My Gallery of History Autographs
I always try to secure participant signatures on actual event-related materials.
While online awhile back, I browsed through thousands of photo and document signers listed for sale in a huge autograph and document selling site. Then for fun I decided to see how many of my over 1,000 C-SPAN, Columbia University Medical Center and other autograph acquisitions matched any of the modern day historical figures within it. Not too surprising to me there were a quite a few - which at least for this article I will refer to as my very own Gallery of History signers. Enjoy.
Back in May 1998 at a Merrill House Books For Breakfast program held at the Carnegie Council in Manhattan, I helped videotape a talk by the famed Israeli diplomat, Honorable Abba Eban for replay on Booktv. Merrill House Programs often brings prominent people in the world of international affairs to participate in book talks, panel discussions and other conversations at the Carnegie Council. I worked there a few dozen times.
One of Eban’s greatest accomplishments was helping persuade the United Nations to approve the creation of a Jewish state in 1947. This particular morning the now deceased Israeli statesman discussed his latest book, Diplomacy For A New Century. I remember how frail the elder Mr. Eban appeared and was allowed to address the large morning audience while sitting at a table. After the talk, while others captured his signature in his book, I asked Mr. Eban to sign the an official program flyer.
My next gallery signer happens to be associated with one of the most amusing occasions I have ever had to videotape. This was when activist and comedian Dick Gregory came to New York Presbyterian Hospital in northern Manhattan in March 1998 and put on two hilarious lunch time performances for hospital employees. Sponsored by The Bread & Roses Cultural Project of Local 1199 SEIU, Mr. Gregory spoke about a wide variety of racial and working class issues. “Wouldn’t you know it,” quipped Mr. Gregory, “when they started handing out monthly national celebrations, they chose the one that’s missing all those days, February, to celebrate African American Heritage.” He also wondered what month white people will be given to celebrate their history. I remember laughing so hard on several instances, I had to release my grip of the tripod handle so as not to shake the video camera. I captured the autograph of this modern day working class historical icon on an official event flier I had obtained from a union organizer.
In the later part of 1997, I captured the autograph of another historical figure - conservative commentator, author William F. Buckley when he appeared at the Women’s National Republican Club in Manhattan to talk about his new book, Nearer My God: An Autobiography of Faith. In the presentation of the now deceased Buckley, he reflected upon his life as a Roman Catholic as well as his writing career. But what I recall most about my assignment there was what occurred before and after his talk - how accommodating and gracious the Club staff was to our C-SPAN video crew. They were very excited about or first time presence there.
Presently I have four Buckley signed items in my collection. The first from his autobiographical talk; the second secured in the fall of 2003 after I spotted him in the audience of a program featuring Style columnist and commentator Virginia Postrel, and sponsored by the Manhattan Institute; the last two obtained when I again spotted him in an audience at the New York Academy of Medicine on June 16, 2005 - on two invitations to a discussion featuring Neuroscientist Michael Gazzaniga and Tom Wolfe.
Another gallery signer and someone else who is now deceased, is that of U.S. labor union icon Gus Hall. A 2000 New York Daily News obituary states he was “a jovial, story telling Communist hardliner who headed the American Communist Party for 41 years.” Three years in a row for C-SPAN, I helped cover Gus’ annual holiday speech at the Communist Party USA’s New York City open house reception. Each time I was there our crew was treated very well, fed and thanked dozens of times. And although I worked with Gus and his staff on three occasions, for some reason I only obtained his autograph once - on a copy of his 1997 speech. Yes, I goofed.
In Gus’ traditional year end address he would speak about nationwide labor union struggles, corporate greed, U.S. working class poverty and other issues and always finish with predictions for the approaching New Year. One of his few 1998 visions that came to fruition - Newt Gingrich would continue to lose political influence. And so he did.
On two additional video assignments which occurred over a two years apart, I covered former National Security Advisor, Presidential Medal of Freedom, Medal of Liberty and (whew!) 1973 Nobel Peace Prize winner Henry Kissinger. Actually on February 15, 2001 I worked with four former National Security advisors (Richard Allen, Robert McFarlane, Brent Scowcroft and Kissinger) when they came together at the Council On Foreign Relations to discuss what else, national security. They spoke about current U.S. policy towards Russia; a potential European dependency upon Russian oil; altering U.S. nuclear weapons policy; and maintaining economic sanctions and daily military might over Iraq. I got Kissinger’s autograph afterward.
