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License to Deprive

OCD and the Ghost of Michael Jackson

Most anyone who knows me understands that I suffer from self-diagnosed OCD—Obsessive Collector’s Disorder.  It started twenty-two years ago when I purchased my first comic book (NOW Comics’ The Real Ghostbusters #1 at Graham Crackers Comics, Naperville).  It was a first issue that, as the guy behind the counter told me and my dad, had just come out and was already very hard to find.  He sold me an acid-free clear plastic sleeve and white cardboard backer in which to seal it for posterity—which I did, after having giddily read the story with all the care an archaeologist would give to an autographed early printing of The Bible.

Over the years, this need to keep everything pristine and carefully archived/displayed bled into other areas of my life; not just the movie posters and signed books I would go on to collect, but also in areas as mundane as picking out spiral notebooks at back-to-school time (is that a minor bend in the lower-left back cover?  Next!) and picking out blu-rays (the shrink wrap on the copy of Hannah Montana: The Movie in my right hand feels a little looser than the one in my left.  Left, for the win!).

It’s a sickness usually reserved for serious collectors who make their living buying and selling their prized items.  Since you can’t go into any comic book or movie memorabilia convention without tripping over vendors selling the same signed glossy of Patrick Stewart from Robin Hood: Men in Tights, the only way a purveyor of the collectible can make his or her mark is to have the cleanest, sharpest-edged, and most authentic merchandise on the floor.  I have this mentality, and I don’t know why; I never intend to sell my signed posters, movies or books.  But I still think like a professional whenever I set out to enhance my collection.

One component of this is the Personalized Signature.  Oftentimes, when presenting a celebrity with something to sign, their first question is “Who do I make this out to?”  (recently, some event organizers have appointed staff go through the line beforehand and write down dedication names on Post-It notes—avoiding the time-wasting frustration of a guest having to ask, “Is that ‘Brian’ with an ‘I’ or a ‘Y’”?).

I hate personalized signatures.  I mean, they're nice, and they kind of prove that I met a famous person, but the Collector portion of my brain constantly reminds me that the re-sale value of an autograph can be diminished if someone’s name other than the celebrity appears on the item.  Again, I have no intention to sell these things, but that’s just how my mind works.  Also, when thinking of movie posters in particular, I like to think of signed one-sheets as pieces of art signed by the artists that made the film happen.  I wasn’t in Re-Animator, so I didn’t have Jeffrey Combs or Bruce Abbott include my name on the poster.  Just as serious sports memorabilia collectors don’t ask champion athletes to make dedications on jerseys or baseballs.

Please follow me on this tangent as I talk about autographs and the aftermarket gold mine that is eBay (I promise we’ll get to the story behind that freaky picture of Corey Feldman in a moment).  In the last few years, horror conventions have become very popular.  It used to be that celebrities would charge between five and ten bucks for an autographed photo from their table; in some instances, if you brought your own item, you could get it signed for free.  In those halcyon days, you could even take pictures of or with the stars—sometimes without purchasing anything from them.

Somewhere along the line—and the origin of this policy is often speculated about but has, as of this writing, never been confirmed—celebrities began boosting their prices after they caught wind of collectors selling signed pictures and memorabilia on eBay for outrageous prices.  The free flight, hotel, and per diem were simply not enough for some stars, so the typical autograph price went up to twenty bucks; that’s per signature, mind you.  So if you were to approach, say, David Naughton’s table with five movie posters and a vintage bottle of Dr. Pepper, you’d have to pay him a hundred-and-twenty-bucks for about eighteen seconds' worth of scribbling.  Granted, there are some stars who have reasonable policies, and who keep their prices down, but even convention mainstays like Tom Savini—who used to sign as many items as you’d want if you bought even the cheapest item off his table—have been shamed into upping their prices, so as not to make everyone else “look bad”.

I should note that even twenty bucks is beginning to look nostalgic: some people have moved on up to twenty-five—and if you’re looking to score an autograph from a legendary director or big-name star, you can expect to shell out upwards of forty dollars per item.  And this doesn’t include the cost of having a picture taken with your heroes, which some people have begun charging as much as twenty or thirty bucks for.  It’s getting ugly out there, for fans and collectors alike.

Yesterday, I went on a mini road trip with Chad, my good friend from Chateau Grrr.  We ventured out to the Hollywood Palms Cinema in Naperville to meet Corey Feldman.  I was intent on getting his signature on a License to Drive photo that Corey Haim had signed shortly before he passed away—as well as having him inaugurate my rare, first-run hardcover of Crystal Lake Memories: The Complete History of Friday the 13th.  Feldman was in town to promote a new independent film and to show four of his classic 80s movies: The Goonies, The Lost Boys, Stand By Me, and License to Drive.  Outside of being an autograph completest, I was excited to meet Feldman because he was part of four films that—for various reasons—were very important to me growing up.

