During the explosive growth in the popularity of motion pictures during the silent film era, a new popular pastime evolved – writing fan letters to your favorite movie stars. Often the writers would extoll their fascination with the star in detailed and heartfelt letters (many indicating “I am your biggest fan”).
In response, fans received a treasured letter and a picture from the star. The fascination with Hollywood movies and movie stars was a worldwide phenomenon and fans sent millions of letters per year. These fan mail letters typically are:
Addressed to a Hollywood movie star.
Addressed to a Hollywood movie studio.
Addressed to Hollywood, California or another city that housed the studio (Burbank, for example).
Figure 1. An early example of Hollywood fan mail to silent film actress Mary Pickford.
An example of silent film-era fan mail from Australia is shown (Figure 1). It is addressed to silent film star Mary Pickford at her own studio in Hollywood and is representative of fan mail covers.
Figure 2. A cover sent to silent film actress Bebe Daniels in New York City and forwarded to Famous Players Lasky Studios in Hollywood.
Not all fan mail letters had such simple routing. Another cover (Figure 2) is addressed to silent film actress Bebe Daniels at the New York City corporate office of Famous Players Lasky Studios. However, the fan mail department was located in Hollywood, not New York City, so the “1520 Vine St. – Hollywood, California” auxiliary mark was applied to re-direct it to Famous Players Lasky Studios in Hollywood.
This is but one example the numerous ways auxiliary marking were used to direct a movie fan letter to a movie star. The authors have cataloged more than 100 different auxiliary markings used by the movie industry for the sole purpose of directing a fan letter to a movie star. Many of these markings are very scarce, maybe only one recorded. We base our observations on a sample of more than 30,000 fan mail envelopes studied over the past decade. Readers interested in learning more can find our 2010 monograph Private Auxiliary Markings on Hollywood Fan Mail published by the Auxiliary Markings Club in the APRL.
These types of auxiliary markings are unique in two respects. First, they were used by private firms and not postal agencies. Second, they were adopted throughout the entire entertainment industry by Hollywood studios, publicity agencies and fan mail services.
This article examines a number of ways auxiliary markings moved the mail from a movie fan to a movie star.
Forwarding from a New York studio to a Hollywood studio
During the period of 1895 to 1910, New York City was the capital of film production and distribution in the United States. However, by 1915 the transition to Hollywood as the primary location for movie production was well underway. This transition to Hollywood coincides with the rise in popularity in fan mail and is captured by the use of auxiliary markings to forward mail from New York to Hollywood.
Figure 3. A cover sent via the U.S. Post Office in Shanghai to silent film actress Mildred Harris in New York City, then forwarded.
A cover shown (Figure 3) was mailed in 1919 from the United States Post Office in Shanghai, China to silent film actress Mildred Harris at Jewel Productions in New York City.
Harris began as a child star and soon became a leading lady of the silent film era. She married Charlie Chaplin in the fall of 1918. Many of her early films were made by Jewel Productions.
She was not currently working at Jewel Productions when this letter arrived, so that address was obliterated and a manuscript auxiliary marking, “Chaplin Studios, Hollywood,” was added. As her husband owned the studio this was a logical guess of her location.
She was not at that studio, so it was forwarded via a handstamp to the Universal Film Manufacturing Company at Universal City, California, the company now known as Universal Studios. This is the first example of a handstamp with the original name of Universal Studios that the authors have seen.
Of note is the request at top right of “per S.S. Empress of Asia.” This ship, built by Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering at Govan, Scotland, was launched in 1912 and completed in May 1913. The S.S. Empress of Asia was owned by Canadian Pacific Steamships, Ltd., and with the exception of assignments during both world wars, she spent her entire commercial life transporting cargo and passengers from east Asia to British Columbia, Canada.
After the end of World War I, the ship was quickly re-fitted for peacetime duties at the Wallace yard in North Vancouver and re-entered the transpacific mercantile trade, beginning her first post-war voyage on February 27, 1919, bound for east Asia.
Figure 4. A letter mailed to silent film actress Lillian Gish at Griffith Studios with multiple forwarding markings.
