African-American Political Figures

Featured in Autograph January 2009

Tom Bradley

Tom Bradley

Collecting African-American political figures has been one of my passions since I began collecting about 50 years ago. The scarcity of African-Americans elected to public office in America is almost criminal. Since post Civil War Reconstruction, fewer than 130 have been elected to Congress, and only five to the Senate. For collectors, this means a focused genre of autographs. A signature from any of the early African-American congressmen sell for several hundred dollars.

Hiram Revels and Blanche Bruce of Mississippi were two senators who served during Reconstruction. Revels was the first African-American to serve in the Senate and U.S. Congress, but his seat lasted only one year from 1870-71. Bruce was the first to serve a full term from 1875-1881. A former slave, Bruce returned to Mississippi after the war and became wealthy as a planter. After his time in the Senate, he became Register of the Treasury and the first African-American whose signature was depicted on currency.

The House of Representatives saw 21 Southern African-Americans serve during Reconstruction. Of them, Robert Smalls stands out from the rest and is considered a Civil War hero. Smalls stole the Confederate ship, The Planter, and ended the war as the first black captain of a U.S. vessel. Afterserving in Congress in the 1870s and ’80s, Smalls was U.S. Collector of Customs at Beaufort, S.C., from 1889-1911, an important public advocate for black voting and lived in the house of his former owner. Men such as Bruce and Smalls are more common autographs, but still expensive, as I have sold congressional letters for more than $500.

Post Reconstruction Congress

Thurgood Marshall

Thurgood Marshall

African-Americans lost their right to vote at the end of the 19th century. After the 1876 presidential election,  Democrat Samuel Tilden won the popular vote, but Republican Rutherford Hayes was given the presidency by a congressional commission, with the understanding Reconstruction would end. The fate of African-Americans was left to the same people who had held them in slavery and within several decades, African-Americans lost the majority of their rights, were subjected to violence by groups like the KKK and laws were enacted that took away their rights to vote. For a period from 1900-1930, almost no African-Americans served in a major office.

Ralph Bunche

Ralph Bunche

The next elected officials were from the North, due to the “Great Migration” of millions of African-Americans to the North, searching for jobs and escaping racism and violence. Several migrations occurred between 1910-1970, with people going to the big Northern industrial cities, then smaller cities and states like California. Republican Oscar de Priest was the first African-American elected to Congress in the 20th century, serving from 1929-1935 . Another African-American Republican wasn’t elected until Ed Brooke from Massachusetts went to the Senate in 1967 for two terms. Brooke was well known, accomplished a great deal and is an excellent signer.

Adam Clayton Powell

Adam Clayton Powell

Nearly all African-Americans elected to Congress after Oscar de Priest were Democrats. One of the most animated was Adam Clayton Powell Jr., a charismatic preacher from Harlem who was elected to the House of Representatives in 1945 and served until 1971. Although he helped pass civil rights issues, Powell is better known as a rogue who gained power and lived as he pleased, using committee funds for personal use. His signature sells starting at $50.

Other well known African-Americans from Congress include Shirley Chisholm, the first African-American woman in Congress and the first African-American to run for president; John Conyers, who served 43 years and is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee; and Yvonne Burke, the second woman in Congress and the first to have a child while in office. Ron Dellums and Parren Mitchell brought strong progressive agendas; Barbara Jordan had articulate brilliance; Andy Young, later U.N. Ambassador, and John Lewis were both heroes of the civil rights movement; and men like Charlie Rangel, Kweisi Mfume, Bill Gray and others stand out.

Ralph Metcalfe

Ralph Metcalfe

A particularly desirable autograph belongs to Illinois Representative Ralph Metcalfe, who served from 1971-78. Metcalfe has the additional title of medal winner from the 1932 and 1936 Olympics and is a member of the United States Track and Field Hall of Fame. His signature starts at $50.

After Ed Brooke, an African-American senator wasn’t elected until 1993 with Illinois Senator Carol Mosley Braun, who’s also the first African-American woman in the Senate. Braun made a short-lived run as a Democratic candidate in the 2004 presidential election. In 2005, Illinois Senator Barack Obama became the fifth African-American senator, and three years later made history when he was elected the 44th president.

