By JEFF BENZIGER
—Autograph June 2010
I confess to a bit of embarrassment one evening after my wife caught me admiring my autograph collection. She was silently watching as I gazed at a photo or letter and flipped onto the next. She finally said, “I don’t see what you get out of staring at those things.”
I worried for an instant that maybe I was some obsessive weirdo, but then decided: No, this is the coolest hobby known to man. Autograph collecting has always floated my boat. I trace it back to my love of history and a letter that my late grandfather received from FDR’s secretary. When I was a kid, I’d ask to see it again and again. I was fascinated just to touch a piece of paper that had been in a room next to Roosevelt’s Oval Office.
But I do wonder why some of us collectors lock into one celebrity with the focus of a heat-seeking missile. For me that person is Terry Moore, the subject of my longest and deepest collecting obsession. Most people today have no clue who she is, but in the days of Truman, people were talking about Terry Moore rivaling Marilyn Monroe. She was that sexy.
I first came across her in a movie still from her 1955 film Shack Out On 101. I was mesmerized by her up-turned nose, those crossed legs dangling from beneath a black skirt as she parked her fanny on the lunch counter. No doubt about it—Terry was gorgeous. It was the 1980s when I first saw her photo and I was hoping that she was still living so I could get her to sign it. I shipped the 8×10 glossy off to her, unsure if I would see it again. Weeks later it came back signed. Cue the music, the obsession begins…
All hell broke loose when eBay became part of the American landscape, and autographs and movie stills became as common as an ashtray at a yard sale. Beautiful photos of Terry Moore took my breath away. Initially I was only able to find restrikes (modern-day copies of the originals), then vintage stills began popping up. Every time I bought one, I’d find another that would top it in quality and image.
I now have a stack of signed images of Moore that is about three inches high—118 to be exact. Initially I’d be sneaky, shipping only a few to her for signing at a time, hoping she wouldn’t remember my name or address. That exercise ended when I noted that Terry was keeping some of the better portraits that I sent.
I changed tactics. In 2003, Ev Phillips, then editor of Autograph, gave me the green light to interview her. I drove the 300 miles to her Santa Monica apartment, arriving right on time for our scheduled appointment. Her assistant let me in but Terry wasn’t ready. After what seemed like eternity, a much older Howard Hughes’ squeeze appeared in the room and offered me a cheerful greeting and hug.
We talked about her career for the next hour or so. She spoke about her studio date with James Dean, how she adored Tyrone Power, about her competition with Marilyn. I’d place a photo in front of her and she’d offer comments as she signed, explaining when this was or where that was. She was in awe of my collection, asking, “Where did you get these?” I hesitated to tell her eBay, fearful that she’d start competing against me in my bids on any future portraits.
Five years passed and I acquired another 60 stills. I arranged for a second visit to see Terry in October 2008. This time, she breezed through the 60 photos in about 30 minutes. Again, she wanted to know where I got them, totally forgetting my reply from five years prior.
I now have 118 items signed by Terry Moore and wonder when—or if—this obsession will end.
Am I alone? Surely among Autograph’s readers there must be another collector or two who have found themselves obsessed with a celebrity or a particular film or album. Send me an email at email@example.com. I’d love to hear your story and if there enough of us out there, I smell a regular feature!