Long before selfies, fans sought out autographs

Posted September 12, 2017 14:12:29

Long before selfies with celebrities or following someone famous on Twitter, fans hounded stars for their autographs — often scribbled in a little leather book.

As a Sydney teenager in the 1950s, Lesley Cansdell collected dozens of signatures of her favourite Australian radio and film personalities.

Her autograph book, recently acquired by the National Film and Sound Archive (NFSA), includes more than 90 signatures and handwritten comments from the big names of the day.

They include Chips Rafferty, Ruth Cracknell, John Meillon and Muriel Steinbeck.

“Once Lesley got these signatures she wrote in her lovely handwriting the name of the film or the name of the actor, just in case the signature wasn’t identifiable,” NFSA senior curator Jess Bolton said.

“She also went through magazines like ABC Weekly or Radio Pictorial to find images to match the signatures.”

Entertainment junkie from early on

Ms Cansdell was a self-declared radio serial addict who would listen to the shows while doing her homework.

Later, she attended live performances with her parents at Sydney’s Caltex Theatre and the 2GB auditorium in Phillip Street.

The first autographs she gathered, at the age of 12, were from the cast of the 1954 feature film Kings Of The Coral Sea, starring a young Charles “Bud” Tingwell and Rod Taylor.

Accessibility of stars

Radio serials, including adventure shows, comedies and soap operas were broadcast in Australian homes from the 1930s until the 1970s.

Some of the most popular, such as Tarzan, were aimed at a young audience.

Ms Bolton said the stars were often generous with their time and willing to engage with fans.

“There was that accessibility to performers; you could get their autograph, you could meet them at performances,” she said.

Ms Cansdell would often tell her favourite stars that she was going to become a radio serial actress when she left school.

Though she didn’t pursue this path, she worked in administration at a Sydney radio station — sometimes voicing advertisements — followed by 17 years at Universal Pictures.

Ms Bolton said the autograph book marked the importance of entertainment within the home in the time before television, the popularity of live radio performances and the dedication of fans.

“I think it really captures the impact of radio and film on a young person in the 1950s.”

Topics: radio, film-movies, theatre, 20th-century, people, human-interest, canberra-2600