This event took place seven months before President Bush and his staff received the infamous August 6, 2001 memo titled “Bin Laden Determined To Strike In US” with a claim that “FBI information indicates patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings.” As a New York City resident, I frequently wonder how these prior National Security Advisors under the leadership of a prior U.S. President would have reacted to this now infamous memo. Americans must never forget this world-changing U.S. Security blunder.
On September 3, 2003, before a conversation about his newest book (with the longest title), Crisis: The Anatomy of Two Major Foreign Policy Crises Based on the Record of Henry Kissinger’s Hitherto Secret Telephone Conversations at the celebrated 92nd Street Y in Manhattan, I obtained Kissinger’s autograph a second time.
For this acquisition I had to be creative. Realizing ahead of time the 92nd Street Y does not give out individual event programs, I went to its website that very same day; searched for details of the talk; printed it; and used this modern day piece of ephemera to capture Kissinger’s autograph. Before he entered the green room next to the historic Kaufmann Concert Hall I asked for his signature.
Back in March 2001 I worked with and acquired the autograph of another contemporary historical figure - activist and feminist leader Gloria Steinem. In front of an over flowing audience at Barnard College, the recently wed Ms. Steinem participated in a panel discussion with young, up and coming feminists from The Third Wave Foundation. This foundation supports women leaders age 15 - 30 with money, public education and relationship building opportunities. I recall a few things from this event: It was held in celebration of Women’s History Month; it was asserted that women in the U.S. workplace make 20 - 25% less than men for the same work; and I also met and talked with Gloria’s husband, activist David Bale and father of actor Christian Bale. Again, they had recently been married. But sadly, I learned in January 2004 that Mr. Bale died of a sudden illness. I was able to talk with him a few minutes that night and recall he was just as passionate about his social concerns as his wife still is about hers. It was a privilege to have met Mr. Bale.
While online I also found the name of literary giant Toni Morrison listed within another auction site. At four separate events over the past several years I have attempted to get this Nobel Laureate’s signature but was only successful once. On the three rejected occasions Ms. Morrison stated she only signs books she wrote.
Therefore I was lucky and feel proud that I possess her autograph on a piece of ephemera other than a book. I obtained it while working at the first New Yorker Book Awards held February 14, 2000 in the newly refurbished Rose Main Reading Room of the main New York Public Library. An hour before this New Yorker magazine sponsored literary program started I actually captured the group autographs of award presenters David Remnick, Junot Diaz, John McPhee and Toni Morrison on the very nice and first New Yorker Book Awards program.
Today I think back about this signing moment and wonder if Ms. Morrison felt obligated to sign the program because I had just obtained the autographs of the other three authors in her presence. Whatever the reason, I am very pleased to have Toni Morrison’s signature in my gallery of history collection.
The other modern day historical figures I came across while searching online, and whom I obtained in-person signatures from include: playwright Arthur Miller, activist and actor Ossie Davis, former JFK speech writer Ted Sorenson (three separate times), scientist and DNA expert James D. Watson, media giants Katherine Graham and Ted Turner, First Amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams (several times), and former ABC News Anchor Peter Jennings.
I’m especially honored to have worked with and garnered the now deceased Jennings signature - especially at the time I did, on October 2, 2004 - the last time Jennings, Tom Brokaw and Dan Rather came together at a public event.
That Saturday the three longtime news anchors, with moderator and writer Ken Auletta, participated in a timely New Yorker magazine festival panel about the presidential campaign - and included a discussion about Mr. Rather’s admission one month earlier that he had erred in his actions of broadcasting and later defending a report about President Bush’s short-lived National Guard service. In the very interesting talk, I recall that it was Jennings who was first to defend Rather.
Before this gathering (also captured on videotape for C-SPAN) I got all four participants to autograph the very colorful New Yorker Festival brochure. And at least for now, this New York City area event specific signature tops the list of my favorite Gallery of History acquisitions.
Thanks for your time and hope you enjoyed this article. MR