Figure 4 illustrates a significant piece of American movie industry history. The registered cover from Portugal is addressed to silent film actress Lillian Gish at Griffith Studios in Mamaroneck, New York. The great movie pioneer, D.W. Griffith, built this studio in 1919, but it only lasted for five years. Two of the most famous silent film actresses to work there were sisters Lillian and Dorothy Gish.
A variety of scarce auxiliary markings highlight the travels of this letter. Because Lillian Gish was no longer at the studio, the letter was forwarded to the general post office in New York, then to Lillian Gish at 565 Fifth Ave, New York City (see handstamps). This is the address of a short-lived New York movie studio, Inspiration Pictures. Finally, it was forwarded to Metro-Goldwyn Studios in Culver City, California.
Marcus Loew purchased Metro Pictures Corporation in 1919 to supply films for his Loew’s Theater chain. In 1924, Loew purchased Goldwyn Pictures to improve the production of his films. On April 17, 1924, Loew purchased Louis B. Mayer Pictures and persuaded Mayer to become the head of the newly named Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios (M.G.M.). Any covers with markings with only Metro-Goldwyn Pictures on them, such as this one, are very scarce, as this studio only existed for a matter of months.
Figure 5. A cover sent to silent film actor Richard Barthelmess in New York City, then forwarded to First National Studio in Burbank.
The next cover (Figure 5) is addressed to silent film actor Richard Barthelmess in New York City, forwarded to First National Studio in Burbank, California. As with many of these early forwarding auxiliary markings, it is very scarce; only two examples are recorded.
The question of New York City vs. Hollywood and to where a fan should address a letter was a common problem during the silent film-era and continued until more modern times.
Figure 6. An envelope to actress Rita Hayworth at Columbia Pictures in New York, then forwarded to the fan mail department in Hollywood.
A fan letter mailed from Czechoslovakia in 1947 (Figure 6) is addressed to actress Rita Hayworth at Columbia Pictures in New York City, the location of the corporate office. The fan mail department was in Hollywood and the letter has an auxiliary marking forwarding it to Columbia Pictures in Hollywood.
Following are a few specific circumstances with illustrations of the types of markings they elicited.
Forwarding from a radio studio to a Hollywood studio
Often, Hollywood stars would appear on radio shows and fans would sometimes write to them in care of the radio show.
Figure 7. A letter to actor John Boles in care of a Chicago radio station. It was soon forwarded to him at Fox Studio in California.
In Chicago, the husband-and-wife team of Eddie and Fannie Cavanaugh was a broadcast institution from radio`s earliest days until Eddie`s death in 1957. A letter (Figure 7) is addressed to actor John Boles in care of their radio show. The radio studio would not handle fan mail, so an auxiliary marking re-directed it to Fox Studio in Beverely Hills. Boles must have received a considerable quantity of mail to justify the creation of an auxilary mark.
Re-direction between Hollywood studios
The greatest variety of auxiliary markings are those used to forward fan mail from one Hollywood studio to another. These frequently begin with the phrase “Not At” or “Uncalled for At” indicating that the letter writer addressed it to the incorrect studio.
Figure 8. A letter to silent film actress Agnes Ayres at Fox Studio and refused with a “Not At Fox Studio” auxiliary marking.
A cover (Figure 8) shows a 1920 postal stationery envelope from the UK to silent film actress Agnes Ayres at Fox Studio. She was not there, as she was working for Famous Players Lasky Studios. Fox applied the “Not At Fox Studio” auxiliary marking. This is the earliest recorded auxiliary marking from Fox, the predecessor to the more well-known 20th Century-Fox Studios.
Figure 9. The only recorded example of the “Not At Metropolitan Studios” auxiliary marking.
More obscure studios also used such marks and they are a philatelic reminder of their place in Hollywood history. A cover (Figure 9) addressed to Corrinne Griffiths (sic; her real name is “Griffith”) illustrates the only recorded example of an auxiliary marking used by Metropolitan Studios.
Figure 10. A card from Yugoslavia to actor Farley Granger with auxiliary markings of three different studios.
Sometimes a fan letter bounced from studio to studio in search of the star. The well-traveled card from Yugoslavia to actor Farley Granger (Figure 10) went from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (M.G.M.) to Paramount and Republic studios, indicated by the three auxiliary markings.
Forwarding directly to a movie star
Figure 11. A cover sent to silent film actress Mary Pickford forwarded to her husband, Douglas Fairbanks.
