What's up with those autographed headshots in restaurants?
January 6, 2006 9:52 AM   Subscribe

What's up with those framed autographed headshots that decorate so many restaurants, bars, and laundromats?

What's up with those framed autographed headshots that decorate so many restaurants, bars, and laundromats? These headshots encompass the whole range from A-list superstars and B-list character actors down to Z-list nobodies and has-beens. So, imagine each scenario....

Miss A-List walks into the place. Everybody recognizes her. The restaurant owner comes out to welcome her, shake her hand, and stare at her breasts. Does that owner then ask for an autographed headshot? Because, if he did, the chances of A-list having one handy are very slim. Would she then take a restaurant business card and have her publicist send one back later? How many people would really follow through with this after a crazy night on the town?

But if it's Mr. Z-list instead, nodody at the restaurant is going to recognize this guy, so they aren't going to ask for a headshot. Does that mean that Z will then offer one? And, if so, how pathetic is that? "Hi, you may not know me, but I once played so-and-so in the 1960s. Do you want my autograph?" Response, "Uh, sure, uh, I guess so." And the actor, "Well, I just happen to have one right here in my pee chee folder...."

Or, do all the actors, no matter what their celebrity stature, perhaps just sit down one day with their publicists and write out unsolicited messages to several dozen restaurants all at once, and they just get sent out whether the restaurants want one or not?

Which of these scenarios is closest to how it all plays out?
Or is there something else I'm missing entirely?

As a side note, I guess I have a few ├Žsthetic concerns as well. I mean, a few headshots behind the cash register are okay, but some restaurants literally plaster the whole place with them. Cafe Formosa and Pink's are two obvious examples in Hollywood (follow those links for pictures). Both are great places to go, but can you say tacky? Ugh! Do tourists really fall for this? "Wow, if David Leisure likes this place, then it has to be good!"
posted by stst399 to Media & Arts (15 answers total)
Never underestimate the power of a free meal. It's cheaper to hand out autographed headshhots than pay for meals all the time.
posted by camworld at 10:23 AM on January 6, 2006

Some small history, as I perceived it, of this and related trends: There are some restaurants (even here in the land of Cold and Snow) that have had actual celebrities dine there, and somehow acquired headshots of those celebs related to the actual visits. Saint Paul's own Tavern on Grand prominently features framed shots of Gorbachev from his 1980-something visit there along with an autographed menu or something.

In Duluth exists the restaurant I regard as the Grandmother of the "Cluttered wall" neighborhood joint genre of eateries, Grandma's (sponsor of Grandma's Marathon). I don't recall specifically, but I believe there were autographed headshots among the bizarre amalgamation of kitsch and antiques nailed to the walls there. TGIFriday's kind of ran with that idea as a theme.

Some real first-class joints do the headshot thing as well. None come to mind. But I happen to know a former restaurant owner who unashamedly bought a bunch of headshots of celebs, including some who were long dead before the joint ever opened, and signed the names on them himself before framing them all over the dining room. It's just a small part of the smoke-and-mirrors showmanship that is part of running a sit-down eatery. Some places have the pics legitimately (and acquired them over decades) and some just fake it. Gives mom and pop Shill something to look at/talk about while eating their chicken wings/spaghetti/whatever.
posted by BigLankyBastard at 10:25 AM on January 6, 2006

Actors have publicists or assistants who handle this kind of thing. My girlfriend's boss's daughter is the star of a show on the WB and I have in the past gotten autographed headshots from her for people I know. The request goes to her assistant who keeps track of those requests and periodically she sits down and signs a bunch of them.

Odds are that the restaurant ( unless it's Brown Derby level of fame ) had someone write the actor's agent who passed the request on and they were mailed back a photo with the requested signature and a nice note.

After all, being a TV Personality is a whole other job from acting - not only is acting in the show part of their duty, but staying famous and in the public eye is part of the job. "Gilmore Girls" is only going to be on the air for so long - at some point the next gig will have to be landed and being recognized is how you improve your odds of getting the next part.
posted by phearlez at 10:33 AM on January 6, 2006

"s. Does that owner then ask for an autographed headshot? Because, if he did, the chances of A-list having one handy are very slim."

A and B-list celebs have people to handle that kind of thing. I did some work for a big truck stop and when some band or singer would roll up a handler would be one of the first people off the bus. They would often be handing that kind of stuff out. There was quite a few personalized [1] headshots above the main registers. One of the waitresses actually received a letter from Kenny Rogers thanking her for the service. I doubt he actually wrote, stamped, licked the envelope and mailed it himself though; his people do that kind of thing.

