I have written about my penchant for collecting books. Books about theatre, movies, lives of creative people, jazz, poetry, and travel, built upon a core assembled by my theatre and movie loving mom. I now keep a record in an online way at librarything (love that name):http://www.librarything.com/profile/msteketee. Just shy of 1,100 volumes at this moment. This total shifts week to week, month to month, year to year. Volumes are added. Volumes are sent on to other homes. And some items, such as unpublished play scripts and archival/collectible versions of movie scripts are not yet archived among this total.
All of these items are fodder for my current fascination: inscriptions.
I have never been an autograph collector, though I respect the instinct I suppose. When the autograph being solicited, for whatever reason, is out of respect for a person or awareness of historic moments. For me, it is when a signature on paper is part of a book (or screenplay or film script) that I independently appreciate that I’m in a kind of heaven.
I have inherited a few of these gems, including a 1940 inscription in an edition of At 33 by Eva Le Gallienne. I received an inscribed 1971 edition of Julie Harris Talks to Young Actors when I was in high school. And then began adding to my collection with my own efforts. I stood in line for Bette Midler to obtain her inscription in A View From A Broad, Gloria Swanson for her memoirs, Farley Granger and his partner for his delightfully titled memoir Include Me Out: My Life From Goldwyn To Broadway, Tony Kushner, and more.
I routinely rummage through used book stores and come across little delights such as Julia Child’s 1975 From Julia Child’s Kitchen. (An image of this inscription by both Julia and her husband Paul heads this posting.)
Most recently I have added a few play scripts and film scripts that were inscribed by their owners, the actresses who used them, as identification marks. One very special such script is from a film originally called Swing Fever and labeled as such in my script in hand, that was ultimately released as Everybody Sing in 1938. My copy of the script is signed by the actress Lynne Carver who played Judy Garland’s older sister in this film. (Carver is standing at far right in this publicity shot.) And finally, and perhaps most valuable among my treasures, I have a copy of a film script called Main Street to Broadway, script dated 1952, that starred a raft of stars playing themselves. Including Tallulah Bankhead. And this was her script.
So what is the charm for me in owning these mementos, these records of creators names written in their own hand in their own work, or names written to identify steps along the creative process (e.g. in their own working scripts)? Perhaps that is just it: these inscriptions representing a little salutation from a work completed or a work on a stage in its evolution. It’s about the artistic process. It’s about the journey.
And sometimes I have been lucky enough to receive an inscription that reflects just basic kindness on the part of the artist inscriber, but the words provide me with great encouragement. I’m just a person with a particular name that a person who I greatly respect acknowledges, but it’s that fact that the two join together that give me hope for the future. And just make me smile.
One such inscription came to me, obtained by a relative, from Wendy Wasserstein in a collection of a few of her plays. The swoop of her ball point across the front of the page is full of the wild enthusiasm we know she had for life. And the love she had for theatre. So to have her nod to me, even at this remove, as someone who loves the theatre, well. Sigh. Thank you.
And finally, a memento from Chicago. Early during my Chicago adventure, through a friend, I had two lunches with Richard Christiansen — a locally beloved theatre critic and promoter of the world of Chicago theatre. Just before I moved to this amazing city in 2005, Christiansen published a book about the excitement and the sweep of the history of theatre in Chicago. I read it before arriving in the city, and within a few months I had begun my own working life in that same city and obtained my own inscription from the man himself. This inscription gives me great happiness for some reason. Somehow when I look at those words I take myself a little more seriously. Just a bit.