Thursday, 31 December 2009

I wish I could spare Nancy from this painful experience

On November 5th of 1994, five years after leaving office, 83-year-old Ronald Reagan hand-wrote the following open letter to the American people and revealed that he had recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, a surprisingly common, incurable form of dementia that affects many millions of people around the world. He lived with the disease for a further ten years.

Transcript follows.

(Source: Reagan Foundation; Image: Ronald Reagan, via.)



Nov. 5, 1994

My fellow Americans,

I have recently been told that I am one of the millions of Americans who will be afflicted with Alzheimer's disease.

Upon learning this news, Nancy and I had to decide whether as private citizens we would keep this a private matter or whether we would make this news known in a public way.

In the past, Nancy suffered from breast cancer and I had cancer surgeries. We found through our open disclosures we were able to raise public awareness. We were happy that as a result many more people underwent testing. They were treated in early stages and able to return to normal, healthy lives.

So now we feel it is important to share it with you. In opening our hearts, we hope this might promote greater awareness of this condition. Perhaps it will encourage a clear understanding of the individuals and families who are affected by it.

At the moment, I feel just fine. I intend to live the remainder of the years God gives me on this earth doing the things I have always done. I will continue to share life's journey with my beloved Nancy and my family. I plan to enjoy the great outdoors and stay in touch with my friends and supporters.

Unfortunately, as Alzheimer's disease progresses, the family often bears a heavy burden. I only wish there was some way I could spare Nancy from this painful experience. When the time comes, I am confident that with your help she will face it with faith and courage.

In closing, let me thank you, the American people, for giving me the great honor of allowing me to serve as your president. When the Lord calls me home, whenever that may be, I will leave the greatest love for this country of ours and eternal optimism for its future.

I now begin the journey that will lead me into the sunset of my life. I know that for America there will always be a bright dawn ahead.

Thank you, my friends. May God always bless you.


Ronald Reagan

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Pardon me

Sensing an opportunity to be pardoned of all previous crimes, William Bonney - a man of many names, now best known as Billy the Kid - approached Governor Lew Wallace in 1878 and offered to stand as a prosecution witness. Bonney had recently observed the murder of a lawyer during the final stages of the Lincoln County War and Wallace, newly appointed as governor, was keen to make an impression. He agreed to Bonney's plan, had him testify, and then reneged on his promise, refusing to pardon 'the Kid'. Below is a letter sent to Wallace by the clearly frustrated outlaw, in which he reminds the governor of their previous agreement. Less than a month later he killed two guards and escaped from jail, just weeks before he was to be hanged.

Interesting fact: Whilst serving as governor, Lew Wallace wrote and released Ben-Hur.

Transcript follows. Other letters from Billy the Kid can be read here.

Santa Fe Jail New Mex.
March 29 1881

Gov. Lew Wallace

Dear Sir

I wish you would come down to the jail and see me. it will be to your interest to come and see me. I have some letters which date back two years, and there are Parties who are very anxious to get them but I shall not dispose of them until I see you. that is if you will come imediately.

Yours Respect-
Wm H Bonney

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

The Jim Morrison Triptych

Courtesy of artist Thomas E. Breitenbach comes an intriguing missive from Jim Morrison; legendary frontman of The Doors and owner of stationery so cool it's a wonder he didn't send more letters. Breitenbach, a long-time fan of Morrison, had previously written to him and offered to paint an album cover. Below is the singer's response. Biographer Jerry Hopkins later said of the letter: '...the beach scene he described is a variation on a dream he told several people he had. The center would be an extension of his interest in chaos and insanity, I suppose, and the final panel refers to a scene from his childhood when he and his father came upon an overturned truck, dead and injured Indians scattered "on dawn's highway, bleeding." (See the lyric of "Peace Frog.")'.

Jim Morrison died less than a year later and the finished triptych wasn't used. It can be seen at Breitenbach's website here, along with other related material. Many thanks for his permission to show the letter.

Transcript follows.

The Doors


Thomas E. Breitenbach
619 Planner Tower
Univ. of Notre Dame
Notre Dame, Indiana 46556

Dear Mr. Breitenbach:

Thank you for your interest. Maybe we can do something.

Try doing a triptych. The left panel depicting a radiant moon-lit beach and an endless stream of young naked couples running silently along the water's edge. On the beach, a tiny infant grins at the universe and around its crib stand several ancient, old people.

The center -- a modern city or metropolis of the future at noon, insane with activity.

The last panel -- a view through a car windshield at night on a long straight desert highway.

If you come up with something related to these themes within the next four or five months I'm sure I can use it.

Thanks again.



James Morrison


Friday, 18 December 2009

What a dandy car you make

From 1932 until its bloody conclusion in May of 1934, Bonnie Parker, Clyde Barrow and an ever-changing gang of accomplices became a nationwide talking point as a result of a murderous crime spree which spanned the Central United States. Naturally, such a high-profile criminal gang depended on high-powered transport to evade the authorities and judging by the number he stole over the years, Barrow seemingly had a soft spot for Ford's V8-powered Model B. In fact, both Bonnie and Clyde died in the car they had grown to depend on, showered with bullets as they attempted to drive away from police in '34. A month before that happened, Henry Ford received the following admiring letter, purportedly from Barrow himself.

The letter is currently on display at the Ford Museum; its authenticity has been debated for many years.

Transcript follows.

(Source: Tyler Davies; Image: Bonnie & Clyde, via.)

Tulsa Okla
10th April
Mr. Henry Ford
Detroit Mich.

Dear Sir: -

While I still have got breath in my lungs I will tell you what a dandy car you make. I have drove Fords exclusivly when I could get away with one. For sustained speed and freedom from trouble the Ford has got ever other car skinned and even if my business hasen't been strickly legal it don't hurt enything to tell you what a fine car you got in the V8 -

Yours truly

Clyde Champion Barrow

Thursday, 17 December 2009

The Sunday Strip

In a move which simultaneously riled newspaper editors and delighted fans, famously strong-minded cartoonist Bill Watterson returned from a nine month sabbatical in 1992 and demanded that the Sunday edition of his comic strip - Calvin and Hobbes - be allotted a full half-page each week by newspapers, or nothing at all. The fear of losing such a popular cartoon forced editors to grant his wish, and Watterson flourished as a result of the relative freedom he now experienced. Below is a letter sent to a fan by Watterson in which he discusses the change.