State and City

Robert Weaver

Robert Weaver

Contributing to the growing number of African-Americans in politics, there have been a total of five black governors. P.B.S. Pinchback served as governor of Louisiana for 35 days, but it was Douglas Wilder who was the first elected governor when he won the 1990 Virginia race. He briefly ran for president in 1992 and went on to be the first directly elected mayor of the former Confederate capitol of Richmond. Deval Patrick was elected Governor of Massachusetts in 2006, the only other elected governor. New York has David Paterson, who came to office after being elected lieutenant governor and succeeding Eliot Spitzer.

On the city level, African-Americans have had their greatest success since Richard G. Hatcher became mayor of Gary, Ind., in January 1968 and Carl Stokes, mayor of Cleveland, who’s considered the first black mayor of a major American city. Tom Bradley, a longtime Los Angeles cop, became the first black mayor of Los Angeles and barely lost a race for governor, creating the so-called “Bradley effect,” heard throughout the 2008 campaign. David Dinkens is the only African-American elected mayor of New York City, and cities like Atlanta and Detroit have had a history of African-American mayors, like Detroit’s Coleman Young. All have a great reputation as autograph signers and most remain at very reasonable prices.

Notable Figures

John Conyers

John Conyers

Several individuals hold a special place in African-American political history who helped pave the way for those that followed. Thurgood Marshall, the brilliant lawyer for the NAACP in Brown v. Board of Education, was a great influence in government before becoming the first black Supreme Court justice. He commands one of the higher prices for modern blacks with a signature selling for $100 or more.

William Hastie and Robert Weaver both played important roles in the administrations of Roosevelt and Truman. Hastie was an advisor on racial affairs, the first black on the federal bench and a contender for the Supreme Court. Robert Weaver was an expert in housing affairs and a leader of the “Black Cabinet” from the 1940s. When the new Department of Housing and Urban Development was established, Weaver became the first secretary and the first African-American to serve in a Cabinet post. He was later followed by Patricia Roberts Harris, the first black woman in the Cabinet. Two other Cabinet officers, Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, hold a special place in African-American politics. More than anyone, Powell could have possibly been the first black president, and Rice was rumored as a possible vice presidential candidate. These individuals fall into a higher price range of autographs, with Marshall around $100 or more for a signature, and the others all start at $50, depending on the item. Almost all have been excellent signers, although while in office, several extensively used Autopens.

Al Sharpton

Al Sharpton

Besides elected or appointed officials, there are other important political leaders. Julian Bond, a longtime civil rights leader was elected to the Georgia Legislature in 1966, but was thrown out for his opposition to the Vietnam War, an act overturned by the Supreme Court. After more than 20 years in the Georgia Legislature, he is currently chairman of the NAACP. Jesse Jackson, a minister and Martin Luther King aide who ran for president, has held a strong and controversial place in U.S. history. Al Sharpton is also seen in a similar light. He ran for president in 2004 and was one of the most articulate candidates. Jackson has used a secretary to sign autographs at various times, and Sharpton is hard to obtain, although neither bring huge amounts of money.

William Hastie

William Hastie

At a time when our country has made a tremendous shift by electing the first African-American president, now is an excellent time to start collecting these pioneers. Many are still alive and sign easily, and a number of the deceased leaders are still at prices that make them affordable. It’s an important aspect of U.S. history and a way to learn of fascinating individuals.

Edward R. Murrow

Featured in Autograph January 2009

Signed photo, courtesy R&R Enterprises.

When the Tonight Show host Jay Leno was asked why he collected cars, Leno philosophically replied that he was not collecting cars, but rather he was “collecting stories.” This belief is especially true for collectors of historical documents. We collect stories illustrated by autographs; the connection between a tangible piece of writing and the role it played in the world.

This year would be the 101 birthday of Edward R. Murrow. Murrow’s story is spellbinding. He was a trailblazer who set the standard for early radio and television news. His trajectory could not have been predicted as radio and television had not been invented at the time of his birth. But a fateful chain of events would lead Murrow to the pinnacle of these new professions.

Today’s world has been shaped by television news. Yet the early personalities of broadcast news have not received recognition equal to their contributions. One guess to explain this oversight is that we are exposed to re-runs of classic movies and vintage television shows, but we never see replays of pioneering television broadcasts. It’s far easier to remember Lucille Ball and John Wayne than it is to recall the likes of John Cameron Swayze or Douglas Edwards.

