Tuesday, June 14, 2011

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.


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”.


John E. Williams said...

Crap, so much for sending you that Big Dave's Wave doll I made out of belly lint. :(

doubleshiny said...

As someone who runs a fansite and gets lots of mail which fits your description, I agree with almost everything you said here.

However the last part, about not writing and instead tweeting or merely clicking 'like' breaks my heart. Such thinking would deprive us of letters like this one


Mac said...

Wait, you know Liz Lemon? Could you talk to her? She *has to* meet my Cousin Stevie!!

Lothar said...

> Spell their name correctly.


> You do not look just like Amy Phoehler.

(mechanical voice) Does not compute, does not compute (sound of explosion)

Steve Schnier said...

A number of years ago I saw Alan Alda walking on Queen Street in Toronto. He was in town shooting a movie.

As we passed, I smiled and said, "Good morning." He smiled in return and replied, "Good morning."

We both went on our ways. I got to say hello to a favorite actor without intruding or delaying him. He got the polite recognition that celebrities enjoy. A win-win situation.

Please Don't Eat Me said...

@doubleshiny: Took a quick peek at your fansite and those letters [you post] are great. In particular the Scorsese/Powell correspondence is especially interesting and demonstrates that not everyone in filmland is an asshole.

Too bad (if not understandable) you shut the comments down, otherwise this would've been posted there.

Chris Anton said...

Soren Bowie, a contributor to the comedy site Cracked.com, recently wrote an hilarious article devoted to the people that send him death treats.


doubleshiny said...

@Please Don't Eat Me

apologies for the confusion, the fansite I run isn't Letters of Note. If you want to pass on your kind words you could email shaun@lettersofnote.com

Michael in Vancouver said...

I once wrote a brief letter to my then-favourite UK band asking where I could buy a tour poster, and then threw in a question about the inspiration of a certain song. The lead singer sent me the poster along with a nice letter explaining that the song was a cover and on what band's b-side I'd find it, and how much he liked my city. A year later, I asked for another poster, and this time his girlfriend wrote back. She sent a different poster, explaining that their new label didn't print many of the ones I wanted. She asked if I wanted any t-shirts, because they had many left over. I started to feel like THEY were MY fans!

Boswell said...

Hey Ken, apparently letters addressed to 'Cliff Clavin, Cheers, Boston' is sufficient . . . you got em didn't you? :)

Mac said...

Reminds me of these forums where someone says they met a famous person who was incredibly rude to them. Then they go on to mention in passing that they 'met' when the famous person was having dinner with their family, or standing at a urinal, or lowering a coffin.

PatGLex said...

Back in the early 90s, not only did I write a fan letter: I wrote a fan letter to two of the show's *writers,* who I noted wrote the most interesting and lively scripts. [This was back in the day when people only knew who the stars of a TV series were.] Didn't ask for anything except that they stay with the show for the next season.

What did I get in return? A bouquet of flowers. I thought they'd been delivered in error. But no.

I have a picture of that bouquet framed along with the card that came with it, thanking me for my letter. I'd heard through other sources that they actually framed my letter and had it on the wall, since such things were rare. Nowadays, with Twitter and blogs , not so much....

Nathan said...

Deer Kin Laveen,

Ahm yur biggist fan EVER ENYWEAR! I jest taut u shuld no that. If it wudent be two mulch troubel I wuld reelie like two have a sueveneer. Due yu have eny money that yu've touched? That wuld be gud. (twinties and bigger bill onlie, pleeze.)

normadesmond said...

recently, one of the friend "suggestions" on my facebook page was joanne woodward. i was quite surprised since i've actually thought of writing her a goofy fan letter since i've always loved her in whatever she did. (i am not a weirdo, i've written but one fan letter in my life, in 1971). I checked her page out & deemed it the "real" joanne.

so, i excitedly wrote a short little gush to her and my request was accepted. wow.

since then, i've been slapped back to reality since there are DAILY updates statingjoanne woodward has 575 new friends!. she'll reach her max shortly.

Anonymous said...

