Saturday, July 09, 2016

Celebrity fan mail -- the ultimate cry for help.

One of the most amusing and utterly terrifying benefits of being on staff of a show is having access to the viewer “fan mail”. Oh…my…fucking…God! You can’t believe the crazies that are out there. And they’re fans of YOUR show.

There are many varieties of loony mail. First off, viewers think the characters they see on television are real. So they address their letters to Niles Crane, Sam Malone, Diane Chambers, etc. And since they don’t know Sam Malone’s address they’ll just write c/o Cheers, Boston, Mass. Or Hawkeye, MASH, Korea. In the latter case, they assume (a) Hawkeye exists, (b) no last name is necessary, and (c) mail can time travel. I’d bet my house that Homer Simpson gets fan mail from registered voters.

I mean, it’s cute when your five-year-old sends Santa Claus a letter to the North Pole. But when it’s some fifty-year-old dashing off a note to Clark Kent in Smallville, that’s a little strange.

The letters themselves are beauts. Marriage proposals, invites to Thanksgiving dinners, pictures, drawings, handmade gifts, and my favorite – seeking advice.

Diane, should I change my major?

Pam, there’s this guy in the office where I work who I think likes me. He’s kind of dorky but nice. Should I give him a blowjob?

Jeff, who do I send my transcripts to to get into your community college?

Generally however, their requests are for autographed pictures, locks of their hair, their home phone numbers, and shoes.

Sometimes they’re angry letters. They feel betrayed because their favorite character wore a purple scarf.

Liz Lemon, I used to like you, but you are a whore!

Other times the missives are warnings.

Jim, Pam is a dirty little slut and will CHEAT ON YOU. Get out now!!

Alicia, your husband fucked Kalinda!

The letters addressed to the actors and actresses are only slightly better. For addresses they seem to feel “CBS” is sufficient. Or “Must See TV, U.S.A.”. The inquiries are the usual requests for pictures and adoption. And this is my favorite. Two out of three letters include this: (I’ll use Amy Poehler as an example.)

Hi, Amy. Everyone says I look just like you. You know what would be great? I could play your sister on the show . I’m sending a picture of me so you could see. We might as well be twins!”

The enclosed photo is then of a fat Haitian woman who’s at least sixty with a missing ear. These pictures look NOTHING like the stars they claim to resemble. Ever.  I want to know just who these “everyones” are that think they do. How far does the dementia spread?

I think it’s lovely that if there’s a celebrity you admire you want to take the time to let them know. I can't think of one star who doesn’t appreciate adoration (if not crave it). But some guidelines if you hope to ever actually reach them. Because usually fan mail is screened by a staff member or assistant, and only a select few are passed on to the celebrity. To be one of those:

Be brief. A thirty-page handwritten rambling treatise just screams “Cliff Clavin”.

Other than a picture or autograph, don’t ask for anything. They don’t know you. Why would they send you their underwear?

Don’t give them anything. And especially don’t give them anything for their kids if they have kids. That’s off-the-charts creepy.

Spell their name correctly.

Type.

Don't draw cartoons or doodles on the letter. 

If they’re on a show, find the location of the show and address the letter to them, in care of the show, with the street address of the studio that produces it.

If they’re a movie star, they probably have either a fan site, or a publicist, or agent. Send to the star in care of them.

Don’t address the envelope in crayon.

Provide a return address. Include the cell block number.

You may think you know them because you read the National Enquirer. But you don’t. Avoid writing anything really personal or intimate.

Don't mention that you have a shrine dedicated to them.

Don't reveal your sexual fantasies that include them.  

You do not look just like Amy Poehler.

Do not send photos of you or Anthony Weiner portions of you.  

Probably the best thing you could do is not mail them at all. Instead, they must have fan sites on social networks. Follow them on Twitter. Drop them a quick note on their Facebook page. Trust me, More than a long effusive letter, the object of your admiration will far greater appreciate a simple  click on “Like”.

This is a re-post from five years ago.

36 comments:

brian t said...

Never done it myself, never imagined such a letter would actually get to the star in question. Eminem's song Stan is about a crazed fan whose letters he did read, eventually, and wished he hadn't.

Jerod Butt said...

I am sure that people still write to the characters for some time after the show ended it's original run, but are people still writing to Dr. Frasier Crane requesting tickets to ride the Crane Train for Mental Well-being?

Anonymous said...