Spend some time on the smoking gun looking at celebrity contracts, even many C and D list stars have everything planned out for them.

[1] By personalized mean the signiture block went: "Thanks for the quick service Foos Truck Stop. We really enjoyed your deep fried pork chops - signed B-List Celeb"
posted by Mitheral at 10:36 AM on January 6, 2006

The "Jerry Seinfeld" show episode entitled "Bubble Boy" has a sub-plot with Jerry and Elaine stopping at an upstate diner, where a waitress recognizes Jerry ("Garry" she calls him) from the "Tonight Show" and asks him for an autographed headshot she can put over the cash register. Jerry first claims that he doesn't have one, but Elaine chirps in the he carries them in the trunk of his car, and goes out and gets one. Jerry is forced to sign it, and adds the quip "There is nothing's finer than being in your diner." Then he regrets the banality of the quip (Elaine: "People are going to be laughing at you for the next 25 years") and tries to get it back. The waitress refuses and hilarious complications ensue.
posted by Faze at 10:48 AM on January 6, 2006

This makes me wonder.. armed with a bunch of headshots, how many could a regular joe like myself get put up in diners? I'm going to LA in two months...
posted by wackybrit at 10:57 AM on January 6, 2006

I've wondered about this too -- thanks for asking. You might find some answers in Jennifer "Sharpeworld" Sharpe's dispatches on NPR that she does with her father called "Photo Walls," in which they visit such walls-of-celebrities and talk to the proprietors about them.
posted by kmel at 11:16 AM on January 6, 2006

wackybrit: someone (i.e. a regular joe) did that in NYC about 5-6 years ago... unfortunately I have no reference.
posted by exogenous at 11:20 AM on January 6, 2006

This might not necessarily really apply to celebrities, but if someone like Gorbechev was coming to your restaurant, odds are you'd be told about it in advance. That'd give you some time to have a headshot ready for him to sign.
posted by BorgLove at 11:34 AM on January 6, 2006

wackybrit: My friend Charlie (a non-celebrity sysadmin) has his autographed picture on the wall in several restaurants in Southern California, where both that type of decor and obscure celebrities (if that isn't an oxymoron) are common. He uses a shill to come over to his table and loudly say: "OMG, I can't believe it! It's Charlie Smith! Please can I have your autograph?" Charlie ostentatiously pulls a headshot out of his briefcase and signs it for the "fan". The owner of the restaurant invariably comes over and asks for one for his wall. Charlie makes up plausible-sounding names for nonexistent shows he's been on and the owner always says: "Oh yeah! I remember seeing you on that show!"
posted by TimeFactor at 12:11 PM on January 6, 2006

There's a bar I go to that before they changed ownership had hundreds of these up on the walls. The signatures were all fake.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 12:30 PM on January 6, 2006

Two of my favorite restaurants in life had this going on. At Max's Famous Hot Dogs in Long Branch, NJ, the photos were all taken at the restaurant, depicting the celeb enjoying a hot dog or standing with the owners or staff. At Sal's Tavern (former speakeasy-turned-Italian-American-joint, now closed) they were more of the head-shot variety, and the celebs were the kinds favored by old-school Italian restaurant owners. Lots of Frankie and Dino, Sly, you know. Some of them (I remember George Burns) were pictured at the restuarant istelf, but not all.
posted by Miko at 12:32 PM on January 6, 2006

I suppose this is a uniquely Nashville thing, but here there is an entire wall at each post office covered with the headshots of the country music stars that live in that particular zip code. They usually sign them with something sentimental like "37212 ROCKS!".

(At my post office they also have a headshot from the recently stolen Nun Bun.)

To answer your question: the mail clerk said they don't even ask for the pictures anymore - celebrities just show up with them (along with their packages to be mailed, etc.). I think it's like a rite of passage - you may have a hit song but you haven't really made it until you're up on the wall at the post office...
posted by peppermint22 at 12:35 PM on January 6, 2006

I was pondering this question just this morning, as I ate breakfast in a restaurant festooned with signed photos of B-list and local celebs and politicos. I asked my fiancee, "If I brought in an 8 by 10 of myself and signed it, do you think they'd put it up on the wall?" I may have to try Charlie Smith's trick.
posted by Faint of Butt at 12:55 PM on January 6, 2006

A photo of a Z-lister on the wall of an establishment might suggest that an owner/manager/interestedparty at said establishment is enough of a fan of said Z-lister (or maybe a friend) to recognize and welcome them.
posted by cortex at 2:19 PM on January 6, 2006

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