Dr. Fred Eichelman: I Confess, I Am A Philographist

Several years ago I was a guest on a local TV show and the subject was collecting. There were several of us and when the young lady who was the show’s hostess got to me she asked what my main interest was. I answered “I’m into Philography.” The poor lady gasped and looked like she wanted to faint and I quickly explained, “That’s a high-falutin’ name for autograph collecting.”  

Truth is, I’ve been collecting autographs for over 75 years. And I’m not the only one–it may surprise you to know that this hobby has been around for at least a couple thousand years. In ancient Rome Cicero wrote about his joy in having collected the autograph of Julius Caesar. 

In the beginning I did not think of it as collecting so much as I did corresponding Writing to politicians, media stars, and others letters of appreciation for their work and having questions. My very first was at age ten and took a lot of gall as I sent a story idea to a favorite author. Many authors are not crazy about that sort of thing, but Edgar Rice Burroughs, the creator of Tarzan, was very kind and wrote back personally. He liked my idea and encouraged me to continue writing. That was like lighting a fuse with a match as I began an interest that has gained me thousands of autographs ranging from pictures and books to collectibles, including historical documents and scripts. It has also gained me many wonderful friends.

Most of my collecting in the beginning was by mail and largely to political office holders. I received great lengthy responses from folks like from FBI director J.Edgar Hoover and then Vice President Richard Nixon. There were a number of senators and congressmen I wrote on various issues and was only bothered later when I found many of them sent machine generated answers with fake signatures. During my teaching years I also gave extra credit to students who wrote those in political office and local newspapers. 

However, I found the greatest responses came from those who were in film and television. In my early years of collection, media stars were willing to send you letters and autographed pictures. What was surprising, being a simpler age, many had no problem writing their names and addresses on envelopes. I have a pile of those I have saved. In their writing I learned many interesting things about the stars.

One actor I wrote to, and felt I would never get a response from, was the first 007, Sean Connery. Almost a year went by after writing him in Hollywood, and then I heard from him with several autographed pictures. The material came from his home in Spain, where I learned Sean preferred to handle his mail as it was less expensive there. Speaking of Bond stars, I also learned that Roger Moore was more open to female fans than male. I had no luck contacting him, but my wife Carolyn had excellent good fortune.

Photo property of Dr. Fred Eichelman

What was and remains especially nice is that contacting these folks sometimes leads to close friendships. One was actress Rhonda Fleming who was interested in the fact that I used some of her films in the classroom. This led to a long correspondence and invitations to visit when we were in California, which we took advantage of. We got to know Rhonda well enough that sadly when she went to be with the Lord I was asked to help in writing an added memorial for her. 

Photo property of Dr. Fred Eichelman

Among the many stars who wanted to keep up a correspondence when they learned that their work was used in my classrooms included Jimmy Stewart and Charleton Heston. Both wanted details which I was delighted to give. I have found that most of those good people in film and TV really want to know the impact of their work. Some stars went the extra mile. I had sent Jane Russell a picture from Son of Pale Face which included with her Bob Hope and Roy Rogers. On her own, Jane contacted Bob and Roy who were friends of hers to also autograph that picture. 

Photo property of Dr. Fred Eichelman

Now the question comes up as to how to know the addresses of folks you wish to reach. At one time writing their studios worked, though that ended when there were concerns about privacy. It takes research and there are companies that actually sell lists of addresses. I have preferred networking with friends in the entertainment media who would help me make contact with a particular star. One I wanted to reach for years was The Duke, John Wayne. I was finally advised not to contact him directly, but to go through his secretary Pat Stacy. That worked perfectly. Pat was especially kind as I was in a hospital bed at the time. 

One thing that has greatly changed in collecting autographs has made doing so by mail very difficult. Many of the stars were finding that there were dealers who made big bucks off of them. We had an example of this with Deanna Lund from Land of the Giants, who we helped at media events. Deanna and I had cowritten a book, Valerie in Giantland, that we introduced at a media convention. A fellow came up to our table and wanted to buy five books. He did not want them inscribed; he just wanted her sign her name along with her character’s name, Valerie Ames Scott, from her role in the TV series. She was glad to oblige and the buyer paid $15.00 for each. Lo and behold two weeks later we found these very same books being sold on Ebay for $100.00 each. It is no wonder stars fear they are being taken advantage of when asked for free pictures and autographs. Most of my collecting now is done in such shows and my wife and I enjoy helping in ones in our home in the Roanoke Valley.

There is another form of collecting that should not be neglected and it’s something that may be available in your own attics, closets and other places in the home: Pictures and letters of family members from the past. You can make this a personal genealogy hunt that will not cost any thing. My wife and I have had great joy in collecting things like this for special albums. One example of how valuable this can be was my finding letters written by a great grand uncle on the battle field during the Civil War. You can have your own treasure hunt in your home.

Meanwhile, here’s a very small list (out of the many thousands) of autographs I’ve collected over the years. The following are stars long ago. If you’re interested in hearing about my collection, let me know and I’ll be happy to tell you more about it.
Frank Sinatra
Esther Williams
Elizabeth Taylor
Ray Bradbury
Neil Armstrong
William Shatner
Pat Boone
Bing Crosby
Gerald Ford
Betty Grable
Van Johnson
DeForest Kelley

George Lazenby
Robert Mitchum
Ronald Reagan
Christopher Reeve 

Dr. Fred Eichelman

Dr. Fred Eichelman is a retired teacher and a director for Point North Outreach, a Christian media organization. He recently had a book published, Faith, Family, Film-A Teacher's Trek. Fred is a former local Republican Committee chairman and has attended hundreds of conventions from political to science fiction. He sees the two as compatible. Fred also tells us he values very much a title we gave him since he could not be a PolitiChick. PolitiDude.

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