Man Inherits 80,000 Autographs: 22 Marilyn Monroes, 12 Steve McQueens, Elvis, James Dean, Disney, John Lennon, More

  • David Kuflik showing some of his 80,000 autographs on Fox TV's Amazing Inheritances.
    David Kuflic on Fox Business TV's "Strange Inheritances" with host, Jamie Colby

 

When Microsoft laid-off David Kuflik in 2014 he had lots of time on his hands—and lots of autographs inherited from his dad and aunt. Collected mostly in-person from the 1950s to 2012, the collection spans Marilyn Monroe and Steve McQueen, to Jackie Robinson, Elvis, John Lennon, Steven Spielberg and Tupac Shakur. And many multiples.

It’s an incredible collection.

My father, Harvey Kuflik, and aunt, Rhoda Kuflik, started collecting in-person autographs in New York in the early 1950’s and continued vigorously collecting their whole lives. Harvey passed in 2002 and Rhoda passed in 2012.

Both collected for the love of it and didn’t sell their autographs. Their collections are fully intact and almost all of them were collected in person. My father also acquired a couple smaller autograph collections from his collecting friends in Hollywood.

I collected actively with my father in Hollywood as a kid in the 1980’s. I inherited their collections and after working 17 years at Microsoft, I left my day job and have dedicated the past two years full-time curating this collection.

David has spent 2 years cataloging the 80,000-plus autographs, and he’s starting to sell them. Check out the 164 he sold at RR Auction. He’ll be selling soon through his own web store, too.

Don’t miss David’s Autograph Live discussion about his collection. Members have posted wish lists. And check out the gallery of his collection he just made public: thekuflikcollection.com.

Be careful—don’t drool on your computer.

David Kuflik and his collection are featured in the Fox Business Channel Strange Inheritances episode “Autograph Addicts.”

Celebrity Attitudes Towards Signing Autographs

By Jeff Benziger

Let’s be real with ourselves, fellow autograph collectors: We expect celebrities to stop whatever they are doing and give us a scrawl that says we were in their presence. But honestly, have you ever thought how it might be a real drag to be a celebrity and have people pawing at us in the grocery store, in the vacation hotel or, yes, even in the public restroom, for an autograph?

“But they owe it to their fans,” is a quip we often dispense when we hear of a celebrity with a bad attitude toward signing. Maybe, and maybe not. Nowhere is it written that upon becoming a president, actor, or astronaut that one must always give an autograph to an adoring fan (who might be the guy with dollar signs in his eyes) at any given moment. While our society has an expectation that those who are held up as celebrities be pleasant and not so arrogant as to deprive us something so simple as ink on paper, we really have no right to a signature.

Sure, as we walk around in obscurity thinking it would be cool to have people clamoring for our signature, our attitudes might shift after we’ve spent a week, month, or even a year in a celebrity’s shoes.

The reasons for celebrities not signing are wide and varied. In the eBay era, many resent taking their time supplying a marketable product. The egos of others are stroked to know that they are so popular that their scribble is worth money.

Some celebrities are just not comfortable in their own skin and see signing as a silly game. Author Stephen King, who has a cult following, has an aversion to collectors now. He reportedly does not like signing photos of himself because of his disdain for the idolatry of celebrities. At one time he would sign books if they were mailed to him for that reason, but to help ease his workload as he enters semi-retirement, King will now only sign autographs at book signings.

While modern celebrities can be notoriously terrible about signing (Sandra Bullock and her “I hate signing” comments comes to mind), disdain for autograph collectors has been shared in all arenas of fame — even by presidents.

Ever the common man, salty-tongued Harry Truman referred to the White House as the “great white jail.” The farmer-turned-world leader never quite got used to being treated as a super celebrity. It irked him that his home in Independence, Missouri, had to be fenced off with black wrought iron to keep people from peeking through his windows or plucking off souvenir clippings of his flowers and bushes.

Truman had no problem granting autograph requests through the mail because he did it in the privacy of his home on his own schedule. But it was the impeding of his flow of traffic outside the house by autograph collectors that caused him grief. He complained to Merle Miller, the author of his oral biography, Plain Speaking, that “that job” created havoc for him strolling about as a free man. He complained that anyone who spotted him wanted an autograph.

“In that damn job I couldn’t even go to the bank to cash a check without a crowd following me around,” said Truman, “asking for autographs. And it’s just like I told you. Those folks who want autographs; they’re just like a bunch of pups. Once one of them pisses on a fire hydrant they’ve all got to do it.”

The 34th president once complained to the locals in Independence that he couldn’t go anywhere without drawing a crowd and hated the lack of privacy. Once he and Bess checked into a motel in Indiana where the owner recognized Truman but swore he wouldn’t tell a soul. Then the former president and first lady went out to dinner and returned to find about 500 people gathered at the motel to catch a sighting. So much for secrets.

No doubt, collectors often give themselves a bad name by breaching etiquette. There is a good time and a bad time to seek an autograph. The coup de grâce of all horrible autograph collecting stories happened to the late actor Paul Newman. The story has often been repeated about how Newman was standing at a urinal when a stooge-of-a-collector approached him and asked for an autograph. The “sign please during a whizz” experience blew it for the rest of the world; Newman forever vowed to refuse to sign in person, but did pose for photos.

