Celebrity Autograph Hunters

ByABC News

Sept. 7, 2001 -- All year long, autograph hunters Steve and Jeff Woolf are at the mercy of celebrities, their livelihood dependent on stars' decisions to sign an autograph or not.

But the Woolfs get their payback once a year, in their "Ten Best & Worst Signers" column in Autograph Collector magazine.

This year, their worst offender is actor Tobey Maguire, who stars in the upcoming Spiderman.

"The new Spiderman is so wrapped up in his own egotistical web that he has earned the distinction of being the worst signer of the year," the Woolfs snipe, adding that they know of "more than 30 separate incidents" when he turned down autograph requests. They concede that he is at least polite when he declines to sign.

No. 2 on their "worst signers" list is actress Cameron Diaz.

"Cameron was a willing signer for most of her career," they write, "but over the past couple years, the ink in her pen has run dry."

Other stars on the Woolfs' "worst signers" list are teen pop sensation Britney Spears and actor Edward Norton. Spears, they write, "won't give collectors the time of day," while Norton is not only unfriendly, but is "flat-out mean about it!"

The Woolfs, a father-son team who have been collecting celebrity autographs for 10 years, also take time to name their favorites. Angelina Jolie tops their list of celebrities who gladly cooperate with autograph seekers.

"Simply put, Angelina is awesome!," they write. "When you meet Angelina, you can see how she genuinely appreciates her fans."

Jolie is followed by George Clooney ("always has time to sign"), country singer LeAnn Rimes, Limp Bizkit's Fred Durst and actress Marcia Gay Harden.

A Thriving Business

Steve Woolf, 47, and his son Jeffrey, 20, are two of about 50 full-time professional autograph seekers. Known as "in-person" collectors, they can make a six-figure salary by selling signed photos to stars' fans.

"Everybody's autograph is a reflection of their personality," Steve told ABCNEWS, explaining the $50 million-a-year celebrity autograph business is thriving.

Celebrities are generally eager to please their fans, but some are offended by what they consider a feeding frenzy of commercial autograph hunters cashing in on their fame.

Some stars try to thwart the professionals by putting a personal inscription on their photos. The in-person collectors have an answer for that: one swipe of acetone with a cotton ball, and the inscription can be erased, leaving the photo ready to be sold to anyone.

Others, like the ones who make the Woolfs' "worst signers" list, just say no.

Michael Wehrmann, another professional in the business, thinks most stars will keep on signing regardless of an autograph seeker's motivation. "They love who they are and what they do and that's why they keep signing autographs … You know, Katherine Hepburn used to say … 'I'll worry when they stop asking me for my autograph.'"

Tracking Down Stars

The Woolfs are based in Los Angeles. On a typical night, they might spend hours at a strip mall in Beverly Hills where the rich and famous are known to shop. If they spot a celebrity, they'll run to their car — where they store thousands of 8 x 10 glossies of stars, all alphabetically arranged — grab the right photo along with a marker pen, and approach the icon.

"I basically have to inventory all of Hollywood, which is a lot of people, because you never know who you're going to see at any given time," Steve said. "There are so many hot names out there, and we're going to see them. We're going to run into them."

Autograph hunters can wait for hours in front of an L.A. hot spot, and see no one famous. Most in-person collectors also have a web of contacts, from maitre d's to limousine drivers and airport personnel, who tip them off.

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