Murrow’s imprint was recently portrayed in George Clooney’s 2005 Academy Award-nominated film Good Night, and  Good Luck. The film spotlighted Murrow’s courageousness in his fight against the infamous Senator Joseph McCarthy. Murrow believed in the sanctity of journalistic truth, and his quest against the antics of McCarthy led to the senator’s decline in popularity.

Early Awareness

Egbert Roscoe Murrow was born on April 25, 1908 in Greensboro, N.C., and was raised with a strong Quaker upbringing. When he was 6, his family moved to the state of Washington, and Murrow later graduated from Washington State University in 1930 with a degree in speech. College was where he changed his name to his teenage nickname, “Ed.” After inspiring the National Student Federation of America with his 1929 speech on getting people interested in the events of the world, Murrow was elected president of NSFA.

In New York, as an assistant director of the Institute of International Education, Murrow helped coordinate student exchanges to the United States when Europe slowly took a turn toward turmoil. Through this experience Murrow honed his negotiation skills. And, his list of new friends and contacts soared as he traveled the United States and abroad.

Across the Airwaves

Signed photo, courtesy R&R Enterprises.

In 1935, the neophyte CBS Radio needed to fill its schedule with more programming and established a monthly program called University of the Air. Murrow worked as a booking agent for the program, getting guests like Albert Einstein through his cultivated list of contacts.

In a move to London two years later, Murrow served as CBS’s European Bureau, organizing cultural programs for the network. But the onslaught of World War II changed both Murrow’s role and life forever, inevitably influencing present day television news.

War has an uncanny way of compelling improvisation. When the Nazis marched into Vienna, Austria, in 1938, CBS sent Murrow to report, even though journalism was not his background. In his deep and distinctive voice, Murrow reported on events. His colleague, Richard C. Hottelet, described voice as having a “Churchillian cast.” Murrow had the natural instincts of a journalist, the curious mind that allowed him to probe with intelligent questions and the sensitivity to report on the misery suffered by the average person.

Murrow returned to London and soon gained fame as CBS’s correspondent there. His broadcasts became renowned for his introductory sentence, “This is London.” He reported from rooftops with air raid sirens in the background, rather than from the safety of bomb shelters. His reports were blunt and unreserved as he described the horrors of war.

As war spread, the demand for informing the public grew. Murrow was responsible for hiring a staff of accomplished newsmen, who later came to be known as “Murrow’s Boys.” This esteemed group of journalists included Eric Sevareid, Howard K. Smith, Charles Collingwood and Richard C. Hottelet—the last surviving member. I spoke with Hottelet, now 91 years old and living in Connecticut, who described Murrow as “A man of unyielding integrity who was driven by a sense of responsibility to provide information that he thought the public should have.”

Hottelet continued, “This was the solid core of what he did. And the people who worked for Murrow followed his example. It was not instruction in journalism that Murrow taught us, but ethics in the profession.”

The intensely private Murrow had reluctantly become a famous man. He went on to host the radio program Hear It Now, a news magazine-style program that reported current events. With the advent of television, the program morphed into See It Now. Murrow firmly believed that television should be used as a tool for the public good. He feared the new medium would become trivialized by banal entertainment. He also feared the influence of advertisers who might try to assert undue editorial influence.

The chain-smoking Murrow was a founding father of the celebrity interview format. As the mid-1950s host of Person to Person, Murrow interviewed a range of celebrities from Fidel Castro to Marlon Brando and Harry S. Truman. The program was atypical of Murrow’s usual serious nature. Some referred to the program as “Murrow light.”

In 1961 President John F. Kennedy appointed Murrow as director of the United States Information Agency. The USIA, which existed from 1953 to 1999, had the goal of influencing foreign audiences from the viewpoint of the United States. Murrow remained in this position until declining health forced him to resign. Murrow, a three-pack-a-day cigarette smoker, succumbed to lung cancer at age 57 on April 27, 1965.

Papers, Handwriting and Autographs

TLS showing Murrow’s signature with an extended w, courtesy Stuart Lutz.

Upon his death, the bulk of Murrow’s journalism-related papers were donated to Tufts University in Medford, Mass., by Murrow’s widow, Janet, and his son, Charles Casey. Murrow’s personal papers were donated to Janet’s alma mater at Mt. Holyoke College. There exists a small amount of Murrow’s papers with the National Archives, due to his service at the USIA, as well as some with CBS.