Should we have to say that it’s also rude to ask a celebrity to sign during dinner? Famed wartime journalist Ernie Pyle once became overwhelmed by those who mobbed him while dining at an Italian restaurant near the White House. Pyle became so distracted by autograph hounds that he stood up and demanded a cigarette in exchange for every signature. Pyle was unable to eat his meal but collected several packs of cigarettes.

Yes, the nicest of signers can rebuff a collector in the wrong situations. The late actor Gary Cooper, ever the gentleman with fans, had his limits. Once with actor Joel McCrea at a symphony concert at the Hollywood Bowl, Cooper ignored—or didn’t hear—the collector’s cries of “Mr. Cooper! Mr. Cooper!” McCrea had enough of the pest, turned around and barked for him to be quiet. McCrea later heard the dejected collector sadly mutter that his Western hero had become deaf.

Dave Smith, who would later become in charge of the Walt Disney Studios archives, was a child when he learned of Walt Disney’s tendency to shy from autograph seekers at Disneyland. Smith spied Disney and charged into a gift shop to buy a pen and autograph book but was turned down by his hero. Mr. Disney stopped signing at his park because he was once shown on a TV show signing autographs at the park, and every visitor and their brother tried to keep him from his business.

Dishonest “collectors” have also left a bad taste in the mouths of many a celebrity. There’s the person who will approach the famous armed with photos, expecting them to be signed so he or she can make an immediate profit. On one occasion in the 1992 presidential campaign Bill Clinton protested after one such collector placed a lot of items in front of him, replying, “This is excessive.”

The late President Gerald Ford was great with collectors but would occasionally get testy with “professional” collectors who would walk up with a handful of photos to sign. Ford was no fool and protested on one occasion, explaining that “I don’t sign for professionals.” Ford stood there stiff and grim-faced as the young pro posed for a photo with the ex-president.

Will Rogers once addressed the dishonesty of those who come face to face with a celebrity and offer phony flattery to get an autograph. Rogers made thousands of visits throughout the world and wherever he went, whether it was on location of one of his 21 movies or on a humanitarian trip, Rogers was besieged by autograph collectors. He gave them what they wanted but on one occasion seemed a bit irritated by their tactics of telling white lies to get autographs, as evidenced by a column: “There ain’t any unemployed in this country—what the so-called idle are doing is getting autographs, and say, they are working twenty-four hours a day. Fellow comes up and says: ‘I see all your pictures,’ and I ask him which ones, and he can’t name a one. Woman brings a little five-year-old girl up and says: ‘Tillie wants to meet you, she reads all your little articles in the papers and enjoys ’em.’ Tillie says: ‘Who is he, Ma?’”

There were, and are, celebrities who took abuse from collectors while grinning, the “Jimmy Stewarts of celebrity” who sign for every last fan, putting his own schedule behind demands. Ronald Reagan remained friendly to collectors from the time he became an actor until his time as an ex-president. Stories about him signing at his Wednesday night pilgrimage to his favorite hangout, Chasen’s, abound. At one point Reagan offered Post-it notes that he signed ahead of time in anticipation of the crowd.

The late President Richard Nixon was always good with collectors, too. After falling from grace and resigning the presidency, Nixon retired to San Clemente, Calif., and then moved to Saddle River, New Jersey, a New York suburb. Over the years stories evolved how he was overeager to sign. Once Nixon visited a Burger King and left a note that read, “To Burger King, With Best Wishes, Richard Nixon.”

The children of Saddle River got a special treat one Halloween: autographed cards. David Lat enjoyed the Nixon Halloween experience from aged 8 to 11, and remembered Richard and Pat Nixon standing on their broad doorstep, greeting their guests with smiles and handshakes. On both sides of them were huge baskets filled with candy and other treats. The routine called for shaking the Nixons’ hands before approaching the candy. One year Nixon handed out elegant brass pens engraved with his signature on the barrel. Another year Nixon gave out orange cards with drawings of witches and black cats on them. At the top of the card was printed, “The Nixon Family wishes you a Happy Halloween.” Nixon signed each card personally. Unfortunately the cards weren’t treated delicately in the Lat household as he said the cards “made excellent refrigerator decorations.”

Most modern politicians accept autograph signing as an expected part of politicking, like handshaking. The best time to get a president’s signature is to catch him on the campaign trail before he’s elected. John Kennedy was good about signing. In one of his last acts of life, Kennedy ordered his limousine to be pulled over in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963 to sign autographs for nuns holding up a sign. One wonders where that last autograph is.

Other celebrities have just been plain indifferent. You know them by the value of their signatures. Greta Garbo remained cold to collectors her whole life and reportedly grew more hostile as an elderly recluse. It was said that if you approached her on the streets of New York for an autograph that she had a brick in her purse and wasn’t afraid to swing it at collectors. In her heyday, she didn’t even want her fan mail answered and had some 15,000 letters per week burned by the studio, saying, “Who are all these people who write? I don’t know them. They don’t know me. What have we to write each other about? Why do they want my picture? I’m not their relative.”

