4 Strange, Revealing Fanmail Replies From Famous People
There are legions of publicists, agents, and managers whose main job is keeping you from knowing what your favorite celebrity is really like. But there is one tell no famous person can hide: The way they interact with their fans. Some of them are humble and grateful, some truly go the extra mile, and others are just plain old-fashioned weird:
Harlan Ellison And Robert Heinlein Don't Have Time For Your Bullshit
Fan questions get repetitive fast: "Who are your biggest influences?" "What are your favorite books?" "How may I, too, become a writer, and thus be figuratively buried beneath literal boatloads of sex?"
And sometimes, simply, just "What the fuck, man?"
To combat this, some writers implement the dreaded form letter response: "Due to the overwhelming amount of mail received," and "While I wish I could respond to each inquiry personally," and "Your paltry existence could not possibly be one iota less important to me."
Robert Heinlein (of Starship Troopers fame) has his own unique take on the form letter. It is ... super unique. Opening with the decidedly noncommittal salutation "Dear Sir/Madam/Ms./Miss," it soon launches into an extensive FAQ (minus the Q). Heinlein's check-the-answer form letter came replete with responses ranging from simple thank-yous, to obscure references, to long-forgotten publications that could only possibly have answered one ludicrously specific question.
"Do you like me? Check yes or no. P.S. I don't like you."
Most notable (and most unnecessary, considering that anyone receiving such a letter would fuck straight off anyway), was "Please do not write to me again."
Heinlein's contemporary in both science fiction and dickotry, Harlan Ellison, took a different tack: He answered his fans' messages in excruciating, brain-bursting detail, all while making said fans feel as shitty as humanly possible for forcing him to do so.
"P.S. I'm dead. I'm now dead. And it's all your letter's fault."
Ellison's 1989 response to the very first letter received by one Thomas Pluck -- not just a fan, but a card-carrying super fan -- begins thusly:
"All a writer has is time and a portion of talent. Answering queries from readers eats away at the former, thus disallowing full use of the latter. I continue to beseech my readers not to burden me with this sort of personal need, but every day I receive a dozen items that demand my response. Yours is one of them. My wife advises me that you are a HERC member, and thus are deserving of attention, but I cannot conceal my annoyance at having to depart from deadline work to satisfy your curiosity. Please don't do this to me again."
He then goes on to painstakingly address the inquiry before signing off with the particularly sardonic "All best otherwise." Mr. Pluck presumably re-upped his fan club membership to the lifetime option immediately after receiving this glorious response.
Dan Harmon Explains The Downsides Of Hollywood To A Seven-Year-Old, Predictably Goes Too Far
Before Community, Dan Harmon was known for his part in the animated "children's" movie Monster House. Seven-year-old Salinger Oxford found the film a tad too scary, which is rather like saying gum is a tad too chewy, or The Rock is a bit too rocklike.
She might have had a point, is what we're saying.
When Salinger's mother, Canadian author and Harmon acquaintance Kelly Oxford, wrote to him, jokingly demanding that Dan offer up an explanation for terrifying so many children, she didn't really expect a response. And that's good, because what she got instead was a diatribe. Addressed directly to Salinger, Harmon's reply began with some good old-fashioned buck-passing:
"I will tell you a secret that sounds so silly, you might not believe it, but this is true: I never finished writing Monster House before my bosses turned it into a movie. And then different writers, people I don't even know, changed the story in lots of ways, and the movie that you saw was not the story I wanted to tell you."
That's ... actually a very concise and kid-friendly explanation of how modern Hollywood works. Bravo, Dan Harmon!
"Write me back and next time I can explain how TV crushes your dreams!"
If only he'd stopped there.
"Why, after they escaped the house, did that old man tell them another scary story about a mean fat lady that didn't make very much sense either? I'll tell you why. Because Gil Kenan is a hack and Steven Spielberg is a moron. But hey, I shouldn't be dumping this stuff on you."
He then goes on to say that Salinger should go watch Wall-E instead, before finally taking credit for Monster House after all:
"And next time Monster House is on, just remember that the guy that wrote it told you it was dumb."
A Serial Killer Gets So Much Fan Mail He Needs His Own Stationery
Avowed Satanist, serial killer, and rapist Richard Ramirez menaced greater Los Angeles from 1984-1985. The media dubbed him the Night Stalker, and Ramirez lived up to the name as best he could, by brutally murdering at least 13 victims and viciously assaulting at least 25 more. This is not the kind of guy who, in a perfect world, would have throngs of adoring fans, but this is not a perfect world.