Other Calvin and Hobbes goodness can be found here.

Transcript follows.

Calvin and Hobbes

December 9

Dear Tim,

Thanks for the kind words about the new Sunday format. I've been told to expect some resentment from editors who don't like being forced to take a better product for the same price. It's unfortunate that these kinds of changes have to be accomplished by fiat, but so long as editors worry more about the quantity of comics than their quality, it's hard to convince them to do this voluntarily. More to the point, I suspect readers and editors need to SEE the difference to be persuaded. Time will tell.

Again, thanks for the vote of support.


(Signed, 'Bill Watterson')

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Thank you Bob

In 1997, as a result of his tireless efforts to entertain American troops and campaign on their behalf, an act of congress was signed which resulted in Bob Hope becoming the world's 'first and only honorary veteran of the U.S. armed forces'. Nothing illustrates the effect of Hope's humanitarian work more than the following letter, written in 1973 by a U.S. pilot named Frederic Flom. When he wrote the letter, Flom was days away from being released as a prisoner of war, an unimaginable 6½ years after being captured in Vietnam. After hearing of Hope's POW-related work from another captured pilot, Flom felt the need to write Bob a letter of thanks.

Transcript follows. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

24 Feb, '73

Dear Mr. Hope,

Just another fan letter from a different address. I am an F-105 pilot, shot down over North Vietnam on 8 August, 1966. I have been held captive since that time, but will finally be released in three days. We have almost no contact with the outside world here, however, some word has gotten in, via POWs shot down in '72, concerning some of the activities of the American people, & you in particular, on behalf of the POWs. That is what prompted this note.

I want to thank you for all you have done or attempted to do on our behalf. You are truly a POW's friend, & are deserving of more than just a letter from each of us. There have been many a dark & lonesome night when we have felt all but forgotten. It thrills our hearts & makes us glow with pride to learn that the American people have not forgotten us, & that a celebrity such as yourself has active concern. I extend to you & all of America my deep appreciation & I know I speak for all of us.

There is something great about our nation & its people. A celebrity can have a large effect in influencing its thinking & attitude. This effect can be positive or negative, good or bad. Thank you Bob, for being such a large part of America & our wonderful way of life.

Best of luck to you,

Fred Flom

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus

In 1897, on the advice of her father, eight-year-old Virginia O'Hanlon wrote a short letter to the editor of New York's now-defunct newspaper, The Sun, in which she sought confirmation of Santa Claus' existence. In response, Francis Pharcellus Church published an editorial on September 21st — entitled 'Is There a Santa Claus' — which went on to become, and in fact remains to this day, the most reprinted English language editorial in history. Interestingly, in 1997 Virginia's great-grandson appeared with the letter on the Antiques Roadshow, where it was valued at $20'000 – $30'000. The valuation can be watched here

Below are both the original letter and its reply. Transcripts follow.


Dear Editor,
I am eight years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says "If you see it in the Sun it's so." Please tell me the truth, is there a Santa Claus?

Virginia O'Hanlon.
115 W.95th St

VIRGINIA, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except [what] they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men's or children's, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that's no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You may tear apart the baby's rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, VIRGINIA, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Santa Claus! Thank GOD! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

Anything which weakens you, weakens America

Just a few days after appearing before the Tower Commission as a result of his involvement in the Iran-Contra arms scandal, Ronald Reagan received the following handwritten letter of support from British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. In it, Thatcher empathises with 'Ron' over his harsh treatment by the press, informs him that his previous achievements are too great for him to suffer any 'lasting damage', and then offers some advice with regards to his next move. Apparently the letter was later discovered attached to a note, written to then Chief of Staff Donald Regan, which read 'DTR. FYI - this explains the weekend phone call, but not how this note got to the President. Pls return to my office'.

Image found at the Margaret Thatcher Foundation.

Transcript follows.




4th December 1986

Dear Ron

I was glad that we were able to talk on the telephone the other day so that I could tell you directly how very much you and Nancy are in my thoughts at this difficult time. The press and media are always so ready to criticise and get people down. I know what it's like.

But your achievements in restoring America's pride and confidence and in giving the West the leadership it needs are far too substantial to suffer any lasting damage., The message I give to everyone is that anything which weakens you, weakens America, and anything that weakens America weakens the whole free world.

Whatever happened over Iran is in the past and nothing can change it. I fervently believe that the message now should be that there is important work to be done and that you are going to do it.

You will find great support for that over here in Europe - and I am sure in America too.

If you would like to talk about the issues on which we need to press ahead, I hope that you will call me.

Denis joins me in sending you and Nancy our affectionate good wishes and support.

Yours ever


The Quill Letter

I've spoken before about the secretive communication methods used during the Revolutionary War - see The Masked Letter and Fire or Acid - and here's another, decidedly lower-tech example: The Quill Letter. The idea was simple and effective: messages were delicately written on long, extremely thin strips of paper, then rolled up and inserted into the hollow quill of a flight feather. A spy would then deliver the message discreetly, fairly safe in the knowledge that if he was intercepted en route, such a small document could easily be swallowed. Below is one such letter, written by General William Howe to General John Burgoyne in 1777, in which Howe informs him of his plans to invade Pennsylvania.

The images are from the Clements Library.

Transcript follows.