Susanne Belovari, the archivist for reference and collections at Tufts, told me that other than field notes, there is very little holographic material in the collection. From Murrow’s aesthetically-challenged handwriting, it seems Murrow was self-conscious about his penmanship and preferred the typewriter over his own scrawl.

Casey, Murrow’s only son who now resides in Vermont, informed me that after the donations, there are very little personal papers remaining—handwritten letters of his father’s are rare. In fact, when I asked Casey if he had any handwritten notes that he could share with me, he didn’t have any. According to Casey, what notes he did have from his father were typed and signed, “Dad.”

Casey believes that the typed letters that do exist were signed by Murrow himself. He did not know of any secretary who signed for his father. Murrow had no particular preference of a writing instrument either. He used whatever was conveniently available.

A TLS signed "Ed" with a paraph, courtesy R&R Enterprises.

A TLS signed "Ed" with a paraph, courtesy R&R Enterprises.

On the radio Murrow was a well-known, but invisible “voice.” Television demolished his anonymity. Casey recalls one incident walking with his father in New York City when a particular fellow grabbed his father and would not let go. The Murrow’s were stuck in the middle of a busy New York City intersection as the traffic light changed. He further recalls his father receiving many requests for his signatures from the mid-1950s until the end of his life. Murrow, according to Casey, would try to avoid such encounters, but still always complied. Murrow found the attention given to him “ridiculous,” but would tolerate it.

Murrow’s handwriting deteriorated even further as he aged, and so did his signature. Earlier Murrow signatures tend to have rounded M’s, which later acquired a sometime labored-squared look. I asked Casey about this particular change and he confirmed that he had noticed this change in his father’s signature as well. And the w at the end of his name often ends with a line extending out from the end of the w—he did not have an abrupt stop.

Many of his letters are signed “Ed.” Murrow signed with a highly stylized E. The E is often a squared block-style on the perimeter with a rounded E within it. The small d sometimes appears as though the upstroke was signed as a straight line downward, with a cupped loop on the bottom when he signed in a slower fashion. In the faster-appearing signed letters, he includes a paraph under “Ed.”

Autograph Value

Considering Murrow’s influence on broadcast history, his material can be had at moderate prices. Three ALS’s, regarding the impending war in Europe, were sold by Swann for $800 in March 2001. The price of his TLS’s will vary based on content. Letters relating to World War II, Joseph McCarthy or a scarce handwritten letter are considered of higher value. Signed photos of Murrow are common and can usually be had for a price of $200 and up. Signatures are not rare either, and can be purchased for under $100. With the variances in his signature, due to age and his lack of secretaries used to sign for him, Murrow’s autograph is a seemingly safe one to collect.

In early 2008, Tufts University held an exhibit of Murrow letters and memorabilia in honor of his 100th birthday. The Digital Collections and Archives at Tufts will soon post the exhibit online.

Murrow was a par-setting journalist who should not be forgotten. In the book, The Powers That Be, David Halberstam wrote that Murrow was “one of those rare legendary figures who was as good as his myth.”

Sidebar: Murrow’s Boys

A sub-genre collection to consider is the group of journalists Murrow hired, known as “Murrow’s Boys.” This group of pioneer broadcaster represents not only World War II history, but the transformation period from radio to television news. All can be obtained inexpensively and each have a great story to tell. Along with the last living member, Richard C. hottelet, other members of “Murrow’s Boys” included William L. Shirer, Eric Sevareid, Tom Grandin, Larry LeSueur, Charles Collingwood, Howard K. Smith, Winston Burdett, Bill Downs, Cecil Brown, and the first female broadcaster for CBS Radio Network, Mary Marvin Breckinridge.

Affordable History: Dr. Sam Sheppard

Dr. Sam Sheppard – The Trial of the Century


Featured in Autograph January 2008

Endure and Conquer (1968), by Dr. Sam Sheppard, which tells his story, signed by the author.

