« Proud Poppa | Main | Technivision? »

Thursday, 16 September 2010


By Nancy Lazinsky

Bing Crosby

Come to think about it, I have had more than my 15 minutes of fame, although there was no Andy Warhol around when I had them.

Back when I was in my early teens in the 1940s, I spent whole days in smelly Chicago alleys, downtown behind the Chicago and the Oriental theaters, the only two that still had live acts except, that is, for the Southtown which, as the name implies, was far away on Chicago’s South Side.

I was waiting and hoping to get autographs of the then-famous. It was fascinating to me to find out if they were anything like their image on the big screen.

Carol Landis was my first. She took us into her dressing room and showed us her stage gowns and let us interview her for our school newspapers. On occasion, instead of an alley, it was the lobby of a posh Golden Mile hotel off Lake Michigan. Diana Lynn, (remember her?) instead of being the sweet girl next door, swept in wearing a leopard-skin dress and turban.

Bing Crosby refused to sign autographs even though our small band of seekers had been standing outside his hotel in the freezing wind blowing across the lake. We were half frozen to death. He was waiting for a cab and had nothing else to do, but still he refused. I was crushed.

Later, my friend, Billy DeWolfe, a comedian in several movies with Bing, told him of my disappointment and for several years I was on Bing's Christmas card list.

Donald O'Connor chased me down the alley to return my pen. He had asked us up to his dressing room for birthday cake. It must be lonely to celebrate a birthday on tour.

Donald O'Connor

Joe E. Brown asked me what restaurant I could recommend. He was appearing in Harvey.

Sophie Tucker was haughty, but signed.

Katheryn Grayson was sweet as you would expect.

I have Vaughn Monroe 's signature but don't remember him at all, nor do I remember Martha Raye. It was, after all, a long time ago.

Jerry Colonna kindly offered to keep me company outside the Southtown Theatre because I was all alone, standing in the dark and the cold (remember, we are in Chicago) after the show was over and the lights were turned out. I was waiting for my date to return with another key to his father's Lincoln to replace the one that had broken in the icy car door lock.

I held Van Johnson's little finger as he brought our enthralled group along with him into the small hotel floral shop. He was buying flowers for Sonja Henie who never gave autographs. We couldn't see what he saw in her.

A flower pot got knocked down in the overly-crowded shop and broke on the floor. Van cheerfully paid for it. He was taller than I expected and his face quite scarred from a motorcycle accident, but a real gentleman.

On State Street (“that great street”), I had a nice chat with Victor Borge about my Danish grandfather.

The Mills brothers offered to sing whatever song I chose during their program. I asked for Across the Alley From The Alamo and after they sang my choice, they turned around and bowed to me, backstage, probably bewildering the audience in front.

Other autographs that were in my album were from Dick Haymes, Perry Como, Bonita Granville and Patty and LaVerne Andrews (Maxine must have gotten away) along with Olsen and Johnson and Mel Torme.

A few years later, when I was a hostess for the USO on Michigan Avenue, Jimmy Durante showed up unexpectedly. He played the piano, sang and talked with all the young servicemen. In those days, it was only boys. He was in town and had come down to help out. What a nice guy!

Billy, my friend Pat and I had a two-page picture spread in the newspaper about fan clubs. There were pictures taken in my bedroom, pictures at the train station and pictures backstage in Billy's dressing room as he put on his stage makeup. It was then that I became aware that you can't believe a word that is said in the newspapers. What a surprise!

Years later, I got Mickey Mantle's autograph. But that is another story for another day.

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Instructions for submitting are here.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


I hadn't thought about some of those names in years, but your story brought back the memories.

The only autograph I ever had was one from Imogene Coca when we were together for a matinee and lunch at Sardi's. When I left NYC I picked up the wrong program that she had signed and lost the autograph. She was nearly blind then and I doubt that anyone would have recognized her signature, but I would have known who it was and it would of reminded me of what a truly lovely lady she was.