The odd thing is the post office actually delivers this stuff! Sure, I understand receiving a "Return to Sender" letter back from the North Pole might crush a 5-year-old, but getting a Return to Sender from Hawkeye?

Remember seeing one of my first fan letters while working at a record company. A picture of a woman with a long note of blind, desperate admiration, wrapping it up with, "I want to have Mick's children." What?

Bob Zirunkel said...

Ken,
I know this is a re-post, but I have to comment on the picture of the basket of fan mail.
I clicked through to the larger image and literally laughed out loud when I saw the recipient was Sharon Creech.
For those who don't know, she is a Newberry Medal winning children's author.
She was also my junior-year English instructor - an exceptionally talented and inspiring teacher.
Thanks for the serendipitous morning smile.

Jeff Alexander said...

Mr. Levine: Your excellent blog today about fan mail made me wonder this (as a potential Friday question). Was there ever an instance on Cheers, Mary or any other sitcom, taped before a live audience where you were involved, where a suspected stalker of a star was spotted in the audience? I understand that it did happen at a taping of One Day at a Time, where director Alan Rafkin, during a warmup, saw a suspicious person in the bleachers, soon after Valerie Bertinelli received threatening fan letters, and contacted security. This was detailed in his book, Cue the Bunny on the Rainbow, where he also wrote about an alleged stalker at the Alice series.

Carol Ford said...

People forget actors and actresses are just people doing a job that just happens to put them in a public spotlight. And that can be very scary. I don't know if you heard this clip or not, but Bob Crane and Rod Serling had a big discussion about fan mail on Bob's KNX show. Here's that clip. My favorite part is how they determined the level of crazy by how hard the letter writer pressed the pencil to the pape! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q8j8Exy0aqQ

Eric said...

A few months after GILLIGAN'S ISLAND premiered, the U.S. Coast Guard noted, with amusement, that they had received a number of angry letters and telegrams demanding that they do something about getting those poor castaways off that island.

I think the only person for whom that "everyone says I look just like you" thing ever worked was Vicki Lawrence, but in that case I believe it was her mother who contacted Carol Burnett about her daughter's resemblance to the star.

Me? Everyone says I look just like Matt Damon. I mean, if he'd been horribly disfigured in a car accident and the plastic surgery to fix his face had been only partly successful.

Anonymous said...

"Dear Donna Penciotti: why did you dye your hair blonde? You were the most spectacular redhead of the latter 20th Century, and you're toiling in a played-out series. You might as well do a prison show with THAT look!

Curt Alliaume said...

Carol Burnett screwed it up for everybody when she answered Vicki Lawrence's fan letter.

Mike Barer said...

I heard that people used to ask Russell Johnson, the professor on Gilligan's Island all sorts of scientific questions. I think I heard the same about actors on the Big Bang Theory. They only play geniuses.

Charles H. Bryan said...

As has always been my contention, crazy existed long before the internet. It's just that now we can all get a good look at it.

That being said, Ken, if you happen to have some extra toenail clippings around, please send them to me. For a friend.

Doug G. said...

I forgot about the letters to the Coast Guard about Gilligan's Island.

I was just thinking about Raymond Burr and how he would get letters looking for legal advice since he was Perry Mason. I heard a story where woman asked him why he always wins every case and Burr's response was along the lines of "you only see the cases I try on Saturdays." Only thing I don't know is if the woman knew Raymond Burr only played the role of Perry Mason; that Mason wasn't a real person.

If you're a crazy person who wants to send a letter to Dr. Frasier Crane, where do you send it? In care of Cheers? Or the Elliot Bay Towers? Or KACL-AM radio?

Mitchell Hundred said...

This is one reason why I'm glad for the Internet. Fandom spaces allow people to have an outlet for these kinds of impulses that they can share with other like-minded individuals.

Of course, the immediacy of online spaces also makes harassment more easy, but it's also out in the open and I think that most people are beginning to realize that it's an important issue to deal with.

VP81955 said...

I interviewed Laura Prepon a few times early in her career (she was from the area of New Jersey where I edited the local weekly), and I still wonder why she changed her hair. But no, I did not write that "letter."

Tim W. said...

Related to the topic, I work with a guy named Guy Pearson who somehow received a letter for Guy Pierce, the actor. To make things a bit stranger, the letter was addressed to the studio where Pierce was apparently shooting something, but it found its way to my co-worker's former employer (I have no idea how- it has nothing to do with film), who forwarded to my co-worker.