The “Trial of the Century” is a phrase used to denote an important trial that gained widespread notice and publicity.  During the 20th Century there are a number of trials that legal experts consider fall into this category:  The Harry K. Thaw Murder Trial (1906), The Sacco-Vanzetti Trial (1920s), The Leopold-Loeb Case (1924), The Scopes Monkey Trial (1925), The Lindbergh Kidnapping (1932), The Gloria Vanderbilt Custody Trial (1934), The Nuremberg Trials (1945), The Manson Family Trial (1970-71) and The O. J. Simpson Trial (1995).  To a lesser degree was the trial of Dr. Sam Sheppard or “Dr. Sam,” the sobriquet he generally went by.

What makes Dr. Sam’s Trial unique from the others is that it ran from 1954-2002 and has never been satisfactorily concluded.  It began on July 3-4, 1954 when Dr. Sam found his wife Marilyn dead in their upstairs bedroom.  The Sheppards were an upper middle class couple that lived in an upscale home on Lake Eire in Bay View, Ohio, near Cleveland.  From the start of whole episode Sheppard told essentially the same story. After having a party Marilyn, went to bed and Sam fell asleep on the day-bed while watching a movie. He awoke up to what he thought was someone calling his name.  Running up to the bedroom he saw a shadowy figure that he grappled with until he was knocked out from behind.  When he came to he checked bloody scene and found his wife was dead.  Finding the back door open he saw a tall, middle aged “bushy haired man” running towards the lake.  He caught up with the man and in a second fight was again knocked unconscious.  From the time the first policeman arrived the circus began.  The house and lawn were soon filled with police, reporters, neighbors and the curious, wandering in and out of the murder scene. With no one in charge Dr. Samuel Gerber, the county coroner, arrived and took over. Gerber immediately believed Sheppard had been the killer. Newspapers, at first sympathetic, were soon pressing in bold headlines for his arrest.

Sam Sheppard

The ensuing trial began on October 18th and turned into what the New York Times described as a “Roman Circus” with a posturing judge, cover-ups and biased media coverage that convicted him in the press.  Sheppard was found guilty of second-degree murder and was sentenced to life imprisonment. Within a month his mother had committed suicide and his father had died of cancer. Sheppard’s lawyer, in hindsight had made serious mistakes but he kept appealing.

Sheppard with Ariane Tebbernjohaans, his second wife.

In 1961 a brash flamboyant young lawyer, F. Lee Bailey took on Sheppard’s case and instituted a number of motions, finally reaching the Supreme Court, which overturned the conviction 8-1. In 1968 he was re-tried and easily acquitted. Sheppard’s freedom was fleeting and depressive.  Three days after leaving prison he married Ariane Tebbernjohaans, a stunning blonde 33-year old German divorcee with whom he had been corresponding and become engaged. She also created a controversy when it became known that she was the half-sister of Magda Rictchel, the wife of Nazi propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels.  Sheppard and a ghost writer quickly wrote a book, Endure and Conquer, which told his side of the murder story and his 12-years of life in prison. Sam and Ariane went on the publicity circuit but were divorced less than two years later. Sheppard went back into medical practice but soon quit after the families of two dead patients sued him for malpractice. He found it hard to find work until he met George Strickland and began a brief career as a professional wrestler going by the name of “The Killer.”  Six months before his death he married Strickland’s 20 year old daughter.  On April 6, 1970 he died from the affects of alcoholism, having become a two fifth a day drinker plus having an addiction to pills. His son and others have spent years trying to regain Sheppard’s good name, but in a third civil trial he was found “not innocent,” leaving his guilt or innocense still undecided.  The last legal case, in 2002, seemingly ended his long trek through the legal system. Sheppard has been the subject of numerous books and articles, documentaries and his case became the basis for the highly popular TV series, The Fugitive (despite the creator’s denials) and several movies.

Sheppard's signature, worth more than $100

Sheppard’s autograph is worth well in excess of $100 but by checking booksellers I found several copies of his autobiography, jointly signed by he and Ariane, from their book tour.  One copy cost me $8.00.  This is a good reminder that hunting through bookstores or the internet can find you historic treasures for little or nothing.  In the past month my wife has found 6 signed books in Goodwill Stores, they cost $1-2 and none was worth less than $35.00.  Happy hunting.

Book Collector: Let’s Hear it for the Boys and Their Autographs


Featured in Autograph January 2008

Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. signed this promotional postcard for his 2007 BCPAC lecture at the University of Pittsburgh.

