Philography (fill LOG ruh fee) - the practice of collecting autographs
As cast members of the made-on-Maui movie "Get a Job," my mother and I have autographed hundreds of posters and other memorabilia over the last few months. Last Saturday at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center, we signed dozens more after the Keep the Hawaiian Islands Beautiful benefit screening. Mom delivers the most memorable line of the film - I can't repeat it here - and she diligently writes it along with her name on every poster. "Nobody knows who I am, but they all remember my line," she explains.
Whenever I'm asked for an autograph, I always feel like I should write more than my name too. Something witty or profound. Unfortunately, I'm not always - or often - witty or profound, so I usually just scribble "Aloha" or "Mahalo." Sometimes I add a smiley face with politically incorrect slanted eyes. It seems incomplete to merely sign one's name, even though that's what an autograph is, after all. I guess I just like to add a personal touch.
A few discriminating philographers do place more stock in the accompanying text than in the signature itself. McAvoy Layne, fondly remembered by old-time Maui radio audiences as The Riddle King, was in a class by himself. He had only a few autographs, but they were all superstar-level and they followed his prescribed theme: "Mac, thanks for letting me use your racket. John McEnroe." My favorite was violin virtuoso Isaac Stern's "Dear McAvoy, thank you for the use of your fiddle."
I'm not a serious collector, but I have accumulated some great autographs over the years. I started as a preteen, taking my autograph book to the monthly pro wrestling matches at War Memorial Gym. Of course, we only dared to approach the good guys like Gentleman Jim Hady and Nick Bockwinkel. I was lucky; my Uncle Richard's auto glass shop was across the street from the old Honolulu Civic Auditorium, where most of the 50th State Big Time Wrestling matches were held. Uncle Richard knew the folks at the Civic and he got me autographed photos of all the stars, heroes and villains alike. Chief Billy White Wolf, Ripper Collins, Handsome Johnny Barend . . . ooh, I feel another column coming on.
I've lost my set of wrestler photos, but I still have my show posters and programs, signed by cast and crew, from my Baldwin High drama days. And I have a pretty good collection of mementos autographed by folks I've been fortunate to perform with or interview in the past 35 years. Only once have I asked someone else to get me an autograph, and it was a doozy.
In 1980, when I was a reporter for KITV News, Muhammad Ali visited Honolulu and Emme Tomimbang got the coveted interview assignment. She offered to get autographs for the rest of us, so I gave her a photo of my toddler son working out on the miniature punching bag my dad made for him. I wrote my son's name on the back so that the champ could personally address his signature. Inspired by McAvoy's example, I thought it would be the first in our own clever, specialized collection. When Emme returned, she said Ali had found both the picture and the request charming, and was only too happy to comply. Sure enough, on the back of the photo, he had written, "To Billy - Muhammad Ali." Right underneath where I had written my son's name - Jimmy.
My favorite autograph is one of dozens in a faded red patent leather autograph book filled with 5th-grade scrawls. I don't remember the exact date of the autograph, but I remember the occasion well. The entire student body of Makawao School was treated to a performance by a visiting pantomime troupe. My friends and I were enchanted by the sophisticated performers in black leotards and white face, and we clamored for their autographs after the show. Not until 20 years later, leafing through the little album for the first time since grade school, did I discover that the mimes had come from Sue Ann Loudon's Baldwin High School drama program. When Miss Loudon signed my book at that school assembly, I'd had no idea who she was, no inkling that she would eventually be one of my greatest mentors.
But that's not the autograph I'm talking about. On the same page, just below Miss Loudon's name, I was amazed to recognize the signature of my best friend Robbie, written a dozen years before we met as adults. The only one of the teenagers to write a message with her name, she had added "Best wishes." That's one of the great things about Robbie; even as a teen, she knew the value of the personal touch and extended it with aloha to a star-struck budding philographer.
* Kathy Collins is a performance artist, broadcaster and freelance writer whose "Sharing Mana'o column appears every Wednesday. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.