The letter asked for a picture and we wanted him to send a picture of himself and include a letter thanking the person for the request and being a fan.

Peter said...

When I was 6 in 1983, I wrote a letter to Steven Spielberg telling him how much I loved E.T. I thought writing "America" as the address was sufficient.

Unbelievably it somehow reached someone because a few weeks later I got a letter containing details of the E.T. International Fan Club.

Michael said...

Years after ABBA had broken up, Agnetha Faltskog actually became friends with a fan who had been writing to her and stalking her. After she broke it off, he continued to stalk her and she needed to get a restraining order.

Teri said...

Creepy confession #1: I love watching the Miss America Pageant. Creepy confession #2: Maybe 30 years ago, the pageant's finalists were the usual group of 6' girls, plus one who looked like she was standing in a hole next to them. As a 5'2" woman, I was really rooting for the shortie. She lost, but I sent her a fan letter - just saying how great it was that a shorter woman had done so well in the competition. Almost immediately I received a return letter... An angry letter. "How dare you call me short! I am the acceptable height for modeling!" Oh well.

James Van Hise said...

When Murphy Brown was still on the air, Candice Bergen was interviewed and talked about the wacky mail they got. Because the show did all sorts of jokes, including political humor, people would take the jokes personally and write in demanding apologies. She remarked, "The letters always said the same thing, 'Imagine my pain.'"

Jean said...

With the exception of Myiam Bialik...she really is a neurobiologist.

Buttermilk Sky said...

Slightly off-topic, but wonderful: H.L. Mencken, not surprisingly, got mail from readers objecting strenuously to his colorful opinions and calling him all sorts of different names. He always replied with a form letter which read simply: "Dear Sir or Madame, you may be right."

AlaskaRay said...

Thanks for the good advice for getting my letter into the hands of Cliff Clavin, 30 pages and rambling it is. Can I just send it to him c/o Cheers, or should I send it to you to deliver (I already have your home address). Thanks!!!!!!!

John Stevens said...

I wrote three fan letters in 2001 (including to John Ratzenberger), none of which requested anything, and I received three autographs very promptly, one of which was at the end of a nice handwritten letter. I've written a few more since then, requesting autographs, and have never heard anything back.

Tom Wolper said...

Anna Kendrick was on Marc Maron's WTF podcast and said that she had a personal policy of throwing away any gifts sent by fans and not acknowledging receipt. She said it put her in a difficult situation when a fan sent her diamond earrings. She decided to stay consistent with the policy and threw away the earrings.

Joseph Scarbrough said...

The Amy Poehler anecdote reminds me of an occasion from one of Tom Bergeron's early seasons hosting AFV, where he fishes out of the audience this guy, who he claimed was a dead-ringer for Gilbert Gottfried. The guy looked and sounded nothing like Gilbert Gottfried.

As for fan mail, I've written fan mail before when I was younger, but I generally never got a response. I never asked for autographs, in fact, I never really asked for anything, I just wanted to write and let the person know how much I enjoyed their work. The only two times I ever received a response was from Kevin Clash (the former Muppet Performer of Elmo) - who sent me an autograph of him and Elmo, and Canadian entertainer Kathy Greenwood - who not only sent me an autograph as well, but took the time to actually write back, thanking me for my letter.

suek2001 said...

I wrote three fan letters to John Denver when I was a teenager..nothing too crazy..just telling him that his music helped deal with the bullies at school...and I wished him well...I received two photographs...signed..and two different form letters back..(I thought he wrote them actually for years then I read that he never wrote notes like that)...
The stationary he used(or his office used) is still the coolest stationary I have ever seen in my life....I kept those letters for the paper alone...
I did meet him at a book signing in 1994..and got to tell him that "Stonehaven Sunset" was my favorite song...we had a nice moment...and that was all I needed...
I should have asked for toenail clippings..:-)

Jeff C in DC said...

There must be cases where the infatuated fans were celebrities themselves. Any stories there?

Pat Reeder said...

The closest I ever came to writing a fan letter was when, as an aspiring comedy writer from rural Texas with no Hollywood connections, I wrote a letter seeking advice from one of my idols, Steve Allen, and sent it in care of his publisher. I actually just wrote it out of desperate frustration and never expected to hear back.