Lieut. Gen. Burgoyne

New York, July 17th. 1777. Dear Sir, I have received yours of the 2.d ins.+ on the 15th, have since heard from the Rebel Army of your being in possession of Ticonderoga, which is a great Event carried without loss. I have rec.d your two letters viz.+ from &Quebec your last of the 14th May, & shall observe the contents. There is a report of a messenger of yours to me having been taken, & the letter discover.d in a double wooden canteen, you will know if it was of any consequence; nothing of it has transpired to us. I will observe you in writing to you, as you propose in your letters to me. Washington is waiting our motions here, & has detached Sullivan with about 2500 men, as I learn, to Albany.- My intention is for Pensilvania where I expect to meet Washington, but if he goes to the Northw.d contrary to my (...) and you can keep him at bay, be assured I shall soon be after him to relieve you. After your arrival at Albany, yr movements of the Enemy will guide yours; but my wishes are that the Enemy be drove out of this Province before any operation takes place in Conecticut. S.r Hen.y Clinton remains in the command here, & will act as occurrences may direct. Putnam is in the Highlands with about 4000 men.- Success be ever with you. Yours.


Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Hostages For World Peace

Circa 1986, Jeremy Stone (then-President of the Federation of American Scientists) asked Owen Chamberlain to forward to him any ideas he may have which would 'make useful arms control initiatives'. Chamberlain - a highly intelligent, hugely influential Nobel laureate in physics who discovered the antiproton - responded with the fantastic letter seen below, the contents of which I won't mention for fear of spoiling your experience. Unfortunately, although I can't imagine the letter to be anything but satirical, I'm uninformed when it comes to Chamberlain's sense of humour and have no way of verifying my belief. Even the Bancroft Library labels it as 'possibly tongue-in-cheek'.

Transcript follows.


Dear Jeremy:

I do have a thought. Please forgive me if it is not very original. But, anyhow, I still think it has some possibilities.

The idea I want to have looked over is this:

The 200 most important political and military persons in each superpower should be required to provide one family member who could act as a hostage by living inside the other superpower. Thus, every powerful politician or general would have one family member.

I claim this might be arranged easily, is really quite inexpensive, and I believe it has the potential of putting the world in a different frame of mind. It might make nuclear war seem out-of-the-question to all.

The hostages--maybe one can find better word--could be children or grandchildren or perhaps nephews and nieces. We could afford to have excellent schooling for the hostages, for the number involved would be very moderate.

I admit is a gimmick. However, it seems to me to be a gimmick with more than the usual protection for the dollar.

Improvements welcome, of course.

Thank you for asking me. I plan to send this immediately. If I have more ideas I will send them later.

Say hello to BJ. June sends her best.


Owen Chamberlain

I want to buy it

In August of 1982, aged 22, Marvel Comics fan Randy Schueller received the following letter from then editor-in-chief of Marvel Comics itself: James Shooter. The letter, which boasts a stunning letterhead and simply begins 'I want to buy it', was sent in response to an idea Randy had submitted to Shooter's offices; an idea which resulted in Spider-Man donning a black costume for the first time in issue 8 of Secret Wars. Over the years this evolved to become Venom, the symbiote which starred in 2007's Spider-Man 3. Randy was happily paid $220.00 for his input.

Randy's recollection of the affair can be read at Comic Book Resources.

Transcript follows.




August 3, 1982

Randy Schueller
4319 North Neva #2-B
Norridge, Ill 60634

Dear Randy,

I want to buy it. We we'll pay you $220.00. Enclosed find a Work-made-for-hire Agreement and a voucher. Sign it where marked, write your Social Security number on it somewhere, and return it. I'll fill in the rest.

We"ll want changes made in this plot which I'll fill you in on after you return the Work-made-for-hire form and the voucher. If all goes well, we'll give you a shot at scripting this.





Monday, 14 December 2009

This rain of atomic bombs will increase manyfold in fury

At 11:00am on August 9th, 1945, just a minute before the second atomic bomb in the space of three days was dropped on Japan, a B-29 bomber named The Great Artiste quietly dropped three canisters from the sky. Inside each of the canisters, alongside a shockwave gauge designed by American physicist Luis Alvarez, was an unsigned copy of the following letter. The letter, written by Alvarez and two fellow scientists, was addressed to Japanese nuclear physicist Ryokichi Sagane – a man with whom Alvarez had previously worked at Berkeley – and pleaded with him to inform his 'leaders' of the impending 'total annihilation' of their cities. The letter reached Sagane a month later after being found 50km from the centre of devastation: Nagasaki.

Alvarez and Sagane met again 4 years later, at which point the letter was finally signed.

Transcript follows.

(Image: The Fat Man bomb detonating over Nagasaki, via.)


Atomic Bomb Command
August, 1945

To: Prof. R. Sagane
From: Three of your former scientific colleagues during your stay in the United States.

We are sending this as a personal message to urge that you use your influence as a reputable nuclear physicist, to convince the Japanese General Staff of the terrible consequences which will be suffered by your people if you continue in this war.

You have known for several years that an atomic bomb could be built if a nation were willing to pay the enormous cost of preparing the necessary material. Now that you have seen that we have constructed the production plants, there can be no doubt in your mind that all the output of these factories, working 24 hours a day, will be exploded on your homeland.

Within the space of three weeks, we have proof-fired one bomb in the American desert, exploded one in Hiroshima, and fired the third this morning.

We implore you to confirm these facts to your leaders, and to do your utmost to stop the destruction and waste of life which can only result in the total annihilation of all your cities, if continued. As scientists, we deplore the use to which a beautiful discovery has been put, but we can assure you that unless Japan surrenders at once, this rain of atomic bombs will increase manyfold in fury.

To my friend Sagane
With best regards from
Louis W. Alvarez

Finally signed
Dec 22, 1949

Friday, 11 December 2009

Name your price

On January 17th, 1874, 62-year-old North Carolina resident Chang Bunker passed away in his sleep after having contracted pneumonia. Tragically, within a few hours, his brother Eng also died. Less than two weeks later, the widows of Chang and Eng Bunker received the following letter from Brooklyn-based 'Rozell, Horton & Gray' in which the they were offered cash in return for the bodies of their late husbands. Usually, such a request would seem surprising, but Siam-born Chang and Eng Bunker had lived their entire 62 years joined at the sternum, their livers fused.