Always aloof, Garbo viewed asking for autographs as undignified. But she was apparently aware of her autograph’s value. In the summer of 1985 a friend showed Garbo a newspaper article about the autograph of Ayatollah Khomeini falling from the highest price of any living person and hers climbing back to the top. She reportedly rejoiced at the news.

The story is told that while leaving a New York hotel one day, Garbo asked MGM publicist Hubert Voight how much of a tip she should leave two receptionists. When he suggested $5 each, Garbo said, “That’s too much money for me”“ followed by a suggestion to “Write them a check—they’ll frame it.”

Katherine Hepburn also had an aversion to the act of signing, but not because she didn’t like people. I once wrote Hepburn for an autograph but never heard back. A good friend who I turned onto autograph collecting brought me a signed letter Ms. Hepburn wrote to him. “I didn’t ask for an autograph,” my friend concluded. He was right. I sent her a letter of praise of her career. Ms. Hepburn offered me her appreciation and the prize of an autograph.

While Jesus Christ probably never had to face autograph seekers traveling from town to town in Israel, a phrase of his should be something to take heed of when it comes to our treatment of celebrities: “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

Virginia Davis: Disney’s First Star

By MARGARET KERRY

— Autograph February 2009

Signed photo of Davis as “Alice” in Disney’s Alice Comedies (1923-25)

Many disney fans are unaware that before the mouse, there was 4-year-old Alice. Virginia Davis is the Disney legend who starred as Alice in the young director’s first live-action animated short film, Alice’s Wonderland, which led to a series of 14 Alice Comedies. As two of Walt Disney’s earliest actors, Virginia and I always have much to talk about. I attended her interview with a biographer for an upcoming book and we got to catch up on old times.

Sitting in the small library in her retirement home, Virginia was stylishly dressed as always, this time in beige slacks with an elegant fitted jacket. Her signature cap was perched over her blonde curls.

“Virginia, you’re as bright as a new penny and as lively as the day Walt Disney spotted you in 1923,” I said.

“That was before there was any thought of a mouse,” Virginia replied emphatically.

It’s hard to believe that this beguiling little lady celebrated her 90th birthday on December 31.

Margaret Kerry: So, tell me, how did Walt Disney find you?

Davis holding the poster for Alice’s Day at Sea

Virginia Davis: He found me on the screen when he went to see a silent movie in Kansas City, Mo. When I was 4 years old, I was picked to be the model for a Warneke Bread advertisement that popped up on the screen between films. I was posed reaching for a slice of the bread and my mouth seemed to say ‘Yum Yum’. Walt was barely out of his teens and he was really struggling to make a go of his Laugh-O-Gram cartoon company. He got an idea for a series of six- or seven-minute live-action animated movie theater shorts titled Alice Comedies and starring a 4-year-old girl.

When he cast you as Alice, you became the little girl who started the Disney dynasty, right?

Davis-signed photo of an Alice the Peacemaker poster

Yes, Alice’s Wonderland, the first Alice Comedies short I did was actually filmed in our family’s house with Walt directing and [his brother] Roy Disney behind the camera. One scene called for my movie mother to tuck me in my bed. Walt asked my own mother, Margaret, to do the scene but she was shy, so my Aunt Louise tucked me in instead.

Did you film all 14 Alice Comedies you starred in while you were living in the Los Angeles?

Alice’s Wonderland was really the pilot, the one filmed in my house. Walt relocated to L.A. and finally got a distributor for the shorts. The contract called for me to be the star. My folks thought the world of Walt so we moved to Los Angeles. During the time I was being filmed playing Alice, I went to school and dancing classes. Good thing, too. You can’t stay a 4-year-old forever.

Signed photo of Davis as one of the 12 “Harvey Girls.” Davis is behind Judy Garland (front center) to the left

As an adult, I danced in many films in the glory days of musicals. I quit the business after making The Harvey Girls with Judy Garland at MGM. I married a wonderful man, Bob McGhee, and settled down to raise two daughters, Laurieanne and Margaret.

And now, I’m back and appearing at autograph shows around the country. Fans are so surprised when they learn of Walt’s earliest days and see the photos that I sign. It’s a great experience.

What are the top three memories of your career?

I loved working with so many top choreographers, dancers, famous directors and actors. I’m particularly pleased at having quite a large part in a movie called Three on a Match, in which I played Joan Blondell as a 12-year-old.

Davis signing a photo with her poodle, Buster

And I know just how special it is that I am one of the very few people who was actually directed by Walt Disney and filmed by Roy. You know, when Walt was directing me he’d say “Let’s pretend,” then he’d tell me the story of the scene. We had to get it right on the first take because Walt and Roy couldn’t afford to buy film for “take two.”

I guess the third highlight would be the time I was given a Disney Legend Award at the Disney Studio. That represented many things to me. But in particular I like to think that those who said over and over ‘It all started with a mouse…’ became aware that Walt Disney’s career really started with a little 4-year-old girl—Me!