Named after his famous father, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has carried on his family’s mission of helping the world to become a better place. This Kennedy’s particular crusade is saving the environment from destruction at the hands of greedy corporations and everyday citizens. As the country’s most prominent environmental attorney, RFK Jr. has also used his pen to further his activism, writing two books about the environment, Crimes Against Nature and The Riverkeepers (co-authored with John Cronin). In addition, he wrote a children’s book, St. Francis of Assisi (after whom he’s also named) and his first book, 1977’s Judge Frank M. Johnson: A Biography.

RFK Jr. inscribed and signed a page in his book, Crimes Against Nature

Last April, I had the pleasure of attending RFK Jr.’s lecture and signing at the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford. He spoke for nearly an hour and half, and never used a note! Naturally, for the signing afterwards, I went armed with his three most recent books, as well as the Playbill and promotional postcard for the event. Kennedy flew through the signing, appearing to be rushed and even distracted at times. My comment to him about me being named after St. John Evangelist, in relating to his own


namesake, St. Francis, was completely ignored. However, to his credit, he stayed until everything was signed.


Barack Obama

Obama's first book, Dreams of My Father, featuring what appears to be an autopen signature.

When Barack Obama burst onto the scene at the 2004 Democratic

National Convention, I, like millions of others, became enamored by his powerful aura. I immediately read his first book, Dreams from My Father, and I loved it. Then, after Obama became the new Senator from Illinois, I devoured his second book, The Audacity of Hope.

What, then, is a collector to do? Most certainly, send the two books off to be signed, especially when considering that, even at the time, it was clear Obama was going to make a run for the White House. In early 2007, I mailed the two books to his Capitol Hill office. Many weeks later, the books arrived back in my mailbox. My initial elation, however, was soon dampened, when upon close inspection, I noticed that both signatures were identical, except where one trailed off a little longer at the end. The culprit, I suspect, was a busy autopen machine employed by an even busier senator and presidential candidate. It looks as though he plays by the same through-the-mail autograph rules as Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Obama's second book, The Audacity of Hope, with a signature nearly identitcal to the one in Dreams from My Father.

As with any alleged autopen usage, I’ll let you, my book collecting friends, be the ultimate judge after you’ve examined the images yourself. In Obama’s defense, I have noticed him signing up a storm, in-person, on the campaign trail.


Terry McAuliffe

Terry McAuliffe signed this bookplate in his book, What a Party! The title page is signed by his wife, Dorothy, and daughter, Sally.

Terry McAuliffe is a longtime political and fundraising mastermind who served as the energetic Chairman of the Democratic National Committee from 2001 to 2005 and then assumed the role of campaign chairman for Hillary Rodham Clinton’s historic 2008 bid for the presidency. I caught up with McAuliffe at his 2007 Washington, D.C. 50th birthday party/launch party for his book, What a Party! And what a party it was, with a who’s who of our capital’s social scene, including a star-studded appearance and remarks by Senator Clinton (she also led the crowd in singing “Happy Birthday” to the author).

A true sign of style: Every one of the nearly 1,000 guests received a book with a signed bookplate (all were handsigned). Of course, I also sought out McAuliffe’s beautiful wife, Dorothy, to autograph my book. At the time, McAuliffe’s young daughter, Sally, was standing with her mother, so I asked her to ink the book as well.


Anthony Hopkins

Served up Rare


Featured in Autograph January 2008

Photo by Lori Stoll

One of my favorite actors is Anthony Hopkins. Sir Anthony Hopkins. He has displayed extraordinary versatility in the range of roles he’s taken, from the decent, eccentric New Zealander whose dream it was to break a motorcycle speed limit on the Bonaventure flats in Nevada (The World’s Fastest Indian) to the repressed and reserved butler in The Remains of the Day to the representation of pure evil in his three Hannibal Lecter films (The Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal, Red Dragon). Hopkins has given us performances that have chilled and thrilled and captivated us for all the years he has been acting. He’s played such controversial real-life characters as William Bligh in The Bounty, Richard Nixon in Oliver Stone’s Nixon, John Quincy Adams in Amistad, Yitzhak Rabin in Victory at Entebbe, Pablo Picasso in Surviving Picasso, Adolph Hitler in The Bunker and Richard Bruno Hauptman in The Lindbergh Kidnapping. More recently he appeared in The Human Stain, based on Philip Roth’s novel; Oliver Stone’s Alexander; Proof, based on the play by David Auburn; the remake of All the King’s Men; Emilio Estevez’s Bobby; and Fracture, costarring Ryan Gosling.