As a result, the term 'Siamese Twins' was born.

Transcript follows.


Brooklyn, January 29th 1874.

Mrs. Kang and Ang,

We wish to negotiate with you about the Bodys of the twins it is a (?) subject but we wish you to answer by Return Mail the lowest price Cash. Confidential on our part you will oblidge us very much. Name your price. We would not think of proposing the subject but we think it will be for the Benifit for the County as others may be so unfortunate.

We Remain Respectfully Yours

Rozell, Horton and Gray
387 Myrtle Avenue
N York

Thursday, 10 December 2009

We have a message from another world

In the summer of 1899, while alone in his Colorado Springs laboratory working with his magnifying transmitter, the inimitable Nikola Tesla observed a series of unusual rhythmic signals which he described as "counting codes." Having just detected cosmic radio signals for the first time, Tesla immediately believed them to be attempted communications from an intelligent life-form on either Venus or Mars, and later said of the experience, "The feeling is constantly growing on me that I had been the first to hear the greeting of one planet to another."

The next year, Tesla was asked by the Red Cross to predict man's greatest possible achievement over the next century. The letter below was his reply.

A much-needed transcript follows.

(Source: Tesla Society; Image: Tesla at work, via.)

To the American Red Cross, New York City.

The retrospect is glorious, the prospect is inspiring: Much might be said of both. But one idea dominates my mind. This — my best, my dearest — is for your noble cause.

I have observed electrical actions, which have appeared inexplicable. Faint and uncertain though they were, they have given me a deep conviction and foreknowledge, that ere long all human beings on this globe, as one, will turn their eyes to the firmament above, with feelings of love and reverence, thrilled by the glad news: "Brethren! We have a message from another world, unknown and remote. It reads: one… two… three…"

Christmas 1900

Nikola Tesla

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

You make school a perfect misery

Whilst a pupil at Rockdale Public School in Tasmania, schoolboy Athel Margett was so unhappy with the conduct of his teacher that he wrote the following letter of complaint to the man in question: Mr. Broome. The beautifully written protest eloquently offered the teacher a glimpse of life from the viewpoint of his humiliated, dejected pupils and noted the connection between his actions and rising truancy levels. According to the Australia Post website, the letter had a positive effect. Also, slightly comical is the blue X next to Athel's misspelling of the word 'certificate', hopefully scrawled by the hand of Mr. Broome in frustration as he realised he had no intelligent response to such a well-written criticism.

Transcript, with possible errors, follows.


Mr Broome

Dear Sir

I write this letter for the good of myself and other boys. Instead of you teachers making school a pleasure you make it a perfect misery to those who happen to be a little backward. Referring to myself, I can say that I never did like school but since I came to Rockdale I have just dreaded the thought of school. This, may I say, has all come from your sneering and poking fun at those who are not quite so well on as others. If a boy happens to have a few mistakes instead of you trying to help him in his difficulty you look over his slate, you either cane him, or spell out aloud his foolish mistakes before over 100 boys who are always ready to make fun. This is why there are so many boys who are always ready to play the truant. And therefore instead of me looking forward to school days I just long for the time when I shall receive a sitificut saying that I may leave school. And as manhood draws on I shall look back on my schooldays as a period of misery instead of a period of happiness.

A Margett

Scholar at (Inferior?) Rockdale Public School


At 07:58am on December 7th, 1941, having just witnessed a low-flying plane drop a bomb on Ford Island, Lieutenant Commander Logan C. Ramsey urgently ordered this telegram to be sent to all ships in the Hawaiian area. Ramsey had in fact just witnessed the very beginning of a coordinated attack on the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor, in which the Japanese, over the course of 2 hours, would ultimately destroy 188 aircraft and either damage or sink 21 ships. As a result of the attack, 2457 people, including 55 Japanese personnel, died. The next day, as a direct result of this attack, the U.S. declared war on Japan and entered World War II.

Transcript follows.

(This telegram, along with 124 other fascinating pieces of correspondence, can be found in the bestselling book, Letters of Note. For more info, visit Books of Note.)


PSNY 3-7-41 25M

Heading NPC NR 63 F L Z F5L 071830 C8Q TART 0 BT
From: CINCPAC Date 7 DEC 41
Info: - URGENT -



RM 58 1910 7DEC

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Disney, Day 1

On October 16th of 1923, just hours after striking a distribution deal with M. J. Winkler, near-penniless brothers Walt and Roy formed the company we now know as Disney. On the very same day, 21 year old Walt desperately wrote the following persuasive letter to the mother of Virginia Davis, a 5 year old girl who had previously starred in the short film on which the deal hinged: Alice's Wonderland. In the letter, Walt attempts to convince the Davis family to move to Hollywood so that Virginia can reclaim her role and become the star of the new Alice series. Luckily for Walt, they agreed and made the long trip from Missouri. The rest is history.

Thanks to Phil Sears - now the letter's owner - for allowing it to appear.

Transcript follows.



4406 Kingsmill Av
Hollywood Calif.
Oct 16th 1923

Dear Mrs Davis:

I have at last succeeded in arrainging for distributors on a series of "Alice" productions - twelve in all - with a very reliable distributor in New York.

I screened "Alice's Wonderland" several times in Hollywood and every one seemed to think that Virginia was real cute and thought she had wonderful possibilities - and I was wondering if you could arrange to come out here so I could star her in this series - It would be a big opportunity for her and would introduce her to the profession in a manner that few children could receive.

M. J. Winkler the distributor of "Felix the Cat" and "Out of the Inkwell" will distribute my production and believe me she gives her subjects a vast amount of publicity and if Virginia was used in the series it would be the making of her. M. J. Winkler is devoting her time to the distribution of short subjects and for her own good she believes in advertising her wares - so you can see the big possibilities that await Virginia - as an example of her speed and pep - she arrainged with a chain of newspapers to run a colored Sunday comics of Felix - in all these newspapers - she is always doing publicity stunts like this.

