Collecting autographs not as easy as it seems


I have put together an interesting collection of celebrity autographs over the years. This collection would at times grow by sheer luck of being in the right place at the right time. With the advancements in technology, a photo can be made, printed and signed in a matter of minutes, thus making a collectable a little more special. Such was the case in a special day in the life of the City of Gadsden.

On April 5, 1963, the Pitman Theatre was the scene of a Hollywood-type premier with the entire city turning out for the event. Along with the entire city, the theatre rolled out the red carpet to welcome the two young stars of the movie “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

This movie actually premiered in Birmingham, although Phillip Alford, who played the role of Jem, was a former Gadsden resident and this event was planned for him and Mary Badham, who played the role of Scout. The movie was based upon a book written by Alabama novelist Harper Lee.

The guests of honor arrived at the Pitman Theatre with a police escort at 7:15 p.m. Broad Street was blocked off between Sixth and Seventh Streets to accommodate the large crowd which had gathered to see the two movie stars. Before the featured movie began, Gadsden Mayor Les Gilliland presented the two guests of honor with the keys to the city and Lt. Governor James Allen made a presentation making the two youngsters honorary members or the state senate. 

Following the movie, the stars were available to greet hundreds of fans and sign autographs. “To Kill a Mockingbird” was nominated for eight Academy Awards, while Badham was nominated for best supporting actress in this movie version of Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. Gregory Peck took top honors as best actor, while the movie won a total of three Oscars.

Exactly 45 years to the day, the two stars returned to Gadsden’s Pitman Theatre for another showing of this epic film classic. The two actors had spent the last 45 years traveling the country, making appearances and promoting the film. At the present time, Mary Badham is an art restorer and a college testing coordinator. Married to a schoolteacher, and the mother of two, she also travels around the world recalling her experiences making “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Phillip Alford is currently a successful businessman in Birmingham.

Several events were planned around the 2008 showing of “To Kill A Mockingbird” at the Pitman Theatre. On Friday an event was held at the Center For Cultural Arts, with the film being shown the following day. This event would be the ideal time to secure two great autographs for my collection, or so I thought. 

Little did I know that Mary Badham charged $20 for her autograph! This fee went directly against a principle that I hold with regard to paying someone for his or her signature. 

Phillip Alford was more than willing to sign the photo, but Badham explained she had to charge for her signature. The two stars did allow me to make their photo, and I hurried home to print the photograph. 

When the movie was over, I showed the guests of honor my photo and the copies I had printed for them. All of a sudden, Mary Badham was willing to sign her photo, as well as the early photos from the movie. 

Alford and Badham were happy with the photos made in front of the Pitman Theatre, and I had two prized autographs for my collection.

This little trick has helped me to get several autographs over the years. Legendary football coach Bobby Bowden recently spoke at Gadsden First Baptist Church. 

Upon his arrival, I was waiting at the back door with my digital camera. I was lucky enough to get my photo made with the living legend. 

I hurried home to print my photo and hurried back to church long before he finished speaking. Coach Bowden was amazed at the photo and was ready to sign my treasure. 

This method has also worked in getting other additions for my autograph collection. 

Digital cameras and compact printers have made photographs quicker and easier to obtain. Several photos in my books over the years were actually scans and digital photos that are made faster than the old days of film photography.

Another little trick in obtaining autographs is to always keep a Sharpie and something to obtain an autograph on. Several years ago, we had made a trip to Memphis and the Liberty Bowl. While we were walking around Liberty Bowl Stadium, we noticed a large crowd following two young men.

“I have seen him before,” Ann remarked. 

She asked for one of my business cards and hurried to get an autograph to see who the popular individual was. To my surprise she returned with a card signed by Olympic champion Carl Lewis!

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