What a talent she was. You lost the autograph but not the memory. That's the important thing. Nancy

Nancy - what a memory you have. I loved your story. A bit about each one made them come alive again and made me want to keep reading to see who I would meet next. Thanks for sharing these memories.

Nancy - Wow. What an assertive and aggressive teenager you were!

I too collected autographs; buit from the safety of my home. I mailed TIME Magazine covers to the individuals pictured, with a return envelope. Almost all returned them signed. I got many foreign and domestic dignitaries, including Eisenhower, Nixon, Jack and Bob Kennedy, and Lyndon Johnson - even Princess Grace. (Krushchev never returned his.)

Neat story! Thanks. - Sandy

This is delightful. Thanks so much for posting it. I grew up in a small town in southern Wisconsin and didn't get to see anyone nationally known until I went away to college. I lived in New York City for four years in the early sixties and knew most of the folk singers in Greenwich Village who became very well known. I never thought of asking them for an aoutograph, although I did get one from Pete Seeger for someone who asked me to do it.

I knew our readership here would like this, Nan. I'm proud of you, and delighted to see so many responses.

Nancy, what a great trip down memory lane. Wonderfully written too. It reminded me of my totally forgotten autograph seeking activities as a teenager. An avid reader of magazines like "Modern Screen" I would write to different stars and would receive an autographed photo. It was positively thrilling.

Can you read between the lines to see that Nancy(known to me as Grammy) was a gorgeous teenager!

Yes, Marie, and she's been a stunning representative of every decade she's lived through, and totally unaware of it, which adds to the charm.

Aw Shucks...thanks. Nancy

Brenda, do you still have them? And Who?

Sandy..Thats such a great idea. You have a wonderful collection there. N.

Jerry...I have Pete's autograph too. One day I answered the phone and a familiar voice said "This is Pete Seeger". Turns out that I had told a mutual friend about an inscription on a gravestone in the Poughkeepsie Rural Cemetery and he had passed it on to Pete. Pete wanted to print it in his magazine but first wanted to check with me. The inscription was...Anyone can count the number of seeds in an apple but only God can count the number of apples in a seed. Pete sent me an autographed copy of the magazine.

I love the way you write and enjoy hearing about the way things were. It was a great touch to include a couple of photos, really great. Thank you.

The only autograph that I ever got for myself was Judy Garland's, and I sat in the lobby of the Fairmont Hotel for two days, waiting for her to arrive, to get it. She was lovely and very kind.

Bev...That's nice to know. Thanks. Nancy

In 1995, I saw dancing legend Ann Miller in a restaurant in Arizona. She wore a beautiful green silk pant suit, very minimal make-up, and a natural hairstyle - a long, dark braid down her back.

She was in spectacular shape, with flat abs and perfect posture.

She laughed and carried on in a lovely way, not loudly. But she was obviously having a ball with a large group of pals, handsome men and women around her same age. They were having a lot of fun, too.

She and her friends left before I did, and I watched Ms. Miller sweep out of the restaurant like a star. Again, she didn't try to make a show, she was just glamorous!

What impressed me most was how, without the stage make-up and big hair, she was just spectacularly beautiful. Her beautiful skin, the long braid, the way she walked, the casual yet glamorous flowing, Kelly green silk outfit, the gold jewelry.

When I first spotted her, I said to our waiter, "Is that Ann Miller?!"

He said, "Yes, it is."

I said, "Wow, she looks absolutely wonderful!"

He said, "Yes, she looks great, but, if you see her hands close-up, they're old."

And now that I am 56, and probably not as old as Ms. Miller was that day, I think, "Gosh, a girl can't get a break!"

What pressure she must have been under to look so well, and how she met the challenge!

The sight of her that day still inspires me to turn down second helpings and work out. She was a fine example of a woman who took good care of herself, and was proud of her efforts.

The comments to this entry are closed.