By T.J. Schwartz
There is a group of players in the autograph business who are referred to as “chasers.”
These are guys that have contacts all over L.A. who tell them when a certain “A List” celebrity has been spotted at a particular location like a restaurant, club or LAX. They are the main source for most of the celebrity autographs that find their way into the Hobby.
Then there are the long-term chasers. These guys will sometimes take years to finish a multi-signed piece like a movie poster or a special photograph. As I am in Los Angeles and in the business, I know many of them. I call them “grapherazzi.” One of the most famous among them is Larry [not his real name] who is otherwise really known as “The Fat Man.”
Larry is well known out here both by his peers and the actual celebrities he chases. He has done some amazing things all in the chase of a rare ’graph. Here are a few anecdotal accounts.
Larry pays bounties to doormen, bouncers, Skycaps, etc. I remember him telling me a tale some decades ago about the late Marlon Brando.
He received a tip from one of his LAX insiders that Brando was waiting for a night flyer at 3 a.m. He put on a suit lined with Brando photos and various Sharpies and paint pens, grabs a briefcase and casually strolled up to the airline. The place was empty except for Brando just sitting and waiting.
“Oh my gosh, Mr. Brando! What an honor. May I shake your hand?”
Brando, who was known to be surly extended his hand and was nice to Larry.
“May I please have an autograph?”
Brando, as there was no one else there at the moment agrees to sign an autograph.
Larry pulled out about 10 various Godfather photos and a blue Sharpie.
Brando snickered and looked up, “OK, how did you know I was here?” as he grabbed the stack knowing he’d been chased.
Larry just smiled as Brando signed them all. What a score.
On to the Great Chase. Larry received an awesome photo of George H.W. and Barbara Bush, Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton, Jimmy and Roselyn Carter, and George W. and Laura Bush all posed in front of the Clinton Library at its grand opening on Nov. 11, 2004 in Little Rock, Arkansas. Larry spent years picking the autographs off one-by-one until he had them all, except for G.W. Bush, who doesn’t usually sign. But after Bush wrote a book, he embarked on a book signing tour in Texas. Here is where it gets amazing.
Larry booked a flight to Dallas. He attended the book signing at a local book store. Security, as you might imagine was crazy. Secret Service was everywhere. Metal detectors were everywhere. Large signs stated that the President would only sign his book.
Does all of that stop the Fat Man?
No blankin’ way!
He took the already valuable photo with eight of nine autographs and slid it under his shirt. He then waited to make sure he was last on line. G.W. Bush was in a good mood as he pumped the book. Larry, sweating bullets, passed Secret Service agents with this contraband under his shirt. He passed the metal detector; all he had was a book in his hands. He thought that everyone was staring at him. He began to wonder what it would be like in prison and wiped some more sweat out of his eyes. He was last in line and somehow he had to reach under his shirt in front of the President without getting shot. Then he had to magically ask and get Bush 43 to sign the photo.
While in front of G.W., with the Secret Service on both sides of him, he placed the book down and just went for it. He quickly reached under his shirt and grabbed the photo.
He showed it to G.W. while the Secret Service was moving. He pleaded to G.W. that he has been working on this since 2004 and even his wife, Laura, had signed it.
Bush looked at it, waved off the Secret Service and said that if his wife had signed it, then he better sign it as well. Wow! What a set of &^%$* Larry had, but if you believe it, you can achieve it. The Fat Man struck again.
In another example, Larry found out through another source that every day at a certain time and place the immortal Mel Brooks eats lunch. He showed up and got a few autographs. Soon, word got out and about a dozen guys start staking the place out.
Brooks is still gracious, enjoying the attention and fully aware that all of these will end up being sold on eBay or privately. This went on for a while until there were too many and Brooks stopped signing. But Larry has a way of getting celebrities to like him so he still got more.
Stephen Spielberg is another. While he does sign, Larry did his homework and found out who his favorite director was. I won’t reveal who, but every time Larry chases Spielberg, he brings him some historical memento. Spielberg now greets him by first name and signs for him until his arm gets tired.
Another tough autograph is Clint Eastwood. Larry has forged a connection with him through various photos of Eastwood behind the scenes, which he really likes.
Eastwood also greets him by first name. There’s something about old Hollywood that is totally different from the young stars today when it comes to signing. They all know you’re going to sell them, but they know it comes with the territory.
In the early 1970s, when I was in my 20s, I moved to SoCal to write comedy for TV. I practically lived at the Comedy Store and drove a taxi for income. I worked the Beverly Hills beat in the daytime and did comedy at night. I remember one day around Christmas time at the famous Beverly Wilshire Hotel, I was sitting on the taxi stand. I was last in line, so I was walking on Wilshire Boulevard looking around. I looked up and 10 feet in front of me was one of my movie heroes and a true movie star, Kirk Douglas.
He was walking right towards me holding a stack of what I assumed to be gifts.
I was 24 and this was the first movie star I had ever encountered. I couldn’t speak, only stare. Douglas stopped and asked me if I’m all right. I stammered something like, “Yes Mr. Douglas, but you’re Spartacus. [Google it if you are under 40.]
He said “That’s true, but aren’t you gonna ask me for an autograph?”
I stammered something like “uhhuh.”
He asked me to hold his boxes. As I’m loosening up because he treated me like a regular guy and not some loser that these young celebs do, he grabbed his own pen and paper and asked me my name. There it was my first autograph.
The old stars knew that without fans and yes, chasers, they would be out of work.
Until next month, I remain…On Your Side.
Need help or want some advice? Call T.J. at (818) 884-2273, e-mail email@example.com or visit porkyssports.com.