In '74 or '75, I was shopping at a middle to upper class department store. I noticed a guy in a tux with a white Stetson walk into the store and head for the back of the cosmetics dept. I thought, "Wow! That looked like that guy on that goofy PI show." So I followed him. I tried to look inconspicuous, but it only took a few seconds for him to notice this idiot following him. He turned around, smiled that gorgeous smile, touched the brim of his hat and walked over the the counter. A huge crowd of women had gathered and they started squealing. Not one bottle of Chaz was left.

God, Tom Selleck was a stunner in that tux & Stetson. Sigh!


Phillip B said...

Early in my career I was in the executive search business (I still don't know why) and there was a commonly accepted axiom - "Those who say they like to work with people, never really have..."

Jen said...

I sent a fan letter to an actor who did a bunch of small character roles I loved.

A few months later, he hired me to work for his company.

Laurie said...

Thanks. Now how do I get that forever stamp off the envelope?

Joseph Scarbrough said...

You're forgetting a big one Ken...

Jack Wild talked about the strange fanmail he got when he was working on H.R. Pufnstuf back in 1969, getting mail from stoners saying things like, "Yeah man, I know how you feel, I talk to mushrooms too, and I never get any help from these guys."

Johnny Walker said...

A couple of things spring to mind:

1. Clearly addressing letters to "CBS" or "Korea" IS sufficient for successful delivery...

2. My friends and I have certainly had fun thinking of the kind of crazy letters that could be sent somewhere. Sometimes I wonder if the joke is being lost on the reader... a bit like that recent "cat lover" dating video.


(Did the planet's IQ suddenly drop? She's funny, but it's clearly a joke.)

Have you ever seen the Time Waster's Letters? It's a brilliant book of a fictional character sending crazy letters to corporations, and the real correspondence that was entered into.


YEKIMI said...

I never get fan mail. Just mail about air conditioners......

bevo said...

"The enclosed photo is then of a fat Haitian woman who’s at least sixty with a missing ear."

If I do resemble a fat Haitian woman who's at least sixty with a missing ear, then who should I contact about possibly doing some stunt casting?

P.S., I am Samoan. Will that make a different?

w.v. - bionto - the act of getting onto something at least twice a day.

The Bitter Script Reader said...

I'm one of those weird souls who writes fan letters to TV writers, and by obeying most of Ken's edicts, I actually managed to get a response from Ron Moore (Deep Space Nine, Carnivale, Battlestar Galactica).

I blogged about that experience here if anyone's interested.

Basically, being polite and professional gets you a long way.

Anonymous said...

That's a really cynical point of view. I'm glad some celebrities actually appreciate and cherish their fans.

You should be flattered that people take the time to write to you, and invite you to their family events.

spreng said...

I was once webmaster for Whoopi Goldberg's website (whoopi.com) and got a lot of emails for her. They tended to be either script submissions or movie concepts (which she could not even read without a proper release) or requests for help to "rescue" them from the difficulties of life. Sigh.

Yeechang Lee said...

There is one example of a fan writing and claiming resemblance to a show's star that actually resulted in something happening: Vicki Lawrence, hired by Carol Burnett.

Mike Barer said...

It's funny how someone who gets ignored by "Suzie Homeroom" in High School would think they could whisk Julia Roberts off to a secret place.

Mike Barer said...

"That's a really cynical point of view. I'm glad some celebrities actually appreciate and cherish their fans.

You should be flattered that people take the time to write to you, and invite you to their family events."
Dear Anonomous
Do you care what Fred Jones in Des Moines is doing? Why would Colin Firth who has his phone ringing off the hook. Let's not forget John Hinkley and Mark David Chapman.

the same chris said...

Big Dave's Wave, belly lint :D
made my day!

Bruce said...

Really, they get delivered with a simple CBS, Cheers, or 4077th? That's amazing! Who says the Post Office is full of a bunch of lazy psycho killers.

Anonymous said...

Several years ago I saw a copy of a fan letter sent to STAR TREK. I wish I had it at hand so I could quote it, but it was genuinely creepy.

