The seller wanted $100 for the four “perfect condition” yearbooks. I offered him $75 and we settled for $80.

I did some research when I got home and discovered that Bridges met his wife Dorothy in the drama department. Sure enough, there she was in the photos. I checked out the athletes, and saw that Lloyd had played on the basketball team as well.

I tracked down Jeff Bridges’ personal assistant and sent an email explaining that I had these yearbooks and wondered if Jeff would like to buy them. I also contacted brother Beau with the same offer.

It was weeks before I heard back from Jeff’s assistant who forwarded a message in which Jeff Bridges had written, “Give him what he wants for the yearbooks.”

My pupils turned into dollar signs, just like in cartoons.

My mom suggested I charge $100,000. I told her I couldn’t do that, because, not only are they not worth that, but they’d tell me to get lost. I did a bit of research. At the time, Meryl Streep’s high school yearbook had sold for $600. Shaquille O’Neal’s was going for a thousand. A Warren Beatty yearbook was selling for a couple grand. And none of these contained the celebrity’s signature.

The UCLA yearbooks were from so far back that, even though Lloyd Bridges wasn’t a huge star, they had a bit of value. But, I guessed, mostly to Jeff Bridges. If I were to put them on eBay, I figured I might fetch a few hundred bucks at most.

I told my friend Peg about this, and she said, “Tell him you just want to meet him for lunch. And bring me. He’s, seriously, one of my all-time favorite actors.”

I got an email the following day. The assistant told me that Bridges was in some other country filming a movie—I’m guessing it was The Men Who Stare at Goats.

I told them I’d take $5,000 for the four yearbooks. The assistant told me he’d let me know what Jeff said, and added, “He wanted to check with his mom to see if she already has these yearbooks.”

These events occurred after Lloyd Bridges died in 1998, but a few years before Dorothy passed away last year.

Publicity photos of Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart. Photo Credit: Lorey Sebastian.

I felt guilty even asking for five grand. Sure, it was a drop in the bucket to Bridges, but I just felt guilty about it. So, I sent another email saying that I bought the yearbooks for $75. As long as they gave me what I paid for them and Bridges signed the two DVDs I own, they’re his. And yeah…I would suggest we make the exchange over lunch in L.A., and I’d bring my friend Peg.

I told my mom this on the phone and I think I heard steam billowing out of her ears.

They sent me an email a few days later saying that they already had the yearbooks somewhere in Dorothy’s garage and they have so much stuff of Lloyd’s already in storage, they didn’t really need more. But, they added that I could send the DVDs and they’d be signed.

So, I have The Last Picture Show, the first of the five films Bridges got an Oscar nomination for, and The Big Lebowski—one of the funniest modern comedies, both personalized to me.

Oh, and I have some old yearbooks, now piled up with stuff in my garage.