If you desire to come out and let me star Virginia in this series it will be necessary that you answer immediately as in all probility I will have to start production within fifteen or twenty days so I will know wheather or not I will use Virginia or have to get a little girl here in Hollywood - If you decide to come answer immediately so I can count on you - I will want a years contract with option on further services at a very reasonable salary - as it is necessary for M. J. Winkler to spend a vast amount of money on advertising these subject and the girl - before she gets any return therefore she demands that who ever I star in the series must be under contract to me for a series of twelve pictures with option on further services - because after making her known to the theatre public she will have to get her own money back - therefore you understand the necessity of a contract - However if Virginia can secure other work between pictures she can do so without any complications and I believe I can secure her work myself - In all probility I will do most of my shooting in one of the studios near here - I am now discussing with several for space.

All financial arraingements for this series has been arrainged and when we start work it will be but a short time till the series will be covering the world - please answer immediately one way or the other so I can make arraingements at once - as ever -

Walt Disney

Just personal enough

For authors as notable as the late Robert Heinlein, the practice of replying to fan-mail can be an incredibly time consuming affair. Some take the easy route and don't respond at all, whilst others make a valiant effort to reply to as many as humanly possible. Up until 1984 - at which point 'the advent of computerization' negated the need for such a method - Heinlein sat somewhere in the middle and sent back a copy of the following form letter to each fan, with certain responses ticked where applicable. Whilst not as satisfying as a handwritten letter, its quirky personal touch certainly would've brought a smile to the faces of many recipients and more than trumps a signed photo.

Transcript follows.


Robert A. Heinlein
Care of Mr. Lurton Blassirigame
60 East 42nd Street, Suite 1131
New York, N.Y. 10017

Dear Sir/Madam/Ms./Miss

An ever-increasing flood of mail forced me to choose between writing letters and writing fiction. But I read each letter sent to me and check its answer.

( ) Thanks for your kind words. You have made my day brighter.

( ) You say that you have enjoyed my stories for years. Why did you wait until you disliked one story before writing to me?

( ) Renshaw: Saturday Evening Post, You’re Not As Smart As You Could Be, April 17th, 24th, and May 1st, 1948.

( ) Essay Mental Telegraphy, Mark Twain’s Works, Harper & Brothers

( ) Don’t send books to be autographed; too many have failed to reach me. Registering or insuring is no answer; the post office is a 30-mile round trip.

( ) Story ideas come from everywhere and anything & writers are self-taught. The book WRITER’S MARKET tells how to prepare manuscripts & lists markets.

( ) My agent handles all business; your letter has been sent to him.

( ) I don’t discuss my colleagues' works or my own. A novelist writes from many viewpoints; opinions expressed even by a first-person character are not necessarily those of the author. Fiction is sold as entertainment, not as fact.

( ) The item you want is herewith/not available/: Ask your reference librarian.

( ) I don’t sell books. All my books are in print & can be bought or ordered at any bookstore or directly from publishers. Bookstores have “in-print“ lists.

( ) I get 4 or 5 or more requests each week for help in class assignments, term papers, theses, or dissertations. I can't cope with so many & bave quit trying.

( ) It is not just for a student’s grade to depend on the willingness or capacity of a stranger to help him with his homework. I am ready to discuss this with your teacher, principal, or school board.

( ) Science fiction: stories that would cease to exist if elements involving science or technology were omitted. For full discussion see my lecture in THE SCIENCE FICTION NOVEL, Advent:Publishers. Chicago.

( ) Who’s Who in America; Encyclopaedia Britannica 1974; IN SEARCH OF WONDER, chapter 7, Damon Knight, Advent:Publishers; SEEKERS OF TOMORROW, chapter 11, Sam Moskowitz, World Publishing Company; Current Biography magazine; reference books about authors. I don’t discuss private life, politics, religion, philosophy

( ) Your question: Yes/No/No comment/My publishers announce new works/

( ) Please do not write to me again.

( ) Thanks for the stamped & addressed envelope-a rare courtesy today.

( ) Pressure of work causes me to avoid interviews, questionnaires, radio & television appearances, public speaking.

( ) For legal reasons I do not read unpublished manuscripts.

( ) Don’t plan to call at our home; we work very long hours every day of the year.

( ) Your letter was most welcome!—loaded with friendliness and with no requests or demands. You suggested that no answer was expected but I must tell you how much it pleased me. I wish you calm seas, following winds, and a happy voyage through life.

Sincerely Yours,

Robert A. Heinlein, by ____

Friday, 4 December 2009

You gave me a valuable gift: you took me seriously

During an illustrious career which saw him win multiple awards and worldwide recognition, Theodore Geisel published over 60 books, the majority of which he wrote and illustrated under the pen name Dr. Seuss. Despite his busy schedule, and just months after the release of The Cat in the Hat, Geisel set aside time to write a charming letter — a picture of which can be seen below — to a 13-year-old aspiring illustrator by the name of Howard Cruse. Cruse was delighted and wrote again two years later, and yet again Geisel replied. Such was the impact on Cruse that in 1985, 26 years later, he decided to write to the author one last time and thank him for his advice. Geisel's illustrated reply can be seen below.

DC Comics imprint Paradox Press released Howard Cruse's award-winning graphic novel Stuck Rubber Baby in 1995.

Transcripts follow. These letters, and many other fascinating pieces of correspondence, can be found in the bestselling book, More Letters of Note. For more info, visit Books of Note.


First Letter

Dr. Seuss
La Jolla, California

May 12, 1957

Dear Howard:

I am very sorry to have been so long in answering your very friendly letter of April 13th. But I've been East. And the letter's been waiting me here in the West.

Your theatre productions sound wonderful. And I am very proud that you dedicated it to me.. and performed so many of my stories in it.


About giving you advice...pointers on how to properly write and illustrate a picture book...all I can say is this:

This is a field in which no one can give you pointers but yourself.