The guy was convinced that William Shatner (as Capt Kirk)was his father and that the guy was owed money because many of the stories in the show were based on events in his life. Supposedly Paramount turned the letter over to the police who pursued to make sure the writer wasn't a real threat. I never heard the outcome.

Brian Phillips said...

I used to intern at National Public Radio and there were occasional nutty letters and calls that would come through for, of all things, "All Things Considered". I could understand someone outraged about content. One fellow called after a fairly explicit interview with Harvey Fierstein and whether I agreed with him or not, his tone was civil.

However, there were two folks that stuck out in the short time I opened mail there. One was a person calling him or herself, "One Citizen Against War". He/she would mail weekly. The letter consisted of a single Bible verse, typed in the middle of the page. This would be mailed to us whether a war was mentioned or not. It got to the point that if I saw an envelope with the address double-spaced with that old familiar typewriter, I threw it out before opening it. It was like my personal "Jagged Edge"

There was a semi-regular feature on ATC performed by one of the members of the "Duck's Breath Mystery Theater", which was a joke op-ed by Ian Shoales, who always ended his commentary with, "I gotta go". Proving that you can make someone a fan of anything if you broadcast it, a guy wrote a one page letter in faux-Shoales style. It even went on to say, "Ignore me...!" I have no idea what this person was trying to achieve: "If that Ian guy gets sick, they can use me!"? This would have been bad enough, except this fellow also included two Xeroxed illustrations (one was a picture of a hammer in motion) with captions about his clavicle.

Truth be told, EVERYthing has its nut cluster group. I've worked at an Internet Service Provider, a record store and even the hardware stores I worked in attracted some wild ones: one lady wanted to know if we sold a device that intentionally made pipes rattle. She had moved twice because her neighbors had this device and was sure they were using it on her. She had tape recordings as proof.

Bob Summers said...

In middle school, a friend and I wrote to a girl on a show we had crushes on. The show got the axe soon after, but two and a half years later, we got headshots made into postcards and autographs.

And let's not forget a favorite story of mine. One day, a Coast Guard officer came to the office of Sherwood Schwartz, creator of "Gilligan's Island". He brought along a bunch of mail that had been sent to the Coast Guard asking why the passengers and crew of the Minnow had not been rescued yet and what was being done to save them.

Bob Summers said...

Oh, I also have to mention how so many people came down to Parker Center/LAPD Headquarters all the time wanting to meet Sgt. Joe Friday from "Dragnet". It got so bad that they started to tell people it was Friday's day off just to get rid of them.

antho antho said...

Letters to anyone you don't know, (and some people you do) are similar to comments on blog posts. The longer they are, they less chance they'll be read.

Buttermilk Sky said...

This didn't start with TV or even the movies. For well over a century, people have been writing letters to Sherlock Holmes. The Abbey National Building Society, which now occupies 221B Baker Street, employs a person who does nothing but answer them.


VW: baedinof -- nemesis of Rocky and Bullwinkle

LouOCNY said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dave Creek said...

I once worked for a TV station where we got a phone call about "displaying" the American flag in the wrong direction. It was weather video of a flag flapping in the breeze and the wind had sent it flapping to the left from the camera position -- which put the stars on the right side.

Of course, the flag is supposed to be "displayed" with the stars on the left side. I couldn't convince him we didn't control the wind.

PLEASE note -- I mean no disrespect toward anyone so devoted to the American flag. But controlling Mother Nature?

LouOCNY said...

There are SEVERAL books where the author poses as someone, and writes odd letters to celebs, companies, etc.

I believe the first was THE LAZLO LETTERS, written by Don (Father Guido Sarducci) Novello.

The only letter I ever wrote to a celeb was to Jim Bouton - I had taped several episodes of a game show he had been on off of Game Show Network, and sent it to him. He actually was very nice, sent a HAND WRITTEN note and offered to send me an autographed copy of BALL FOUR (which I already had).

Bob U. said...

Ken you're absolutely right. Celebrities shouldn't be bothered by fans. In fact I would take it a step farther. Fans should just stop watching, reading, or listening to the celebrities' product. That way the celebrities won't have to bother with that annoying work. Or those tens of millions they get every year. Yeah, that must be what they want.