"Imagine my surprise" when a few weeks later, I received a very funny and sympathetic personal letter from Steve Allen, who offered to look at my sample material and give me some feedback. He later came through Dallas on tour and after seeing his show, I was able to meet with him in person. A few days later, I got another letter from his secretary, saying that Mr. Allen had called and told her to write me and apologize for him not getting back to me sooner with the feedback; he had been very busy lately, but promised to contact me as soon as he could. I later found out that what he'd been "very busy" with was fighting cancer, but he still took the time to write back to, meet with, and have his secretary contact and apologize to an unknown kid from Texas who was struggling to become a comedy writer. Later still, when I brought out my first book, "Hollywood Hi-Fi," I made sure one of his records was in it. He supplied me with a personal interview and two boxes filled with tapes and documents.

Needless to day, Steve Allen remains one of my all-time showbiz idols.

John W McKelvey said...

If they're just writing addresses like "Hawkeye, MASH, Korea," how did you ever receive the letters to talk about them?

Kosmo13 said...

Since the Internet era began, I've noticed a lot of Actors' have websites that say on them "We'd love to hear from you. Please e-mail us at: [Celebrity e-address]

In these instances, the celebrity is encouraging fans to contact them. Sometimes I send a short e-mail, saying something like "Great site! I especially liked the [ ] section. I've been a fan of[Actor] since [early credit] and especially liked him in [list several career highlights]. Looking forward to his future roles. All the best." Sometimes I'll ask a question about something I've seen them in.

I rarely have gotten a response from these e-contacts, which strikes me as kind of rude. I don't ever really expect a personal response from the star, as I expect the webmaster receives these e-mails. I would think after the site has solicited reaction with a "please contact us" request, minimal courtesy would be for the webmaster to send at least a standard, generic response like. "Thank you for the e-mail. Glad you like the site. I'll pass your comments along to the actor. As you know, he's quite busy, so I can't promise he'll have time to answer." But the webmaster's just ignoring the fan's inquiry seems like a good way to alienate fans,

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Yes, Vicki Lawrence has a lot to answer for. :) As I recall the story, Burnett had announced she was looking for someone to play her younger sister in a series of skits, and Lawrence wrote the letter herself, though her mother encouraged her. It took Burnett a while to see it, but when she did, she phoned and it happened that Lawrence was performing in some kind of live show that Burnett then went to see. Burnett does a very funny version of the phone call...

wg

Caleb Nelson said...

My college internship was at CBS's The Price is Right about 15 years ago, and sorting the fan mail there was pretty damn educational. The majority of the letters were simple autograph requests for Bob Barker or Rod Roddy or the models. Some were pitches for pricing games that we usually returned with a brief note saying the show didn't take outside pitches. And there were the occasional garden variety crazy letters like Ken and the other commenters are describing.

But the regular racist letters were eye-opening. And this was the dawn of the 21st century. They almost all shared a few characteristics:

- Neat old person's cursive handwriting
- No signed name or return address
- Complained about the show "letting" "too many" black people into the Showcase Showdown or the final Showcase
- Included the phrase "I am not a racist, but..."

Good to see society's totally moved past all that now.

thirteen said...

I've written a handful of science fiction novels, one of which sold fairly well. Got a letter soon after that one came out, addressed to me but sent via the publisher. All it said was I CAN SEE YOUR HOUSE FROM SPACE.

Next time, Self, use a pseudonym.

Jahn Ghalt said...

Salma Hayek recounted her early acting career on a talk show. Seems she played the lead role in a Mexican soap. Fans would scold her as if she were that character. They were mostly women (therefore not as scary?)

Andrew said...

@suek,
"I wrote three fan letters to John Denver when I was a teenager..nothing too crazy..just telling him that his music helped deal with the bullies at school"
Could you say more about that? Did you tell the bullies, "Wait, before you beat me, let my play you something?" Then you played Country Roads or Rocky Mountain High and they said, "That's beautiful, man!" Did they cry?

Storm said...

Back in 2000, I discovered that the legendary Eartha Kitt had a website that had an e-mail section. I wrote to her about how much I admired her, as a woman and as an artist, and that I had always found her personal strength inspiring. I never really expected her to read it, much less answer, but two days later (on my birthday!) I was delighted to find a brief but lovely reply in my inbox. She thanked me for my kind words, said she was pleased to be someones inspiration, and wished me well. (I know it was her, because there were typos; I would hope a professional assistant would use Spellcheck.) Ain't technology grand?

Cheers, thanks a lot,

Storm