Letters of Note began somewhat accidentally. Manchester-based copywriter Shaun Usher was doing some research for a freelance job he was working on. Unable to locate any concise source for the collected letters, postcards, telegrams, faxes, memos, etc., of notable people, he decided to start his own such collection. The result? A blog full a joyously voyeuristic insights into the old and unusual correspondences of some of the world’s most notable cultural figures. Now totaling some 900 entries, Usher makes us privy to moments often written before the internet age, and certainly never intended to be displayed on such a public platform. Take a look at some of our favorites.
In April of 1962, 18-year-old Keith Richards wrote the following enthusiastic letter to his Aunt Patty and described, amongst other things, an encounter some months before that would ultimately change his life: the moment he met Mick Jagger for the first time since they had been childhood friends. Three months after the letter was written, The Rolling Stones played their first gig at the Marquee Club in London. The rest is history.
Back in the 1980s, at which point he was starring in some of the funniest movies ever to be filmed, fans who wrote to Steve Martin could expect to receive a reply very similar to the fantastic letter seen below — a form response, wonderfully personalized for each recipient. This particular “personal letter from Steve Martin” was sent to a teenage boy named Jerry. It only seals the deal more on our undying love for all things Martin.
Ten year old Sophia Bailey-Klugh wrote and illustrated an endearing letter to U. S. President Barack Obama and, as the daughter of a gay couple, thanked him for supporting same-sex marriage. She then asked for advice on how to respond to those who saw such a thing as “gross and weird”.
In July of 2012, in an admirable attempt to secure him as a guest on his Nerdist Podcast, Chris Hardwick sent a vintage 1934 Smith Corona to noted typewriter collector, Tom Hanks, along with a letter proposing an interview. Within days, Hanks responded with a charming letter typed on that gifted Corona (the resulting podcast can be heard here).
In 1988, at age 8 and already a fan of teen actor Wil Wheaton due to his 1986 role in Stand By Me and his “awesome smile”, an excited Teresa Jusino saved up the $12.00 membership fee and applied to join “WilPower,” the young actor’s official fan club. She then waited. And waited some more. And then gave up waiting altogether. The membership kit never materialized, and before long the initial disappointment was forgotten.
However, in 2009, Teresa Jusino, now a 29 year-old writer, received along with a package containing the very items she had waited patiently for 21 years ago, the following incredibly endearing letter of apology and belated welcome to Wheaton’s now defunct fan club, written by the man himself.
In 1989, a recently widowed 36 year-old mother of three named Marianne Brown wrote Kurt Vonnegut. A lifelong fan of his books, she wanted to reach out to him to say thank you for his work that she so enjoyed and also to tell him a little about herself. Not expecting a response, she was surprised by receiving a thoughtful letter in return a month later.
In response to a personal ad in Sounds magazine, a 21-year-old Morrissey wrote this initial letter to his Scottish pen-pal, Robert Mackie, in 1980. His note was written on the back of a James Dean photo, and as a result of the letter Morrissey and Mackie became pen-pals for awhile. Good to know the King of Mope was already at it well before his band, The Smiths, even formed in 1983.
In November of 1958, John Steinbeck, the renowned author of such works as The Grapes of Wrath, East of Eden, and Of Mice and Men, received a letter from his eldest son, Thom. Thom was attending boarding school at the time and had written to tell his parents that he had fallen in love. Steinbeck replied the same day.
On February 11th of 1961, just a week after her final movie was released to disappointing reviews, a depressed, exhausted, and frequently ill Marilyn Monroe admitted herself for psychiatric treatment in New York. While she was there, Marlon Brando sent her a note of support. Tragically, just over a year later Monroe died.
On July 18 of 1969, as the world waited anxiously for Apollo 11 to land safely on the surface of the Moon, speechwriter William Safire imagined the worst case scenario as he expertly wrote the following sombre memo to President Nixon’s Chief of Staff, H. R. Haldeman. Its contents: a contingency plan in the form of a speech to be read out by Nixon should astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin become stranded on the Moon, never to return, followed by some brief instructions relating to its broadcast. Luckily for all those involved, the memo was never needed.
In 2003, with her prom fast approaching and a date still yet to be nailed down, an Ohio teenager named Nikki Simmons took a chance and sent an invite to her idol, Conan O’Brien, who thoughtfully wrote back.
Letter are a timeless form of communication, and some of Shaun Usher’s findings date back centuries. Our favorites though, are those that give a surprisingly human quality to some of the world’s most famous names. Take a look for yourself at Usher’s extensive archive here and maybe get some inspiration to communicate in a medium a little more permanent than texting.