10 Charming Fan Letters From Cultural Icons

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Last night, as you’re well aware, the fourth season of Game of Thrones came to a close, and everyone went bananas. And perhaps, somewhere, some future literary superstar penned a fan letter to George R.R. Martin, telling him what an inspiration his work is. It’s not too much of a stretch — presumably in preparation for the finale, iO9 dug up that great fan letter that young Master Martin wrote to Marvel’s Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, raving over the greatness of a recent Fantastic Four issue. Such a missive is a blast to read now; it’s also but one example of the fine tradition of superstars who reveal themselves (either before their own fame or after it) to be super-fans.

George R.R. Martin to Stan Lee and Jack Kirby

Mr. Martin was 15 years old, so young that he still only sported a single “R” initial, when he wrote this 1963 letter to Lee and Kirby, praising Fantastic Four #17 as “greater than great” and “absolutely stupendous, the ultimate, utmost!” Martin was actually a prolific writer of fan mail; the following year, 16-year-old George took pen to paper again to proclaim his decision to have Fantastic Four #32 and Avengers #9 “mounted in bronze and set on a pedestal in the center of my living room.” [via]

Anthony Hopkins to Bryan Cranston

As Breaking Bad was winding down last fall, plenty of new fans took the opportunity to binge-watch and catch up for the big series finale — including Hannibal Lecter himself, Anthony Hopkins. And then, because Anthony Hopkins is awesome, he sent a fan letter to Bryan Cranston. Steven Michael Quezada, who played Agent Gomez, took to Facebook to post the text of the letter, in which Hopkins proclaims Cranston’s work as Walter White “the best acting I have seen — ever” while reserving high praise for his co-stars: “Everyone gave master classes of performance.” Hear, hear. [via]

Barack Obama to Yann Martel

Sure, every bit of fan mail is nice, but getting a fan letter from the leader of the free world presumably packs a little extra punch. So it went for Yann Martel, author of Life of Pi, who got a short, hand-written note on White House stationary in 2010, in which President Barack Obama explained that he and his daughter had just finished reading Pi, which he dubbed “a lovely book — an elegant proof of God, and the power of storytelling.” Martel was particularly moved, since, as he said, “I’m not a US citizen. In no way can I be of help to President Obama. Clearly he did it for personal reasons, as a reader and as a father. And in two lines, what an insightful analysis of Life of Pi.” [via]

Kurt Cobain to William S. Burroughs

“It’s a bit odd writing someone whom I’ve never met but with whom I’ve already recorded a record,” wrote Nirvana frontman Cobain to cult author Burroughs in August 1993, referencing The “Priest” They Called Him, a 10” vinyl record of Burroughs reading (recorded in Lawrence, Kansas) to Cobain’s guitar accompaniment (recorded in Seattle). The purpose of Cobain’s letter was to ask Burroughs to appear, either as himself or in disguise, in Nirvana’s video for “Heart-Shaped Box” — an invitation the author declined — but Cobain also took the opportunity to articulate his admiration for Mr. Burroughs: “As a fan and student of your work, I would cherish the opportunity to work directly with you.” They finally met a couple of months later, six months before Cobain’s death. [via]

Kim Gordon to Karen Carpenter

A fan letter from Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon is a bit, well, complicated. Take, for example, her letter to Karen Carpenter (date unknown, but published in the biography Sonic Youth: Sensational Fix), in which she proclaims herself a diehard viewer of Carpenters TV specials but notes, “You and Richard, by the end, looked drugged — there’s so little energy. The words come out of yr mouth but yr eyes say other things”; she then proceeds to guess at what those eyes are saying, in what reads like a first draft of her later Sonic Youth track “Tunic (Song for Karen).” (Read the full letter here.) She concludes with a few lines of more typical fan letter fodder: “I must ask you, Karen, who were your role models? Was it yr mother? What kind of books did you like to read? Did anyone ever ask you that question — what’s it like being a girl in music?” But as a closing, Gordon gets borderline existential: “Who is Karen Carpenter, really, besides the sad girl with the extraordinarily beautiful, soulful voice?” [via]