We arrived at the palms at noon, two hours ahead of the 2pm screening of Stand By Me.  The Palms’ Web site said that Feldman would arrive an hour beforehand to meet fans and sign things—and when we got there, the line was maybe fifty people deep; very manageable for a one-hour session.  I was confident that we’d be in and out of there, and that I’d have plenty of time to zip back to the city and give my wife a much-needed shopping break from our newborn son.

Almost immediately, Chad spotted his friend, Tom, the photographer for both the Palms and its sister theatre, Hollywood Boulevard in Woodridge.  Tom is a really cool guy who smiles a lot, and he offered to take our picture with Feldman for free; thus saving us the twenty dollars a pop we would’ve had to have paid on our own—in addition to the twenty for each signed item.  As an unsolicited “thanks”, Chad whipped out his video camera and microphone and began filming the crowd and the “Welcome, Corey” promo banner—all with the aim of putting together a video to showcase the coolness of Hollywood Theatres' events.  That put me in the awkward but acceptable position of waiting in line by myself.

At 1:15, the rumblings began.  Where was Corey Feldman?  Was he only going to sign for a few minutes before the 2pm show?  Was that manager serious when he said that everyone in line had to buy a ticket to the movie in order to meet Feldman?  And was the actor really running late because he’d been out until 5am, doing God-knows-what?

At about 1:40, another kind of nervous excitement crept through the line, as a short man in sunglasses was ushered into the signing area.  I couldn’t see him from where I was standing, but I heard concerned whispers and titters of “Michael Jackson”.  When Corey Feldman finally got to his signing table, I saw a version of him that I thought had died in 1993: He had near-shoulder-length jet-black hair and wore large, black sunglasses and a black jacket with gold epaulets, brass buttons, and other faux-Sergeant-Pepper detailing.

“Oh, dear,” was my first thought.

My second was, “Oh, well.”

As the line began to move, I saw that Feldman was very nice to his fans—who ranged from teenagers born long after his career had passed out of the mainstream to a grandmother from Southern California who’d happened to be visiting relatives a few blocks from the theatre.  I felt good, too.  The line moved reasonably; a result, I’d guessed, of the event coordinator’s announcement that Corey wouldn’t be personalizing any items (a tactic reserved for events where the star is on a tight schedule).  I didn’t hear him say this; but I took his crazy hand-writing pantomimes, head-shaking, and repeated use of the word “No” (the only word I could hear over the theatre’s ambient noise and PA robo-pleas to visit the bar) to mean what I thought it meant.

I was still a bit nervous about the movie ticket thing, and hoping that there wouldn’t be a horrendous delay at 2 o’clock, as he left to introduce the movie; but I was also hopeful.

The line was still going strong at 2:15, which is about the time Chad approached me and asked if I’d like to do a quick interview with Feldman.  Having no preparation and a family to get home to, my first instinct was to turn him down.  But Chad’s a friend, and I’m a not-so-closeted star-fucker (figuratively speaking), so I said, “Sure.”  The interview wasn’t a lock, but Chad had gotten sign-off from Corey’s manager and it was just a formality of getting the man himself to agree.

This sent my mind into a beautiful stress spiral.  First, I messaged Darlena on my fabulous new phone, and asked if I could be a little late in getting home.  She said “yes”, as long as I wasn’t later than 4:30. Next, I looked up Feldman’s filmography on IMDB and clips of his band, Truth Movement, on YouTube (Tom suggested this might be a good lead-in question to get Feldman excited about the interview).  I frantically typed notes into my virtual Memo Pad and tried to work out non-hackneyed phrasing for my questions.  I came up with three questions that could fill anywhere from a two- to ten-minute interview, depending on the answers.

By 2:35, I was standing at the merchandise table, where I people either purchased glossies or mini-posters or just forked over the money to have their own items signed.  The girl at the table asked how many autographs I wanted and who I wanted named in the dedications.  I told her: two signatures, no personalization.  She apologized and said that Corey Feldman would not sign anything unless it was personalized.



I’d heard of this kind of thing before, but I’d never experienced it.  My personal feeling is that if I’m paying someone twenty dollars for three seconds of actual work and maybe a minute-thirty of small talk, they should write whatever the hell I want or don’t want on the picture.  Of course, since I was two people away from being next, I couldn’t argue this point, and it was too late to turn back (had I known this was the policy earlier—by way of, say, an announcement made via MICROPHONE—I don’t know that I would’ve bothered).

Defeated, I gave her my name.  She dashed it off on a Post-It and slapped it on my Crystal Lake Memories book.

Corey Feldman greeted me with a nice handshake.  There was an awkward pause as an assistant leaned in to tell him we’d be taking a picture with a third person, and Chad came in from the other side of the table.  Tom took the picture.  Chad left.