In 1999, Bill Geerhart posed as a young fan of Ramirez and wrote a letter:
For full effect, he wrote it with his left hand while being eaten by wolves.
Ramirez's response wasn't entirely out of character:
Greetings. Got yr letter. What school do you go to? Who's yr friend? You should stay in school. Send pictures.
What is surprising, though, is just how said response arrived:
Yes: Murderer, rapist, and all-around sentient sphincter Richard motherfucking Ramirez got so much fan mail that he needed his own goddamned stationery, designed with all the care of a grandma whipping up invitations for her weekly potluck group. It gets worse: An overwhelming amount of that mail came from female admirers, a sickening amount of them even including nude photos. As a result, Ramirez exchanged vows with pen pal Doreen Lioy in 1996. She eventually came to her senses, but at the time of his death in 2013, Ramirez was already engaged to yet another 23-year-old fan.
Not everyone was subject to the Night Stalker's wiles. When Ramirez sent a letter to prison mate Sean Penn in 1987, encouraging Penn to "hit them again" (Sean was imprisoned for punching an extra on the set of Colors), he got the following response:
"You know, Richard, it's impossible to be incarcerated and not feel a certain kinship with your fellow inmates. Well, Richard, I've done the impossible, I feel absolutely no kinship with you. And I hope gas descends upon you before sanity does, you know?"
Imagine being a big enough piece of shit that Sean Penn thinks you're an asshole.
Write To A Dictator, Get Either A Sweet Hat Or A CIA Interrogation
Back in the late '80s, Sarah York watched a 60 Minutes interview with Manuel Noriega, then military dictator of Panama. At the time, relations with Panama were strained, due to the U.S. having charged Noriega with approximately all of the illegal things, but York looked past all of that and focused in on something completely inconsequential: The dude was in possession of a really great fucking hat. So she sent him a letter telling him so:
"Dear General Noriega, congratulations on the patriotic support of your people. I hope this letter finds you and your countrymen well. I am a ten-year-old American schoolgirl. I study Central America. It is a special interest to me. I have seen you on television often here in the United States. Your hat was greatly admired here. Sadly, we can get nothing like it."
To be fair, dude had some good-ass hats.
Noriega -- possibly viewing a 10-year-old Michigan girl as the closest thing he had to an "in" with the Americans -- wrote back. Not only that, but the two became bona fide pen pals. Noriega sent York a Panama hat, just like the one she'd complimented. York sent Noriega a photo of her wearing it. Noriega sent York an invitation to come visit him in Panama City.
... record scratch!
In October of 1988 -- just over a year before the U.S. invasion of Panama -- York, accompanied by her mom Pauline, went to take an all-expenses-paid whirlwind tour of the country (and, of course, to paste a cute American face on Noriega's regime).
York with her pal General Noriega, whom her mom described as "petite."
You know how this ends. The U.S. invaded Panama in December of the following year. Still, a free hat's a free hat, right?
That's better than retired Brooklyn florist Louis Schlamowitz got: All his fandom of dictator Muammar Gaddafi netted him was an intense grilling from the CIA. Schlamowitz's letter exchange with Gaddafi began clear back in the 1960s, when he congratulated the Colonel on his rise to power. Gaddafi soon proved to be a prolific letter writer, sending Schlamowitz regular rants against the foreign policy practices of the American pig-dogs, snapshots of the leader in his snappiest outfits ...
... and, in the year 2000, even a Christmas card thanking Schlamowitz for his years of friendship. For those keeping score at home, that's a Muslim dictator sending an elderly Jewish man a card celebrating a Christian holiday. Louis Schlamowitz hit religious pen pal Bingo!
Of course, one can only swim with the sharks for so long before Quint comes a-knockin'. The CIA was very interested in why Schlamowitz might be "the pen pal of the leader of a government suspected of being behind the Lockerbie bombing." To assuage their suspicions, Schlamowitz simply showed them his collection:
He had a dizzying array of letters from world leaders, ranging from Harry Truman to JFK, to Manuel Noriega and Ayatollah Khomeini. No judgment from Schlamowitz: If you led, he read.
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