The big successes in this field all succeeded because they wrote and they wrote and they drew and they drew. They studied what they'd drawn and they studied what they'd written each time asking themselves one question: How can I do it better, next time?

To develop an individual style of writing and drawing, always go to yourself for criticsm. If you ask advice from too many other people, then you no longer are yourself.

The thing to do, and I am sure you will do it, is to keep up your enthusiasm! Every job is a lot of fun, no matter how much work it takes. If you'll plug away and do exactly what you are doing, making it better and better every month and every year...that you CAN be successful.

The very best of luck to you!

Your friend,

(Signed, 'Dr. Seuss')

Second Letter

January 3, 1985

Theodore Geisel/Dr. Seuss
The Tower
La Jolla, CA

Dear Mr. Geisel/Dr. Seuss,

If you peer at the two Xerox copies which are attached to this letter, you'll recognize them as your gracious responses to a thirteen/fifteen-year-old Alabama boy who wrote to you in 1957 and 1959. I told you about the puppet-show adaptations of Bartholomew and the Oobleck, and McElligot's Pool which I wrote and performed for neighborhood kids in my basement, and I confided that I hoped to grow up and write and illustrate children's books myself. As you can see, you gave me a valuable gift: you took me seriously.

It's been twenty-five years since the second of your two letters to me was written. During that time, I've often thought that I should write and thank you for the encouraging words which you offered me. On my fortieth birthday last May, I was given (at my request) The Butter Battle Book. I enjoyed seeing the world through your eyes again as much as I did when I was very young, and I appreciate your willingness to engage a truly serious and important subject within the children's book format.

I have not illustrated any children's books yet, but I have grown-up to be a cartoonist and humorous illustrator. My principal interest is in comic strips for adults, and I fill out my extra time doing spot drawings for magazines. My first book--a trade paperback collection of my comic strip Wendel--will be published at the end of 1985.

Although I couldn't claim to enjoy a hundredth of your own stature as an artist, I occasionally receive letters from youngsters not unlike the letters I wrote to you. And remembering the strength of the childhood dreams which are represented by such letters, I try very hard to do as you did and treat the young artist as a person with dignity. Thanks for showing me, in your work all through the years as well as in the particular letters you wrote to me, both how to be a wonderful artist and how to be a kind and supportive human being.

Yours sincerely,

Howard Cruse

Third Letter

Dear Howard......

It sure made me feel GOOD, reading your letter and seeing what you've been accomplishing during the past 25 years! It makes me especially happy to have played a small part in it.

May your first book, WENDEL, sell a billion copies. And may your next 25 years be even better than the 25 you've just conquered!

All the best

Dr. Seuss

Thursday, 3 December 2009

I'm sorry. My friend got me drunk.

Despite his fame, writer and poet Edgar Allan Poe struggled financially throughout his entire career, even following the publication of his much lauded poem, The Raven. He also enjoyed a drink or two, to a dangerously extent during later life. The following letter was written by Poe in July, 1842, and sent to his publishers along with an article he was desperately hoping they would buy. In the letter, Poe apologises for behaving badly when they last met in New York and blames the embarrassment on his friend William Ross Wallace, a fellow poet who supposedly let Poe drink too many juleps before the meeting.

Transcript follows. Enormous, high quality image of the letter here.



Enclosed I have the honor to send you an article which I should be pleased if you would accept for the “Democratic Review”. I am desperately pushed for money; and, in the event of Mr O'Sullivan's liking the “Landscape-Garden”, I would take it as an especial favor if you could mail me the amount due for it, so as to reach me here by the 21rst, on which day I shall need it. Can you possibly oblige me in this? If you accept the paper I presume you will allow me your usual sum, whatever that is for similar contributions - but I set no price - leaving all to your own liberality. The piece will make 8 of your pages and rather more.

Will you be kind enough to put the best possible interpretation upon my behavior while in N.York? You must have conceived a queer idea of me - but the simple truth is that Wallace would insist upon the juleps, and I knew not what I was either doing or saying. The Review of Dawes which I offered you was deficient in a ½ page of commencement, which I had written to supersede the old beginning, and which gave the article the character of a general & retrospective review. No wonder you did not take it - I should have been very much mortified if you had. I hope to see you at some future time, under better auspices.

In the meantime I remain.

Yours very truly

(Signed, 'EAPoe')

Should the M.S. not be accepted, please return it as soon as possible, by mail, enveloped as now.

Hi. Buckley again.

In December of 1996, two years after his debut album had begun to attract near-unanimous critical acclaim, Jeff Buckley shunned the limelight and without fanfare embarked on a 'Solo Phantom Tour' in the U.S.. Assuming various aliases throughout the month (e.g. Smackrobiotic, Topless America, The Halfspeeds), Buckley entertained a number of small crowds in intimate settings his recent success had seemingly made impossible.

A month later, Buckley wrote the following letter as way of an explanation for his fans and posted it to In May of that year, on the day recording of his second album was to begin, Buckley tragically drowned.

Transcript follows.


Hi. Buckley again.

The question is, "Why did he tour and not tell us where he was playing? Why why why?"

And the answer is this: There was a time in my life not too long ago when I could show up in a cafe and simply do what I do, make music, learn from performing my music, explore what it means to me, i.e.- have fun while I irritate and/or entertain an audience who doesn't know me or what I am about. In this situation I have that precious and irreplacable luxury of failure, of risk, of surrender. I worked very hard to get this kind of thing together, this work forum. I loved it then and missed it when it disappeared. All I am doing is reclaiming it. Don't worry about the phantom solo tours, they are simply my way of survival and my own method of self-assessment and recreation. If they don't happen...nothing else can. I can at least be all alone with nothing to help me, save myself. Real men maintain their freedom to suck eggs, my dear.

I'm in the middle of some wild shit right now...please be patient, I'm coming soon to a cardboard display case near you and I'm coming out of my hole and we'll make bonfires out of ticketstubs come the summer.

Merry Christmas all and a kiss for your New Year's headache.