Studios occasionally forwarded fan mail directly to the movie star. The fan letter in Figure 11 was sent to Mary Pickford (the wife of actor Douglas Fairbanks) and forwarded to him. We theorize that their fan mail was jointly answered by the staff at “Box No. N” in Hollywood. This is the only recorded example of the “Box No. N” auxiliary marking.
During the silent film era, a majority of fan mail was answered by the Hollywood studios. However, there were exceptions.
Figure 12. A fan letter to Antonio Moreno at Metro-Goldwyn Studios forwarded to his place of residence at the Los Angeles Athletic Club.
Actor Antonio Moreno resided at the Los Angeles Athletic Club (a temporary and inexpensive home for a number of movie stars) and handled his own fan mail. Figure 12 is an example of a fan letter addressed to him at Metro-Goldwyn Studios (predecessor of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer) and forwarded with an auxiliary marking to the Los Angeles Athletic Club.
Fan mail agencies
During the 1950s, major Hollywood studios began divesting themselves of fan mail departments and the mail was increasingly handled by fan mail and publicity agencies. These agencies also employed auxiliary markings to forward fan letters.
When fans were unsure where to address letters, they sometimes addressed them to the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), the association representing film and television workers. The guild used auxiliary markings to re-direct a star’s mail to the agency that represented them.
Figure 13. Fan mail to actress Audrey Hepburn at the Screen Actors Guild, forwarded to the United Fan Mail agency.
A cover (Figure 13) shows a “United Fan Mail” re-direction marking on a cover addressed to actress Audrey Hepburn in care of the Screen Actors Guild. United Fan Mail was a company that contracted to answer a star’s fan mail for a monthly fee.
Figure 14. Fan letter to Frankie Avalon and forwarded to his publicity agency, General Artists Corp.
A similar mark to forward mail to the General Artists Corporation publicity agency is shown in Figure 14 on a letter to actor and singer Frankie Avalon. These agencies promoted the stars under their contract and also processed their fan mail.
Figure 15. A letter to actor Gregory Peck and forwarded to his publicity agency.
Auxiliary markings to forward mail to publicity agencies are found on more recent mail. Figure 15 is a 1977 letter to actor Gregory Peck forwarded to his publicity agency, the Chasin-Park-Citron Agency.
Forwarding from London to the United States
In 1932, the U.S.-based Fox Studios started producing movies at its studio in Wembley Park, outside of London, England. Fan letters are known addressed there. These were forwarded to the fan mail department in the United States.
Figure 16. A fan letter to actor John Boles at Fox Film Studios in London and forwarded to the United States.
Shown (Figure 16) is a fan letter sent to actor John Boles at Wembley Park, with an auxiliary marking re-directing it to Hollywood.
Figure 17. A modern-day auxiliary marking advising the fan to contact the star via the Internet. The 34-cent Orange booklet stamp on the envelope was released March 6, 2001, and the television show The West Wing was broadcast from 1999 to 2006. The 34-cent first class rate lasted from January 7, 2001, to June 30, 2002.
Auxiliary markings are known on fan mail from the silent film period to the modern day, and is a rich source of postal, social and entertainment history. Sadly, the era of fan mail may soon be over. The fan letter in Figure 17 from early this century bears an auxiliary marking advising the sender to correspond with the star through a website.
Regis Hoffman is a collector of British East Africa (stamps, postal history and revenues), British Commonwealth, world-wide military and censored mail, and Hollywood fan mail. He is a columnist for the Bulletin of the Military Postal History Society, is on the Board of Directors of the Polonus Polish Philatelic Society and is an accredited APS philatelic judge.
After collecting various areas for more than 50 years, Thomas Richards now only collects and exhibits movie related philatelic items. He has co-authored four movie related philatelic chapters in the American Philatelic Congress (APC) Yearbook. He has been the co-author of a quarterly Stars and Strife column in the Military Postal History Society Bulletin for more than 13 years. He also writes on philatelic movie items for numerous diverse philatelic publications, such as The Civil War Philatelist, The American Philatelist, Christmas Seal & Charity Stamp Society Seal News, La Posta, La Catastrophe, AMG Courier, Airpost Journal and others.