What started as a small collection of autographs in a box nearly 60 years ago has consumed the walls in one Solon couple’s basement.
Larry Adelman’s collection of autographs made up of countless actors, athletes and world leaders started with his father, who worked in the film business at National Screen Service.
National Screen was the place to go when it came to making movie previews in the 1920s, ‘30s and ‘40s, Adelman said. When movie stars came in to promote their movies to the Cleveland office, Adelman’s father would ask them for an autograph.
His father had passed on a few of the autographs to Adelman and the rest to Adelman’s sister as a child, but Adelman didn’t get into framing the autographs with matching photos of the celebrity until he got married about 57 years ago.
“That’s when I took it seriously,” said Adelman, 79. “Autographs today, the kids are big on that. In my day, when I was a kid, I was flipping baseball cards that today are worth $20,000, I was sticking them into the spokes of my bike.”
Adelman has done more than just frame his collection. He’s organized it on his basement wall in categories like movie actors, TV actors, musicians, U.S. presidents, world leaders and various sports like baseball, football, basketball, tennis, hockey and billiards. He has actors like Barbra Streisand, Billy Crystal and Larry David to world leaders, like every sitting U.S. president and former Israel Prime Minister Golda Meir. Among the more infamous people in history, he has American gangster Al Capone, Charles Manson and James Earl Ray, who assassinated the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
Since he was a child, Adelman said he has always loved American history. As such, he views each face on his wall as a piece of that history.
“If you notice, these are American folklore,” Adelman said. “This is all American history and that’s what excites me.”
He built up his collection through auctions and by attending card shows weekly where he would see athletes and other celebrities. If he was going to a concert, like Kenny Rogers, he’d make sure to bring a photo of the person just in case Adelman ran into them. In the case of Rogers, Adelman caught the tambourine Rogers threw into the crowd and Adelman had it signed after the show.
In rare cases, Adelman would find the celebrity out and about and would ask them to sign a piece of paper, which Adelman would later pair with their photo.
The estimated 1,000 autographs that fill his basement walls are only a fraction of his whole collection. Upstairs in his loft, which hosts more than 100 signed baseballs and other memorabilia, he has at least 50 binders filled with about 170 to 200 autographs in each, totaling up to nearly 10,000 autographs.
While the hobby started with Adelman, his wife, Joanne, also caught the bug and would ask for autographs if she saw a celebrity. In one case, she saw Jacqueline Kennedy, former first lady of the United States, enter the bathroom at an airport. However, knowing it would be inappropriate to follow her in, Joanne Adelman let the opportunity pass, which she said is one of her biggest regrets.
“She was in the bathroom, no one was around,” she said. “I could’ve washed my hands next to her.”
Walking through his collection, Larry Adelman points out a few and tells the story of how he got the autograph, like professional boxer Muhammad Ali, who Adelman said was a class act.
“Muhammad Ali was there (at a card show),” Adelman said. “He couldn’t walk, couldn’t talk, he was all punchy at the time – this was later in life when he was done fighting. I was with my son and (Ali) would pose. ... He was a class, class act.”
On the other end of the spectrum, the person who Adelman said wasn’t a class act was former baseball center fielder Willie Mays.
“He didn’t want to take pictures, he signed the thing, it was just crazy,” Adelman said.
Yet with a move coming up, Adelman is in the midst of downsizing. Exactly what he’ll get rid of, he’s not sure. He does have multiple signatures, though not exact duplicates, from the same celebrities which he feels like he can part with and keep one for himself.
However, he recently parted with a few signatures from U.S. presidents, which he has since regretted.
“These two guys bought four of them and I’ve decided to buy them back in an auction,” he said, “either to sell them as a whole or keep them.”
Through the process, he’s learned the value of keeping certain things while not becoming a pack rat. As he looks to downsize, he knows a few will be given to his children and grandchildren who might want to continue the collection.