Monday, October 17, 2011

The Stars in School! Collecting Celebrity Yearbooks

by Stephen J. Gertz

The celebrity school yearbook has always had a place in the rare book world. Whether acquiring volumes to complete collections of particular literary, Hollywood, sports, political, or other cultural icons, or collecting them as a genre, it's a fascinating pastime for the fan and guilty pleasure for the jaded. How did unrecognizable and unformed so-and-so get from there to big-time SO-AND-SO, and they participated in what? Who knew? It's like stalking a celeb through a wormhole into the past without fear of arrest warrant.

I love going through celebrity high school and college yearbooks. They bring back such golden memories.

Marilyn Monroe and I went to the same high school in Los Angeles.

Norma Jean Baker, University High School, Class of '42.

Unfortunately, we graduated twenty-seven years apart. Who knows what magic would have never presto'ed had she met my alter-ego, Steve Springfield, the DJ for Uni High's lunchtime low-watt radio show during the Class of Spring '69's penultimate semester? I left after a dispute with management; I refused to talk over song-intros. It annoyed me as a listener and I insisted on being DJ to the people. The supervisor's response was an unexpected and utterly insouciant, "Fine. Leave," Hitler as William Powell playing Nick Charles in The Thin Man. All he needed was a martini in his hand, Myrna Loy at his side, and Asta at his feet to complete the tableau; The Man as light comedian, student as hapless, screwball revolutionary.


Springing right along, Bruce Springstein was in the college prep program at Freehold Regional High School in New Jersey in 1967. Three years earlier, my father spent a trial separation in Asbury Park, Bruce's hometown. (I read his yearbook; we're on a first-name basis, now). Hey, not all memories are cheery,  though, at the time, I was glad to see him go. I still ache with that guilt.


Janis Joplin was in the Slide Rule Club while attending Thomas Jefferson High School in Port Arthur, Texas, Class of 1960. She was also a member of Future Teachers, Future Nurses, and the Art Club. She had a B-average. She won the top prize in the school art exhibition. Meanwhile, Jimmy Johnson, her classmate, was dreaming about coaching the Dallas Cowboys to two consecutive Super Bowl championships thirty years later, in 1992 and 1993. In 1960 I was nine years old and spent four months in bed with a bad case of infectious mononucleosis and a home tutor (who was, most assuredly,  not in  bed with me). It's the Kissing Disease. Don't ask. During 1992-1993 I was suffering from a bad case of life.


For 50-points and the game, who was President of the Student Council, recipient of the Most School Spirit award, Homeroom Representative, and member of the Drama Club at Penns Grove High School in New Jersey, class of 1973? Hint: He was a Homecoming Escort. Of course, it's Bruce Willis aka "Buck" prior to "Bruno." (High school homecoming escort service - presumably, a Risky Business-type student-work program. Dumb me. I worked for a tacky clothier, Mr. C Men's Wear, in my senior year for "Work Experience" credit to get out of school earlier in the day. I rang up a giant sale. Mr. C was elated. Until the pre-electronic credit card charge was later rejected by the bank. See you later, Mr. C).


Did her co-members of the Future Homemakers of America at Sevier High School in Sevierville, Tennessee, Class of 1964, ever imagine that one day Dolly  Parton and her wards, Golly I and Golly II, would one day sing In the Good Old Days (When Times Were Bad) and become the Queen of Country Music with her own theme-park? I  have no personal memories associated with her but she's a famous diminutive female singer and there's only one degree of separation between us: I actually had a "relationship" with a famous diminutive female singer. So, Dolly and I are practically best buds.

Lesley Goldstein, center, Dwight High School, 1963.

I met '60s teen-angst singing sensation, Lesley Gore (whose party I was not invited to, and just as well - too many tears; she was the death of it, I heard), in 1965 when she played Grossinger's, the Catskills resort with renowned rye bread that my dad's best friend managed (the hotel, not the bread). So tiny she could fit in a tea cup and leave room for the bag, she was barely nineteen years old. I was just fourteen but tall for my age and ambitious with confidence based on nothing. She was an alluring and sophisticated Older Jewish Girl, and I, possessing the urbane dash and debonair élan of one who had officially become a man the year before at the social event of the season, the Bar Mitzvah of lil' Hebrew  ersatz Cary Grant, thought I had a shot. It was a blank. She said, You don't own me, and that, furthermore, it was Judy's turn to cry. The only Judy I knew was Judy Smolka, my next-door neighbor, and I had no idea what Lesley was talking about; I never laid a hand on her (Judy or Lesley). Be that as it may oy, it's no surprise that she was a member of the choir at Dwight High School in Englewood, New Jersey, a junior in 1963; her first hit, It's My Party (And I'll Cry if I Want To), was recorded and shot to #1 that year. Rejected by Lesley Gore: You would cry, too, if it happened to you.


