Memorable encounters and enduring friendships.
It is less common for today’s collector to rub shoulders with the famous, access being the greatest challenge. Most contemporary collectors acquire autographs from dealers, by mail, at trade shows or from eBay and other internet outlets. Those of my generation were fortunate to occasionally gain access to celebrities, security being less a consideration.
A few of my cherished memories include making it all the way to the hotel door where President Kennedy was staying in 1960 (the Olympic Hotel, Seattle). Feet from his open door, I was stopped by an FBI agent who took my letter request and promptly escorted me back to the elevator.
From 1969-75 I served in the US Army for as a senior enlisted chaplain’s assistant and military school instructor. Shortly before my deployment to Vietnam in 1970, I made a one-week private retreat at the great Inisfada manor estate on Manhasset, Long Island (sadly it was demolished in 2013). While there I met the former president of Fordham University, Father Robert Gannon, author of a definitive biography of Francis Cardinal Spellman. He graciously regaled me with many stories over a two hour period, some of which cannot be repeated.
In the early 1970’s I met and came to know the late composer Clark Gesner (Broadway musical genius). I’ll never forget sharing a piano bench with him in his Brooklyn Heights apartment as he played the score from You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown. Clark also was a die-hard autograph collector and left an impressive amount of material that found its way into the marketplace last year.
Around the same time, I had a brief meeting with the saintly Terence Cardinal Cooke, archbishop of New York, who presented me with a bronze medallion and handsome signed card. I nearly missed because of Manhattan traffic jams.
Perhaps my most memorable brush with celebrity was a two-hour interview in 1983 with the late comedian Phyllis Diller. “Killer Diller” and I continued to correspond until her death in 2013. In our online gallery you will find a lengthy transcript of one of my meetings with Phyllis.
Along the way I met many other greats such as Joan Rivers, Lily Tomlin, Judy Collins, the Pointer Sisters, Liberace, Johnny Mathis, Anne Murray and Bette Midler. There was also a brief encounter with singer Marvin Gaye just a few weeks before his tragic death.
While working in healthcare public relations, I had the pleasure of coordinating a two-day visit to our facility by the master of prestidigitation, David Copperfield, with his “Project Magic.” Mine has been a life filled with many wonderful encounters made possible owing mainly to an interest in autographs.
Perhaps my greatest privilege is the opportunity to meet many of our clients with whom we have collaborated since 1973. One such collector is Monsignor Francis Seymour, archive-emeritus of the Archdiocese of Newark and long-time archivist with Seton Hall University. The good Monsignor has been a client and friend since 1972. In addition to his interest in autographs of prelates, Frank also has devoted decades to acquiring memorial (death) cards for every American bishop and cardinal. He has amassed an impressive collection of cards, some of them quite rare given their limited print run. These cards were usually distributed only at funeral masses.
Last summer, it was my privilege to attend the golden anniversary celebration of Monsignor Seymour’s ordination to the priesthood. Nearly 600 clergy and laity attended the celebratory mass and dinner.
At the same event, I also had the pleasure of meeting another long-time client, Dr. Ronald Rainey of New York University. Doctor Rainey has one of the largest collections of autographs of American and European cardinals. He also was the subject of a feature article in The New Yorker Magazine (“Ecclesiastica” December 10, 1990).
50th priestly anniversary Francis R. Seymour
(L to R: Ron Weekes, Msgr. Seymour, Dr. Ronald Rainey)