Pat Reeder said...

Here's a twist for you: what do you do when you get psycho mail from celebrities? A few years ago, I had a comedy piece out that briefly poked fun at Ben Affleck and mentioned his recent movie, "Jersey Girl." It was only in passing and not even the butt of the joke. But I got this long, nasty email from someone claiming to be Kevin Smith, bragging about how successful he was and how much money that movie made on DVD. I assumed from the juvenile vocabulary and childish attitude that it was probably some fanboy pretending to be him, but the return address was one that's widely associated with Kevin Smith.

So to be nice, I wrote back what I thought was a polite, self-deprecating letter, saying sorry if I offended him and offering to take him to dinner if he was ever in town. In return, I get another, only slightly less arrogant reply along the same snarky lines. This time I wrote back and told him that I guess you can't be nice to some people and life is too short to deal with obnoxious morons, so he was now blocked from my mailbox.

P.S. - I once wrote a fan letter to CBS about a show when I was in school. But it was to the programming dept. after the first season of "MASH," when they were talking about canceling it due to low ratings. I begged them to keep it on the air because surely, something of that quality would eventually find an audience.

You're welcome.

By Ken Levine said...

Hey Bob. U. I think you sort of missed my point. I never said don't write to celebrities. In fact, I thought I was very clear when I wrote...

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.

Again, that seems to say it, doesn't it?

Mark Caldwell said...

I remember reading somewhere that on a fairly regular basis during the making of Mission Impossible on TV the studio would suggest replacing the character Willy Armitage (played by Peter Lupus). Every time they did the show would sort the fan mail for a week into Armitage/Lupus bags and an everyone else bag. They would then take them to the studios office and show them to the executive who'd made the suggestion who would then change their mind.

This worked till season five when he was dropped from regular status. The fan campaign that followed brought him back as a regular for the remainder of the shows run.

Tallulah Morehead said...

I remember a lovely piece of fan mail I received in 1942 from no less than President Roosevelt. It began: "Greetings". FDR liked my work so much, he wanted to draft me (I guess like a head of beer) to help him fight the Nazis and the Asian folk. In response to the objection that I was a woman, he had written: "You a woman? Please. I've seen your movies."

I just turned it over to the police with the rest of my fan mail and went on my way. I'm told the signed picture I sent FDR instead of enlisting died in the Battle of Midway.

Sid Davidson said...

I was once at a urinal at the Forum and realized I was peeing right next to Brian Wilson. When I went to say something to him, I peed on my shoe. He walked away.

Robin Raven said...

Aw, I adore your blog. Thanks so much for sharing it with us.

I must admit that this blog entry made me a little sad. I grew up watching "Cheers," and I did write to some of the stars via Paramount as a preteen. haha The fan's greatest fear is they will be mocked for their irrational need to express their appreciation. :)

I somehow followed all of those reasonable guidelines as a 12-year-old when I sent in my fan letter to Ted Danson. He (or his rep) was kind enough to send me two autographed pictures at different times. I'd written myself in the show as a part of Megan Malone, Sam's long lost daughter, so I guess I was a bit in the loony part of this blog, though. But. I was 12. And I would have made a really good character. ;-)

Cap'n Bob said...

I saw Joe Garagiola while we were at nearby urinals at Rockefeller Center (he'd just taped a Match Game). When I said I thought he'd have better acccomodations he said, "When you gotta go, you gotta go." Nice guy.

And I don't care what you say, Ken, I KNOW Paris Hilton will realize that I'm the only one for her if I just send her enough letters explaining our cosmic connection.

Lars said...

I think Twitter is a real good tool for getting in touch with celebrities (even accidently). I once tweeted (in German!) that one actress was amazing in a specific role and used her Twitter-handle instead of her name. Half an hour later, she retweeted my tweet (because she couldn't understand it) and we exchanged a few tweets.

Anonymous said...

Why are all your examples of women fans? Maybe Roseanne was right about you.