Feldman asked me about the Corey Haim autograph on the License to Drive picture, and I said I'd met him at HorrorHound weekend a couple years ago.

“In Illinois?” he asked.  The question put me off with its intensity, as if to say there was a Corey Haim impersonator running the Illinois horror-con circuit in 2009.

“No,” I said, “In Indiana.”

“Oh,” he said, and continued to sign his name—along with my name, and a squiggly peace symbol.  He then asked if I’d had a chance to catch the previous night’s screening of his new movie.  When I said “no”, he said I should come back tomorrow for the encore.  I lied and said I’d try to make it.

I haven’t seen the footage of my time with Feldman, but Chad later told me that my face was plastered with disappointment—disappointment mixed with shock.  What it was, I imagine, was the dead face of someone in the middle of an out-of-body experience.  My mind roiled with the conflicting emotions of being thrilled that I’d get to interview Corey Feldman in about twenty minutes; being pissed off that he was in the process of de-valuing a really rare book and an extremely rare photo; being pissed off at being pissed off, ‘cause I was never going to sell that shit anyway, so what did it matter; and feeling like an utter heel at having wasted a day away from my family to spend time with this pompous asshole who apparently thinks too many people became Internet billionaires by hawking signed Lost Boys DVDs.

When I came to, Feldman had closed the book.  I muttered something about being a huge fan, to which he offered a sincere “Thanks.”  I walked away dazed, like Ralphie meeting Santa in A Christmas Story.  At least, I figured, I had a few minutes to compose myself before sitting down with him; by then I’d be able to say the things I wanted to say and—hopefully—not come off like an idiot.

After a brief chat with Chad, I ordered a drink at the bar and texted the plan to Darlena.  At 3 o’clock, Feldman would introduce Stand By Me (an hour late).  After that, we’d get about five minutes for an interview.  Then, we’d high-tail it back to the city.  I’d likely be later than 4:30, but she said that was okay.

Almost immediately, Chad came up to me shaking his head.  “The interview’s off,” he said, and after saying good-bye to Tom, we drove back to Chicago.

“What happened?” I asked.

“Well,” he said, “Corey’s manager was fine with it, but when she asked him if he’d do a quick interview—and I was there when this happened—he went…”   Here, Chad sighed heavily and dropped his shoulders.  And that, I guess, was that.

It was the perfect capper to a perfectly messed-up outing.  “Fuck Corey Feldman,” I thought.  But on reflection, that may be the wrong attitude.  I have no idea if the guy’s really an asshole, or if the last couple years—during which he’s lost his best friend, his idol, and his wife in a divorce—have taken a toll on him that precludes empathy with his fans—collectors or otherwise.  Or maybe it’s something else entirely.  Maybe it’s just me, and the way I perceive what happened yesterday.

All I know is that there’s no excuse for someone to be almost an hour late for a public appearance—especially if it’s because they stayed up all night (on a fair planet, the guilty party should have to refund the promoter five to fifteen percent of their appearance fee).  I’ll never know if Feldman’s reserved, almost shy demeanor was due to being hung-over, over-tired, or the final affectation of his Michael Jackson getup.  But the whole thing rubbed me the wrong way.  I winced when Darlena called him a douche after I told her the story, but I’m not sure why.

It was a long drive home, and I tried to keep up my end of the conversation with Chad; but the pounding headache and my urge to yell at people for no reason made small talk difficult.

The best response I could manage when Chad asked if I’d seen his missing glove was, “Maybe Corey took it.  He only needs one, after all.”

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Reader Comments (5)

A. I read the yell at people...small talk difficult as...

yelling at small people.

Oh dear.

B. Corey seems to have a lot of problems but I liked his reality show and he seems somewhat saneish....maybe it's because it was in comparison to Haim. In any event, everyone has a bad day. I would give him another chance. IMHO.

January 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLeslie

I get that everyone has bad days, but not everyone has a hundred people waiting for them to show up somewhere. On top of that, his "Personalization Only" policy is just plain gross. What does he care if I make money or don't make money off of something he signed? He got paid to be there and paid for every flick of his wrist; I'm comparing this appearance to others that have been handled with much more professionalism and dignity, and it ruined what I'd anticipated being a cool afternoon.

January 16, 2011 | Registered CommenterIan Simmons

Is it possible that it's not HIS policy per se?

January 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLeslie

Not likely. The celebrities dictate their own policies on signings, unless there's a time constraint, as I mentioned.

January 16, 2011 | Registered CommenterIan Simmons

Hmm...I like to believe the best of Corey...pancake makeup and Jacksonesque coat and stupid policy and all.... Oh well. I'll vote he was having a bad day. That's all I can come up with. Or a bad year, all things considered.

January 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLeslie

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