Wednesday, 2 December 2009

My real name is David Jones

David Bowie was just 20 years of age and yet to make a dent in the music scene when, in September of 1967, he received his first piece of fan mail from America. The fan in question was 14-year-old Sandra Dodd, a New Mexico resident whose uncle, a manager of a local radio station, had recently given her a promotional copy of Bowie’s first album. Intrigued, she wrote him a letter, told him that his music was as good as that of The Beatles and offered to start a U.S. fan club on his behalf. Her letter did reach Bowie. In fact, he was so excited to receive such praise from across the Atlantic that he immediately typed out this endearing reply from the office of his manager, Kenneth Pitt.

Transcript follows.

(This letter features in the More Letters of Note book alongside many other fascinating pieces of correspondence -- more info at Books of Note.)


25th., September 1967

Dear Sandra,

When I called in this, my manager's office, a few moments ago I was handed my very first American fan letter - and it was from you. I was so pleased that I had to sit down and type an immediate reply, even though Ken is shouting at me to get on with a script he badly needs. That can wiat (wi-at? That's a new English word which means wait).

I've been waiting for some reaction to the album from American listeners. There were reviews in Billboard and Cash Box, but they were by professional critics and they rarely reflect the opinions of the public. The critics were very flattering however. They even liked the single "Love You Till Tuesday". I've got a copy of the American album and they've printed the picture a little yellow. I'm really not that blond. I think the picture on the back is more 'me'. Hope you like those enclosed.

In answer to your questions, my real name is David Jones and I don't have to tell you why I changed it. "Nobody's going to make a monkey out of you" said my manager. My birthday is January 8th and I guess I'm 5'10". There is a Fan Club here in England, but if things go well in the States then we'll have one there I suppose. It's a little early to even think about it.

I hope one day to get to America. My manager tells me lots about it as he has been there many times with other acts he manages. I was watching an old film on TV the other night called "No Down Payment" a great film, but rather depressing if it is a true reflection of The American Way Of Life. However, shortly after that they showed a documentary about Robert Frost the American poet, filmed mainly at his home in Vermont, and that evened the score. I am sure that that is nearer the real America. I made my first movie last week. Just a fifteen minutes short, but it gave me some good experience for a full length deal I have starting in January.

Thankyou for being so kind as to write to me and do please write again and let me know some more about yourself.

Yours sincerely,

(Signed, 'David Bowie')

You, Me and Cousin Dupree

On July 17th of 2006, three days after You, Me and Dupree — a film both produced by, and starring, Owen Wilson — was released in cinemas, the following open letter, addressed to Owen Wilson's brother, Luke, was posted on Steely Dan's official website. In it, the band humorously take a pop at Owen's post-Bottle Rocket output and claim their song, Cousin Dupree, has been "ripped off" by his latest film.

Two weeks later, Owen Wilson released the following statement in response, in which he jokingly referred to another of Steely Dan's songs, Hey Nineteen:
"I have never heard the song 'Cousin Dupree' and I don't even know who this gentleman, Mr. Steely Dan, is. I hope this helps to clear things up and I can get back to concentrating on my new movie, 'HEY 19."
Transcript follows.

(Source: Steely Dan; Image via.)

The Residential Suites at Longworth
"Where Value is King -- And So Are You!"

Corpus Christi TX

July 17, 2006


Hey Luke -

Hey man - it's, like, Don and Walt, we're the guys from Steely Dan, the group, we won those Grammies that time, maybe you recall? You know, "Rikki Don't Lose That Number"? "Reelin' in the Years?" "Hey Nineteen"? "Babylon Sisters"? Right, that's us! So how's it going?

Cool, we hope. We both really liked that "Bottle Rocket" movie that you and your brother did. We both thought it was way rocking! - even though the end was a little sad, you know, the overall thing was so great. In fact, it's the only movie that you and your brother did that we can really agree on, the two of us... we usually like the same kind of things, but not always exactly the same things, if you can get to that.

Anyway, the reason we're writing, aside from the fact that there's no show today and we're stuck in this dump in Corpus Christi - well, man, something kind of uncool has come to our attention and we've got to, like, do something or say something before the scene gets out of our control and something even more uncool happens. This doesn't involve you directly, man, you seem pretty cool, even when you're playing some pretty bogus parts in bad movies all the time, we realize that it's not entirely your fault and that you're entitled to have whatever low standards you want in terms of what's cool to get involved with for the, you know, bread or whatever.

It's your little brother Owen C. that's the problem. We realize what a drag it is for you to have people coming to you about his lameness all the time and we're really sorry to be doing the same thing - believe us, usually that's not what we're all about. But it so happens that your brother has gotten himself mixed up with some pretty bad Hollywood shlockmeisters and that he may be doing, like, permanent damage to his good creds and whatever reputation for coolness he may still have - let's face it, 'Bottle Rocket' was a ways back already.

What we suspect may have happened is this: some hack writer or producer or whatever they call themselves in Malibu or Los Feliz apparently heard our Grammy winning song "Cousin Dupree" on the radio and thought, hey, man, this is a cool idea for a character in a movie or something. OK, so the "cousin" idea was no doubt eliminated so as not to offend the Fundamentalist ticket buyers in the Flyovers. Nevertheless, they. like, took our character, this real dog sleeping on the couch and all and put him in the middle of some hokey "Down and Out in Beverly Hills" ripoff story and then, when it came time to change the character's name or whatever so people wouldn't know what a rip the whole thing was, THEY DIDN'T EVEN BOTHER TO THINK UP A NEW FUCKING NAME FOR THE GUY!

Anyway, they got your little brother on the hook for this summer stinkbomb - I mean, check the reviews - and he's using all his heaviest Owen C. licks to try and get this pathetic way-unfunny debacle off the ground and, in the end, no matter what he does or what happens at the box office, in the short run, he's gonna go down hard for selling out like this and for trashing the work of some pretty heavy artists like us in the process. You know the first fucking thing you learn, right? Instant karma is a fact, Jack. So your spaced out little bro is generating some MAJOR harsh-ass karma for himself by fucking us over like this - I mean, we're like totally out in the cold on this one - no ASCAP, no soundtrack, no consultant gig (like we got from the Farrelly Bros. when they used a bunch of songs in their movie, "You, Me and Irene" or whatever). No phone call, no muffin basket, no flowers, nothing.