Singer, Miss Oklahoma, Miss America runner-up, TV-huckster for orange juice, and gay-rights opponent, Anita Bryant, is seen in her junior year at Will Rogers High School in Tulsa, OK, 1957, in various theatrical performances. Here, during a school talent show, she sings her reactionary anti-gay anthem, Homosexuality: Look Out, It Isn't Just for Breakfast Any More! (aka I'm Gonna Wash That Queer Right Out of My Hair). In 1969, she became spokesperson for the Florida Citrus Commission and we bonded, sharing the deep and abiding conviction that a day without orange juice is like a day without sunshine. At the time I was shooting-up the stuff; the sugar rush was ecstatic and, brain awash in vitamin C, I felt serene. The pulp, however, wreaked havoc with hypodermic needles.


It would take far  less time to enumerate the few high school activities that William J. Clinton did not participate in while a student at Hot Springs High School, 1962-1964, located in Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas, than the scroll-length list of things that engaged his attention. He was a dervish in search of a diploma and enviable resumé for college, Mr. School Spirit. In his first year, he appeared in around six yearbook photos. As a junior, he showed up in ten. In his senior year, he slayed the competition with appearances in nearly twenty school photos. It's as if the Photo-Op Fairy tapped him on the shoulder with her magic wand long before Monica Lewinsky was tapped by his. While "Billy" was in high school 1962-64 in Hot Springs National Park, AK, I attended Steinway Jr. High School 141 in Astoria, Queens, NYC, near the Steinway Piano factory, not far from Astoria Park. I played drums. Billy played the sax.  We were blue-eyed soul-brothers, separated, alas, by age, distance, temperament, ambition, goals, grade-point average, and a complete ignorance of each others' existence. But I still consider him a close friend.


Lou Gehrig, "The Iron Horse" of the N.Y. Yankees, is seen  here as a member of the Senior Class of Columbia College, 1923. Gehrig initially could not play intercollegiate baseball for Columbia because he had played  for a summer professional league during his freshman year, unaware that doing so jeopardized his eligibility to participate any collegiate sport. Gehrig, however, was ruled eligible to play on the Lions’ football team and was a standout fullback and tackle. He later gained baseball eligibility and joined the Lions on that squad as well. But in this yearbook he is featured in photographs and accounts of his days on the football team over the 1922 season. Gehrig is pictured at least twice and is lauded for his “consistent line-plunging,” although his efforts could not prevent the season from being “an unmitigated failure, with few, if any, redeeming qualities.” That pretty much sums up my performance in Little League; I was known as "The Marshmallow Pony."


This program book for Bryn Mawr College’s annual Elizabethan May Day celebration for 1928 commemorates the two-day event consisting of revels and six plays presented across campus. The most notable play was John Lyly’s The Woman in the Moon, starring Katharine Hepburn as Pandora, a performance which was the catalyst for her entire professional career. According to A Remarkable Woman: A Biography of Katharine Hepburn, it was this performance that lead to a letter of introduction on her behalf being sent to Edwin H. Knopf, a young theatrical producer. He hired Hepburn upon her graduation and cast her in productions by his Baltimore stock company. These quickly led to Broadway, and then Hollywood. While not singled out in any photos, she is almost certainly present in two pictures showing the May Pole procession and the crowing of the May Queen. Kate and I shared a love for Spencer Tracy, the master of thespianage, who worked so deeply undercover that he disappeared into his roles. When I studied acting I took Tracy's no-nonsense advice to heart, "Know your lines and don't bump into the furniture," despite which my shins still bear scars.


There's a reason why Eldrick Woods, freshman at Western High School in Anaheim, CA, in 1991, changed his name and it's not because of his interest in the ladies. "Eldrick" does not roll off the tongue nor signal the athetic prowess of  "Tiger." No shock: he was on the golf team, is seen in a few candid golf shots, and is mentioned as a nationally-ranked Junior player.  Tiger and I go way back, so far back that before he was born I was a caddy at Grossinger's during weekend  and summer vacation visits, where I helped that other great Afro-American golfer, comedian George Kirby, lower his handicap from stinks to simply awful.  George was a good guy and a big tipper, and I've never seen anyone since wield a golf club with such singular utility. Intense frustration on the fairway was, as far as I'm concerned, one of his funniest, most entertaining bits: what he could do with a set of irons would have been the envy of professional balloon-animal makers everywhere.