He’s been nominated for six Golden Globes, four Emmys, and four Academy Awards. He won two of the Emmys (for Hitler and Hauptman) and one Oscar for The Silence of the Lambs. Unlike some of his contentious peers like Marlon Brando and George C. Scott, who refused their Oscars on principles Hopkins never understood, Hopkins considered winning his Oscar as a greater achievement than being knighted by Queen Elizabeth in 1993.

“Getting the Oscar was a great moment for me,” he has said. “It changed my life because it knocked a lot of myself down inside of me. Not crippling self-doubts, but doubts that I wanted to be rid of. I think praise is a very good thing to have in one’s life. It’s better than a kick in the ass.”

Hopkins was knighted in 1993 by Queen Elizabeth, shortly before this photo was taken at the Miramar Hotel in Santa Monica. I didn't know if I should address him as "Sir Anthony" or simply "Tony." He said the Oscar for Silence of the Lambs meant more to him than being knighted.

I got to know Hopkins just after he was knighted and presented with his Oscar for playing Lecter. His on-screen time in Silence of the Lambs was twenty-seven minutes, yet his presence was so pervasive that his award was for Best Actor, rather than Supporting Actor. I met him at hotels in Beverly Hills and in Santa Monica and we spent long hours discussing his personal and professional life. He was fascinating to talk to, full of energy and opinions. I must admit, having seen him as Hitler and as Hannibal the Cannibal, I approached him with some trepidation. I really didn’t know what to expect. He was friendly, but a bit wary at the time. He really wasn’t all that fond of being interrogated. It’s one thing to talk to a reporter about a current movie or art project, but quite another when that reporter wants to dig deeper, get more personal, and try to lift the lid to get beneath the often well-honed surface.  Hopkins surprised me with his candor about his childhood, which he was willing to discuss in heartbreaking detail.

“I was an idiot at school,” he said. “I didn’t know what time of day it was. We lived in the rural part of an industrial steel-working town. And when I first went to school, I was in a completely alien environment. I can remember the smell of stale milk, drinking straws and wet coats, and sitting there absolutely petrified. And that fear stayed with me all through my childhood. That gnawing anxiety that I was freaky, that I wasn’t really fitting in anywhere. I didn’t know what was expected of me. I couldn’t achieve anything, and I couldn’t accomplish anything. I wasn’t popular at all. I never played with any of the other kids, didn’t have any friends. I wanted to be left alone right through my school years.”

Just as surprising was what he had to say about actors and acting. “What’s so special about being an actor?” he said. “Actors are nothing. Actors are of no consequence. Most actors are pretty simple-minded people who just think they’re complicated.”

Is it irony or coincidence that Hitler and Hopkins share the same "AH" initials? Obviously Hopkins has thought about it, signing this copy of The Bunker the way he did.

But that was in the early nineties, before Hopkins had married for the third time and mellowed a bit. In 2004 I interviewed him again when he was promoting Proof. I asked if he was no longer restless. “No,” he answered.  “I’m happily married now, and I’ve changed a lot. I don’t want to sit in a trailer and work long hours anymore. I play the piano. Read. I’m painting with acrylics now. I have a small show of my work in San Antonio. Go to restaurants and let my wife do the ordering. I very much stay at home. Which is good.”

Hopkins signed as Stevens, the English butler in The Remains of the Day. So refreshing to see an Oscar-caliber actor willing to sign in such a memorable way. A collector's dream.

I wondered if he had read any books about mathematicians, to prepare for the role of a brilliant mathematician in Proof. “No,” Hopkins said, “but I’m a pianist, so I do have an attraction to math, even if I don’t understand it. I’m slightly obsessed with numbers and dates. I can work out, mathematically, certain dates. Today’s the 28th of June, a Tuesday. There’s also a 28th of June on a Tuesday in 1955, exactly fifty years ago. I can work out what dates fall on what days through the ages. I worked this out in Chicago. My wife was asking me, “Are you counting on your fingers?” I can remember dates of years throughout my whole life, and what day they fell out on, what I was doing. So I suppose I have locked in my brain somewhere a mathematical talent. I don’t use it because I don’t need it.”

