Not so long ago, writing physical fan letters was just about the only way for a regular person to communicate with someone famous. These days it’s not so unusual to get a quick Twitter reply from someone you admire, but in the pre-social media age, if you were lucky, you might’ve received a far more amazing artifact: a signed photo, or even a hand-written note. And boy are they delightful.
Earlier this month, we asked Atlas Obscura readers to send us photos of the incredible things they’ve received from their heroes. In response, we received hundreds of letters and photos. The celebrities who wrote our readers back range from Isaac Asimov (when did he have time to write so many replies?) to Burt Reynolds (see his glorious mustache below). Not only do these exchanges provide a window into a very specific type of epistolary relationship—between that of idol and fan—in many cases, they also provide a peek into the minds of some of the icons of yesteryear.
While we couldn’t feature all of the wonderful submissions we received, we’ve collected our favorites below. Perhaps they’ll inspire you to reach out to a hero of your own.
“Isaac Asimov wrote back to me when I was 12!”—Rachel Coker, Apalachin, New York
“This was my most treasured possession as a child. I had never written to anyone outside my family, and for the most famous writer in the world (to me) to write me back was just amazing.”—Tom Hayden, Florida
“In response to a letter I wrote to Dr. Asimov he responded with this…”—Kirk Aplin, Fort Wayne, Indiana
Charles M. Schulz
“I made a card for Charlie Brown, of Peanuts fame, because none of the other characters ever gave him one and it made him sad. I sent it c/o the San Francisco Chronicle, which must have sent it on to Schultz. In due time, I got this back.”—Marta Randall, Ocean View, Hawaii
Submitted by Sharon Brause of Sedalia, Missouri.
“My childhood hero (who is still one of my heroes) was Mr. Rogers. When I was 17, I read an article in TV Guide about him, stating that he wrote letters back to anyone who wrote to him, and that he always sent autographed pics to anyone who requested them. I wrote to him–I don’t remember exactly what I said, but I must have mentioned that I’d just been named valedictorian of my (tiny) graduating class–and he responded very kindly.”—Elizabeth Fletcher, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
“This postcard from Mr. Rogers has been a treasured possession since he sent it to 5 year old me back in 1969, as a thank you for a drawing I made for him. I was over the moon when I got the postcard, it felt like I had a real connection with Mr. Rogers. Such a small gesture on his part, but it had a huge impact on me.”—Kathy Kelley, Freehold, New Jersey
“When I was a child, I discovered her books and read every single one of them. I loved them all. They really captured my imagination. Somehow I got the idea to write to her, and I sent her a letter detailing how I enjoyed each of her books, and she replied with a heartfelt note. I was thrilled.”—Stephen Padre, Washington, DC
“He replied to my letter, which I wrote after reading Charlie & The Chocolate Factory and other of his books as a 3rd grader, with a nice postcard.”—Andrew Dolson, Richmond, Virginia
“I was recovering from back surgery and had recently read Chuck Amuck by Chuck Jones. Watching his classic Looney Tunes cheered me up immensely so I wrote my first and only fan letter to Mr Jones, to tell him how much I admired his work. Not only did I receive a signed card and note from his assistant, weeks later I got a letter and card from Chuck!”—Katie Fingerson
Submitted by Anne Sewell.
“As a kid, I asked George to send me a signed photo, and I requested he burn his cigar on it.”—Josh Rosenthal, New York
Submitted by Tom Nixon of Los Angeles, California.
“When I was a kid, I’d watch The Price Is Right with my mom every day, yelling out prices for items that I certainly did not purchase. My first year of college, watching The Price Is Right every day during lunch in the student union became a tradition, and, for whatever reason, I always bid, “$1,100, Bob!” I wrote to Mr. Barker, telling him this story of how The Price Is Right had become a lifelong tradition for me, and, of course, told him the correct price is “$1,100, Bob!” He wrote back, sending me an autograph, and actually wrote on it, “P.S. It’s $1,100, Jennifer!” This is the only response I’ve ever gotten where I actually dropped down and cried. There are tear spots on the autograph now from where I dripped on it. It’s the little things that can mean so much!”—Jennifer Campbell, Mississippi
“I sent a letter to plea with Dr. Seuss to speak at our medical school graduation. Apparently he does not answer fan mail, but his secretary pulled my letter out of the pile and made hime answer me (she was MSU ‘57). I got this wonderful letter in response. It is framed in my study where I can enjoy it every day.”—Anne Swinford, Ann Arbor, Michigan
“He doesn’t recommend Biggles.”—Matthew Petty, Dubai, United Arab Emirates
“I had read and re-read the Hitchhiker series and was ass-over-teacup in love with Douglas Adams, and who wouldn’t be—6”6” tall, big grin, absolutely brilliant, right? So I wrote him and asked him to marry me. Of course he was with Jane by then so his return letter mentioned nothing about the proposal! Tactful man, that.”—Cindy Rose, Wyoming
Submitted by David Carter of Raleigh, North Carolina.
“The late Carrie Fisher sent me in separate mails, a personally autographed still of her character Princess Leia and a personally typewritten note thanking me for sending her a copy of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 for her birthday.”—Thomas Izaguirre, Edgewater, Maryland
“My absolute favorite star was John Denver. In late 1975, I was about 14 years old, and I sent him a handmade, leather belt that I had embossed with the words “Rocky Mountain High.” A few months later, I received a Thank You letter, on John Denver stationery[.] That letter made my world! I framed, and displayed that letter, proudly!”—Christie Haun, Whittier, California
“To my surprise, not only did Bill write me an extremely nice note (on his special stationery), but he accepted four of my ideas for The Family Circus and paid me $60 for them, as well. The entire exchange was extremely flattering and gratifying.”—Rick Kaufman, Dover, New Hampshire
Royal Canadian Mounted Police
“I was fascinated by them as a child. I wrote them a letter and they sent me a whole kit of information with photos, history, and more.”—David Kindy, Plymouth, Massachusetts
Submitted by Kenyetta Carter of Seattle, Washington.
“A few years ago, my favorite childhood author, Lemony Snicket (AKA Daniel Handler), visited Cambridge, MA, where I was a first year student at Harvard. That was the third time in my life I had seen him, and that time, I handed him a letter that said ‘Fan mail?’ A couple of weeks later, I received a letter in the mail with the sender’s address scratched out. Intrigued, I opened it, and found a letter back from Daniel Handler. It was very characteristic of him, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. “—Amanda Flores, Cambridge, Massachusetts