Is it possible that Lesley Gore was referring to Judy Collins? Was it her turn to cry? Send in the clowns. About the boy-crush I had on her when my sister brought an album of hers home from college and I stared at the cover photograph, enraptured: Who knows where the time goes? She just gets better with each passing year. Not that I've seen her since the first time we never met but I can dream, can't I? Judy appears in the Denver, Colorado East High School Class of 1957 yearbook on page 212 with the entire senior class and also in a candid shot, "Singing folk ballads while accompanying herself on the guitar..." Men, a show of hands: How many have fantasized about Judy Collins singing folk ballads while accompanying herself on you?


It is unlikely that the students at Thomas Jefferson High School in Dallas, Texas, class of 1965, ever imagined that the senior tackle on the football squad,  member of the Reveille Staff,  school treasurer, singer in the Concert Choir and general chorus, and manager of the school baseball team would grow up to become a versatile staple on American tables and operatic rock n' roll albums. But neither did Marvin Lee Aday figure that he would evolve into that bat out of hell and vegetarian  nightmare, Meat Loaf. But he never got a celebrity roast. Yet don't be sad, 'cause two out of three ain't bad. I vividly recall how closely I related to the lyrics of that song when it was first released:

There's only one girl that I will ever love
And that was so many years ago
And though I know I'll never get her out of my heart
She never loved me back, ooh I know
I remember how she left me on a stormy night
She kissed me and got out of our bed
And though I pleaded and I begged her
Not to walk out that door
She packed her bags and turned right away.


I was still hung up on Lesley Gore.

She, as I recall our starlit, star-crossed and (sniff-sniff boo-hoo) unconsummated, non-tempestuous night together, eschewed meat loaf (and me) for a nice, post-show brisket with stuffed baked potato and chives, string beans almondine, and a slice of Grossinger's Real Jewish Rye which she shmeared with chopped liver thus definitively answering the age-old existential Yiddish question I asked myself upon her rebuff, What am I?

Finding celebrity school yearbooks is relatively easy, though finding the particular one you want may take a bit of time. As of this morning Addall has three pages of listings for high school yearbooks. They are, for the most part, relatively inexpensive. Yet a handful are exceedingly scarce and desirable. There were only twenty-four students in John Steinbeck's high school class of 1919 in Salinas, California and his yearbook is one of the rarest and most sought-after pieces of Steinbeckiana. A copy is currently being offered for $12,000.

Now it's your turn to cry.
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Images courtesy of Between the Covers, currently offering these yearbooks (and others), with our thanks.
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8 comments:

  1. Steve, you shrinking wallflower you -- why the hell is your yearbook page not on this?

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  2. Great post! Half the fun is seeing the titles of the yearbooks.

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  3. Although they weren't in my class, Natalie Wood, Robert Redford, and actress Diane Baker went to my high school - Van Nuys High, Van Nuys, CA.

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  4. Very fun post, Steve! I've always had a bit of a thing for yearbooks. I have two interesting yearbooks myself--South Pasadena High School's 1924 Copa de Oro yearbook, edited by Ward Ritchie, who became one of the great American book designers, and the 1969 Southern Campus, UCLA's yearbook, from my sophomore year. It is notable for having lots of photos of Kareem abdul-Jabbar (then known as Lew Alcindor) playing basketball. I've seen the latter listed on eBay as selling for several hundred dollars.

    I'll have to admit that I'm a former high school yearbook editor myself, and it taught me a lot about book design and production.

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  5. Celebrities in the youth, it is very interesting and fun)

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  6. I have Carlos Boozer's highschool yearbook(I went to highschool with him in Juneau, AK)..where would I sell this? And what would be a proper asking price?

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  7. Hello Mr. S. Gertz.
    I have the Highschool Yearbook from 1964 of: STEPHEN KING. I haven't seen it for many years on the net (eBay or elsewhere). There are 2 pics of King in it, one in class with a tie and the other states that he's the Editor of the school newspaperת The Drum.
    I intend on January 2015 to meet Mr. King at a signing event and get it signed by him. I am very curious curious to see his reaction to this Yearbook when he was ... 16.
    How much worth such a copy, signed of course?
    Thank you very much.

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  8. Mr. Prigan: As a matter of ethics I do not provide appraisals. Sorry to disappoint.

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