And Luke, think of yourself, man. Do you want to go down as the brother of the Zal Yanovsky of the 21st century? Maybe this reference is a little obscure for someone of your generation (X? - Y? - ZERO?), but it would be worth your while to look it up in some counterculture encyclopedia or something. Because being the New Zallie's brother is definitely NOT A GOOD THING to be.

OK, then. So not to worry, man. Check it - whatever redress we get from the suits at the studio, that's strictly between our badass attorneys and theirs - we wouldn't even think for a Hollywood minute of getting Owen mixed up in all that bullshit... After all, Donald even liked "The Big Bounce". Really!

But, hey, Luke, man - there is one petite solid you could do for us at this time - do you think you could persuade your bro to do the right thing and come on down to our Concert at Irvine and apologize to our fans for this travesty? I mean, he wouldn't have to grovel or eat shit or get down on his hands and knees and ask forgiveness - we don't want him to do anything he's not comfortable with - but he would have to cop to the fact that what he and his Hollywood gangster pals did was wrong and that he wishes he had never agreed to get involved with this turkey in the first place. He just tells the audience and the band and the crew that he made a bad mistake and that he's sorry - is that so fucking hard? What the hell, you're his big brother. If you lean on him a little bit, I'm sure he'll do the right thing. You don't owe him anything, after the way he and Gwynnie Paltrow double-timed you in "The Royal Tenenbaums". So you just tell him - he'll come down to Irvine, apologize on stage, then we'll load him up with cool Steely merch and he can party with us and the band. Otherwise, if this business goes unresolved, there are some pretty heavy people who are upset about this whole thing and we can't guarantee what kind of heat little Owen may be bringing down on himself. When negative energy like this attaches itself to someone because they allow themselves to get involved in stuff that is not spiritually aligned for them on all levels, there can sometimes be some very harsh trips that go down. Your bro may be creating an extremely retrograde reality matrix for himself with his whole sellout moviestar game and there may be some righteous dues to pay, amen.

For example, there's this guy who works for us sometimes, he's not necessarily the kind of folks you want to know or hang with, but, if you happen to get in a barfight or some kind of hassle in a foreign country, he's your best fucking friend in the world. You guys must go to the movies a lot - you know what a Navy Seal is, right? Well, this dude's like that, only he's Russian. This particular guy - of course, he's a big fan of ours, but he may not have even heard of "Bottle Rocket" - hardly anybody has - I mean, one time we saw this guy, WITH HIS BARE HANDS, do something so unspeakable that - but, hey man, let's not even let it get that way, you know? Let's just help Owen C. do what's right, let's play past this particular screwup, and then he can get back to his life and his family and his beautiful moviestar-style pad or whatever, none the worse for wear, and with some groovy new tee's and hoodies and maybe a keyring or a coffee mug in the process. Alright? Well, alright!

Regards & etc. Don and Walt

P.S. Tell Owen to bring his bongos if he wants to sit in --

P.P.S. We're now seeing that according to Wikipedia, Owen is older than you are. But you seem a lot more mature somehow... don't you?"

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

"He is a second Dirac, only this time human."

Whilst heading up the Manhattan Project during World War II, theoretical physicist Robert Oppenheimer quickly became aware of a promising young physicist by the name of Richard Feynman. Sensing that Feynman would be incredibly valuable at UC Berkeley come the end of the war, Oppenheimer wrote the following letter to then chairman of its physics department, Raymond Birge. To label the letter a glowing recommendation would be an understatement, but even so, and despite Oppenheimer's efforts, Feynman turned down the subsequent offer.

Indeed he was correct in his evaluation of Feynman, who went on to become one of the world's most renowned scientists and joint recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1965.



November 4, 1943

Professor R. T. Birge
Chairman, Department of Physics
University of California
Berkeley, California

Dear Professor Birge:

In these war times it is not always easy to think constructively about the peace that is to follow, even in such relatively small things as the welfare of our department. I would like to make one suggestion to you which concerns that, and about which I have myself a very sure and strong conviction.

As you know, we have quite a number of physicists here, and I have run into a few who are young and whose qualities I had not known before. Of these there is one who is in every way so outstanding and so clearly recognized as such, that I think it appropriate to call his name to your attention, with the urgent request that you consider him for a position in the department at the earliest time that that is possible. You may remember the name because he once applied for a fellowship in Berkeley: it is Richard Feynman. He is by all odds the most brilliant young physicist here, and everyone knows this. He is a man of thoroughly engaging character and personality, extremely clear, extremely normal in all respects, and an excellent teacher with a warm feeling for physics in all its aspects. He has the best possible relations both with the theoretical people of whom he is one, and with the experimental people with whom he works in very close harmony.

The reason for telling you about him now is that his excellence is so well known, both at Princeton where he worked before he came here, and to a not inconsiderable number of "big shots" on this project, that he has already been offered a position for the post war period, and will most certainly be offered others. I feel that he would be a great strength for our department, tending to tie together its teaching, its research and its experimental and theoretical aspects. I may give you two quotations from men with whom he has worked. Bethe has said that he would rather lose any two other men than Feyman from this present job, and Wigner said, "He is a second Dirac, only this time human."

Of course, there are several people here whose recommendation you might want; in the first instance Professors Brode and McMillan. I hope you will not mind my calling this matter to your attention, but I feel that if we can follow the suggestion I have made, all of us will be very happy and proud about it in the future. I cannot too strongly emphasize Feynman's remarkable personal qualities which have been generally recognized by officers, scientists and laity in this community.

With every good wish,

Robert Oppenheimer

CC to Dr. Lawrence