What’s the most important date in your life that you can remember?” I wondered. Hopkins knew exactly. “September 30, 1955. It was the beginning of a whole change of life. I won a scholarship to a local acting school in South Wales [the Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff]. When I was in school I guess I was sort of ADD, I didn’t have any knowledge of anything. But I auditioned for this local college and won a scholarship and it was in the newspaper. It was a turning point in my life. And then on a Monday, October 3rd, I went to my first acting course. I was seventeen and got a taste of what this required. The years passed by and I went into the National Service, then came out, and went into this profession and here we are.”

This is my favorite of all actors' inscriptions. Hopkins writes as the devilish Hannibal Lecter from The Silence of the Lambs, inviting me for dinner in London. I still hear the way he inhaled so chillingly when he spoke similar words to FBI agent Clarice (Jodie Foster) in the film.

When Hopkins was a boy, he once wrote to Humphrey Bogart, asking for an autograph. Bogart sent him a photograph. He once asked and received an autograph from his fellow Welshman, actor Richard Burton. The third actor he wrote to for an autograph was Charlie Chaplin, who sent one to him. “They were prized from the time I had them until I lost them,” Hopkins recalled. And he’s never forgotten what it feels like to want someone’s autograph.  “When people stand in line at a premiere,” he says, “I try to sign as many as I can.”

Hopkins has a confident, beautiful signature. When I asked him to sign a copy of Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day, which Hopkins made memorable as the butler Stevens, Hopkins wrote: “Dear Larry, I think we should take breakfast in the drawing room. Stevens (Anthony Hopkins).”  In James P. O’Donnell’s The Bunker, he inscribed it in character, using the same initials as Adolph Hitler:  “All orders must be obeyed without question at all.  A H”   And when I handed him my copy of Thomas Harris’s The Silence of the Lambs, he wrote: “Next time we meet Larry will be in England for a few dinners of raw liver fava beans and chianti. So until then—pleasant dreams. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins).”

Just from these inscriptions one can see that Hopkins is a playful, confident, complex person. And yet, when it comes to acting, the pragmatist in him always made it sound simple: learn your lines, show up, get on with it. But was it really that easy?

“Yeah, yeah,” he said. “The hardest part is putting off the procrastination. I take the script and sit down with a bunch of pencils and markers and go through it very thoroughly until I feel relaxed inside, that I know what I’m doing. I turn up prepared. That’s what I do. I learn the script. Then I go through the preparation, the wardrobe, and I know where I am and what I’m going to do. But once they start rewriting on set, I say no. ‘No, no. I’ve done my preparation, don’t start rewriting it now. I’ll have to take another three weeks off.’ I always make sure that the rewrites come in time so I can learn them. I worked on a film once with Chris Rock [Bad Company]. The producer, Jerry Bruckheimer, would rewrite stuff. I said to him one day, “Why do you do this? To torture us? I just want to let you know when you send me these new pages I throw them in the trash.” People were shocked: “You talk to Jerry Bruckheimer that way?”  Yeah, screw it. If he sends me pages on the day we’re shooting, they go in the trash can.”

Hopkins has never forgotten what it feels like to want someone's autograph. "When people stand in line at a premiere," he says, "I try to sign as many as I can." Signed still from The Silence of the Lambs.

When I saw him more recently, he was filming Slipstream, a small movie blending fiction and nonfiction, reality and illusion, which he wrote, was directing, starring in and had composed the music for. He seemed happy and self-satisfied. He loved being so totally immersed in all facets of moviemaking. And he was preparing for a showing of his art work in a gallery in Texas.  He showed me his drawings, which were small and well done, mostly of landscapes and flowers. He said he used photographic paper, which gave them their shine. He drew with a kind of Sharpie pen, with various colors. He said his last exhibit had sold out.

He spoke about how he felt invigorated doing his art, composing music, making a personal film. “Everyone has genius within him,” he said. “It just has to be explored.”  And then he confessed to changing his attitude about his profession.  “I used to always put down actors and acting, but I realize now that when I said that, I was protecting myself, saying it before someone else could say it and hurt me.”

I wasn't expecting his hand to grab my neck, but that's Lecter for you: he looks right into the camera without a hint of the malevolence inside his head.

Hopkins turns seventy in December, 2007. It’s taken him a long time, but he’s finally beginning to mellow.