Bram Stoker to Walt Whitman

Future Dracula author Stoker’s initial outreach to celebrated poet Whitman was no mere fan note; late one night in February 1872, he poured his heart out to Whitman in a letter than ran just shy of 2000 words. But he didn’t post it right away; he waited four years to send it, with an additional, shorter note explaining that his affection for Whitman’s work had only grown in the elapsed time. Whitman responded in kind (read the correspondence here), leading to three meetings before Whitman’s death in 1892 (and Dracula’s publication five years later). [via]

Ingrid Bergman to Roberto Rossellini

Ms. Bergman couldn’t have guessed how she was altering her life when she sent a fan letter and offer to Roberto Rossellini in 1947. “I saw your films Open City and Paisan, and enjoyed them very much,” she wrote. “If you need a Swedish actress who speaks English very well, who has not forgotten her German, who is not very understandable in French, and who in Italian knows only ‘ti amo,’ I am ready to come and make a film with you.” She sent the letter to his studio, which he was on the outs with, so he didn’t receive the letter until the following year, but he responded with understandable enthusiasm, proposing a project that would become their first collaboration, Stromboli. While making that picture, the actor and director (both married) would begin an affair which would result in scandal, three children (including Isabella Rossellini), a seven year marriage, and five more films. [via]

Andy Kaufman to Elvis Presley

In 1969, Andy Kaufman was a 20-year-old student at Grahm Junior College in Boston, still a year from his debut as a stand-up comedian. But since the age of seven, he’d been a fan of Elvis Presley, so he wrote the King a letter, which he described as “like I’m writin’ to Santa Claus or somethin’.” The letter is both enthusiastic and formal: “You are Elvis Presley. I am Andy Kaufman. One day I shall meet you. I shall shake your hand. I shall say ‘Hello.’” A portion of the letter is missing, sadly, so we cannot know if he mentioned his killer Elvis impression; that impersonation, which would later become a cornerstone of his act, was reportedly Elvis’s favorite of all his imitators. [via]

Bill Hicks to John Lahr

Magazine writers don’t often get fan letters from their subjects — in fact, more often than not, it’s quite the opposite. But that’s what New Yorker writer John Lahr got from groundbreaking comic Bill Hicks in 1993, after the publication of a lengthy profile in the magazine. Lahr calls the letter “one of my cherished objects,” and it’s easy to see why; in the handwritten note, Hicks writes, “I’ve read the article three times now, and each time I’m stunned. Being the comedy fan that I am, I’ve ended the article everytime thinking ‘this guy sounds really interesting. I’ve got to see him perform.’ Then it strikes me — ‘Hey, that’s me!’” The New Yorker piece helped Hicks finally break out in America; Hicks writes, “Somehow, you did this, John. Somehow, people are listening in a new light. Somehow the possibilities (creatively) seem limitless.” Alas, there were limits — just a few months later, Hicks would succumb to pancreatic cancer. [via]

John Updike to Harold Gray

Who is Harold Gray, you might ask? Well, he was quite the superstar back in the 1940s, thanks to his wildly popular daily comic strip, Little Orphan Annie. And one of his most verbose admirers was a 15-year-old Pennsylvania fan named John Updike, whose 1948 letter is filled with love for the strip: “The appeal of your comic strip is an American phenomenon that has affected the public for many years” he writes, and will, I hope, continue to do so for many more.” He goes on to praise “the magnificent plotting of Annie’s adventures,” the strong characterizations (“Your villains are completely black and Annie and crew are practically perfect, which is as it should be”), and to note that “Your draughtsmanship is beyond reproach.” He concludes the letter with a request, for “a picture to alleviate the blankness of one of my bedroom walls,” be it an autographed sketch or an original comic strip. History has not recorded whether the request was filled, but Updike had this to say about his letter, decades later: “My goodness, what a gabby 15-year-old I was, shamelessly courting the venerable Harold Gray.” [via]